Tea gardens facing labourer shortage due to NREGA

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Agartala, Sep 30 (UNI) Tea gardens in Tripura are facing shortage of labourers following the expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme in all four districts of the state.

A Tea Association of India (TAI) report revealed that about 40-42 per cent workers had deserted tea estates and joined the NREGA while about another 12 per cent workers were often availing the opportunities under the scheme, as most of the poor people had been provided job cards.

Earlier, 14,000 labourers were registered with 57 tea gardens of the state but recently the industry had been facing a crisis with falling prices, exports and consumption in the international market.

Tea Workers Association secretary Nirod Baran Das blamed the state government for the situation and alleged that the authorities had not intervened effectively to ensure better amenities and benefits for the workers.

''Financial benefit lures the workers to shift from their traditional profession because NREGA offers Rs 80-85 to each unskilled worker, while wage for a tea worker is Rs 38, excluding ration, accommodation and medical facilities,'' Mr Das said.

Meanwhile, TAI Tripura unit secretary P K Sarkar expressed concern over the issue and sought intervention of the both the government and tea garden owners.

In a letter addressed to Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, he said a large number of tea workers were not reporting to their tea estates, as a sizeable number had got job cards under the NREGA though they were registered as tea labourers.

''The purpose of the NREGA is to provide jobs to unemployed persons in rural areas for their livelihood but unfortunately the national flagship programme is being misused in Tripura and at the same time the tea industry is facing a serious threat,'' Mr Sarkar pointed out, adding that the manufacture of quality tea had been deteriorating in Tripura due to shortage of skilled manpower.

He also demanded relief in agricultural tax to the tea industry and underlined that with the spiraling rise in production cost, upgradation of tea gardens was very much essential to augment production at par with West Bengal and Assam where agriculture tax had been abolished for three years to ensure generation of funds while the Tripura government announced relief in agriculture tax for only one year.

Earlier, the state government had decided to hand over four prospective tea estates to cooperative societies for enhancing the potential of the gardens as well as labourers.

Besides providing job opportunities, the societies would get the benefit of the NREGA.

The management has also offered support to the tea workers to dig water bodies in the low-lying areas of the garden for pisiculture and poultry farms as well as irrigation while waste lands in and around the gardens would be used for bamboo and rubber cultivation.

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