A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Assam: Centre to amend Plantations Labour Act to remove ‘in kind’ component of salaries to state’s tea garden workers
The central government has decided to tweak the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 and do away with the ‘in kind’ components of wages paid to the plantation labourers, including over ten lakh tea garden workers of the state. A new Bill to reflect the amendment is likely to be tabled at the upcoming budget session of the parliament.
On January 4, addressing a regional conference of labour ministers and principal secretaries of the northeastern states in Guwahati, union minister for labour Bandaru Dattreya said, “At present, under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, the wages of plantation workers include cash as well as ration, healthcare and education services among others [as kind]. But we will amend the Act and make it mandatory to pay the wages in cash only and deposit it in the workers’ bank accounts.”
The Centre’s proposal, the minister added, had already been shared with the plantation owners, workers’ unions and government officials of Assam, which has the largest number of plantation workers besides West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala – the states which also have a large number of such workers engaged in tea, coffee and rubber farming.
“The planters and unions have been asked to give their feedback on the decision within two weeks time,” he said, adding, “We are planning to table it in the Budget Session of the parliament next month.”
Reacting to the news, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ripun Bora termed it “a conspiracy to benefit the owners at the cost of the workers.” At a press meet in Guwahati on January 8, he said, “the central minister failed to declare any modalities, like whether the money in lieu of ration will be at market rate or whether it will be revised.”
Many tea and coffee industry players have been in favour of an amendment to the Act, stating that the responsibility of providing social security to the workers lay with the owners due to the ‘kind’ component whereas it should be on the state. The ‘in kind’ component of a worker’s monthly salary also includes the supply of subsidised rice and firewood.
The Narendra Modi government began working towards removing the ‘in kind’ component of the workers’ salaries towards the end of 2014 itself when it suspended the bulk supply of additional quota of food grains meant for the tea industry which was used to provide subsidised ration to the workers.
It put an end to a British-era system in Assam under which Food Corporation of India allocated 7,600 metric tonnes of rice and 5,000 metric tonnes of wheat to the tea garden owners to provide subsidised rice and wheat at 50-55 paisa per kg.
The Congress-controlled trade union, the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh (ACMS), moved the Gauhati high court to get the order suspended. In January 2015 the court passed an interim order in ACMS’s favour.
With the state assembly elections approaching at the time, the BJP-led central government didn’t pursue the issue – considered sensitive among the state’s tea tribes whom the party was trying to woo to win the crucial assembly seats in upper Assam.
Post demonetisation, even as the Centre asked all plantation workers to open bank accounts to get their weekly salaries, in Assam, the state BJP government worked out a mechanism to supply cash to the owners to be able to not only provide salaries but also the ‘in kind’ component, which included rice, wheat and firewood.
If the Centre’s latest decision goes through parliament, the subsidised ration provided by the employees would be a matter of the past.
Arunachal youth found critically injured in Bengaluru, student body alleges racial attack
A 22-year-old man from Arunachal Pradesh was found critically injured in the upscale Koramangala area of Bengaluru on January 7, according to the city police.
Although the police initially registered a case of a vehicular accident, it later filed an FIR that included charges of causing grievous injuries to the victim using dangerous weapons.
The victim, identified as Khuadun Khangham, was thereafter moved from a local hospital to National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences for better treatment.
Even as the city police told the media that a probe had been ordered and the cause behind Khangham’s injuries remained to be established, the All Arunachal Students’ Association of Karnataka (AASUK) has alleged that it was a case of “racial attack” and demanded a thorough probe into the matter.
AASUK also demanded that the police release the CCTV footage of the incident.
“The victim has serious head injury and has been completely paralysed. His roommate went looking for him and found him lying injured on the road. There have been numerous incidents of people from our region being targeted in the city. We are planning to get in touch with Arunachal Pradesh home minister to seek steps to ensure their safety here,”AASUK president Toko John told reporters.
According to Khangham’s friends, he came to Bengaluru four months ago and got employed as a waiter at a pub in Koramangala. On the night of the incident, he was on his way home in Vivek Nagar. However, when he failed to reach home at the usual time, his roommate went looking for him and found him injured in Koramangala around 1:45 am.
According to the police, Khangham was not found to be under the influence of alcohol.
“At this point, we cannot rule out the possibility of the victim getting injured in an accident. We found his wallet and mobile phone to be intact and have ruled out robbery. We are probing,” a police official told reporters.
Meanwhile, Gabriel D. Wangsu, an MLA from Arunachal, has also alleged that the victim “was thrown off a running vehicle and it was a case of racial attack.”
He told PTI in Itanagar, “We have requested chief minister Pema Khandu to speak to the Karnataka chief minister on the issue.”
On January 9, Arunachal Pradesh director general of police Sandeep Goel travelled to Bengaluru to take stock of the situation. He said the next day that, “The city additional commissioner of police Hemant Nimbalkar is looking into the case. Investigation is on the right direction.”
“Based on the CCTV footage, the police have registered a case. Though the CCTV footage is not clear whether he is being thrown out of the three-wheeler or being hit by it. In any case, I think the police is investigating it in the best possible manner. DCP South East, Boralingaiah also visited the victim at the hospital and interacted with the doctors treating him,” Goel said.
In a similar incident in February 2014, a youth from Arunachal, Nido Tania, was critically injured in a brawl in New Delhi and later succumbed to his injuries.
His family, friends, student bodies and many people from the Northeast living in the national capital alleged it to be a case of racial attack, leading the then Manmohan Singh government to form a committee to look into such attacks and suggest recommendations. Though the committee, formed under retired bureaucrat M. P. Bezbaruah, submitted its report to the Narendra Modi government in July 2014, not much of it has been implemented.
Tripura: Sadhus submit memorandum to governor Tathagata Roy demanding Haj-like facilities for Hindu pilgrims
Tripura governor Tathagata Roy recently received a group of sadhus at the Raj Bhavan in Agartala who had come to press him for an unusual demand.
On December 21, a delegation of sadhus led by one Girindra Majumdar, head of a state-based organisation named Tripura Gowdia Baishnav Mahamandali, presented a memorandum to Roy demanding government sponsorship for pilgrimages to Hindu sacred sites across the country.
The argument they offered in favour of their demand in the memorandum, according to the local press reports, was that if the central and state governments could fund Muslim pilgrims for Haj, why couldn’t it be done for Hindu pilgrims too.
“According to the constitution of India, no government is allowed to discriminate pilgrims based on religious identity or sect. We have no objection to the government extending support for Haj pilgrimage but our demand is to extend the sponsorship and financial support for the Hindus too who go for the holy dip in Kumbha, the annual chariot festival in Puri and occasional visits to Hindu temples,” the memorandum reportedly said.
The organisation also pointed out that both the central and state governments have been offering support to Haj pilgrims by arranging special air and train tickets for them to visit Mecca every year.
“But in the case of Hindus, there is no such support from any government; even saints have been deprived of regular food.
We demand adequate financial support for all Hindu saints associated with temples and institutions, providing homes for the saints and to bring Hindu saints under social security schemes and health care facilities,” the memorandum added.
According to local press reports, governor Roy, also a senior BJP leader from West Bengal, expressed solidarity with the sadhus’ demands.