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5 Dec 2016

Tea estates gripped by winter of discontent..... Some tea estates yet to receive October salaries

Indrani Dutta, TH, December 5, 2016, Kolkata: As people scramble to lay their hands on their November salary, thousands of tea garden workers in West Bengal, especially those in Darjeeling, are yet to get their October salaries. Over 70 per cent of these workers in the hilly areas continue to be stung by the demonetisation move.
As per the latest reports, of the 287 gardens in north Bengal, part-payments have been made in 218. However, 64 of the 87 estates in Darjeeling have not got any payments. Winter has already set in, and life has become difficult for the estate workers.
Hectic parleys
The Indian Tea Association and other industry associations held hectic parleys with State government officials, and memoranda were submitted to the Reserve Bank of India to address the issue. With this, it has been possible to bring down the pendency from 119 gardens to 69 now. The payments are now till the fortnight ending November 12.
RBI guidelines regarding the payee bank and the quantum of payment that can be made (as per a formula devised for fortnightly payments) led to the problems. The formula seeks to limit withdrawals based on an assumption of land-labour ratio which is not always practical, the industry said.
The guidelines issued on November 21 disallowed tea estates to withdraw money from a local branch saying that they could do so only from the designated branch where it had a credit facility. Finally, the RBI has said that only online wage payment would be allowed after December 31.
ITA chairman Azam Monem told The Hindu that the situation was volatile in the tea estates and a meeting needed to be convened to discuss these issues involving the producer associations, the Tea Board and the bankers.
“Not only is it impossible to bring all workers on the banking platform by year-end but online payment would also be a challenging task in view of the literacy level of the workers and the poor Internet connectivity in many areas. Many of the bank branches are not even computerised,” an ITA official said.

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