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5 Jan 2017

Deadline for opening bank accounts for tea workers unlikely to be met

Pramod Giri, HT, 4 Jan 2017, SILIGURI: Even as the banks and the tea garden management in North Bengal are working overtime to open bank accounts for all the workers in the estates as directed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), industry insiders believe that the deadline of January 31 cannot be met for technical reasons.
According to the RBI directive, the wage payment of tea garden workers will have to be done through banks from the beginning of February. On the one hand, the apex bank has been issuing one order after another to facilitate unhindered wage payment in the gardens in the wake of demonetisation, on the other the tea garden owners in close coordination with the bank officials are working hard to open bank accounts for all the workers by the end of January.
The 283 tea gardens employ more than 3.5 lakh workers in North Bengal while small tea plantations employ an additional one lakh workers.
Traditionally, they are paid on a weekly and fortnightly basis.
Though all tea garden employers’ associations have welcomed the RBI’s directive, they want more time.
Sumit Ghosh, the secretary of the Terai branch of the Tea Association of India, told Hindustan Times, “Though the banks and the management are working very hard to open bank accounts for all the workers, they might not be able to meet the January 31 deadline.” It is expected that the RBI will give them more time to ensure that the accounts of all workers are opened. Till then, the planters want the apex bank to allow payment of wages through cash.
According to the data made available so far, the United Bank of India could complete the opening of accounts for workers in 17 tea gardens out of the 34 it does business with. Out of these 34, five are in Darjeeling and others are in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar.
A senior regional officer of the United Bank of India said out of the five tea gardens in Darjeeling, all the bank accounts were opened in three gardens. The official said, “Though all the gardens will be covered by the end of January, the installation of ATMs would take some time.” The official said they hope the situation will normalise by the end of March and added that the United Bank has already decided to set up 31 ATMs in 34 tea gardens.
The tea planters are optimistic that the RBI will not take any punitive action against them in case the disbursement of wages is not done through banks from the beginning of February.
The official added it will take some time to put everything in place as there are hardly any ATM counters in tea gardens. Also, the distance between the tea gardens and ATMs is far and unless the ATMs are installed at their doorsteps, workers will be compelled to abstain from work in a bid to go to the banks or ATMs to withdraw their wages, a planter said.
If the RBI does not consider these reasons, there will be chaos and the law and order situation in the tea gardens will deteriorate, the planters apprehend.

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