In a major decision that will benefit its largest vote bank, Assam’s ruling BJP will include tea garden workers within MGNREGA, or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This is to help them in the winter, when jobs are scarce and they are forced to become migrant workers.
On Wednesday, during the the Assam cabinet’s weekly meeting, it was decided that tea plantation workers would be offered jobs building roads, digging community ponds or planting trees.
The state has over 10 lakh tea garden workers in the organised sector alone.
They work on the around 850 big estates spread across the tea manufacturing belt along the Brahmaputra Valley in the Upper Assam district, and certain parts of the Barak Valley.
Tea estates in these regions produce roughly 55 per cent of the country’s total output.
The workers are a key vote base in at least 30 constituencies in Upper Assam.
Ahead of the April-May Assembly election, both the BJP and the Congress tried to win over this section by promising a hike in wages; the Congress offered to do so by ₹ 350 in daily pay and the BJP by ₹ 1,000 per month.
The BJP offer won out, with the party claiming several seats in Upper Assam and the retaining power in the state, despite losing some ground in other parts of the state.
The BJP and its allies won 75 of the 126 seats on offer (three down from 2016) and the Congress and its allies improved by eight to finish with 50 seats.
In May, after the election results were announced and Himanta Biswa Sarma was sworn in as Chief Minister, the state was forced to withdraw a ₹ 50 hike in daily wages after tea plantation owners approached the Gauhati High Court.
The state, instead, set up a committee to fix the minimum wage.
Prior to the ₹ 50 per day hike, the minimum wage was ₹ 167 per day.
Other decisions taken by the cabinet on Wednesday included use of funds received under the 15th Finance Commission for renovation of schools and parks in villages.
The cabinet also declared the Golaghat and Sarupathar Revenue Circles as drought hit.
Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Jogen Mohan, Irrigation Minister Ashok Singhal and Finance Minister Ajanta Neog will travel to assess the situation and release compensation.
It was also decided to merge the Guwahati Development Department and Urban Development Department, and rename it as the Housing and Urban Affairs Department.
The General Administration Department and the Secretariat Administration Department will also be merged, and renamed as the General Administration Department.
The Information and Public Relations Department will be allowed to directly approve necessary payments against advertising dues to print and electronic media houses.
The present residence of the Chief Justice of Assam is to be declared a ‘heritage building’, and preservation measures are to be taken.
News Source: NDTV News