Tea social security measures need to be retained

A central committee has recommended that social security measures provided under the Plantation Labor Act, 1951, need to be retained.

The 13-member committee was constituted on March 5 this year after complaints from trade unions poured in about the violation of the act. Planters, too, had said they were finding it difficult to bear the cost of statutory benefits.

“The panel was formed to investigate the demand to amend the act,” said Aloke Chakravorty, the Darjeeling district president of the Intuc, the Congress’s labor wing, and a member of the committee.

On September 17, the panel submitted a report, making a number of recommendations, some of which are:

* Responsibility of providing houses to remain with the plantation owners

* Tea industry may set up referral hospitals through public-private partnership

* Government sponsored schemes like Swajaldhara (for drinking water) can be implemented in gardens

* Provisions for alternative cropping should be there in the lease agreement but area not to exceed 10 per cent of total land

* Gardens should be allowed to use their facilities for eco-tourism without changing the character of the plantation

“After talking to the stakeholders and with the help of available data, the committee has found out the cost that each employer has to bear—for statutory benefits—per kg of tea,” said a source in the ministry. “In case of north India, it is Rs 4.12 per kg of made tea and in the south it is Rs 3.44 per kg.”

“The yearly expenditure comes around to Rs 592 crore,” the source added.

Simultaneously, the committee has recommended that the government share part of the expenditure.

“Funds may be mobilized by imposing an additional excise duty of Rs 1 per kg on packaged tea. In return, the government will provide health, drinking water and education at subsidised rate. This would generate about Rs 30-35 crore per year. Tea to be exported will be exempt,” the report said.

Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, confirmed that his ministry has received the report.

“We are likely to take a decision soon,” he said over phone from Delhi.

Planters said they could not comment, as they are yet to leaf through the report.

Source: The Telegraph