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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Demand for better conditions in Assam

This was reported widely, but see the link below from The Telegraph, by Pullock Dutta

Tea garden asked to ‘pay up’
- Karbi outfit orders closure
A section of the Hatikhuli tea estate. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, July 12: Activities at Hatikhuli tea estate were disrupted today, with the garden employees refusing to work, following a threat from the Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger.

The tea estate, one of Asia’s largest organic tea plantations, belongs to Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd, formerly Tata Tea.

The militant outfit has ordered the closure of the tea estate until the management comes to the negotiating table or pays up the money that the Karbi outfit has demanded.

The outfit had abducted a labour sardar, Bogai Karmakar, of the tea estate last Thursday to put pressure on the management to pay up.

However, Karmakar was released yesterday when the labour force, led by the Assam Tea Tribes Students Association, threatened to carry out attacks on Karbi villagers if he was not released.

The labourers also blocked National Highway 37 for several hours on Sunday.

A caller, who identified himself as Nilip Ingti, a leader of the Karbi outfit, told a few labourers of the tea estate last evening that Karmakar was released not because of the outfit’s fear of the garden labourers.

He said Karmakar was released because it did not want any confrontation with the tea labour community.

“We have nothing against the tea community and as such we are releasing Karmakar. But the labourers of the tea estate must ensure that they should cease work from tomorrow until the management pays up”.

The caller threatened capital punishment to anyone trying to oppose the diktat.

Anit Gaur, the assistant secretary of the Bokakhat unit of the tea tribe association, said the labourers have no option but to cease work, as they cannot risk their lives.

“We have informed the garden management to settle the issue with the militants and till then, the labourers have decided not to work,” said Gaur, who hails from Hatikhuli tea estate.

He said the labourers have also demanded the payment of daily wages from the management since it was not their fault that they could not work.

Golaghat deputy commissioner N.M. Hussain said he has assured the labourers of security and there should be no fear from the militants.

“We have already posted a police picket in the tea estate,” he said.

The deputy commissioner, however, said it would not be an easy task to provide security to the garden labourers all the time.

Located along the Golaghat-Karbi Anglong border near Kaziranga National Park, a large portion of the garden falls in Karbi Anglong district.

He added that there was no information about the militants demanding money from the garden management.

Repeated attempts to contact the garden officials failed.

Sources said the labourers would be holding a meeting with the management for a solution to the problem.

The Karbi outfit has gone on an extortion spree, targeting tea gardens in the Nagaon-Karbi Anglong border areas to raise funds to purchase arms.

This came to light during a law and order review meeting of Karbi Anglong and Golaghat district police.

“We have instructed all tea garden officers not to move outside the gardens at odd hours. All possible measures to ensure security have been taken,” a police official said.

The outfit’s general secretary, Ingti, told reporters that these gardens would not be allowed to continue their business.

The outfit has also instructed the Karbi and other indigenous workers serving in the gardens to leave work immediately.

The Karbi Anglong police source said the outfit’s threat is nothing but a part of its planned extortion drive.

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