Relief for BJP as Assam tea body enhances daily wage of workers

The workers are a decisive force in at least 45 of the 126 Assembly seats

The Indian Tea Association (ITA) has enhanced the daily wage of tea plantation workers in Assam to ₹193 with effect from February 22.

The ITA’s decision on an interim hike of ₹26 came a day after Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma warned the tea gardens to either add ₹50 to the existing ₹167 or be prepared to pay ₹350 per day.

The decision has come as a relief to the BJP, which was perceived to be under pressure across the tea belt after the Gauhati High Court had stayed the State government’s order on February 23 to hike the daily wage by ₹50.

In a March 22 letter to all member companies with interests in Assam, ITA secretary-general Arijit Raha said the association’s national committee reviewed the High Court’s order on March 16 and decided on the interim hike over the existing level of daily wages with effect from February 22 until the issue is finally decided by the court.

The ITA and 17 tea companies had challenged the State government’s February 23 order on wage hike in the court. The court told the government not to take any coercive action on the tea companies in pursuance of the impugned order.

“The court, however, gave the companies the liberty to pay an interim enhancement as they deem fit. This was taken note of to decide to increase the daily wage by ₹26,” an ITA official said.

The daily wage of the workers, a decisive force in at least 45 of the 126 Assembly seats, has been a major poll issue. The Congress has promised to increase it to ₹365 if it comes to power.

The BJP had in its 2016 election vision document promised to increase the daily wage from ₹137 to ₹351. The Sarbananda Sonowal government made interim enhancements through two orders — first by ₹ 30 to ₹167 and then by ₹50 to ₹217.

The tea companies challenged the second order before deciding to take the “middle path” with almost half the ₹50 they were asked to pay.

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