Guwahati: BJP and Congress are going in for the kill to get the crucial tea garden voters of Assam, which may swing the fortune of 40 seats, enough to influence formation of the new government, even as Tea Industry as a whole looks at despair fearing complete collapse of the industry if any of the promises on wage revision going to materialize actually.
But at the moment, no one is bothered to up to the future of the industry, all they want the tea garden votes and hence from Priyanka to Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi, all are at the forecourt of tea garden labourers.
For past 60 years the tea community remain the most exploited class of Assam and has not moved beyond the photo ops of the politicians despite throwing horded of tall leaders to all major political parties.
The bone of contention is the labour wages as they and their families constitute 17% of total population of Assam. Congress has promised Rs 365 while BJP, after promising Rs 351 in 2016, announced Rs 217. BJP wants to calm the angry labourers with Rs 3000 direct cash transfer.
Tea wage is a complicated matter in Assam as it is governed by Assam Plantation labour Act through which a sizeable amount of the wages are given through kinds( rice, wheat, salt, oil, housing, electricity, medical and firewood).
Majority of these are now given to any person below poverty line in the country although the labourers do not fall under the purview due to the PLA.
Now without scrapping the PLA, if tea wage is revised upward it will completely throw the whole century-old industry out of business. Every government knows it.
If promises of both BJP or Congress are implemented the cost per kg tea in Indian market shall go up by 100%. The industry will not mind as it will rake in profit.
But the problem is Kenya, China and Sri Lanka are producing better tea at cheaper rate. They will dump their tea to the huge Indian market. That will spell doom for Indian tea.
For the record the two rival student factions have given a joint Bagan Bandh call on Monday. It will be widely successful but as both the student factions are in the pocket of both the parties the exploitation will continue another few decades.