Guwahati, October 17: Dismissing an NGO report on poor living conditions in the tea gardens of Assam, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) has said its member tea estates have been implementing welfare programmes for workers and their families as per law and through initiatives of the management.
The sole purpose (of the welfare programmes) is to improve the living conditions of the workers and their families, ITA Secretary General Arijit Raha said in a letter to NGO OXFAM, that was made available to the press on Thursday.
The letter comes as a response to a recent OXFAM report in which the NGO alleged that the tea garden workers in Assam have poor living conditions.
The report said the workers are denied rights to Below the Poverty Line ration cards, five kg rice per family per month, decent wages, access to potable water, healthcare and education for their children.
“The ITA strongly dismisses these observations and believes that the OXFAM’s study has come to conclusions on issues based upon findings from some tea gardens which do not reflect the true picture of the industry,” Raha said.
A generalisation based on isolated observations harms the reputation of the industry and its workers and tarnishes the image of Indian tea across the world, he said.
“Workers do not live below the poverty line and have access to all health schemes of the management and the government.
“The workers in the ITA member estates receive wages and get ration, free housing and medical facilities for the entire family. They do not work for more than eight hours and there is no discrimination against women workers, Raha said.
The Indian Tea Industry provides direct employment to over 1.2 million workers and supports a large number of dependants. It also supports small growers who account for nearly 50 per cent of the total tea production, he said.
Raha said viability of the industry is critical for protecting the employment base of this large population and all stakeholders in the value chain have a role to play for the long-term sustainability of the tea plantation sector.
In reference made in the report to the vulnerability of the population, the ITA wants to add the tea industry has provided guaranteed employment to more than 4.5 lakh workers in Assam and has looked after the livelihood of their families for more than 150 years, he said.
The ITA secretary general said the key to any investment by management for implementing statutory measures and for improving the quality of life of the human resources is sustainable production and generation of surpluses.
“The present condition of the tea industry does not support the generation of profits as the cost of production is ahead of price realisations.
“However, even under the present stressful conditions of the tea industry in Assam, the ITA member estates continue to honour workers’ rights and privileges,” he said.
Raha said the ITA member estates in Assam have initiated programmes, through a partnership with the UNICEF, for improving the quality of life of the workers and their families.
“Interventions on improving nutrition, health and hygiene of children and women, protecting child rights and addressing issues on menstrual hygiene form part of the ongoing programmes of the tea garden management,” he said.
The ITA has been running a robust family welfare programme in the tea gardens of Assam for more than 50 years, under which children are immunised and health and nutrition of the mother and her child are taken care of, Raha said.
“The ITA stands committed to the Sustainable Developmental Goals,” he added. (PTI)