Assam is grappling with the flood problem, with many Doloo tea estate State workers protesting against the state government’s proposed international airport project.
In fact, on May 12, the Assam government began the work of removing tea bushes from the Doloo tea garden for the construction of a proposed new airport in Silchar. But a large part of the tea garden workers are opposed to this government eviction campaign.
Sharmila Gwala 19, said, “her only source of income—planting tea bushes and picking leaves off them for Rs 183 a day—was about to end”. We don’t accept the airport at the tea plantation,” a petite young woman with a clear, loud voice, evidently unafraid to speak her mind. “We are not against the airport, but we will not support it because it is being built on land where we have put our sweat and life.”
Nine months after the February 2022 elections, Prime Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma of the BJP announced that part of the Doloo tea plantation would be used to build a new airport, reportedly part of the union government’s plan for 21 greenfield airports in the whole country.
But the union government seemed unaware of the plans for the airport. In a May 31 response to a right-to-know query, the union’s civil aviation ministry said it had not received any proposals for Silchar airport, The Hindu reported, a fact confirmed on June 8 by Indian Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, in a widely quoted letter to a member of Parliament.
Silchar is located in the eastern district of Cachar, 420 km east of the state capital, Guwahati, the only city in northeast India with an international airport serving Bangkok, Singapore, Dhaka, and Kathmandu, Yangon and Kuala Lumpur. It is unclear what destinations a new international airport at Silchar, which already receives domestic flights at an air force-run airport, would serve and whether there is a demand for international services.
The Assam government paid about Rs 50 million for 870 acres (the size of about 658 football fields) of tea plantation land, about 28% of the proposed airport’s 3,058-acre area, and announced an allocation Rs 1 lakh to each of the 1,263 tea families.”
Supriyo Sikdar, deputy general manager of Doloo Tea Estate, which is owned by Eastern Tea Company, says it is wrong to uproot 3 million tea plants.
“There was a conspiracy by some outsiders, which led to the workers protesting, but now everything is back to normal, including the tree planting,” Supriyo Sikdar said. In progress and work in progress. The government has also enforced Section 144 where the people of the administration are working. But everything is normal in the rest of the area. We have more than 250 hectares of virgin land in our garden, on which new trees are planted.”
“We have given 325 hectares of land to the government for this airport. There are no plans to give more land in the future. As far as the work of a labourer is concerned, horticulture has assured him 100 per cent,” said Supriyo Sikdar. Our company has a total of 1700 workers and no work will be taken away from anyone. To date, Bugan has not fired any workers. We have signed the MoU only after several meetings with the trade unions.
Gautam Bhumish, a 22-year-old college student, tea worker and activist with the student organization, Cha Jan Jaaati Chatra Sanstha, alleged that police broke down his door as his union protested against the demolition on May 13.
“We are being forced not to protest and we have been subjected to intimidation techniques,” said Bhumish told Article 14, who has been accused of “flag march” or coercion by the police. That, in one case, the denial of ambulance services.
Bhumish said one worker had fainted, but police refused to allow an ambulance to enter the worker’s colony. “Somehow we had to take this person away,” Bhumish said. “The ambulance stood there for hours before the patient was allowed inside.”
Shumawati, a 25-year-old permanent worker from the state, said he was not given any time to react. Standing with a group of other workers, Shumawati was short with a soft voice. “We are shocked and terrified of what happened. They gave us no time to react.
Activists said the tea bushes were uprooted in the presence of police and security forces and other government officials. Krishna Teli and other activists said they feared their modest houses would be at the forefront of demolition. “Have you ever seen tribal communities or people living near the airport?” Krishna Teli said.
The ACMS, led by its central vice-president and former Congress MLA Chabua Raju Sahu, also supported the protest. Speaking to media persons, Raju Sahu said, “Oil India Limited has acquired 35 bighas of land in Nalani Tea Estate owned by MK Jokai Group for setting up of Oil Collection Station (OCS). Thousands of tea bushes were uprooted to make way for the unit. We wouldn’t mind if they got barren land for a tea garden. Since the livelihood of hundreds of tea workers is at stake, we strongly oppose it.
He added, “The tea industry is being systematically destroyed by such nonsense by the management of the tea garden. We have seen that Dhelakhat, Limbuguri, Khamti Gowali, Hatiali, Ahmedi, Sealkotee, Hukanpukhuri, Dinjan, Balijan North, Naduwa, Khaojan, Dikom have been sold for industrial and commercial purposes.
“The land acquisition process should be stopped immediately. We cannot allow them to destroy the tea bushes in front of our eyes as thousands of workers depend on tea gardens for their livelihood.
Assam’s tea plantations produce more than half of India’s tea and employ more than a million workers, and their dire economic situation and poor health have often been described.
The situation in Doloo State is no different. Workers live in mud houses without toilets and drinking water. Their daily water needs are met by a pond that dries up in the winter. An Anganwadi or Government Creek that we saw in Moingarh Division was a one-room mud hut with some medical facilities.
A labourer, whether on rolls or ordinary, gets Rs. 183 per day. The rural poverty line in Assam, is one of the poorest states in India.
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