GUWAHATI, July 14 - Though tea garden workers are mostly drawn from amongst the tea tribe communities, nowadays some Assamese, Nepali, Bodo and Bengali people are also working in the tea estates (TEs) as workers. Significantly, in some areas, Bangladesh-origin Muslim migrants are also joining the TE workforce in growing numbers, said senior tea planter Pranab Kumar Sarma. He was talking to this newspaper.
But, despite various efforts, productivity in the area of plucking is getting reduced day by day to the growing consternation of the tea industry.
The British tea planters brought the forefathers of today�s tea workers from Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Madras under the Workmen�s Breach of Contract Act 1859. In 1870, the Sardari system was introduced to control this workforce. Since 1932, recruitment of the workers started under the Emigrant Labour Act 1932.
It is gathered from the notes prepared by Prof P C Bora of the Assam Agricultural University (AAU) in 1970, that in 1841, the State had 652 tea workers and between 1859 and 1861, their number grew to 2,272. Between 1861 and 1862, there were 2,569 workers in the State�s TEs. This number grew to 84,915 between 1863 and 1866. Their number grew further to reach the figure of 4,19,841 between 1887 and 1926 and it reached the figure of 15, 8,076 between 1838 and 1947.
In the pre-Independence era, there was no statutory rule and regulation in the TEs for the welfare of the tea workers. The workers were in very poor shape of health and only a few licensed medical practitioner (LMP) category of doctors were there in the TE hospitals. In 1917-18, there were about two lakh tea community children in the school going age group. But only about 4000 among them attended schools. The literacy rate among the tea workers was very deplorable and their living standard was also poor. However, they could remain spirited because of their sticking to their traditional cultural activities.
According to the 1989 information available from DN Barua of the Tea Research Association, between 1885 and 1889, the area under tea cultivation in the State was 85.4 hectares. In 1924, the size of the area under tea plantation grew to 167 hectares. Between 1885 and 1889, the State had produced 30.3 million kgs of tea, and, in 1924, it could produce 107.5 million kgs of tea.
No reliable record on the cost of tea production in the State is available for the pre-Independence era. The British planters used to make the industry profitable by selling the teas at London and Calcutta Auction Centres at remunerative prices.
After Independence, 34.40 lakh people were engaged in this industry in 1950 and according to the 2011 census 52.50 lakh of the State's people, which constitutes 17 per cent of its total population, were engaged in this industry. About two dozen legislations have been enforced on the industry in the post-Independence period to ensure welfare of the tea workers.
The factories of the TEs were mechanised during the past few years and productivity has improved in the factories. The productivity of the TE factory workers is about 100 kg per worker or more as against the 45 kgs per worker or less in the 1970s, said Sarma.