Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia wrote to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley last week requesting him to give at least a month’s time to the banks and the planters to open the bank accounts, as directed by the Reserve Bank of India.
Following the demonetisation announcement on November 8, the Calcutta office of the RBI had said all tea workers in the state should have bank accounts where their fortnightly wages would be transferred.
Dalmore Tea Estate in Alipurduar and Malnadi Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri have transferred the latest round of wages to the bank accounts of the labourers.
“The workers of Dalmore had opened bank accounts to receive benefits under the state government’s FAWLOI (Financial Assistance for Workers of Locked Out Industry) scheme when the garden was shut. In Malnadi, we found the workers have bank accounts,” said Rupindar Singh Ranawat, the general manager of Dalmore and Malnadi gardens.
While Dalmore has 1,520 workers, Malnadi has 652.
Labourers in Dalmore, however, said they would face problems withdrawing the wages as the nearest bank was 10km away.
Workers of the Central Dooars garden in Kalchini said they were also facing a similar problem.
“The nearest bank is a State Bank of India branch 29km from our garden. We have to cross hilly streams and rivers to reach the bank and during the monsoon, it becomes tougher,” said Raju Oraon, a worker.
There are around 2,000 permanent and 1,000 casual workers at the garden.
Workers of Majherdabri Tea Estate in Alipurduar said they were happy that an initiative was being taken to open bank accounts for labourers. “Now we will be able to save some money,” worker Purni Munda said.
Bank officials said the process of opening accounts would continue. “In due course, workers of all tea estates will have accounts. We have plans to send representatives with cash to some of the gardens so that workers can draw money from them,” Tushar Kanti Roy, the lead bank manager of Alipurduar, said.
On November 22, Ahluwalia wrote to the finance minister seeking more time to complete the process.
“So far, wage payments in tea industry were made in cash. It would take some time to implement the change. That is why, I feel, the industry should get at least a month’s time to open the bank accounts of workers,” he had written.
The MP said till then, planters should be allowed to pay wages in cash.
According to an RBI’s directive issued on November 21, the tea companies could pay wages for a maximum of two fortnights in cash. After that wages should be transferred to the bank accounts.
“It is a problem to open bank accounts for all workers in such a short time. After the Centre’s demonetisation announcement on November 8, wages of a fortnight have fallen due and the payment is still going on. Wages of another fortnight have fallen due in many tea estates,” a senior tea planter in Siliguri said. “It is a tough task to open accounts of all workers in all the 300-odd estates in the region in the next seven to 10 days.”
Planters’ associations have said they want a change in the formula mentioned by the RBI to determine cash withdrawal ceiling for tea companies.
On November 21, the RBI had said a garden can withdraw Rs 3,500 against each hectare of plantation area.
“We want a change in this formula,” Amritangshu Chakraborty, the principal advisor to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association, said.
[Via: Telegraph, Pic: Anirban choudhury]
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