The alternative mechanism devised by the state government to facilitate payment of wages to the workers in tea gardens has faltered as banks have expressed inability to give the entire amount at one go because of shortage of cash.
Associations of tea planters had already submitted to the district magistrates of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar the details of number of workers in each estate and the money needed to pay labourers.
However, the nationalised banks which are supposed to supply the cash made it clear that they were not in a position to meet the entire requisition, that is, around Rs 50 crore, at one go.
“The tea estates in Darjeeling district require around Rs 20 crore in cash to pay wages. However, the Central Bank of India, the lead bank of our district, has said it can manage around Rs 5 crore in the next couple of days,” Anurag Srivastava, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, said yesterday.
There are 120-odd tea estates in Darjeeling district.
Senior officials of lead banks in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts, where tea planters have put requisitions of Rs 16 crore and Rs 14.45 crore, respectively, also made it clear that it was not possible for them to give so much cash at a time.
“The inability articulated by the banks to pay us in cash against the deposit that our members would make in the government account has left us in a fix. As the banks can only offer lesser amounts vis-à-vis the requisition, we don’t know what we can do,” said Sanjoy Bagchi, the secretary of the Terai Branch of Indian Tea Association.
Following the ceiling on withdrawal of cash imposed by the Centre since November 9, the tea planters have missed wage payment dates as they could not get the required money to pay workers. Tea estate workers are paid in cash.
To resolve the impasse, the state government intervened. Since the cash could be withdrawn from government accounts beyond the stipulated daily limit of Rs 10,000, it was decided that this window should be utilised. The decision was taken in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India.
The three district magistrates held meetings with tea planters and bankers. It was decided that the planters would deposit the money that they needed to pay as wages in government accounts of banks. The district magistrates would then issue cheques for the same amount to each tea garden which can then withdraw the money and disburse wages.
However, after the arrangement was finalised, banks have expressed inability to pay the money at a time. “In Darjeeling district, the administration asked the associations to take a call and select gardens to which cash could be supplied by the the banks in the first phase,” a tea planter said.
In Jalpaiguri, a senior official of the Central Bank of India said: “The rush to withdraw cash is still there. As on date, no money was deposited by any tea estate. It is obvious that unless the garden concerned deposits the money by cheque or electronic transfer, we can’t inform the administration and ask it to issue payment orders in the name of the garden concerned.”
He added: “Today, we had a good cash flow and could have paid money to the gardens. But we cannot say whether we would be in a position to provide the necessary cash tomorrow as thousands of people are drawing money everyday. It would also depend on the cash flow and how much money we get in lower denominations.”
In Jalpaiguri district, there are around 90 tea estates.
In Alipurduar, from the administration’s side, bank account details have been provided to all 55 tea estates. “Once they deposit the money, we will issue the payment orders. But whether the banks would be able to make payment as per the requirement is not very clear,” said Debi Prasad Karnam, the Alipurduar district magistrate.
The situation has prompted some associations of the planters to work out a way.
“We are preparing a list of gardens which have already missed two wage payment dates. They will first get the cash from banks,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association.
[Via: Telegraph, file pic]
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