Assam: Trade Unions find fault with way of seeking comments on Tea Bill

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Trade unions stated the hurried way the comments are sought on Tea (Development and Promotion) Bill, 2022 defeats the very purpose of informed democratic participation in the decision-making processes.

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The Tea board has stated that after 68 years some of the existing provisions of Tea Act 1953 has become redundant and there is a proposal to bring a new act in which Tea board will act as facilitator for the benefit of the industry.

In public notice Tea Board stated that the proposed act, inter-alia proposes to delete those archaic provision which has become irrelevant in today’s context and introduce new objectives/functions/power of the board so that the board can act as facilitator for optimizing the development, promotion and research in tea industry and help in improving production, export and quality of India tea.Tea Board has sought suggestions and views from the public.

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Around 10 trade unions which included unions – AITUC, INTUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC in a letter to tThe Deputy Secretary to the Government of India Ministry of Commerce and industry, (Department of Commerce), Devesh Gupta stated, “We, the undersigned have decided to submit before the Government through the concerned Ministry following interim observations after a brief review of the various provisions in the proposed Bill while demanding more time for submitting our detailed objections on various anti-worker and anti-industry provisions of the proposed Bill. At the outset, it must be stated that the neither the Ministry of Commerce and Industry nor the Tea Board of India has given sufficient time to carefully go through the Bill and give our comments. The Tea-plantation industry being a highly labour-intensive industry, the tea plantation workers or their unions are the major stakeholders, and their opinion on the issue can and should no way be ignored; moreover, they cannot be expected to keep browsing websites of different ministries to be informed of their announcements”

The unions added the hurried way the comments are sought defeats the very purpose of informed democratic participation in the decision-making processes. Therefore, we urge the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to extend the date for receiving comments from the public and stakeholders and also the trade unions. The note to the Bill 2022 indicates that it proposes gross changes in objectives, functions, and the powers of the Tea Board. The Bill 2022 proposes the functions of the Tea Board will be to optimise the production, sale and consumption of tea as well as to promote economic, scientific and technical research. But Tea Bard’s role in workers’ welfare has been omitted.

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“ while the proposed objectives etc correspond to its existing functions as per the Tea Act, 1953, we understand that, in a major shift, the Bill 2022 does not assign any regulatory powers to the Tea Board, leaving it almost completely unarmed. This has been justified by pointing out that regulating export quota in a competitive open international market is redundant and that growth of small tea growers has effectively made redundant the provisions of regulating land under tea cultivation. This argument is totally unjust and therefore unacceptable; India being a major producer of tea in global market, the Tea Board has got a definite and regulatory role to play in national interests and also in the interests of this highly labour-intensive as well as land-intensive industry, fetching huge foreign exchange earnings for the country. The exclusion of Chapter 3 (Control over the extension of tea cultivation) and Chapter 4 (Control over the export of tea and tea seed) take away the regulatory powers to the Tea Board. Further, we are dismayed at the complete exclusion of Chapter 3A that deals with “management or control of ‘tea undertakings’ or ‘tea units’ by the Central government in certain circumstances”. This tantamount to complete abdication of responsibility by the Government for protecting the interests of the industry, the huge land its huge workforce, much detriment to the national interests,” the trade unions added.

The unions argued, “While the exclusion of Chapter 3A opens, potentially, 420670.63 hectares of land under tea plantation, for competitive commercial avenues of action, the Tea Bill 2022 is completely silent on the rights of workers and worker communities dependent exclusively on these tea plantations. We find this unacceptable and situation for gross labour rights and human rights violations. The increasing instances of closure and abandonment of tea gardens and the workers in such units makes us to be matter. We note with concern that the Tea Bill 2022 does not consider of hundreds of thousands of tea land overseeing, which is going to have disastrous consequence on the concerned workers and their families besides having extremely negative impact estates have trees, forests, and water bodies.”

It added that the Tea Bill has not included the worker community as a stakeholder. This omission must be corrected, the worker and their trade unions must be included within the definitions of a stakeholder and be made equal partner in all consultations.

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