Guwahati: The Assam cabinet today decided to provide home loans to tea workers and employment opportunities to 3,800 physically challenged persons in the state.
Press adviser to the chief minister, Bharat Narah, told The Telegraph that while the Assam Financial Corporation would give home loans to tea workers, the government would create various employment avenues for physically challenged persons.
Though Narah refused to spell out more, sources told this correspondent that the decision of the Tarun Gogoi government to provide loans to tea workers is aimed at pleasing the influential community before the 2016 Assembly polls.
"Traditionally, the tea community has been voting for the Congress. But in the last Lok Sabha polls, there had been erosion of votes in favour of the BJP. The BJP was able to make inroads into the tea community, which was evident in the winning of Jorhat and Dibrugarh seats by the party candidates. The decision on home loans has also come at a time when Dispur is accusing the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre of stopping subsidised ration to tea workers," a source said.
Dileswar Tanti, the general secretary of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the apex body of the tea community, while welcoming the decision, said the move would ensure that tea community people can build their own houses now on land given to them by the government.
"Lack of funds has prevented the tea community people from building their own houses in ceiling surplus land, which was given to them by the government over the years. These lands are being sold off by tea community people at a very low price, as they have no money to build their own houses. The home loan facility will ensure that they can build their own house and keep the land under their occupation," Tanti said.
The leader said it was when the late Gajen Tanti was the labour minister that the process of giving ceiling surplus land to the tea community began, but today, hardly 20 per cent of the land is now under the occupation of the community. He said the population of the community is increasing and the tea gardens only provide housing facility to permanent labourers.
Hence, the state government had initiated the process to give ceiling surplus land to the tea community to build houses and carry out agricultural activities.
"Many small tea gardens have come up on the ceiling surplus land once owned by the community but were later sold off for lack of funds," he said.
Dhiraj Gowala, the general secretary (in-charge) of the influential Assam Tea Tribes Students Association, however, said it was not clear now whether the home loan would be given to the tea community or ex-tea community.
"According to the Plantation Labour Act, tea garden authorities are bound to give housing facility to tea labourers. In such a case, why should a tea garden labourer apply for home loan?" he asked.
Gowala said a garden labourer gets the benefit under the Indira Awaas Yoj-ana to build his own house provided the garden gives him permission to construct the house on garden land. "The state government should first ensure the continuation of the age-old ration to the labourers at a subsidised rate."