Rebels force shutdown- Extortion, threats hit production in Karbi gardens; clamour over Puja cash intensifies
Guwahati, Sept. 8: The tea gardens in Karbi Anglong are being forced to shut down by militants which could lead to loss of livelihood of thousands of workers.
There are about 40 small and medium gardens in the hill district.
The North Eastern Tea Association, representing the medium and marginal tea producers of the region, has informed the central and state authorities about a complete breakdown of law and order in Karbi Anglong where militants are closing down tea estates by issuing threats to labourers and other employees.
The association yesterday sent a memorandum to Union home minister P. Chidambaram and to Assam police. The association is a constituent member of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations. Most of the tea gardens of Karbi Anglong are its members.
“There have been instances when militants have forcibly closed down the tea estates by threatening the labourers and other employees, jeopardising their livelihood and creating an atmosphere of unrest. Frequent disruptions in tea cultivation will result in complete chaos in tea-plucking process, making the entire operation unviable and uneconomical,” the chairman of the association, Bidyananda Barkakoty, said.
The memorandum alleged that a faction of the Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front was still creating havoc in the tea gardens, abducting employees and issuing extortion threats. Sources said while the main body of the KLNLF had surrendered in February this year, about 30 rebels had stayed back and this group is suspected to be involved in the threats and attacks.
“Though you are well aware of the adverse law and order situation in Karbi Anglong district in general for the past several years, the situation has turned from bad to worse during the recent past, particularly after the surrender of the militant groups,” the memorandum stated.
“As tea is a labour-oriented industry and closure of the tea estates in Karbi Anglong will affect the livelihood of hundreds of workers which may in turn lead to a different law and order problem,” the association said.
It has requested the authorities to urgently look into the matter and provide security to the tea garden areas of Karbi Anglong district.
The association stated in its memorandum that the militants had abducted an employee of Bhagawati Tea Estate (Shakambari division) in Karbi Anglong from the garden at gunpoint on August 31 noon and were demanding a huge ransom.
The tea estate is under Barpathar police station of Bokajan subdivision in Karbi Anglong.
While the tea estate’s proprietor M.D. Khetan is yet to respond, the militant group had closed down operations of the garden on September 2 by threatening the labourers.
The Bhagawati Tea Estate has its own factory which produces five lakh kg of made tea.
“In September, the garden produces about 10,000 kg of green leaf daily. The present rate of green leaf is Rs 18 per kg. Therefore, the daily loss in green leaf amounts to Rs 1,80,000. We need to pay Puja bonus after 10 days. If the garden is closed, from where will we pay the bonus and the wages? If we do not pay, this will create a different law and order problem,” a source in the garden said.
Around 7.30pm on September 6, militants has shot at the owner of Dhanseri Tea Estate, Angshuman Das. A bullet hit him in the thigh and he was shifted to Golaghat Civil Hospital. Dhanseri garden is also located under Barpathar police station.
Karbi Anglong superintendent of police K.K. Sarma said a small faction of the KLNLF, which is still in the forest, was behind the incident. “The faction is still active in the bordering Bokajan subdivision where these gardens are located. Our search operation is on,” he added.