Assam Grants Smallholders Land Rights for First Time

Asssam tea garden

Tea small holders in Assam will for the first time be granted land rights.

Addressing a meeting of the All Assam Small Tea Growers’ Association (ASTGA) Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal announced on Sept. 11 that 78,286 growers will be awarded land deeds known as “pattas.” The decision will increase productivity and help improve tea quality, say officials.

Small holders currently produce about 40 percent of the tea in Assam. The Brahmaputra River basin, which drains the region, holds the largest concentration of tea in the world. Assam produced 616 million kilos in 2016, about half of the tea grown in India.

The first phase will begin in two months. It will take five years to complete.

According to a report in India Blooms, Sonowal reiterated state government’s commitment to solve the problems faced by the tea garden community as well as giving a renewed momentum to the tea industry of Assam and called upon the gathering to work with the “Team Assam” spirit.

“The tea garden community is an important part of the greater Assamese society, which is significantly contributing to the economic growth of the state. Our government is committed to bring a lasting solution to the problems of the tea community and I am hopeful that with joint initiatives from all of us this will come into reality,” Sonowal told attendees representing several tea tribes as well as planters, administrative staff, and elected government officials.

Rohit Borgohain, general secretary of the All Assam Small Tea Growers Association said, “We are extremely happy that the Assam government has decided to grant land rights in phases to our member growers.”

The tea industry is the largest employer in Assam. In the past, many workers lived on plantations assembling daily for the harvest and to care for the bushes. Increasingly one member of the family would work in the gardens to qualify for food subsidies, medical, education, and other benefits, but the family home would normally be closer to a local village. Plots of land surrounding homes, known as kitchen gardens, provide food but ownership is not clear as many tea workers are illiterate and land may have been passed down for generations without supporting legal documentation.

Fewer than 10 percent of small growers had valid documents to prove ownership or lease agreements for the land they use, according to a report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Source: India Blooms, Thomas Reuters Foundation