Assam Govt Asks to Extend Food Subsidy

Tea workers in Assam are waiting for a response to an appeal by local government to delay a federal decision that would suspend distribution of food grains at tea gardens.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to continue to provide rations until provisions of the national Food Security Act are implemented early in 2015.

The federal government announced this month that distribution of rice, wheat and coarse grains to tea workers will cease Jan. 1.

During the past 60 years food grains were distributed to approximately 200,000 tea workers in Assam. Currently the federal government is staging a massive overhaul of the decades-old subsidies which guarantee sufficient calories for even the poorest of families to subsist.

In a letter to the prime minister, Gogoi predicted unrest once the subsidies end.

A rally a few days later in Tazpur by the Tea cell of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee reinforced Gogoi’s concerns.

The rally, led by the former Congress minister Ripun Bora and President Tea Cell Gohpur Legislative Assembly branch Louis Barla and General Secretary Pankaj Mahanand, marched to the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Tazpur shouting slogans against the BJP-led central government, according to reports in The Economic Times.

Tea gardens in Assam distribute 7,600 metric tons of rice and 5,000 metric tons of wheat for which laborers pay 50 paise (less than one cent) per kilogram. Workers are paid modest wages but they also receive up to 35 kilos of rice per family. Once implemented, the NFS Act will standardize subsidies for all eligible workers at 20 kilos of rice per month. Workers will be asked to pay 3 INRs (5 cents) per kilo. Eligibility is based on need, larger families receive larger allocations. Most farm workers, including tea workers will qualify under the act.

Asking workers to pay more for a smaller portion of food grains is politically charged. Labor unions representing about 90% of tea workers have already voiced their displeasure. Leaders suggest wages should be increased to compensate for the additional food expense. Tea unions are mainly aligned with the Congress party but several districts in which tea is the predominate crop, in May voted for Modi-backed candidates from the BJP party.

The Indian Express predicted “if the ration issue continues, both Congress and BJP will definitely suffer.” The next state Assembly elections in Assam are in March 2016.