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In Assam’s Tea Gardens, Currency Ban Stirs Up A Cup Of Trouble

GOLAGHAT, ASSAM: For the last 22 years, Pulin Bharali, 53, has run a small tea plantation on 40 bighas of land he owns in Golaghat, one of Assam’s major tea hubs.

For the past one month, he has had sleepless nights. In terms of yield, this has been a good season for him. But the government’s currency ban has changed the rules of business.

Most of his transactions are in cash, he said. “The labourers look for cash. Now they will get ATM cards. We will have to educate them about online payment and God knows how far the efforts will be successful,” Mr Bharali said.

Little known to the rest of the world, small tea growers like Mr Bharali, have been contributing a lot to the revival of tea industry in Assam for the last 20 years. They contribute nearly 40 percent of the total produce of Assam tea.

There are more than one lakh small tea plantations in Assam, which range from a backyard kitchen garden to 10-hectare plantation. The fraternity is now worried whether their growth would continue or not.
Depending on the size of the garden, small growers employ between 5 and 25 permanent labourers, who get their weekly wages in cash. Around 8 lakh workers are employed in a season.

Most of the garden workers don’t have bank accounts. It is now up to the plantation owners to help them enroll without the administrative backup of big enterprises.

“The small growers will face major problems. They have few staff members, so they would not be getting any ATMs in their gardens,” said Parag Jyoti Saikia, a planter from Athabari Tea Estate in Golaghat. “The government can club a dozen of smaller growers together and arrange for an ATM,” he suggested.

The Tea Board of India is aware of the limitations of time and distance but insists the issues are being resolved.

“There are customer service points and bank correspondents who can go to the gardens and make cash payment by swiping the card on the spot, so there should not be any further problems,” said Bidyananda Borkakoty, Vice Chairman, Tea Board of India.


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