Guwahati, Oct 17: One of the major plantation associations in the country, the Tea Association of India (TAI) today made it cleat that the tea plantations (gardens) had long back stopped engaging child labourers in strict adherence to the relevant laws of the land and it is a thing of past as far as tea plantations are concerned.
Addressing a multi-stake holders’ consultation on ‘Business and child rights in tea supply chain’ here today, the secretary general of TAI, P K Bhattacharjee said, “The tea supply chain comprises a lengthy journey from the bush to the cup/ consumer which subsumes a whole gamut of stakeholders. While the cultivator/ producer sets into motion the supply chain, it involves transporters, warehousing, brokers, buyers, packeteers, retailers and outlets.
“However, the focus has always been on the producers as it involves a workforce of well over a million workers in India. The plantation sector has been the first sector in post-independent India which was placed under a strict regulatory framework vide the Plantation labour Act which was enacted in the year 1951. Since then it has remained the guiding beacon of the industry.
He further flagged that this legislation although has definitions such as " child" , " adolescent" etc. , the tea plantation sector has moulded itself to subsequent legislations coming to the fore such as "Child labour ( abolition) And prevention act 1986 and the industry immediately put forth self-guiding principles of self-regulation and as early as in the early nineties even did away with concepts such as differentiating " wages" such as " child " wages or " adolescent " wages and is governed by a single wages entitled" adult" wages.
“In the meantime, Government of India along with the states introduced far reaching flagship programs like ICDS, anganwadi workers, right to educations which has opened up a new world for the development of " child" resident in the garden. The tea sector had been an enthusiastic partner in these schemes to the extent that opportunities for unfolding and blossoming of children resident in the industry had been progressing in leaps and bounds.
“The recent emphasis of Govt. of India on skill development coupled with vigorous pursuit of skill development is acting as a catalyst for child development in the tea industry. The tea industry has by and large has embraced all these social changes as a result of which one can safely deduce that the "producer" stakeholder holds forth a perfect example of inclusive growth of child residents in the tea gardens.
Dinesh Bihani, secretary, Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers' Association, stressed that a vigil has to be maintained on the activities of children associated with the gardens, with special emphasis on school attendance.
"I suggest that the tea gardens maintain a list of children in their area and work with local NGOs in ensuring that these children get their education and do not go astray," he added.
Dr Aditi Smith Gogoi, assistant professor at Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat, stressed that it is necessary to ensure that a percentage of the profit earned by selling tea is routed for the welfare of the workers.
Gogoi also emphasised the need for a code of ethical purchase, under which major buyers will make sure that they get their tea only from those producers who do not engage children for work.
Secretary of TAI, Guwahati, Dipanjol Deka, underscored that a concerted effort by all stakeholders can ensure that the industry remains economically viable.
The consultation was organised by the TAI in collaboration with Save the Children and was participated by representatives of Tea Board of India, Director of Tea, Govt. of Assam, Planters, Unicef, major brokers of GTAC, representatives of Guwahati Tea buyers’ association, Small growers, NGOs etc. Save the Children had been working for child rights in the gardens of Assam for quite some time.