Payment of wages to around 4.5 lakh tea garden workers remains stalled, as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has turned down the state government’s proposal to send lower denomination currency notes to the districts’ treasury for payment of wages to the workers.
After the Centre announced demonetisation of high-value notes, tea garden owners in North Bengal failed to pay fortnightly wages to their workers as they did not have valid notes.
The shortage of new and lower denomination notes turned worse and the state government had to intervene.
A proposal was sent to the RBI stating that the owners of tea gardens would deposit the amount required to give salary of their workers in demonetised notes to respective district magistrates and the RBI could send valid notes of the same amount to the districts’ treasury.
After receiving the valid notes from the RBI, the district authorities could disburse the salary among the workers.
However, sources in Nabanna said that the RBI has turned down the proposal. As a result, tea garden workers are yet to receive their fortnightly wages.
Usually, they get payments twice a month — once on 10th and again on 25th of the month.
Since demonetisation was announced on November 8, the workers didn’t get their payment on November 10. They had hoped that on November 25, they will get the payment for two fortnights.
But now, there is little hope that they will get wages paid anytime soon.
Tea garden workers in Bengal are paid meagre wages and hardly have any savings. The current situation is such that they are finding it hard to get two square meals a day.
Of the 4.5 lakh workers, around 1.5 lakh work in 20,000 small tea gardens. Workers in small tea gardens are the worst-affected. They are clueless as to how they would sustain themselves.
The workers enquire the tea garden authorities about their wages almost every day, but the authorities have no answers.
The workers now plan to approach the district administration, seeking the state government help in getting their dues.
Sources said that Chief Secretary Basudeb Banerjee would hold a meeting with RBI authorities on Tuesday to discuss the problems of the tea garden workers.
The requirement of valid notes for give advance salary to state government employees in cash would also be discussed. The state government had assured its employees of giving salary in cash by November 30, to give them some respite from the cash crunch.