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House creates history with Speaker's Initiative

Assam Assembly becomes first legislature in the country to dedicate an entire day to discuss a particular issue, in this case the State's tea community & industry

By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, Sept 12: Assam Assembly on Tuesday created history by becoming the first legislature in the country to dedicate an entire day to a particular issue as per the new Speaker’s initiative.
As per the amendment to the rules governing conduct of the Assembly, a day is dedicated to discussion of a particular topic, which is decided by the Speaker in consultation with members of the House. It has been christened as the Speaker’s Initiative, and a day will be dedicated in each session of the Assembly to discuss any major issue confronting the State.
Under the new system, the discussion under the Speaker’s Initiative follows Question Hour of the day during which MLAs cutting across party lines are encouraged to participate. However, they are not allowed to criticise or blame the government or opposition. Instead, only positive discussion and suggestions are sought from them.
The government is duty-bound to prepare a comprehensive report within 90 days of the discussion and share it with the Speaker and all members of the House.
And as part of the Speaker’s Initiative, the Assembly on Tuesday took up the issue of improving the socio-economic condition of the tea community and the tea industry overall, in which 30 MLAs both from the treasury and opposition benches took part. Almost all the speakers stressed on wage hike, uniform wages for tea garden workers in Barak and Brahmaputra valleys and amalgamation of tea tribe and ex-tribe into one.
A resolution to discuss the issue was earlier moved by nine MLAs – Terash Gowalla, Rajdeep Goala, Prodip Hazarika, Sanjay Kishan, Roselina Tirkey, Topon Kr Gogoi, Durga Bhumij, Bimal Borah and Rupjyoti Kurmi.
Taking part in the marathon discussion that stretched over 8 hours till 8 pm, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal asserted that protection of the tea community and tea industry is a State commitment and everyone should do their bit. Invoking the spirit of Team Assam, he gave the call for a collective effort to seek solutions to problems facing tea community and industry.
Sonowal admitted that the 200-year-old tea industry in Assam with a rich heritage is now facing tough competition in international market from tea produced in China, Sri Lanka and some African countries. He, however, urged the industry to take it up as a challenge to reinvigorate itself. He also assured the House of taking up problems confronting the tea industry in Assam with the Union Commerce Ministry.
The Chief Minister expressed happiness at Assam still contributing 60% of India’s total tea output. He, however, stressed on the need to focus on education, health and skills of tea workers. “Without the tea industry, there won’t be tea tribes. So, we should all work towards uplift of the industry,” he added.
BJP MLA Terash Gowalla said there are 16 Acts and 34 rules of both the Centre and the State government to safeguard the rights of tea workers. “However, due to lack of education, they are not aware of these laws,” he remarked.
The MLA lamented that there are no high schools in tea garden areas and no doctors in many tea garden hospitals, which also lack basic facilities like x-ray machine. He said the infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are high in tea gardens as women labourers don’t get leave. He urged the government to amend the labour laws as these are too outdated.
Congress legislator Rajdeep Goala said casual tea workers don’t enjoy any benefit, neither do they know if they will be ever made permanent. He urged the government to make a rule on this.
BJP MLA Ranjit Kumar Dass demanded that tea community members should be given pattas of the land they reside on, besides providing them one bigha of land for agricultural activities.
Roselina Tirkey of the Congress said currently wages are fixed as per a bilateral discussion between the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations and labour union. Demanding that the government too should be part of the process, she pleaded before the House that working hours of women workers be reduced from eight to six hours.
Congress MLA and Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia said incidences of child marriage and witch-hunting in tea garden areas are high and stressed on the spread of education to curb the twin evils.