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Commercial production of tea began after the conquest of large areas by the British East India Company, the widespread popularity of tea as a recreational drink began in the earnest in the 1920s, after a successful advertising campaign by the Tea Board. Tea was originally only consumed by Anglicized Indians. In the early 1820s, the British East India Company began large-scale production of a particular tea variety in Assam. In 1826, the British East India Company took over the region from the Ahom kings through the Yandaboo Treaty. In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam. In 1840, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea in this region, run by the local inhabitants.

The Barak valley of Assam has 104 registered tea gardens and 310 out gardens and in the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi and 60 existing individual ownership small gardens. 56,000 permanent workers and more or less 1 lakh casual workers are employed in tea industry. On an average, tea production counts for 5 crore Kg annually in this valley. It is the industry that earns lot of profits including precious foreign exchange.

Despite all the positive facts, the tea garden workers and employees do not get proper benefits due to which on various counts drives them away from tea gardens to other avenues of income. If this kind of attitude of the tea garden owners and managements does not change, it cannot but spell doom for the industry. This has come out from a report of Barak Cha Sramik Union, a copy of which has been accessed by this scribe.

Some tea gardens somehow manage to pay the wages; some keep the workers content with ration. The condition of the workers who are deprived of provident fund and other facilities such as medicines, drinking water, residential accommodation as well as better road links is really pathetic. In order to do justice to the workers, Assam Tea Employees Provident Fund Organization has forfeited the assets of some tea gardens which include Chandipur, Bicrampore, Bhuvan Valley, Baithakhal and Kalaincherra for not depositing the provident fund of the workers.

Jyoti Lal Chowdhury

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