Guwahati/Silchar: Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has handed over cheques of Rs 1 lakh each to 1,296 families residing in Cachar district’s Doloo Tea Estate, which got mired in controversies earlier in the year over land acquisition for a greenfield airport.
According to a statement from the chief minister’s office, the cheques were distributed among the families as a goodwill gesture at a function in Silchar on Tuesday evening.
A section of workers, under the aegis of Asom Mojuri Shramik Union (AMSU), however, expressed unhappiness over the development and demanded that the government return the acquired land or allot the same amount of land at a different place for growing tea.
Sarma, during the programme, gave assurance that his government would also provide financial assistance to the tune of Rs 1 lakh each to the casual employees of Doloo Tea Estate.
“The welfare of the people belonging to tea garden areas has been one of the priorities of my government, which is working for the socio-cultural-economic and academic development of the garden areas,” he added.
At the same function, the Doloo unit of AMSU submitted a memorandum to the chief minister and demanded that the entire stretch of acquired land be returned to the workers’ co-operative so that the tea workers can grow the brew there.
“If that is not possible, then tea must be grown on an alternative 2,500 bighas of land. Land rights for the workers’ residences will also have to be given,” it added.
The memorandum, signed by 1,471 workers of the tea garden, also demanded that all permanent and casual workers must be employed in the garden.
Sharing a video, which showed some workers purportedly at the chief minister’s function demanding the land back instead of the money, Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah asked Sarma on Twitter if the “tears of the landless workers will touch his heart”.
“The tears of landless workers can wash away the ruler’s ego. Hope you will not consider this cry as temporary,” Borah said, tagging Sarma personally and his office too.
Defending the construction of the greenfield project, the chief minister said, “Airports are a harbinger of economic prosperity of a region. So, the proposed airport at Doloo will usher in unprecedented economic development of the Barak valley region.”
He stated that since the existing airport at Kumbhirgram is a defence airport, expansion of the facility to accommodate the increasing demands of air traffic is not possible.
“Therefore, the proposed new airport at Doloo, besides meeting the enhanced customer demand, will bring about economic growth for the people,” Sarma said.
Earlier this year, a controversy had arisen over the Assam government’s efforts to acquire land for setting up a greenfield airport with Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia claiming that no such proposal was received for the facility from the BJP-led state.
However, it was established later that the state was acquiring the 2,500 bighas (826.45 acres) of land in Cachar district on request of the central PSU Airports Authority of India.
Because of all these, the land acquisition of Doloo Tea Estate for the airport had led to protests by the tea garden workers, but the government assured that no worker would be evicted from their homes and there would be no job loss.
The Assam cabinet had then decided to pay a total of Rs 12.63 crore to 1,263 families of workers, Rs 1 lakh each, of the Doloo Tea Estate as a goodwill gesture for their cooperation in the development of the airport.
The state government had previously announced a compensation of Rs 50 crore for the acquisition of land at Doloo, Lalbagh, and Mainagarh tea gardens for setting up the greenfield airport and had already released Rs 2.37 crore as the first installment.
During the cheque distribution ceremony, Sarma said that for the academic empowerment of the students belonging to Doloo Tea Estate, the state government will post an adequate number of teachers in the school at the garden.
“Moreover, poor families in Doloo Tea Estate will be included in Orunodoi beneficiaries’ list. Once included, each family will be entitled to monthly financial assistance of Rs 1,250,” he added.
Sarma said since education is the most important tool for human resource development, the tea garden families should educate their children and make good use of the quota earmarked for students of the tea community for admission in medical colleges.
He also announced that his government is working on a plan to provide free electricity to tea garden areas across the state.
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