Government of India, Government of Assam: Stop the New Silchar Airport. Hear the workers first

12 May 2022: The New Trade Union Initiative salutes the remarkable courage of the 2000+ workers of the Dolu Tea Estate in Assam’s Cachar district resisting eviction from the tea estate to make way for the ‘new’ Silchar airport. The resistance is being led by our affiliate Assam Majoori Shramik Union (AMSU).

The workers have been objecting to the plan ever since it was announced on 15 January 2022. The core objection to the airport construction is that there is no plan for relocation of workers with continuing employment and housing both of which workers receive from the present tea estate hence rendering them both wageless and homeless.

Government says that the tea estate was loss making and its owners would receive a total compensation of Rs. 50 crores from which the employer would compensate the workers. The AMSU has been able to produce documents to show the tea estate to be is profit making. Sadly some unions claiming representation of the workers entered into an agreement with the garden management and government limiting workers compensation to just gratuity when large sums of past wages and other workers dues remain unpaid. The workers’ resistance has rendered that agreement effectively void.

The AMSU has also pointed out that there is more than piece of suitable land for the construction of the airport which will not just cause no displacement but will be less environmentally degrading.

In the course of the last 24 hours the discussions called by the District Collector Cachar has not yielded result. In the meantime Section 144 has been declared in the entire area and the workers protest that has now been joined by families and children has been surrounded by a large deployment of both Assam police and paramilitaries. Countless excavation machines (JCBs) have been brought in to uproot the plantation rendering the plantation unviable and presenting the workers with a fait accompli.

The act of unilaterally taking apart the plantation will amount to an egregious violation of law by government including a violation of the Plantation labour Act 1951.

Under these circumstances, the NTUI calls upon:
The Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, to forthwith suspend proceeding with the plans of the New Silchar Airport.
The Government of Assam to dialogue in good faith with the Assam Majoori Shramik Union leadership and the affected workers with the objective of:
Ensuring that all alternative locations that do not require displacement are examined in a scientific manner and if such sites are not available then negotiate a democratic and just comprehensive re-employment-relocation-redeployment-rehousing plan that places primacy on retraining plantation workers and guaranteeing the maximum possible permanent jobs at the new airport and related facilities.

The NTUI also calls upon the Government of Assam, who bears responsibility for the current situation, to ensure that not no violence occurs, workers are paid wages and allowed to undertake work until the issue is resolved.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary