Stop the unlawful transfer of land for the ‘new’ Silchar airport’
Defend the attack on jobs in the name of ‘development’
The New Trade Union Initiative stands in solidarity with our 2000 sisters and brothers of the Dolu Tea Estate in Assam’s Cachar district who are with remarkable courage resisting eviction from the tea estate to make way for the ‘new’ Silchar airport under the leadership of 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 tea estate hence rendering them both without work and wages, 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 is profit making. The plantation owner in turn entered into an agreement with three unions (CITU, INTUC and BMS) accepting gratuity as the sole compensation for discharge of employment obligation. Further the government, on behalf of the employers paid Rs. 2.27 crores [past unpaid Provident Fund Rs. 1.57 crores + and Gratuity Rs. 80 lakhs among the workers] as if it amounts to compensation. The workers are calling for this agreement to be quashed.
The AMSU has also pointed out that there are other pieces of suitable land for the construction of the airport which will not just cause no displacement but will be less environmentally damaging.
The Union Government has not responded to the AMSU’s appeals. The Assam state government has tried to pretend that the agreement with the three unions represents democratic consent and it is unwilling to accept that at the two public hearings and in the meetings with the collector workers have spoken in one voice rejecting the transfer of land to the new airport until their employment, housing and relocation issues are addressed. Government has responded to this powerful united voice of workers by bringing in countless excavation machines (JCBs) to uproot the plantation rendering the land unviable and presenting the workers with a fait accompli. It has also declared CrPC 144 in the region thereby making any assembly of workers unlawful and brought in armed police to outnumber workers and intimidate them into giving up their resistance.
The act of unilaterally taking apart the plantation land, through a private agreement with the tea estate company, amounts to an egregious violation of laws by government and the failure to follow rules and procedure laid out therein including provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1948. The violation of these provisions of law is in effect ‘contracting out’ the rule of law reflecting government’s belief that it enjoys complete impunity.
The NTUI and its affiliates join the workers and the AMSU in demanding that:
The Government of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, to forthwith suspend proceeding with the plans of the New Silchar Airport and,
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, which 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.
The attack on the workers of the Dolu tea estate is a reminder that the attack of neoliberal economic policies is on workers and against natural resources as the capital seeks to reincarnate itself in the twenty first century.
This struggle is not the struggle of the Dolu tea estate workers alone. This struggle is of all workers. This struggle is of the entire class itself to retain and expand the share of wages in the national product in an equitable, just and sustainable world. This is the struggle of working class against capitalism. This is the working class’s struggle against imperialism.
The democratic and peaceful struggle of the workers of the Dolu tea estate in one of the remotest and underdeveloped parts of the country, of a people who have been singled out for exploitation and historically discriminated for centuries is a source of inspiration. Their militant resolve and determination defies their circumstances.
When they win the fight to retain their jobs and their homes, we will all win.
As we join our hands with Dolu tea estate workers, as we stand with them shoulder to shoulder, as we own their fight as our fight, we call upon all militant fighting forces to join hands to carry the banner of this fight across the country.