• Amid protest, Assam government starts uprooting tea plants to construct airport


    According to Supriya Sikdar, the manager of the Dalu tea estate, each hectare contains approximately nine thousand tea plants, and 325 hectares of this area will be used to build the airport. 

    Digital Desk: Following days of uncertainty and tension, the Assam government began cutting tea plants at Daloo tea estate in the Cachar district on Thursday to clear the way for a greenfield airport.

    On Thursday morning, hundreds of bulldozers began uprooting tea plants under the supervision of a significant number of police, security, and other government officials. Authorities estimated that over three million plants would be removed to build the greenfield airport.  

    In February of this year, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma declared that a portion of the Daloo tea estate would be used to construct an airport. The estimates suggest that it will cost 50 crores to develop the airport on 2500 bigha of tea garden land. The owner has agreed to proceed with the agreement, but the workers are dissatisfied with the choice.

    Notably, more than 2,000 employees from Cachar's Daloo Tea Garden are protesting, saying that the government should kill them first before uprooting tea trees. They have been opposing since the project was announced, and officials from the Cachar district administration have attempted to persuade them multiple times.

    After discussing with the tea garden owners, the administration distributed pending Provident Fund (1.57 crores) and Gratuity (80 lakhs) funds to the workers. "This is our money that the owners are returning; we can't let them kill tea plants in exchange," the workers said.

    The police, led by deputy inspector general (DIG) of southern Assam Kankanjyoti Saikia and superintendent of police of Cachar district Ramandeep Kaur, began a massive flag march through the tea garden amid protests.

    Kaur claimed that the Flag March was not intended to terrorise the garden workers but rather to instil confidence. "It was done to instil confidence because the government intends to develop a massive airport.  We have no intention of instilling terror in workers," Kaur said.

    There have been rumours regarding when the uprooting will begin. Thousands of workers protested in front of the police flag march every day. On Wednesday evening, the deputy commissioner of Cachar district, Keerthi Jalli, abruptly imposed 144 CrPC in Daloo Tea Estate and nearby villages, implying that evictions will commence shortly.

    Hundreds of JCB excavators were seen rushing towards Daloo tea garden shortly after the notice was published. Around 5 am on Thursday, police blocked a specific garden area, preventing many workers from entering; following that, excavators began destroying tea bushes.

    At one point, the workers attempting to halt the process appeared helpless. In front of security guards and government officials, they began crying and begging. Police forced them out of the land that the government had purchased for the airport.

    The process is being overseen by Special DG (law and order), Assam police, GP Singh, and SP Cachar Ramandeep Kaur. Kaur told workers not to resist government orders.

    Instead of agitating, she advised the agitating workers to talk to the administration about their demands. "The government has already handled several demands, and if there are any more, the workers should speak up. I am confident that valid demands will be fulfilled," she stated.

    As the existing airport in Silchar (Cachar) is old and outdated and owned by the Defense Ministry, an independent airport has been proposed for quite some time. Before the Assam government formally announced the project, Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy met with Union Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia multiple times to fulfil this demand.

    According to Supriya Sikdar, the manager of the Dalu tea estate, each hectare contains approximately nine thousand tea plants, and 325 hectares of this area will be used to build the airport. "This operation would uproot approximately 30 lakh tea bushes, but we have plans to use other locations for fresh plantation," she said.

    He asserted that renewal is essential to increase the yield of plants, especially those that are getting older. They agreed to go ahead with the government's plan since it would allow them to plant fresh tea bushes in a different location.

    MP Rajdeep Roy recently stated that there is a chance of a Maoist connection behind the agitation as all recognised unions signed the MoU between the government and tea garden workers, which authorises the clearing of tea plants.  However, police officials refuted any Maoist involvement in the protest.


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