Tea Feeds Terror, Despite Security Force

Tea Planters Still Paying Ultras Secretly: Indian Army & Police Blamed

Eti Koli Duti Paat (that is, two leaves and a bud), the strains of this popular song are resonating in the blue hills and the red rivers, and valleys of Eastern Indian State, Assam’s Tea-Gardens or Tea-Estates. Hitherto known for its scenic beauty, oil and mineral deposits also, the northeastern hilly-river state is slowly carving out a niche for itself as a producer of quality tea in the world. At the vanguard of this movement are tea-estates that have been exporting its produce for many years. However, today, the famous brand ‘Assam Tea’ (See Table I & II) loses its own ‘taste’ due to ‘unexpected weather’!

North-East India, specially, the State Assam is still now a heaven of extremism. There are militants the length and breadth of the region, which has brought corrosion in all spheres of social, political and economic life, here. There are more than 100 extremist organizations in this Eastern part of India and their hiding huts lie in and around the tea gardens or tea-estates.

Tea Garden 1
Women tea labourers are plucking tealeaves from a teagarden of Eastern Indian State Assam.

Photo: Shib Shankar Chatterjee

“In 1980s, the noted militant group, the outlawed so called ‘Assamese extremist’, the United Liberation Front of Asam (ULFA), in 1990s, the so called ‘Tribal extremist’ and the ‘Adibashi extremist’, the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and Adibashi Cobra Militant Force (ACMA) and in 2000s Dima Halom Daoga (DHD), United People Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) et cetera extorted millions of rupees from major tea companies in Eastern Indian State, Assam to fund their militant activities,” uttered the officials of the Indian Assam State Intelligence Bureau (IASIB).

“In fact, since 1986, the situation turned critical for the tea-estates of Assam state, when the outfits started eyeing the tea-gardens for easy money to raise their funding of the organisations and late 1980s to 1990s was the worst period for the ‘green-gold’ (that is, Assam-tea) of India.

In the world of tea, despite the crash of tea prices in India, both Indian Assam State Police officials as well as leaders of militant groups say that major corporate groups are still paying protection money to banned organizations,” claimed an official of TATA Tea.

.” .. the ULFA dominates in Eastern-Assam tea-gardens and the NDFB and ACMA are infested in the tea-estates of Western-Assam and Central-Assam, while other small groups like DHD, UPDS, KLNLF et cetera in Southern-Assam respectively. In fact, their hunting grounds are 50% to 60% of the Assam tea-estate or tea-garden areas on the Northern and Southern banks of the mighty hilly red river, Brahmaputra in Assam, because, this is the ‘easiest way’ to collect money for their respective organizations to buy arms and ammunition to fight against the Union of India. And in this ‘matter’, everyone from a tea-planter to Government officials (including forces) are entangled …..,” said a spokesperson of the Tea Association of India (TAI).

“We the inhabitants and the workers of these gardens are very much frightened with the activities of these outfits, which not only terrorise us in different ways but also put obstacles to the extension of tea-garden areas and in the collection of Government revenue. Therefore, we are badly in need of sufficient securities to get rid of these people,” claimed the tea-garden owners and the workers of Labour Unions (that is, Mazdur Sangha) of tea gardens of Assam.

Tea Garden 4
Women tea labourers are plucking tealeaves from a teagarden of Eastern Indian State Assam.

According to the people and the officials of the state department, that is, State Government Police or Home Department, these outlawed militants have made these tea gardens and other industrial units of these regions, their vital points of extortion for the last 15 years to 20 years. The State Government also alleged that the major tea groups of companies like TATA Tea, Williamson Magor, Rossell Industries, Assam Frontier and Assam Company, Goodricke, et cetera were regularly paying ‘protection tax’ to the extremist groups of Assam.

“This is not a new case and once again proves that there is a nexus between tea companies and the extremists groups in Assam. Not only that there were as many as more than 14 to 15 such group in Northeast India, whose bases lie in and around tea-estates.

All the factors have long made the tea industry a favourite target of cash-seeking militants. Tea companies and owners declare that they are paying a heavy price for buying peace and security forcibly,” expressed the officials of the Indian Intelligence Bureau (IIB).

Tea Garden 5
Women tea labourers are plucking tealeaves from a teagarden of Eastern Indian State Assam.

“Seeing this, the other groups of extremists of Northeast India, specially, in the States like Tripura, Nagaland and West Bengal have also jumped into this profitable venture, ripping off crores from the tea-industry. Between 1989 to 2005, more than 20 to 25 tea-garden persons and workers were killed and more than 40 to 50 of tea-estate workers were kidnapped,” according to statistics from the Indian Home Affairs Department.

In this connection, it may also be noted here that the idea of having a Tea Protection Force (TPF) against the extremist groups was mooted by the erstwhile late Hiteshwar Saikia – led Congress (I) Government to bail out the tea-planters from being extorted. Therefore, being disgusted with this, the tea-industry of Assam had decided to raise its ‘own-force’ and the State Government agreed to this.

“The tea-industry of Assam had been demanding a special security protection force since 1990, when the ‘tea-magnate’ Surendra Paul, brother of Lord Swaraj Paul of England was assassinated near Tinsukia district of Assam and the managers and their families of Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), including TATA Tea personnel were airlifted in the face of persistent threats from the outlawed militants of Assam.

Not only that NDFB attacked a tea club in the state, Assam’s Sonitpur district and opened fired indiscriminately to create terror. As a result, at that time, a number of tea-clubs were closed down fearing attacks by the extremists. A mass exodus of tea-executives happened,” said a prominent planter of the State Assam’s Dibrugarh district.

HLL, in keeping with the global policy of its parent body, Unilever, of not paying terrorists, did not pay.

Indeed, the outfit groups emphasized, “Indians living in the State, Assam, would have to pay tax, and it is mandatory to all.”

Tea Garden 6
A view of a teagarden of Eastern Indian State Assam.

However, the idea of a protection force still did not take off. But, when the outlawed militants had been attacking the tea-estates of Assam and carrying out different types of atrocities like abduction, threatening, killing the tea-garden’s officials and looting or plundering and extorting money from the tea-estates et cetera (See Table III & IV). and the Government failed to provide full security to the tea-gardens, pressure came from the tea-gardens of Assam for the State Government to provide proper security to them.

Then the Assam State Government decided to raise the Indian Assam State Tea Protection Force (IASTPF) to combat the unhealthy situation in the tea gardens of Assam. And as a result of that, in early 1994, a compromise ‘deal’ was struck in which the State Government decided to provide the security personnel to the tea gardens of Assam. It was also decided that the burden of expenditure incurred in connection with the security force would be borne by the State Government.

But, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) refunded the expenditure, which was incurred by the state machinery for imparting training to the IASTPF personnel (that is, the tea-industry agreed to bear the cost of their training and upkeep), which is today an additional burden for the tea-estates of Assam (this force was created by drawing men from State Home Guard Force). At the outset, Rs. 07-08 crores to Rs. 10-15 crores were spent on weapons, uniforms and communication gadgets.

“IASTPF is a voluntary organisation and we can take in only volunteers. But, for rendering training and better security to the tea-planters, the Indian Army is deployed for imparting training to them for a couple of months,” claimed an official, Director General of Home Guards and Civil Defence.

He also expressed, “The IASTPF jawans are directly under the headquarters of State Home Guards Department and rendered active service for 4 years. They are now released and new young and energetic youths are recruited into the force.”

Tea Garden 7 Security
Private tea security force of a teagarden of Indian State Assam guarded the teaexecutives during their supervision of the tea-estate.

A few years ago, there are 450 to 500 newly appointed (IASTPF) personnel deployed in 13 more ‘sensitive’ tea-gardens in Central-Assam to ensure ‘security’ of tea captains in North-East India. The sixth batch of this force are soon to be sent to tea-gardens after completing their training course, according to a headquarters source in Indian Home Guards and Civil Defence (IHGCD).

IHGCD sources also revealed, the new recruits are being trained at the fourth Indian Assam State Police Battalion (IASPBn) headquarters at Kahilipara, Guwahati in the Assam State, in the use of modern high-calibre sophisticated arms and ammunition in addition to traditional weapons as well as commando warfare so they can effectively thwart rebel raids.

After completion of their course, the first batch of the ‘new’ force has already been deployed in the more ‘vulnerable tea-garden areas’ of Darrang, Nagaon, Jorhat, Sivsagar, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Tinsukia, Dhubri and Sonitpur districts of Assam respectively in February, 1995. Presently, there are 2,020 IASTPSF personnel in 95 teagardens in the state of Assam.

With the induction of the sixth batch, their number will increase up to 2,480. According to the ATPF, at present, the organisation also has nearly 9,000 Indian Home Guard (IHG) personnel, 456 Indian Border Wing Home Guard (IBWHG) volunteers, and 2,400 Indian Assam State Special Reserve Force (IASSRF) personnel. The monthly salaries of IASTPF personnel are however paid by tea-companies, according to tea-industry sources. The sources also disclosed that this cost has compelled them to increase (deploying the IASTPF) Rs. 00.50 (paisa) for each kilogramme of tea.

In fact, no tea-estate or tea-planter of Assam feels fully safe despite the employment of the Indian Assam State Tea Plantations Security Force (IASTPSF) or Indian Assam State Tea Plantation Task Force (IASTPTF). It was formed in the year 1994. This force was specially created to protect tea-estate personnel from killings, abductions, threats and from extortions et cetera. Drawing men for IHGs created this force. About 1,200 to 1,300 personnel were deployed in 60 to 66 tea gardens located in more dangerous and vulnerable places.

Currently, nearly 85 to 90 tea gardens are under IASTPSF protection. It may be noted here that the Indian Tea Security Force (ITSF) was the result of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the Assam Government and the ITA as per the Government Home Guards Act. The first batch of security men was deployed in the month February, 1994. The entire expense of this force is required to be borne by the tea-estate.

“Most of the tea-executives become easy targets of the extremist groups because the tea-estates are located in isolated places. Though the number of such incidents has come down of late, the outfits are still targeting the tea-garden-persons for easy and quick money. However, for years the tea industry has been the only milk-cow for the terrorist groups. Not only that, the terrorist groups are very much aware that it is becoming difficult for them to kidnap tea-executives and keeping kidnapped planters in safe places, yet finding no other means, the militant groups are kidnapping the tea-officials,” admitted the officials of the Indian Assam State Police Force (IASPF).

The tea industry may have turned over a new leaf, producing the cup that cheers with renewed vigour and forgetting the travails of insurgency, time-to-time. However, it still harbours a grudge against the IASPF.

Every time, a tea-executive is abducted, the IASPF launch a ‘massive combing operation’ to trace the hostage. Days, months and sometimes, even years after the kidnap, IASPF would maintain that the ‘intensive search operation’ is ‘still on’. On every occasion, before the IASPF close in on the hostage, the outfits would ‘set free’ their captive. At what cost the militants became ‘soft’ towards their hostages has remained a mystery. The IASPF cannot trace or rescue any of the tea-executive despite their ‘intensive combing operations’.

Nearly all the hostages said they have been released on either ‘humanitarian ground’ or ‘compassionate ground’. Even, the hostage also showed off the gamosa (the symbol of gratitude, brotherhood and friendship), the extremists have given them as parting gifts.

Today, no tea-estate or tea-planter of Assam, even, Tripura and West Bengal feels completely safe despite the Indian Tea Plantations Security Force (ITPSF)’s existence. The militants continue to extort and that is the irony of the situation.

Northeast India, specialising in Northeast Affairs

References :

TABLE-I

FACT SHEET OF ASSAM-TEA (INDIA

01. Name : Tea

02. Local Name : Cha in Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit et cetera. Chah in Assamese

03. Scientific Name : Camelliathea ‘Tea’ is the dried and prepared leaves and buds of Thea (= Camellia) assamica and T. Sinensis and several hybrids of the family Theaceae. Tea infusion is now a universal drink.

04. Detected by : Maniram Dutta Baruah (alias Maniram Dewan) in 1806 to 1858

05. Discovered By : Major Robert Bruce in 1826

06. Manufacturing Process : a) Plucking, b) Withering, c) Rolling, d) Shifting, e) Fermentation, f) Firing, g) Sorting and h) Grading.

07. Country : India

08. State : Assam

09. Latitude : 200 (North) to 280 (North)

10. Longitude : 900 (East) to 960 (East)

11. Altitude : 600 metres to 700 metres above sea level

12. Rainfall: Maximum 03,678.4 millimetre to Minimum 01,171.1 millimetre

13. Temperature : Maximum 390 centigrade to Minimum 050 centigrade

14. Humidity : 83.00%

15. Total area under Tea cultivation : 02,30,000 Hectares

16. Number of Tea Gardens : 860

17. Number of employees (Permanent & Temporary) : 8,00,000

18. Total annul production of Tea : 400 million to 450 million kilograms

(55% of all India production)

19. Estimated turnover of the Industry in Assam : Rs. 2,200 crores

20. Major Tea- Companies : Assam Tea Company, Tata Tea, Williamson Magor,

Rossell Industries, Assam Frontier, Goodricke,

Warren Tea, Jayshree et cetera.

21. Major Tea-Associations : Assam Tea Planters Association, Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangha, Assam Branch of India Tea Association, Branch of Indian Tea Association, Tea Association of India, Indian Tea Association, Bharatiya Chha Parishad, et cetera.

22. Tea Students’ Organisation : Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association, et cetera.

23. Tea Unions : Assam Tea Employees’ Industrial Co-operative Organization Limited, Chha Shramik Union, All Assam Small Tea Growers Association, et cetera.

24. Tea Training Centre : Tea Training Co-operation of India

25. Tea Trading Corporation : Assam Tea Corporation, Tea Trading Corporation of

India, Consultative Committee of Plantations Association

26. Contribution to State exchequer : Rs 140 crores

27. Money earmarked for welfare activity by ABITA : Rs 01 crore per annum.

28. Tea personnel killed in extremists attack : 12 to 15 (approx)

29. Tea Executives kidnapped but subsequently released : 40 to 50 (approx)

30. Tea Protection Forces : Assam Tea Protection Force, Assam Tea Plantation Security Force, Tea Security Force, Assam Tea Plantation Task Force, Tea Garden Protection Force etc.

31. Tea-Gardens of Assam threatened by Extremist groups of North-East India : National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), Boro Liberation Tiger (BLT), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Birsa Commando Force (BCF), Adibashi Cobra Militants of Assam (ACMA), Adibashi National Liberation Army (ANLA), Dima Halom Daoga (DHD), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Peoples’ United Liberation Front (PULF), National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Chishi Swu & Thuingling Muivah) – NSCN (IM), United People Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) BNLF, et cetera.

TABLE-II

DISTRICT-WISE POSITION OF ASSAM STATE (INDIA) TEA-GARDEN

STATE# Tea-GardensArea Encroached
(In Bigha-Katha-Lecha)
Pattern
Of Use
Year of
Encroachment
Sibsagar1192,181 – 4 – 7Plantation & Houses
Golaghat74265 – 4 – 10Plantation
Jorhat81398 – 1 – 16Plantation
Nagaon21568 – 4 – 3Plantation
Morigaon298 – 4 – 1Plantation
Dhubri370 – 0 – 0Plantation1995
Kokrajhar3181 – 2 – 1Plantation1993-1994
Bongaigaon17 – 1 – 12Plantation1985
Goalpara2NilDoes not arise
Cachar601,877 – 4 – 4Plantation
Hailakandi16NilDoes not arise
Karimganj30421 – 1 – 4Plantation1975
Darrang35543 – 01 – 13Plantation1966-1977
Lakhimpur107,882 – 0 – 9Plantation1980-1985
Tinsukia861,55,349 – 3 – 9.5Plantation1970
Dhemaji103521 – 1 – 19Plantation1978
Barpeta1NilDoes not arise
Nalbari3NilDoes not arise
Kamrup72,818 – 2 – 16Plantation1994
Sonitpur726,702 – 4 – 9Plantation1986-1995
Dibrugarh1391,955 – 1 – 13Not available
Total Assam7681,78,874 Bighas-02 Kathas-03.5 Lechas.

Source : Department of Land Records & Reforms, Tea-Gardens of Assam (INDIA)

TABLE-III

TEA-ESTATE PERSONS KILLED BY EXTREMISTS IN ASSAM STATE (INDIA)

Executive NameTea-Estate(TE)/Assassination Date
D. Choudhury, Assistant ManagerLedo-TE15-02-1989
Amal Paul, Field ClerkCorramore-TE15-08-1989
P.C. ScariaTATA Tea Limited13-03-1990
Surendra Paul, DirectorAssam Frontier Tea07-06-1990
Jawaharlal Jain, ManagerDheria-TE19-10-1990
D.K. Choudhury, ManagerRomai-TE12-02-1991
Chandrashekher Chakraborty, ManagerPanbari-TE04-04-1992
Rameshwar Singh, General ManagerAssam Frontier Tea15-02-1994
Koilee Baisnav, Permanent Worker
(Mistaken identity)
Attrekahat-TE15-10-1995
Tezindar Kaur, ManagerNagrijuli-TE03-03-1997
Durgadas Mukherjee, ManagerChoibari-TE21-12-1997
Surendra Roy, ManagerBorghora-TE10-12-1998
Rajanikanta ChaturvediShankar-TE20-07-2000
Suresh Modi, OwnerModi-TE20-10-2000
Juin Suma Basumatry, Asst. ManagerFatemabad-TE16-12-2000
Surendra Sharma, OfficialsLangrijan-TE06-07-2003
Mohan Singh, OwnerDaishajan-TE03-08-2003
Suresh Limbu, ManagerRongmola-TE10-08-2005
Haren Das, ManagerHailanga-TE23-09-2006
Gautam Kumar Kataki, Deputy ManagerCoramoor-TE23-12-2008

Source : Indian Assam State Police Force.

TABLE-IV

TEA-GARDEN PERSONS ABDUCTED BY MILITANTS IN ASSAM STATE (INDIA)

Executive NameTea-EstateAbduction DateRelease Date
Subir Roy, Manager
(Williamson Magor)
Dimakuchi-TE18-03-199207-04-1992
K. K. Mittal, Managing DirectorManabari-TEDec., 1992NO TRACE
Bolin Bardoloi, Deputy General ManagerTATA-Tea08-04-199311-03-1994
Jayanta Choudhury, Managing Director
& R. K. Gohain, Assistant Manager
Fatemabad-Tea12-06-199313-07-1993
S. K. Baruah, Managing DirectorBhergaon-TE23-03-199430-03-1994
D. V. Singh, Manager
& A. Dutta, Assistant Manager
Nonoi-TE
(TATA Tea)
17-10-199518-10-1995
O. P. Siwal, Assistant ManagerTyroon-TE19-10-199526-10-1995
N. N. Kilpadi, ManagerSaola-Tea26-01-199630-01-1996
D. K. BaruahBhergaon-TE17-09-199603-04-1997
Arup Kumar Bhadury, OwnerSonapur-TE29-01-199726-06-1997
P. K. ChoudhuryMenoka-TE29-07-1997August,1997
Amalesh Chakraborty, Head AssistantMornoi-TE05-01-199818-01-1998
Badrilal Hiduwani, ManagerSapoi-TE27-03-199812-08-1999
Hitesh Puri, General Manager
& Gautam Roy, Manager
Chandighat-TE03-08-1999
04-08-1999
14-08-1999
12-08-1999
Dibyajyoti Sharma, Assistant ManagerBaladhan-TE
(Joyshree Tea Company)
04-08-199912-08-1999
Bimal Das, Manager, Priyankar Pujari,
Assistant Manager, Nabajyoti Phukan, Deputy Manager
Fatemabad-TE28-08-199907-11-1999
Ranjit Banerjee, Senior Assistant Manager
& Subir Dev Roy, Labour Welfare Officer
Pathemara-TE
(Grob-Tea Company)
21-08-199928-08-1999
(Killed)
Bhupen Mahanta, AccountantSalona-TE28-06-199906-09-1999
Laxmikant Sharma, Head ClerkJiyajuri-TE28-06-199912-09-1999
Rakesh Singh, Assistant ManagerBinnakandi-TE06-11-199914-11-1999
A. K. Upadhayay, Assistant ManagerAmaranagar-TE01-12-1999—–
Radha Kanta Trivedi, Manager &
Rathsurat Gowala, Driver
Lakhipur-TE11-03-1999—–
Sagarmoy Pujari, Tea Executive
& Dinesh Chaube, Assistant Manager
Bhuban Valley-TE01-02-200015-02-2000
Keshab Bhattacharjee, Assistant Manager,Martycherra-TE16-02-200026-02-2000
Ashok Chakraborty, Assistant Manager,Choibari-TE27-05-200016-06-2000
Raj Kumar Pandey, ManagerLakhipur-TE08-06-200008-07-2000
Shambhu Nath , Manager &
Ram Avtar Chakraborty, Manager
Binnakandi-TE05-08-2001—–
Kishore Kurmi, Assistant ManagerDholai-TE16-12-200213-01-2004
Bimalendu Gupta, Assistant ManagerJatinga Valley-TE05-02-2003—–
Dwijendra Narayan Roy, Executive
Engineer, Akshay Choudhury &
Subhash Roy
Dokmoka-TE08-07-2003—–
Sarat Dutta, Assistant Manager
& Rakesh Kumar
Bhagabati-TE22-02-2004—–
Sandip Satodia, DirectorJagadamba-TE06-04-2005—–
Birendra Kumar Chaudhury, ManagerLungchung-TE19-09-200522-01-2006
Paresh Nath Singh, Assistant ManagerKoomber-TE03-05-200603-05-2006 (Released After 4hrs)

Source : Indian Assam State Police Force

TABLE-V

DISTRICT-WISE POSITION OF ASSAM STATE (INDIA) SMALL TEA-GARDEN

District
/State
Registred Small
Tea Growers
Small
Tea Growers
Total Area of
Tea Plantation
(In Bigha)
Tea-WorkerTea Farmer
Sibsagar804,00440,17213,0456,977
Golaghat2123,73040,84312,7816,390
Jorhat711,1159,87210,0222,112
Nagaon13321,496486170
Morigaon71620311920
Dhubri18065929183
Kokrajhar21537012415
Bongaigaon85024545
Goalpara8961533794
Cachar—-—–—–
Hailakandi—-—–—–
Karimganj—-—–—–
Darrang124838415924
Lakhimpur9791,809596313
Tinsukia848,85595,13122,99810,541
Dhemaji113—-—–—–
Barpeta —-—–—–
Nalbari1117141 16
Kamrup4832157125
Sonitpur671846,1851,9061,218
Dibrugarh1046,53088,48146,74010,606
Karbi Anglong50793,2501,084130
Assam Total71824,963290,606111,04538,779

Source : All Assam Small Tea Growers of Association (INDIA)

TABLE-VI

Tax Paid By Assam State (india) Tea-Garden to Extremist Group

Tea CompanyTax Paid By Tea-Estate
Williamson Magor3 Crore
TATA Tea50 Lakhs
Bhergaon Tea-Estate25 Lakhs
Badlapur Tea-Estate9 Lakhs
Chandana Tea-Estate5 Lakhs
Nandan Nayer Tea-Estate10 Lakhs
Ambika Tea-Estate3 Lakhs
Macneil Magor24 Lakhs

Source : Paper seized from outlawed Bodo militant group-National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)

by Assam State Police Force, Government of India.

Shib Shankar Chatterjee is a former BBC, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Statesman & The Telegraph Contributor-cum-Correspondent from Northeast India, who specializes in investigations of important issues affecting the people of South Asia, specially, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Myanmar.