State-owned Assam Tea Corporation Limited (ATCL), being unable to pay its retired managers post superannuation benefits, is retaining them under a British era system.

“There are three such managers who have been retained under a system which prevailed during the British era, known as voucher system,” a high-level official of the corporation said.

“In this system, the managers are paid 60 per cent of what their salary was, by voucher method,” the official added.

The official while admitting that non-payment of benefits was one of the grounds for keeping on the managers, it was also benefitting the tea estates as the MoU signed with the government two years ago prevented the corporation from making new recruitments.

“This helps us in keeping experienced hands and preventing shortage of employees at the managerial level,” he further said.

The official said post-retirement dues would be cleared by and by and it had been done in some earlier cases.

One of the three managers, who have been so retained, said that without getting any money it was not possible for him to move out from the bungalow or give up other facilities.

“I am happy with the arrangement. I oversee the overall functioning of the garden. I am now just an executive of the company while the assistant manager has been appointed as in charge and has the signing authority, especially in the financial transactions,” he said.

A source said one manager so retained has been working in this system in one of the ATCL gardens for more than a year now.

The ATCL, which had been declared sick, was revived by the Congress-led government in 2006.

But it is still deep in debt and is unable to pay the retired workers their dues by way of PF which amounted to more than Rs 3 crore.

The official said last year under the supervision of the Supreme Court, the state released Rs 99 lakh out of which Rs 81 lakh has been disbursed to the beneficiaries.

“However, a certain amount is still left as several workers have passed away. Their kin have not been able to produce legal heir certificates and some not even bothering to spend money as the amounts are very low,” he said.

Due to the pandemic, the 14 gardens which are under ATCL, have again gone into the red.

“At this time last year we were ahead by 38 lakh, now we are behind by 30 lakh, which is similar to the 2008 figures,” he said.

“The only ameliorating factor is that per kg average price of the tea we have produced is now up from Rs 220 to Rs 280 with three gardens – Deepling, Sycotta and Cinnamara – getting Rs 345 per kg, which is very good,” he said.

The official further said more government funds would be required for the gardens to thrive and give a good profit.

There are 15,000 regular labourers and 1,000 temporary ones, who are paid Rs 167 wages per day.

The government had given 20% bonus last year and most likely would give the same this year as well, ahead of Durga Puja, the official said.

Smita Bhattacharyya

Smita Bhattacharyya is Northeast Now Correspondent in Jorhat. She can be reached at: triptyaddy@gmail.com