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Monday, 25 September 2023
National Tea Day: Contributions of Bangabandhu, his daughter PM Sheikh Hasina to development of tea industry

National Tea Day: Contributions of Bangabandhu, his daughter PM Sheikh Hasina to development of tea industry

Dr. Muhammad Mahtab Hossain Mazed

National Tea Day 2023. This day is being celebrated for the third time in the country under the initiative of the National Board. Various programs will be held on this occasion. And another day is also celebrated worldwide with tea. It is called 'International Tea Day'. It is observed on 21 May. Although initially December 15 was World Tea Day.

The day is celebrated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the nutritional importance of this world's second most consumed beverage. But in Bangladesh, the day has been decided to commemorate the contribution of the father of the nation to the tea industry and the date of joining the Tea Board. On June 4, 1957, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman joined the then tea board as the first Bengali. Bangabandhu contributed to the tea industry in Bangladesh during his tenure as Chairman of the Tea Board and after independence.

The tea industry is one of the largest industries in Bangladesh. It has been playing a very important role in the national economy. Tea is widely cultivated in the rainfed hilly regions of Bangladesh as tea plants require high amounts of rainfall and heat.

What is the importance of this day behind the celebration of National Tea Day? It may be unknown to many. Let's know its history-

National Tea Day was first celebrated in 2021. During the chairmanship of the tea board and after independence, it was decided to celebrate Bangabandhu's contribution to the tea industry in Bangladesh every year on June 4, and the first National Tea Day was celebrated in 2021.

During Bangabandhu's tenure as the Chairman of the Tea Board, the construction of the Tea Board's head office was accelerated on the 3712 acres of land allocated by the government at 111-113, Motijheel Commercial Area, Dhaka. In 1957, he strengthened the research program of Srimangale Tea Research Station in Moulvibazar and directed the development of high-yielding varieties (clones) of tea plants.

To ensure high yield of tea, first of all, on the instructions of Bangabandhu, initiatives were taken to plant high-yielding varieties of saplings in the rented tea gardens of Karnaphuli and Srimangal in Chittagong. He introduced the Contributory Provident Fund (CPF) for officers and employees of the Tea Board by amending the 'Tea Act-1950', which is still in operation.

During the war of independence in 1971, the tea gardens were almost destroyed. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took various steps to make this industry stand on a sustainable basis. He took steps to rehabilitate the post-war derelict/abandoned tea estates by forming the 'Bangladesh Tea Industries Management Committee' after independence. Besides, the war-torn abandoned gardens were re-handover to the garden owners by 1975.

To rehabilitate the destroyed tea factories during the War of Independence, he took a loan from the Industrial Development Bank of India and took measures to import machinery for the tea industry. To protect the existence of the tea industry, the government of Bangabandhu provided cash subsidies to the tea producers as well as providing fertilizers at subsidized prices.

That fertilizer supply operation is still continuing. He ensured the labor welfare of the tea workers. For example, they ensure access to free housing, clean water, baby care centers, primary education, medical care and rations. In 1973, Bangabandhu upgraded the Bangladesh Tea Research Station to a full-fledged tea research institute. Currently it is playing an important role in the tea production industry of Bangladesh under the name of Bangladesh Tea Research Institute.

According to Tea Board sources, there are currently 167 tea gardens in Bangladesh. Among these 167 tea gardens, there are 91 in Moulvibazar, 25 in Habiganj and 19 in Sylhet. Besides, there are 22 tea gardens in Chittagong, 2 in Rangamati and 1 in Thakurgaon.

The total area of tea in Bangladesh is 2 lakh 87 thousand 422.69 hectares. The total cultivable land in the tea garden is 1 lakh 183 thousand 594.43 acres. According to various sources, the total number of workers in the tea garden is 1 lakh 43 thousand 97 people. Most of them are women workers. Tea is a very old and traditional industry of Bangladesh.

The memory of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is intimately connected with this tea industry. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman played an important role in the development of the tea industry and the quality of life of workers involved in tea in Bangladesh. The importance of the tea industry in the national economy is immense and far-reaching.

The contribution of this sector to GDP is 0.81 percentTherefore, later on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's rightful successor and his daughter, the current Prime Minister, People's Leader Sheikh Hasina assumed the state power of Bangladesh in 1996, along with the development of the country's tea industry, improved the quality of life of the tea workers and integrated them with the mainstream of the countryPlans and initiatives were taken up, the operations of which are still continuing and the tea workers are reaping the benefits

The domestic demand for tea is continuously increasing due to the increase in the country's population, continuous urbanization, urbanization of the people, increase in city facilities at the village level, changes in the tastes and habits of the rural people, improvement of their living standards, etc. Therefore Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the light of the reality took various steps to increase the quality of tea and increase the total production and supply of tea by bringing new areas under tea cultivation. For this purpose, a feasibility study of tea plantations in the whole of Bangladesh has been conducted and a total of 10,172 hectares are cultivable in Rangamati, Bandarban, Khagrachari, Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Nilphamari, Dinajpur, Lalmonir Hat, Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Tangail, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Chittagong and Cox's Bazar districts. Mark the landisLater under this project small scale tea cultivation started in 2000 in Tetulia of Panchagarh in North Bengal in 2005, in 2007 in hilly Chittagong, in Hatiabanda in Baliadangi in Thakurgaon and Hatiabanda in Lalmonir, in 2014 in Kishoreganj in Nilphamari and in Birganj in DinajpurWith the sincerity and patronage of the current Sheikh Hasina government, formulation of necessary policies and strategies, above all due to its smooth implementation, tea cultivation in Panchagarh in the northern district of the country has started a new horizon in the economic development of the country. After Chittagong and Sylhet, Panchagarh is known as one of the tea regions of the country. In 1999, tea cultivation was planned in North Bengal. Later in 2000, tea cultivation started there on a commercial basis.

Since the independence of Bangladesh mainly the development of tea industry, changes in the quality of tea and new dimensions have been added in terms of production. The pace of development of the tea industry has been accelerated by the sincere efforts of the present government and consistent state management. Presently tea production has increased from 31.38 million kg to 67 million kg. While tea production in Bangladesh was 62.52 million kg in 2012, in 2021 the production was a record 96.51 million kg.

There is a considerable demand for Bangladeshi tea in the present world. According to sources, currently Bangladesh tea is exported to 23 countries in the world. In the last five years, a total of Tk 150 crore, 24 lakh 700 crore tea has been exported from the country. During this period, the average export of tea from the country is Tk 22 crore 56 lakh. It increases the export income and makes our economy prosperous.

The current government has already set up 170 primary schools to improve the living standards of tea workers. Various NGOs are conducting educational programs. The government is insisting on 100% enrollment of children. The government has also formulated a road map to improve the living standards of tea workers and their children and is working accordingly.

Ministry of Social Welfare is giving allowance of 5000 taka per year to 50 thousand workers. Besides, the government is also giving them old age allowance, widow allowance, husband dependent allowance, disability allowance and education stipend every month. Recently, the daily wage of tea workers has been increased from Tk 120 to Tk 170. Moreover, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also promised to give them ready-made houses.

We hope that the quality of life of the tea workers will be improved, the tea industry will prosper for the next generation and above all, this industry will play an important role in the economic development of the country. The tea plantations and the greenery arranged on the slopes of the hills are breathtaking. Tea made from the leaves of this garden relieves our tiredness and calms our mind. According to various surveys, Bangladesh is currently the world's tenth largest tea producing country and ninth in exports.

The history of tea cultivation in Bangladesh is quite rich and old. When tea plantations started in Sylhet in 1854, most of the plantations were occupied by British merchants. A large number of workers were needed to work in these tea plantations, which were spread over miles. Low-caste Hindus from various parts of India, including Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, were brought to the tea plantation areas with the promise of work. Tea workers started living in small mud houses in the midst of tea plantations.

The tea workers are delivering tea to the cups of people who are burnt by the sun and wet by the rain. A lot of time has passed, India was divided, Bangladesh became independent, but the fate of the tea workers is tied to the shackles of the tea garden.

These people, separated from the mainstream of society by generation, do not have the right to their own land. During the British period, these workers of small ethnic groups brought from different parts of India started tea plantations by clearing miles and miles of hills and slopes. In return, these people have been doing the work of tea workers for generations.

About 64 percent of the total tea workers are women and almost all of them started working in tea plantations from a very young age. Each tea worker is given a target of picking 23 kg of tea leaves per day. In the garden, this target may rise to 18 to 24 kg.

However, this goal is given in Sylhet as well as in other tea gardens of the country. And if you fail to achieve this goal, the wages will be cut. If the target is not reached, the wages will be deducted, and if more leaves are picked than the target, an additional wage of two to three rupees per kg of leaves will be given.

In most cases, tea workers take help from other family members to achieve their goals. In most cases, child members of the family are included. At an age when the child was supposed to spend his time playing with his peers in the school yard, the golden sun sets only to find two leaves and a bud.

However, child labor in tea plantations is not visible to the naked eye in that sense. While working with the rest of the family members, they got involved in tea plantation work. However, they are not registered before reaching the age of majority. As a result, the responsibility of child labor cannot be placed on the shoulder of the owner. Family members employ their children themselves in the hope of extra wages of a few rupees.

The school sometimes met at the intersection of the tea garden. The colorful school buildings of UNICEF or any other charity organization beckon children from afar. Many of the tea workers now dream of their children stepping outside the tea plantations. But that hope often vanishes like smoke.

Although primary or pre-primary education is provided, many people do not dare to send their children to high schools far away from tea plantation areas. There is also the language problem of mixing with the mainstream population. The results of various surveys show that more than ten languages are spoken among tea plantation workers. As the tea plantation workers were brought from different parts of Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, naturally their mother tongue was different.

Descendants of tea workers from Orissa speak 'Desali', a hybrid of Bengali and Oriya. Bhojpuri, Hindi, Assamese, Munda, Orang, Telugu, Khasi and Saotali are also spoken. The demand of mother tongue practice and education in their own language is blurred for these marginalized people who are crushed by the journey of poverty.

> Vicious cycle of life
The main work of tea plant maintenance, care and collection of tea leaves has been done by women workers for generations. Female workers do this work with more care than male workers. A large proportion of male workers work in tea processing factories, as security guards, transporters of tea leaves, weighers, housekeepers in the homes of high-ranking plantation officials or as labor leaders. But this large part of the tea workers do not have the opportunity to do any work other than working in the tea garden?

The main answer to this question lies with the housing system of the tea workers. Since 1854, when tea workers were brought from different parts of India, their housing was taken over by the tea plantation owning community. The accommodation of anyone working in the tea estate will be provided by the tea estate authority. Anyone who does not work in a tea garden cannot live in a tea garden. As a result, at least one person in each family has to work as a tea worker for generations to keep the tea estates alive.

Many from the same family started working in tea plantations to meet the needs of growing families at low wages. When the family gets separated, the tea estate authorities arrange new accommodation for them.

It is hard to imagine that any of them will save money and buy land and live in mainstream society where they are struggling to survive on these low wages. Due to the vast difference in language and culture, these tea workers are ostracized even by the mainstream Bengali society. Tea garden children are also called to work in tea gardens after crossing the pre-primary and primary school boundaries. If an elderly member of the family retires as a tea worker, priority is given to register as a tea worker, so that his family housing can be sustained.

In this way, their life is stuck inside the tea garden for ages. The tea garden workers have been living in the land inside the tea garden for hundreds of years and do not get ownership of the land, they are hostage to the landlord class for a piece of land. But even among these very few people have come out of the tea plantations and started getting education and joining the mainstream society.

Panchayats are made up of leaders of tea workers. The main function of this panchayat is to resolve the conflict between the tea workers and the tea plantation officials, to help them in collecting benefits or arrears from the owners. Panchayats are also responsible for solving family or social conflicts between workers, organizing weddings, social events.

There have also been many labor revolts in the tea plantations. But the most significant revolt took place on 20 May 1921. About 30,000 tea plantation workers in the greater Sylhet area called for a movement called 'Mulluke Chalo'. With the aim of returning to their native land, they left the tea garden in groups and headed towards Chandpur's Meghna Ghat. But the police shot there, many died. The rest fled in fear of their lives and again took shelter in the tea garden.

Housing, health and education of the tea workers—these are mirrors of misfortune. It is the gardener's responsibility to arrange their accommodation. In this regard, specific instructions are given in the fifth schedule of Bangladesh Labor Rules 2015. Not only that, the house repair is also the responsibility of the garden owner. According to an important clause [7 (1) b] of the Labor Rules, at least 10 per cent of the laborers living on labor lines must be constructed of 'Mirtinga type' (paved wall) houses every year.

Both the owner and the worker are responsible for the repair, use and maintenance of the house in the labor regulations. The tea workers are not satisfied with the house provided by the plantation owner. First, if the plantation owners converted the houses to 'Mirtinga type' at the rate of 10 per cent per year, there would no longer be any raw houses in the tea plantation labor lines or labor colonies. According to the 2019 statistics of Bangladesh Tea Board, the number of ripe houses (Mirtinga type) in tea gardens is 18 thousand 490 and the number of unripe houses is 57 thousand 59. This situation is a clear violation of the law. There are other concerns about housing, labor laws that need to be addressed.

The leaf pickers have to do the most difficult work in the tea industry. Especially pregnant women have to go through the period of pregnancy in severe pain. Most of their children do heavy and hard work till the time of delivery. As a result, many miscarried and many gave birth to stillbirths. Moreover, most women give birth at home in unsanitary conditions on beds made on the ground. As a result, both mother and child are at risk.

Tea plantations have hospitals and dispensaries managed by plantations. But the workers are not satisfied with the treatment available in these hospitals. If you have any major diseases like cancer, tuberculosis, you cannot get good treatment in Bagan hospital and dispensary. They do not get many of the maternity welfare facilities and other facilities that tea workers and their families are entitled to under labor laws and regulations. However, tea workers are not prevented from going to the government health service institutions near the tea plantations. Some of them are going there; Their number is low for related reasons.

Quality education is very important for tea workers. We see strong signs in favor of tea plantation owners and management authorities who have always been indifferent to education. There are very few government primary schools in the tea estates. However, this marginalized population needs a little compassion, love and the right to stand up as human beings.
Finally, the tea workers of Bangladesh and their families are not only poor and backward. They are people living by adopting different languages, caste-identity, religion, culture and a special profession. They are socially isolated and backward. Equal opportunities are not enough to improve their quality of life; Need more.

Therefore, to do justice to the tea workers, first of all, the rights given to them by the labor law and labor regulations must be ensured. After that, the allocation of the state for social security should be increased. There is much more to be done by their employers, the state and the majority of these people who are 'bound' to the tea plantations without ownership of land. In order to protect their language and culture and keep their diverse ethnic identity alive, the state needs to take urgent steps to do everything possible in consultation with them. Social justice and political protection can show the path to liberation for the backward tea workers and their families.

So due to Bangabandhu's outstanding contribution to the tea industry of Bangladesh, the proposal regarding National Tea Day was approved in a virtual cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on July 20, 2020. In that meeting, the government declared June 4 as National Tea Day every year. At the same time it is included in category 'B' of the circular of the Cabinet Division relating to the day. Originally, the government declared the day of Bangabandhu's accession as the chairman of the Tea Board as Tea Day. That's why June 4 is celebrated as the National Tea Day. That's why there is a touch of modernity in tea plantation and production.

Author, columnist and researcher Founder Chairman, Jatiya Rogi Kallyan Society

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