As soon as it came back to power, the BJP-led government rolled back and diluted two crucial promises it had made to the electorate.
Guwahati: The BJP-led alliance that came to power in Assam this May has already started to come under criticism on two issues — not implementing a complete waiver on microfinance loans taken by women and rolling back a Rs 50 hike in the daily wage of tea plantation workers.
Gogoi heaved a sigh of relief in January this year when the then finance
minister of Assam and current chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, promised a
blanket waiver of all microfinance loans taken by women in the state if the BJP
was voted to power again. The
45-year-old woman from Lakhimpur district finally felt she would not have to
worry about her debt of Rs 1.5 lakh.
Gogoi had taken the loan to start a poultry business, but it failed due to the
COVID-19 lockdown last year. She then pinned her hopes on the waiver but is
now feeling cheated, instead of relieved. This is because she doesn’t qualify
for a loan waiver according to the terms set by the BJP government after it came to power. “It has
been a huge disappointment,” said Gogoi, when asked about the scheme.
of tea plantations, who form an influential group of voters in the state, too are unhappy with the BJP government. About a month before assembly elections
were held, the state government had on
February 21 announced a Rs 50 hike in the daily wage of these
workers. However, less than a month after it returned to power on May 2, the BJP rolled
back the decision by May 26.
by the support it got for the waiver scheme and the hike announced for tea
plantation workers, the BJP-led alliance which comprises Asom Gana Parishad
(AGP) and United People's Party Liberal (UPPL) triumphed in the Assam elections
by winning 75 of the total 126 assembly seats.
by the new conditions laid for the waiver scheme, thousands of women have started
staging protests across the state and are threatening mass suicides if the
state government backtracks on its promise. According to state government data,
there are over 26 lakh microfinance customers in Assam who are women and their
outstanding loans total Rs 12,500 crore.
BJP had not included the waiver commitment in its manifesto, Sarma, who was
eyeing the CM’s post, had made the promise at several election rallies. “Once
we form the government, we will repay all loans taken by women in Assam, of any
amount,” he had said at one such rally.
coming to power, the government had formed a committee headed by state cabinet minister
Ashok Singhal to advise on the waiver scheme. Within days, the committee ruled
out the possibility of extending a blanket waiver and announced certain criteria to
identify beneficiaries. “Income tax payee, persons availing multiple loans,
those having four-wheelers, and people with an annual income of more than ₹1
lakh will be excluded from the scheme,” Singhal told reporters on June 11.
Gogoi has a four-wheeler and the annual income is more than Rs 1 lakh.
loan to help family, now in debt trap’
Devi from Sonitpur district too is disappointed. “I had taken a microfinance
loan of Rs 1 lakh last year and invested it in a small business, but there was
no income because of the lockdown. We had to repay the loan on a weekly basis, so
I had to borrow more money and I got deeper into debt,” said
who does not meet the eligibility criteria as she owns a car and earns more
than Rs 1 lakh, voted for the BJP in the hope of a waiver. “But now everything
is shattered,” she said.
women took microfinance loans to set up small businesses and help their
families. Most of them are first-generation woman entrepreneurs. Gogoi said the
government should be sympathetic towards them in these difficult times. “My
husband, a farmer, is the breadwinner of the family, but even he couldn’t earn
much last year,” she said.
A women’s group, Jagriti Nari Shakti Samiti, recently submitted a memorandum to the Assam government with a demand to fulfil the waiver promise. “If the government doesn’t stick to its election promise, we will intensify our protests,” said Rumi Phukan, a spokesperson for the organisation.
for plantation workers
government was forced to find a middle path with plantation workers after it
came under sharp criticism for completely rolling back the Rs 50 hike it had
implemented in February. Several influential tea garden workers’ associations warned
of mass protests across the state, forcing the government to hold immediate
consultations with the organisations.
daily wage was hiked by Rs 38, with effect from February 23 this year.
of the 2016 assembly elections, BJP had promised to increase the daily wage of plantation
workers to Rs 365. At present, after the Rs 35 hike, it is Rs 205 in the
Brahmaputra Valley and Rs 183 in Barak Valley. There is a difference between the
two as wage is fixed by trade union leaders and the management of the tea
gardens concerned. Once these two sides decide on the daily wage, the amount is
approved by the state government.
is the case even though tea plantation workers are an influential vote bank. “Of
all the tribal and ethnic groups of the state, the electoral role of tea tribe
community has become the most crucial. They comprise 35 lakh voters, which is
enough to play a decisive role in any election,” according to a published paper,
‘Electoral Participation of the Tea Tribe Community in Assam: Special Reference
to Lok Sabha Election of 2019’, by Pranami Laskar, a PhD scholar of Assam
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