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Assam’s tea industry hit by ULFA’s extortion drive
GUWAHATI, AUG 9 (AGENCIES):
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Published on 9 Aug. 2010 10:48 PM IST
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Tea Estates in Assam are facing a tough time as militant outfits, especially United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) have intensified their extortion activities.
Assam has over 800 tea gardens producing over 500 million kg of tea every year.
The tea estate owners, traders and businessmen - are facing extortion threats from militant outfits.
According to police, over a dozen extortion cases by ULFA have been reported in Tinsukhia district.
In one incident recently, a group of heavily armed ULFA militants entered the Luit tea garden and went on a rampage, burning three vehicles and physically assaulting the plantation manager and workers.
These outfits demand millions of rupees from tea estate owners.
Most of the times the victims prefer to pay the money after negotiations instead of confronting the militants.
Assam’s tea industry provides large-scale employment to local people.
“Tea gardens are the only source of work for us. If we don’t get regular work, we won’t be able to earn and feed our family,” said Bhupen Lohar, a worker at a Tea Garden.
“Every new unit provides us employment. If these units get extortion threats, the owners will have no choice but to shut down their businesses. This will be a major setback for labourers like us,” said Harpal Singh, a businessman in Dibrugarh.
Tea industry in Assam is a major revenue-earning sector for the State.
But, rising incidents of extortion have created a fear psychosis.
Experts view this as a serious threat to state’s economy.
“If terrorist activity goes on, there is every possibility that some of the tea gardens will be shut down, and then what will be the consequence? The consequence will be less revenue to Assam and poorer Assamese economy. And therefore I think that terror activities should be checked and adequate protection should be given,” said Prafulla Rajguru, a retired Principal of the DCB College in Jorhat.
The police believe that ULFA is in disarray after the arrest of almost the entire top brass. he outfit, which is facing a severe financial crunch, is therefore intensifying its extortion drive in upper Assam, and is especially targeting the tea estate owners and traders.

 
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