Jal Jeevan Mission in Tea Gardens

Jal Jeevan Mission in Tea Gardens

In Jorhat’s Letukujan tea estate, Sonia Tanti and her fellow tea plantation workers are thrilled at the prospect of getting access to clean drinking water in her labour lines. The management of this private tea estate have started repairing the pipeline, under the Jal Jeevan Mission programme of the Government. It was built earlier and had deteriorated overtime due to lack of maintenance.

The 45 year old member of the All Adivasi Women’s Association of Assam (AAWAA) has been continuously engaging with the tea estate management and the government department to ensure the provision of clean drinking water. She along with other members had submitted written applications, memorandums to the district administration requesting for supply of clean drinking water to their areas.   

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The trigger for all this lies in a meeting held on 30 August 2021. The Tea Tribe Welfare Department (Government of Assam) organised an interactive session with intellectuals, government representatives and noted citizens of tea tribe community in an initiative named Humder Moner Kotha”; the session was chaired by the chief minister Himanta Biswa Sharma. Jal Jeevan Mission was one of the main objective that was asserted to be enforced in the tea gardens.

Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) aims to provide functional household tap connection to every rural household by 2024. In 2021-22, the State was to get Rs. 3,000 Cr from the Central funds under Jal Jeevan Mission and was advised by the committee to make provision for matching State share and proper expenditure plan. Efforts were to be made by the State to dovetail all available resources by the convergence of different programmes viz. MGNREGS, SBM, 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIs, CAMPA funds, Local Area Development Funds, etc for effective utilisation of funds at village level to ensure drinking water security in rural areas.

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On learning about the Jal Jeevan Mission, Sonia and the others approached the garden management and after several rounds of discussion and persuasion and offering to help, the ball was set rolling.

To set the context, families of the Letukujan Tea Estate depend on a pond located within the labour line to collect water for their everyday use, which Sonia says has dried up. One has to get in the pond to fetch the water, some people clean their dirty buckets and collect the same water for cooking, cleaning and drinking purposes. And of course, that has led to problems. Sonia says, “Skin rashes are common in the garden, and people also often suffer from typhoid and jaundice.” It takes about an hour to fetch the water, as one also needs to stand in a queue for water that is neither clean no potable. Sonia adds that if one was to filter a litre of water they would hardly get 200 gm. “Moreover, not many are aware of the filtration process. And even if you filter, the foul smell remains.”

While the Mission takes shape and the pipeline is being repaired, a water tank has been built near the garden’s office from where the tea garden workers fetch water. This caters to over 100 families of the garden. There are nearly 600 households. Two more water tanks are being built under JJM and pipeline connection are underway to meet the needs of remaining 500 families. This is expected to be completed by October 2022.

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Sonia is associated with Oxfam India through its advocacy work in the tea gardens. Oxfam India is working on building knowledge and capacities to advocate of the local civil society organisation’s that work in the tea gardens so that the workers are able to demand and defend their basic entitlements.

When Sonia is not working at the tea garden plucking tea leaves, she volunteers for a local NGO; she is seen as an activist within the community who is often at the forefront to raise her voice against in human rights violation.

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