Awards 1995 Worldaware Award for Social Progress

Worldaware Award for Social Progress

The Winner: Koomber Tea Company Ltd.

Koomber Tea Garden has proper roads, street lights and neat houses supplied with electricity. When state assembly members protested angrily in April about the failure of tea estates in the Barak Valley to supply power, Koomber was named as the exception.

Tea estates in India are more highly taxed than other industries. They also face high expectations. Local people and government officials expect them to help with public services and amenities. In responding to this, Koomber has won widespread praise.

The garden is in an isolated side valley of the Brahmaputra in Assam, a province connected to the rest of India by only a narrow corridor north of Bangladesh. The district, called Cachar, is Bengali-speaking.

Koomber, first planted around 1880, is owned by the Lawrie Group plc which took its present form almost 20 years ago when British owned tea estates had to be restructured; but Koomber has been associated with the group for much longer. It has 2,000 workers and is managed by a local man, Dilip Syam. Lawrie's managing director in India, S. K. Bhasin, worked at Koomber 23 years.

Workers are encouraged to open bank accounts and so save money rather than spend it as soon as it is earned. Houses currently being provided have modern sanitation and smokeless ovens.

The garden produces around 2,000 tonnes of tea a year, some of it sold as packet tea in India. Tea prides itself as a green industry; and Koomber has given a lead by cutting its use of chemical pesticides and using neem (from neem trees) instead.

The Koomber hospital serves the surrounding population and sends a mobile unit regularly to neighbouring villages. It provides a medical service to two villages inhabited by tribal people.

Koomber helped build a science laboratory at Cachar College, Silchar, the chief town of the area. It has helped other schools with classrooms, furniture and scholarships for poor pupils. Ten years ago, it gave a library to Morley High School, which was founded by a Koomber superintendent.

A higher secondary school principal, Bimal Choudhury, says Koomber's help has changed attitudes. "People from all walks of life are now coming forward to help the school.

To create employment, Koomber has encouraged local enterprises with cash and free advice. Previously unemployed youngsters make cane furniture, cook fast food and sell clothes and other goods in Camellia Corner, an estate store. Fish from an artificial lake, the Teckulpar Fishery, is sold cheaply to local people.

What has also impressed Silchar is Koomber's promotion of local sport, including five-a-side football and the provision of an indoor coaching centre. Batuda Dasgupta, 82-year-old sports pioneer, calls the centre a dream come true.

Koomber Tea Co. Ltd, Camellia House, 14 Gurusaday Road, Calcutta 700 019, India