March, 2024

A win-win for management and the community

The Plantation Community Empowerment Programme (PCEP) is an initiative across 23 tea estates over nine districts of Assam, India. Its goal is to catalyse a thriving tea sector by improving the well-being and participation of communities living and working on the estates – many of whom face multiple hardships in day-to-day life. To do this, the programme fosters a Community Development Forum (CDF) approach to bring estate management, workers, and the wider community together to resolve key issues. The pilot phase had been in 3 tea estates from 2017 to 2022, and the scale-up phase is currently ongoing in 20 tea estates from 2022 to 2025.

Jinita Das Digal, President of the Pengera Gaon Panchayat

Meet Jinita

Jinita Das Digal, a resident of Borbam Tea Estate, is the President of the Pengera Gaon Panchayat, the village administration unit. She is also a member of the local CDF. Jinita says she joined because of its collaborative approach to solving problems.

She told us how Borbam’s forum now features stakeholders from sectors and communities across all its 2,000 hectares. “We have our estate management, the welfare department, the
ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker, the Anganwadi (community health) worker and the President and Secretary of our Mazdoor (workers) Union,” Jinita says. “We also have some prominent social workers of the estate. We work together through discussions, and we try to complete our work through discussions.”

Women in Borbam

PCEP launched in Borbam with a ground survey of the problems and issues faced by the community, followed by the creation of an Estate Development Plan outlining remedial measures. Two key themes emerged during the survey: women’s safety, and digital skills for young people.

About 65% of the population in Borbam are women. PCEP’s introduction led to the creation of a dedicated women’s safety committee, with members voted for by community workers.
They have organised several programmes in partnership with NGOs to raise awareness of women’s rights and empower them, and they also tackle local complaints related to gender based violence and sexual abuse.

According to Jinita, their presence has helped instil a sense of security and confidence among the women at Borbam. “I think after the CDF started, the women in our garden are coming forward and feeling safer,” she tells us. “Women who used to feel uncomfortable speaking in front of people can do so now. When we arrange meetings and invite them, they come readily and speak up. They feel safe and if they have a problem, they are able to tell us.”

Rajesh Patra, Senior Labour Welfare Officer at Borbam Tea Estate, Vice President of the PCEP programme, and representative for estate management in the CDF, agrees. “Women come [to the] front, sit face-to-face with management and speak about their issues,” he says. “By coming out [and] sitting at the table, it shows they feel safe.”

Young people’s digital skills

During the ground survey, Borbam’s adolescents and children also expressed concerns about their digital literacy. The nearest computer training centre was far from the estate,
making it unaffordable and difficult to access, and they felt they were being put at a disadvantage. With the help of ETP member, Taylors of Harrogate, a new local computer
training centre was launched in Borbam in 2022, with local community members trained as faculty. In its first month, more than 50 students registered for classes. The centre also
provides an affordable document printing service for Borbam residents, saving them time and money where they previously have had to travel out of the estate. Rajesh describes the
computer centre as “a major achievement for Borbam.”

Owning change

Jinita and Rajesh agree that the inclusion of both the women’s safety committee and youth representatives as members of the CDF has given women and young people a platform to raise their concerns. But it has also encouraged them to contribute their own ideas and actions to address them. This has not been an easy task, as different groups have different perspectives and objectives. But through a sense of ownership, it’s been possible to make change happen.

“Estate management alone cannot empower the tea community,” notes Rajesh. “They can give them time and listen to them, but to empower them needs the involvement of all stakeholders.” In this, he recognises PCEP’s potential. “With PCEP, decisions are taken jointly, in the presence of all the stakeholders, and they are transparent. I recommend other gardens take it up,” he says. “It’s a win-win for management and the community.”

Rajesh Patra Senior Labour Welfare Officer at Borbam Tea Estate

Plantation Community Empowerment Programme: highlight video