By Amlan Kusum Dutta
As I sit in my office at Dhulapadung Tea Estate and look back at my career, I feel that my journey from a civil engineer to a tea planter has been led by strong company policies, proper guidance from seniors, support from my peers and an extremely talented team at Apeejay Tea. I owe whatever I am today to each one of them. The amount of knowledge I gained from my garden sirdars and old estate staff members was of immense help to me in executing my day to day responsibilities.
I am really proud to be associated with Apeejay Tea Group and I consider myself very lucky to have worked with many great minds of this Industry which has shaped my career in the last 20 years, right from my first manager who taught me a lot about field activities to so many more who trained & guided me to adopt the practices and culture of a tea estate.
I still remember the day when I was called for an interview to this Group. Armed with a degree in civil engineering and having worked in the construction and oil & gas sectors in Kolkata, New Delhi and Assam, I was looking for a job in Assam in 1999 since my parents were living alone in Guwahati and I had to be by their side as I am the elder son in my family and my younger brother was working abroad. I knew that the tea industry is a highly labour intensive industry, not much different from industries which a civil engineer may need to work in. So I was confident to handle the labour force. To my utter surprise, I, given the role of a Garden Assistant Manager who would normally have one division under his care as a planter.
This is how my journey began in the agriculture Industry. I joined Apeejay as a Trainee Assistant Manager in the year 1999 in Empire & Singlo Tea Ltd, at Muttrapore Tea Estate. I took up this job and made up my mind to face the challenge of working in a totally new work environment involving such a huge workforce in the day to day operations. For someone whose childhood dream had been to become a successful engineer, I realized that a planters job was not only about regular agricultural practices, but it also entails all of us with a greater responsibility towards a larger community – a large workforce, looking after their wellbeing and providing them with a means of livelihood, which has been running for many generations in their family.
One of my key learnings during this time, which was to help me later in my career, was ‘People Management’. I realized that one can never succeed without the support of your team. Apeejay has always been highly committed to work for the welfare of the employees, and I have tried to develop and build the same culture within me. It has been a daily routine for me to discuss both professional as well as their personal matters with my workforce. This scope you will not get in any other industry except tea. In this Industry, you also need courage and passion to face different situations which may arise on a day to day basis, as you are dealing with a diverse set of workforce, a work environment (agriculture) which is not fully in your control.
2003 was one of the most difficult phases of my career as we had an unfortunate incident of AISF opening fire at workers agitating outside the manager’s office. The firing led to the death of 5 people who were vandalising the office. The estate manager and two assistant managers left the estate and it was locked down for 6 days till it was reopened. I was transferred there during the lockout period and handed over charge of a division which had lost lives in the firing. The company was as unhappy about the incident as were workers but we tried our best to get over it. It took us almost one month to bring the garden back to the normalcy and I stayed there for another two months and contributed to restarting the garden activities after such unfortunate incident. During this time, I learnt that in order to gain respect, you need to give respect.
In December 2017, I was fortunate enough to visit tea estates in Sri Lanka and see how high grown and low grown estates are managed. We visited High grown, Medium grown and Low Grown area tea estates. Sri Lanka produces 100% orthodox. Most of the factories we visited are online orthodox manufacturers. We also visited a factory “Kirkoswald” which manufactures rotorvane orthodox. It was a new learning for all of us. We had few tasting sessions. We visited a boutique tea factory named “Pedro”, they have a worldwide famous packaged tea brand called “Lover’s Leap”. I learnt about online orthodox manufacture and that has been another key learning for me in my career.
In January 2019, I was promoted as a Deputy Manager in charge (Independent charge) at Dhulapadung Tea Estate. There were two initial challenges before me – 1) Crop and 2) Enhanced Orthodox Production Target. Since I was in the factory for nine consecutive years, from 2010 to 2018, I was detached from field activities. Hence, I concentrated 70% of my time in the field to understand and deliver as per the target entrusted to me. I along with my team mates Mr. V.C.Commissariat, Mr. Jyoti Gogoi, Mr. Dilip Gurung, and Mr. Ravinder Singh Bhambra put all our efforts together to achieve the targets. We harvested 10.08 Lacs of crop which was 0.31 lacs more than the previous year. At Dhulapadung, we have produced 7.83 Lacs of Orthodox tea this year which is 1.24 lacs more than last year and an all-time highest produce. We faced RA audit in December 2019, which was again a challenge for me as an estate-in-charge and I have been able to clear the audit with a decent report.
I am married and have two kids. My son Atish Dipankar Dutta is studying in Class X and my daughter Aratrika Dutta is studying in class VII. My wife Malini Dutta has done her M.A. in Education and is a home-maker. I have one younger sister who is married and one younger brother who works in IBM as Senior Manager in Bangalore.
I am thankful to be a part of Apeejay as it empowers employees for their individual growth, shares information with employees for overall improvement, growth in diversity of thought, and modernize operations. This is a great company to work for and I hope to take the Group to greater heights. My suggestion for youngsters would be to work with passion and sincerity. If you do not love what you do, you will never achieve your goal.
Amlan Kusum Dutta is Deputy Manager-in-Charge, Sessa Tea Estate. At the time of writing this blog he was posted in Dhulapadung Tea Estate