WASH Situation Analysis in Tea Estates of Assam


This report was released by RedR India – a humanitarian aid organisation – and the UNICEF Office for Assam and north eastern states in January 2022. It reviews the state of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities on the tea estates in eight districts of Assam: Biswanath, Charaideo, Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Sivasagar, Sonitpur, Tinsukia and Udalguri.

Representatives from Bharatiya Cha Parishad (BCP), Tea Tribes and Adivasi Welfare Department (TTWD) and Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association (ABITA) visited 60 tea estates between October and December 2021, collecting data for the study. Teams from UNICEF and TTWD visited 18 tea estates and conducted structured interviews with tea estate managers, welfare officers, doctors and teachers. They also had group discussions with adolescent girls in the community, ASHAs and Anganwadi workers to assess the reality of WASH facilities. A further questionnaire-based survey was carried out in 1,960 households across the 60 tea estates by members of BCP and ABITA.

Some of the areas assessed through the survey include the availability and accessibility of water, management of faecal sludge in homes, schools and health facilities. The investigations also examined the disaster resilience of the structures. Overall, the report recommends that a combined improvement of services related to health, nutrition and shelter would be required to truly improve the WASH situation in the estates. Expected to guide the next phase of sanitation programmes in the country, the study and related findings also aimed to help ensure a seamless introduction of the Jal Jeevan Mission programme.

The 75-page report contains seven sections: Introduction (Section 1); Findings (Section 2); WASH Situation at Households Level (Section 3); WASH in Institutions (Section 4); Allied and Cross Cutting Thematics (Section 5); A Day in the life of a Woman Tea Plantation Worker (Section 6); and Recommendations (Section 7).


  1. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951, mandates tea companies to ensure sufficient supply of water to all permanent workers. Temporary workers, left out of the act, have to depend on their permanent colleagues to meet their water needs. Water was accessible to 90 per cent of the survey respondents (all permanent workers) within 10 metres of their houses. The distance was less than 100 metres for eight per cent, while the remaining two per cent of the interviewed households had to traverse longer distances.

  2. Different water sources supplied water to the residents in the permanent worker accommodations. Most of the households (76 per cent) used a combination of hand pumps and tube wells, while piped water systems were used by around 18 per cent of the demographic. The infrastructure for these systems, however, needed various improvements for disaster resilience and to avoid contamination from septic tanks.

  3. The survey teams were informed by welfare officers from two tea estates of unequal distribution in the water supplied through piped systems. Water distributed to the labour lines was five times less than that received by executive staff members and 25-35 times less than that received by managers.

  4. When it came to the quality of water, a majority (44 per cent) of the respondents felt the taste of the water was average and rated it three out of five points. A similar proportion of people also rated the clarity of the water as good, rating it four out of five. However, the surveyors found the water far from pure and primarily contaminated by iron (in addition to fluoride, nitrate and arsenic) in different estates, with concentrations between 50 and 900 per cent outside the limits set by the World Health Organization (0.3 mg per litre).

  5. Around nine out of every ten respondents indicated that they had toilet facilities in their households but surveyors noted that these were inadequate. The most dominant types of set-ups included pour flush latrines coupled with either one or two leach pits. However, around 73 per cent of respondents did not have access to running water in the toilets.

  6. The survey found that although improper management of faecal sludge was definitely a problem, a bigger one was the employment of manual cleaners who empty the single pits and septic tanks as they get full. The report notes that the practice is similar to manual scavenging which has been banned in the country since 1993.

  7. Around 33 per cent of households reported risk of flooding and stagnant water in the monsoon.

  8. Segregation of solid waste at the source was not enforced effectively, with only 45 per cent of the households admitting to sorting waste before disposing. The numbers were even more dismal when it came to collection of solid waste from the labour residences – only two per cent of the respondents indicated that solid waste collectors came to their doorstep at all.

  9. Although the Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen (SBM-G) guidelines promise closed drainage networks to all, only a meagre five per cent of the respondents had access to closed drains for sewage water. The rest of the population only had access to open water drains, with one per cent of respondents not having any kind of drainage facility.

  10. The covid-19 pandemic played a pivotal role in increasing people’s awareness about communicable diseases in the estates, informed the doctors interviewed. The report adds that about 90 per cent of the households interviewed had a basic understanding of disease risks.

  11. Despite the Plantation Labour Act of 1951 stipulating that workers should be provided with adequate sanitation facilities in every plantation, none of the tea estates had such provisions, the report notes. This has made the situation particularly unpleasant for female workers, increasing the instances of urinary tract infections and making it difficult for them to maintain menstrual hygiene.

  12. The daily wage of the tea estate workers is just Rs. 207 a day, while the MGNREGA scheme promises workers Rs. 265 a day, with 100 days of guaranteed income. This means the workers are unable to save enough to move anywhere else for a better life or have better purchasing power.

    Focus and Factoids by Nandini Ranganathan.

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


RedR India and UNICEF Office for Assam and north eastern states


RedR India and UNICEF India