Hemendra Barooah passes away - Renowned Assam planter dies in Bangkok; leaders, tea industry mourn

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By OUR BUREAU
  • Published 1.08.13
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Guwahati/Calcutta, July 31: Noted Assam tea planter and industrialist Hemendra Prasad Barooah passed away this evening in Bangkok.

According to Deena Raj, Barooah’s niece who had accompanied him to Bangkok for a health check-up, Barooah passed away in his hotel room “between 7.20pm and 7.30pm Bangkok time. “He died of a heart attack,” Deena said from Bangkok. The planter, born on April 1, 1926, is survived by two daughters. His wife and son predeceased him.

An MBA from Harvard in 1950 and a Padmashree, Barooah, a trailblazer in the tea industry, owned a number of companies, from tea to tourism. His flagship company, B&A Limited, owns nine tea gardens with an average production of 57lakh kg of tea. The group also owns Assam Tea Brokers Private Limited, B&A Multiwall Packaging, Heritage North East Pvt Ltd and Kaziranga Golf Club Limited.

A pioneer in tea tourism, Barooah opened up his ancestral home at Jalukonibari, 15km from Jorhat, to tourists in 2000 and named it Thengal Manor. Next he opened up two more colonial era managers’ bungalows of his gardens in the district at Gotonga and Sangsua to serve an unforgettable tea experience to visitors. His next venture was opening up of a golf course of international standards, the Kaziranga Golf Resort, at Sangsua to give an added boost to tea tourism.

Tributes flowed in as the news of his death spread.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, a long-time friend, said, “It’s an irreparable loss to the nation and the tea industry. We will miss him.”

Latifur Rahman, prominent industrialist of Bangladesh, who is married to Barooah’s niece, said from Dhaka, “Before he died, he had set up the Hemen Barooah Benevolent Trust, which would get a majority of his holdings. He wanted to use the profits of his companies for the benefit of Assamese womenfolk and the education of their children. I hope that wish of his is fulfilled. Barooah was such a proud Assamese.”

Kalpana Lajmi, film director and associate of Bhupen Hazarika, said from Mumbai, “Losing Barooah is like losing Bhupenda all over again. He was so close to us. He was a great man with a great intellect and so much ahead of his times. He was also a great movie buff.”

“He was a great man,” said Somnath Chatterjee, managing director of B&A Ltd. Chatterjee was on his way to Bangkok to bring back Barooah’s remains, when he spoke to The Telegraph.

In accordance with his wishes, Barooah will be cremated at the place of his death.

The planter, to many tea veterans, was the single rock support that the garden owners received as Ulfa insurgency peaked in Assam. “He was the main man to handle insurgency in a way and control it so that the impact was least felt in the gardens. Otherwise, many would have lost their lives. He stood up as the man to communicate with the insurgents, the government and the industry. The tea industry has lost a legend,” Kallol Dutta, president, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

Barooah was also the past president of Bengal Club in Calcutta and also headed the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the eighties.

Rossell Tea managing director C.S. Bedi said, “His was a life well lived. He has been a father figure to the tea industry. He was actually larger than life. He was one of the finest and most successful Assamese entrepreneurs.”

Assam Tea Planters’ Association has condoled Barooah’s death and said it was a big loss for the tea industry in particular and Assam in general. “He was a pioneer in the tea industry and his demise is a big loss,” ATPA chairman Rajib Barooah said.

Rajib, who is also his nephew, said his uncle was looked up to as the patriarch of the family. “He guided us, gave us good counsel. His passing away is a great loss for society, the family and the tea industry,” he said, adding that today was Barooah’s wife, Usha’s birth anniversary.

Jorhat based tea planter Raj Barooah said he was the first Assamese tea entrepreneur to float an IPO.

Retired Supreme Court justice S.N. Phukan, who was a close associate, said Barooah was a man of great stature and his death would be a great loss for society.

“He was sharp witted and had a great human side to him,” Reema Barooah, his niece, said.

N.C. Baruah, former director of B&A Ltd, said, “He was the number one Assamese planter and built an empire of his own, going from just four or five gardens to nine, setting up industries in not just Assam but also Odisha. Apart from a lot of other contributions, he set up the ITA centre at Machkhowa in Guwahati almost single-handedly.”