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ATPA and tea: An entwined journey

By Raj Barooah

HER MAJESTY, the Queen of England�s first command after her accession to the throne is said to have been, �Bring me a cup of tea and the Times.� The English loved their tea so much so that tea was considered �the great rival of alcohol� and also treated by them as �the sovereign drink of pleasure and of health.� *

When China ended the opium trade, the English lost its lucrative sourcing of tea from that country in the first quarter of 1800. The discovery of the tea plant growing in the wild of Assam in 1835 was the primary reason they reneged on the treaty on the pretext of default with Purundar Singha � the last Ahom king of Assam and annexed the State. From then they enticed their English youths to travel up to Assam and take up tea plantation. Since presenting the rare delicacy to the Queen in 1664 (these were teas from China) the English East India Company went about finding newer markets for tea in the western world.

By the end of the 19th century the English made tea their own and took this commodity that they now were growing with great success in their own colonies of India and Sri Lanka. They auctioned the entire produce of tea produced in these colonies on Mincing Lane in London. Their companies such as Lipton and Twinings� marketed all of it in the western world for superlative profits. The first Assam tea auctioned on Mincing Lane was 488 pounds in 60 chests and sold at 9s 5d per pound in 1838. It needs mention that the English dispatched tea seeds to all their colonies, including Burma, Fiji and Natal and even to the Dutch colonies from Assam. There is evidence that they even tried to grow tea in the United States.

Robert Bruce contacted the Singpho king and confirmed that the tea plant growing in the wild was of commercial value, arguably after Maniram Dewan, the then Prime Minister of Assam, had led him there. The spirit of Assamese enterprise in this century was on great display when the Dewan saw immediate opportunity in tea cultivation and joined the first organised tea company in the world, the Assam Tea Company, as an agent, to acquire knowledge about tea. He left them or some say he was sacked, after four years in 1845. He immediately applied for land to start his own tea plantation. After vehemently opposing Maniram Dutta Barbhandar Baruah�s (Maniram Dewan) application, the English relented and he was granted 2000 bighas of land at an exorbitant price of Rs 500, to be paid as land revenue. He started the first tea estate by an Indian in Cinnamora near Jorhat. Later, he also planted the Selung (Singlo) Tea Estate near Sivasagar. There were many other budding Assamese entrepreneurs who took to tea cultivation during the end of this century and opened several tea estates.

Tea estates were being started with unimaginable haste in Assam till the first trial for tea, when, like all commodities, it was struck by its first economic crisis. The year 1864 saw the first-ever slump in prices of tea due to an excess on the supply side and by 1866 many of the Assamese tea estate owners along with the English tea companies had to sell their tea estates. It is documented that these disastrous years ended with the Assamese planters coining the phrase �cha eri diya� (leave the tea business).

The English planters also faced their first economic slump in their fortunes in tea. However, all overcame this slump by increasing productivity in their fields and by the end of that century, English India�s production had overtaken China�s. The last quarter of the 19th century witnessed the tea industry developing into a well organised and well trenched one: brought about by mechanisation of the tea factory, the starting of the railhead along the tea districts of Assam, English inspectors �inspecting� the tea estates and its labour force and unproductive tea estates even being sold. Indians were purchasing small sized tea estates from the English. This led to a thriving business community that was by now fully aware of the dangers that threatened their business. And they realised that over production of the commodity also depressed prices of their teas and that at times the revenue generated was not enough to meet their costs.

It thus dawned upon these entrepreneurs that the tea business could make losses. The tea industry of Assam was now fully entrenched with the dynamics of business. The tea planters also discovered the perception of threat to their businesses and it led to the formation of a forum or association amongst them and the English tea companies in the name and style of Indian Tea Association (ITA) in 1881. ITA was headquartered at Calcutta.

By the beginning of the 20th century, many Assamese families were being attracted to the feudalistic tea life on display by the English and many more took to planting tea. The Marwari trader population had grown sizeable in Assam and they also saw great opportunity in tea. They were by then serving many a tea estate as their banker. Not ones to let go of a good opportunity, the Marwaris also undertook tea plantation.

The longest, most widespread and deepest depression of the 20th century started in 1929. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices the world over fell by approximately 60 per cent due to plummeting demand. Tea was not immune to it and the Assam tea industry witnessed its second major crisis. In all, 329 major tea companies from India, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies participated in the first and only international cartelisation to regulate tea production by signing an agreement in 1930. This was a first and a fantastic display of international bonhomie between producers of any crop in the world.

The Indian indigenous tea plantations also suffered huge losses during this period. It was a period when the Freedom Movement was gaining momentum. Indians all over the country felt a sense of nationalisation. It was not the parochial Assamese, Bengali, North Indian or Marwari, but Indian. This feeling amongst Indians gave rise to the idea of getting together and forming an Indian association amongst the indigenous tea planters. The first documentation of Indian tea planters getting together to form such a platform was in 1921 at the initiation of Tarun Ram Phookun. These meetings continued and it took till October 28, 1936 � exactly 100 years after tea planting was commercialised in Assam � to hold the first general meeting of the Assam Tea Planters� Association (ATPA) at Jorhat, thus giving birth to an association of Indian tea planters.

ATPA was pioneered and created by Indians who had ingrained in them great patriotism and nationalistic leaning.

However, it is of great regret that during the period of independent India, ATPA had faced challenges of parochialism. This is no occasion to discuss such issues, but a time for jubilation on ATPA�s 75 years of existence. ATPA goes to celebrate its platinum jubilee on April 21, 2012 with great pride and with heads held high. ATPA has great maturity today and it holds respect amongst tea planters� associations in India. It has stood the test of time to be standing as a cohesive and vibrant association as it helped its member tea estates see through the third major crisis for the Indian tea industry from 1999 to 2006 � the first for independent India.

There will be many more crises and ATPA will be there for the tea industry of the world as it starts its journey into a milieu to shoulder its responsibilities of the 21st century. It will be a challenging one, but ATPA will remain in the core of this fantastic tea journey which started with someone loving his/her �cuppa that cheers!�

* Tea : A Textbook of Tea Planting and Manufacture by David Crole (1890.)

(This article is published to mark the platinum jubilee of Assam Tea Planters� Association and the writer is a past chairman of ATPA)

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ATPA and tea: An entwined journey

HER MAJESTY, the Queen of England�s first command after her accession to the throne is said to have been, �Bring me a cup of tea and the Times.� The English loved their tea so much so that tea was considered �the great rival of alcohol� and also treated by them as �the sovereign drink of pleasure and of health.� *

When China ended the opium trade, the English lost its lucrative sourcing of tea from that country in the first quarter of 1800. The discovery of the tea plant growing in the wild of Assam in 1835 was the primary reason they reneged on the treaty on the pretext of default with Purundar Singha � the last Ahom king of Assam and annexed the State. From then they enticed their English youths to travel up to Assam and take up tea plantation. Since presenting the rare delicacy to the Queen in 1664 (these were teas from China) the English East India Company went about finding newer markets for tea in the western world.

By the end of the 19th century the English made tea their own and took this commodity that they now were growing with great success in their own colonies of India and Sri Lanka. They auctioned the entire produce of tea produced in these colonies on Mincing Lane in London. Their companies such as Lipton and Twinings� marketed all of it in the western world for superlative profits. The first Assam tea auctioned on Mincing Lane was 488 pounds in 60 chests and sold at 9s 5d per pound in 1838. It needs mention that the English dispatched tea seeds to all their colonies, including Burma, Fiji and Natal and even to the Dutch colonies from Assam. There is evidence that they even tried to grow tea in the United States.

Robert Bruce contacted the Singpho king and confirmed that the tea plant growing in the wild was of commercial value, arguably after Maniram Dewan, the then Prime Minister of Assam, had led him there. The spirit of Assamese enterprise in this century was on great display when the Dewan saw immediate opportunity in tea cultivation and joined the first organised tea company in the world, the Assam Tea Company, as an agent, to acquire knowledge about tea. He left them or some say he was sacked, after four years in 1845. He immediately applied for land to start his own tea plantation. After vehemently opposing Maniram Dutta Barbhandar Baruah�s (Maniram Dewan) application, the English relented and he was granted 2000 bighas of land at an exorbitant price of Rs 500, to be paid as land revenue. He started the first tea estate by an Indian in Cinnamora near Jorhat. Later, he also planted the Selung (Singlo) Tea Estate near Sivasagar. There were many other budding Assamese entrepreneurs who took to tea cultivation during the end of this century and opened several tea estates.

Tea estates were being started with unimaginable haste in Assam till the first trial for tea, when, like all commodities, it was struck by its first economic crisis. The year 1864 saw the first-ever slump in prices of tea due to an excess on the supply side and by 1866 many of the Assamese tea estate owners along with the English tea companies had to sell their tea estates. It is documented that these disastrous years ended with the Assamese planters coining the phrase �cha eri diya� (leave the tea business).

The English planters also faced their first economic slump in their fortunes in tea. However, all overcame this slump by increasing productivity in their fields and by the end of that century, English India�s production had overtaken China�s. The last quarter of the 19th century witnessed the tea industry developing into a well organised and well trenched one: brought about by mechanisation of the tea factory, the starting of the railhead along the tea districts of Assam, English inspectors �inspecting� the tea estates and its labour force and unproductive tea estates even being sold. Indians were purchasing small sized tea estates from the English. This led to a thriving business community that was by now fully aware of the dangers that threatened their business. And they realised that over production of the commodity also depressed prices of their teas and that at times the revenue generated was not enough to meet their costs.

It thus dawned upon these entrepreneurs that the tea business could make losses. The tea industry of Assam was now fully entrenched with the dynamics of business. The tea planters also discovered the perception of threat to their businesses and it led to the formation of a forum or association amongst them and the English tea companies in the name and style of Indian Tea Association (ITA) in 1881. ITA was headquartered at Calcutta.

By the beginning of the 20th century, many Assamese families were being attracted to the feudalistic tea life on display by the English and many more took to planting tea. The Marwari trader population had grown sizeable in Assam and they also saw great opportunity in tea. They were by then serving many a tea estate as their banker. Not ones to let go of a good opportunity, the Marwaris also undertook tea plantation.

The longest, most widespread and deepest depression of the 20th century started in 1929. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices the world over fell by approximately 60 per cent due to plummeting demand. Tea was not immune to it and the Assam tea industry witnessed its second major crisis. In all, 329 major tea companies from India, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies participated in the first and only international cartelisation to regulate tea production by signing an agreement in 1930. This was a first and a fantastic display of international bonhomie between producers of any crop in the world.

The Indian indigenous tea plantations also suffered huge losses during this period. It was a period when the Freedom Movement was gaining momentum. Indians all over the country felt a sense of nationalisation. It was not the parochial Assamese, Bengali, North Indian or Marwari, but Indian. This feeling amongst Indians gave rise to the idea of getting together and forming an Indian association amongst the indigenous tea planters. The first documentation of Indian tea planters getting together to form such a platform was in 1921 at the initiation of Tarun Ram Phookun. These meetings continued and it took till October 28, 1936 � exactly 100 years after tea planting was commercialised in Assam � to hold the first general meeting of the Assam Tea Planters� Association (ATPA) at Jorhat, thus giving birth to an association of Indian tea planters.

ATPA was pioneered and created by Indians who had ingrained in them great patriotism and nationalistic leaning.

However, it is of great regret that during the period of independent India, ATPA had faced challenges of parochialism. This is no occasion to discuss such issues, but a time for jubilation on ATPA�s 75 years of existence. ATPA goes to celebrate its platinum jubilee on April 21, 2012 with great pride and with heads held high. ATPA has great maturity today and it holds respect amongst tea planters� associations in India. It has stood the test of time to be standing as a cohesive and vibrant association as it helped its member tea estates see through the third major crisis for the Indian tea industry from 1999 to 2006 � the first for independent India.

There will be many more crises and ATPA will be there for the tea industry of the world as it starts its journey into a milieu to shoulder its responsibilities of the 21st century. It will be a challenging one, but ATPA will remain in the core of this fantastic tea journey which started with someone loving his/her �cuppa that cheers!�

* Tea : A Textbook of Tea Planting and Manufacture by David Crole (1890.)

(This article is published to mark the platinum jubilee of Assam Tea Planters� Association and the writer is a past chairman of ATPA)