|"The feeling of
fostering a unity amongst the Indian section of
the tea planters was very acute in the decades before
1920. The problem of finance, sale and transport
threatened the very existence of the Indian planters"
--- wrote late Prasanna Kumar Barooah of Jorhat,
recollecting the plantation of the Assam Tea Planters'
Association's seed at Jorhat as early as in 1921
by no less a person than Deshabhakta Tarun Ram Phookan,
then a practicing barrister and a former member
of the Assam Legislative Council.
Prasanna Kumar Barooah recorded --- 'A meeting
of the Indian planters at the initiative of late
Deshabhakta Tarun Ram Phookan was held at Jorhat
in the year 1921 and a small body was formed with
me and Sri Kanak Dutta Saikia as Secretary and
Assistant Secretary respectively. However, all
our dreams and aspirations materialized only when
we could find a genius like late Karmabir Nabin
Chandra Bardaloi of loving memory, who left no
stone unturned to put the organization on a sound
footing in 1936".
To establish the organisation 22 Indian planters
assembled at the Amolapatty Namghat, Dibrugarh,
on 23rd June, 1935 at a meeting presided over
by Benudhar Rajkhowa. A committee was formed at
the meeting with Prasanna Kumar Barooah of Dibrugarh
as Chairman, Rajani Kanta Baruah as Secretary,
Rameswar Sahariya as Treasurer, Jogendra Nath
Barooah as Assistant Secretary and Karmabir Nabin
Chandra Bardaloi as a member. As per decision
of this committee the first general meeting of
the "Assam Valley Indian Planters Association"
was held at Dibrugarh on 28th October, 1936. This
year is now considered as the date of birth of
our organisation, known today as the Assam Tea
Planters' Association or in short ATPA.
Kamakhya Ram Barooah of Guwahati presided over
the 1936 meeting. At that time the Association
had 79 Tea gardens as members. The meeting was
attended by 48 members from different parts of
the Brahmaputra Valley. Prasanna Kumar Barooah
was the Chairman of the Reception Committee.
In his presidential address at the memorable
meeting Prasanna Kumar Barooah declared --- "It
was through the exertion and initiative of late
Nabin Chandra Bardaloi that this Association was
launched into being in June 1935 here at Dibrugarh.
Since then there was a fair response of enrolment
of members but the general meeting had to be differed
from time to time for one reason or other, but
in the mean time it was functioning as best as
Then the first Chairman of the Association announced
--- "One glaring instance of its achievements
was than by its persevering and insisting efforts
it could secure the right to nominate a member
in the panel of the Tea Cess Committee, which
gentlemen, I dare say you will all rejoice to
think as its first achievement".
Deshneta Kuladhar Chaliha proposed at the meeting
that the Association be named as "The Assam
Valley Indian Tea Planters Association" (the
word 'tea' was omitted earlier) and it be registered
under Section 2 of the Act XXI of 1860. He also
proposed that the rules formed by the Secretary
be provisionally accepted. The meeting decided
that the existing Executive Committee would continue
and co-op the following members --- Someswar Baruah
of Tinsukia, Jadav Prasad Chaliha of Sibsagar,
Tafazal Hussain Hazarika of Titabar and Kuladhar
Chaliha of Jorhat.
Success At Golaghat
Dibrugarh remained as the headquarters of the
Association for four years. In 1941 Mahendra Nath
Barooah of Golaghat as the newly-elected Secretary
shifted the office to one of his cottages at Golaghat,
where the headquarters remained for nine years.
Since opening of the office at Golaghat enrolment
of members increased steadily due to yeoman services
rendered by Mahendra Nath Barooah. Some leading
pro-British Indian planters who kept themselves
aloof from the Association at the initial stage,
due probably to interests taken in the organisation
by a number of Nationalist leaders, slowly began
to enroll as members. In the mean time the Association
was also recognized by the Governments --- both
State and the Central. When India was partitioned
in 1947 and the Sylhet district was cut off from
Assam, the name of the organisation was changed
again from "The Assam Valley Tea Planters'
Association" to the present name "The
Assam Tea Planters' Association" to cover
the whole State, including Cachar district of
the Barak Valley ; not just the Brahmaputra Valley
as covered earlier.
When it was found impossible for Mahendra Nath
Barooah to manage all the increased work by himself
as the Honorary Secretary, the Association decided
to appoint a full time paid Secretary in 1949.---
two years after the organisation began to represent
the whole of Assam. When Rai Bahadur Heramba Prasad
Barooah was elected Chairman in 1950 the headquarters
were shifted from Golaghat to Jorhat and the office
was located at the Jorhat Club premises for some
time on a nominal rent. The Association tried
to have an office building of its own since 1954.
The Government was approached to allot a vacant
plot of land at Jorhat for the purpose but no
suitable plot could be obtained. The Association
then purchased a plot of land at the well known
residential area of Jorhat, known as Tarajan.
Rai Saheb H.B. Kanoi of Dibrugarh donated the
cost for construction of the present head office,
named Kanoi Buildings, after the name of the donor.
This permanent headquarters building was formally
opened in January, 1961.
Ram Labhaya Award
An Association, however, continues by its actions
and achievements and not by its external look
and resources. One of the land-marks of our association
was the award given by Justice Ram Labhaya, Presiding
Officer, Industrial Tribunal, Assam, on 13th August
1959. A dispute arose in 1950s when Assam Chah
Karmachari Sangha demanded the same scale of salary
paid by bigger tea plantations to clerical and
supervisory staff for all tea gardens of the Brahmaputra
Valley ; irrespective of their sizes and production.
As most of the member gardens of our Association
were less than 300 acres we pleaded for different
scales of pay for different categories of gardens
based on their sizes. After 26 months the award
was given in our favour, fixing different scales
of pay for three categories of plantations ---
gardens above 300 acres, gardens between 150 to
300 acres and those below 150 acres.
On completion of 25 years we celebrated the
silver jubilee of the Association in 1961-62 with
due solemnity. Sri Morarji Desai, the then Finance
Minister, Government of India, graced the occasion
as the Chief Guest. The celebrations were presided
over by Sri N.K.Dutta. It pains me, however, to
mention that the Executive Committee of the Association
could not function for sometime in the past due
to certain injunction issued by the Assam High
Court. Otherwise, our track-records of the past
50 years were quite eventful.
The Association felt the need of a combined body
of all the tea associations of the country, including
those of South-India and this opinion had been
recorded in minutes of our meetings since 1946.
The present Consultative Committee of Plantation
Associations (CCPA) comprising of all plantation
associations of North and South India is fulfilling
the expectations of our members.
The Assam Tea Planters' Association may be called
a regional organisation within the wider limit
of the country. It is not a parochial association.
Nor it represents only tea estates of small holdings.
Whoever wants to identify with this region and
the objects of the Association will be welcome
to its fold.
Existence of tea in Assam (petroleum as well)
tempted the British to conquer the region and
develop the Indian tea Industry from its infancy.
They were very clever businessmen. Inspite of
their imperialistic outlook they knew how to keep
good relations with the neighbouring people inhabiting
around their tea estates. They also made friendship
with local aristocrats and nobles. Maniram Dewan,
the first Indian tea planter, who had been credited
for discovery of tea in Assam as well by Samuel
Baildon in his book "Tea in Assam",
was very friendly with both the Bruce brothers,
whom the world recognizes as discoverers of tea
in India. Before opening his two tea gardens Maniram
Dewan served the first joint stock tea company
of India, Assam Company, for six years as a land
agent. Later on, of course, Maniram Dewan faced
many obstacles created by the British planters
and their rulers in opening his tea gardens. Finally
he was hanged to death as a freedom fighter in
1858 for his role in the Sepoy Mutiny. His execution
served as a lesson to the other local tea planters.
They learnt that they could not go against the
rulers if they wanted to succeed in tea plantation.
The things, however, changed slightly in the
20th century, when the Nationalist leaders like
Deshabhakta Phookan, Karmabir Bardaloi, Deshneta
Chaliha and many others came forward to help and
organise the local planters. Although the Nationalist
movement took violent turns from time to time,
even the British tea companies and their estates
did not suffer much. These Nationalist leaders
were very popular among the villagers living around
the tea estates and the agitators were urged by
the leaders not to damage or sabotage the plantations.
The public leaders, some of them tea planters,
knew the value of public relations around the
industries, which, some of our present-day modern
planters and plantation companies are overlooking
in their zeal for increase production, sale and
Lest we Forget the contribution of the local
planters in socio-economic development of the
region have been recognized by all enlightened
Governments and well-informed citizens. The role
of the local planters in development of education,
art, culture etc. of the region deserves more
and wider publicity to prove that our industry
is not motivated by profit alone. Contributions
of Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Parbati Prasad Baruva,
Rohini Kumar Baruah in producing Assamese films,
literature, songs, dramas etc. are well-known
in this State but many remember that they were
also tea planters. Many schools, colleges, clubs,
hospitals, libraries, temples etc. have been opened
by the local planters in different parts of the
State. J.B. College of Jorhat, founded on a plot
of land and a house donated by a local tea planter
family,commemorates the name of the first graduate
tea planter Jagannath Barooah. The Medical College
of Dibrugarh is situated on land of the Jalan
family. To name only a few - Kanoi College, Chandra
Kamala Bezboruah College, Devicharan Baruah Girl's
College, Dr. J.K.Saikia Homeo College, N.N.Saikia
College, Debraj Roy College, Jogananda Deva Goswami
College, Handique Girl's College - are all established
by donations of the local planters. Bisturam Barooah
Hall, Bisturam Barooah Hospital, Dandiram Bardoloi
Child Welfare Centre, Bhagawati Prasad Baruva
Hall, Lakhiram Barooah Hall, Chandrakanta Handique
Hall, Kali Prasad Chaliha Memorial Hall, to name
again a few only - are all results of the local
planters' generosity and philanthropy.
All progressive tea planters are aware of their
duties towards the region of their operations
and the Country. Right implies duties. We cannot
claim our right to progress in our trade without
performing our rightful duties. The responsibility
of thousands of the workers and their families
lies with us. As they are increasingly becoming
conscious of their rights, they are also expected
to be aware of their duties. In the same way the
Government has the right to tax us, as well as
some duties for our progress and success. The
Assam Tea Planters' Association, completing 50
years of its humble but useful life this year,
looks forward to better productivity and industrial
peace in the years to come.