The tea and coffee plantations at Manjolai Tea Estates, are situated in the Western Ghats in Ambasamudram taluk in Tirunelveli district. Spread over forest land measuring about 3,500 hectares, the plantations are owned by the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. They consist of a group of tea estates – Singampatti Group – which is divided into three units: Manjolai Estate (three divisions), Manimuthar estate (two divisions) and Oothu estate (two divisions). I am blessed to work in Singampatti Group late 1999 to early 2002
BOMBAY BURMAH TRADING CORPORATION
The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited (often simply called the “Bombay Burmah Trading Company”) was formed in 1863 by the Wallace Brothers. The Corporation was originally formed as a public company to engage in the Burmese tea business by taking over the assets in Burma of William Wallace. It is India’s second oldest publicly quoted company.
The Wallace Brothers were a Scottish merchant house in Edinburgh. The six brothers first arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1840s to develop large Burmese operations. A Bombay partnership was formed in 1848 as “Wallace Bros & Co”. In the mid-1850s the Wallaces set up a business in Rangoon, shipping tea to Bombay. In 1862 The Wallace’s, who had been in partnership with and English merchant both in Bombay and in London, established their own partnership, Wallace Brothers, in London. In 1863 the business was floated as “The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation” (BBTC). Its equity was held by Indian merchants, as well as the Wallace Brothers who had the controlling interests. By the 1870s it was a leading producer of teak in Burma and Siam as well as having other interests in cotton, oil exploration and shipping.
British motivations for the third Anglo-Burmese War – (The Third Anglo-Burmese War, also known as the Third Burma War, was a conflict that took place during 7–29 November 1885, with sporadic resistance and insurgency continuing into 1887. Dates: 14 Nov 1885 – 27 Nov 1885 Result: End of the Konbaung Dynasty in Upper Burma. The province of Burma becomes part of British India. Continuation of resistance until 1895 (British victory)) – were partly influenced by concerns of capitalism. The Burmese state’s conflict with the BBTC furnished British leaders with a pretext for conquest. By the 1880s Wallace Brothers had become a leading financial house in London. This firm was able to affect the intelligence about Burma and, more critically, about the growing French influence in the country.
The Vissanji family purchased the company from the Wallace brothers around the time of Indian independence. The BBTC acquired and merged in BCS Springs. Later, The BBTC was acquired by the Wadia group based in Bombay.
The 150-year-old Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited entered the plantation business in 1913. Today its plantations in the hills of South India cover 2,822 hectares under tea. These plantations are located in prime plantation areas, producing 8 million kgs of tea annually. Preserving the aroma, flavour and distinct taste of classic Indian tea, BBTC is one of the most experienced and highly respected business houses in the country. Operating for the last 150 years. The BBTCL was incorporated in 1863 and is the oldest Rupee company in India founded with public participation. As the name suggests, the company in its early years, dealt with the trading of timber from Burma (now Myanmar). It was not until 1913 that they turned their attention to tea plantations. After learning about the areas suitable for tea plantations in South India, BBTC decided to invest there and opened their first estates in the Anamallai hills of Coimbatore District in Tamil Nadu.
By 1926, BBTC established “The Mudis Group of Estates”, which today comprises of five Tea Estates and four factories having 1,863 hectares for tea plantation. It was also at this time that BBTC acquired land in the further south (at the tip of the Indian peninsular) and founded “The Singampatti Group” which today has three estates, covering 804 hectares and having three factories. In addition, BBTC, as popularly known in South India acquired Dunsandle Estate (155 hectares) in the Nilgiris, which is one of the earliest planted estates in South India. Today, BBTC has 2,822 hectares under tea and produce about 8 million kgs of tea annually.
Situated at the southern tip of the Western Ghats, just 40 miles from the cape of the peninsular, is the Singampatti Group of Estates of BBTCL. The estates nestled in the midst of a lush green rainforest, which stands untouched and pristine and is completely isolated. No other human habitation or industry exists in the area for miles around. The elevation of the three estates in the group range from 2,300 to 4,200 feet above sea level. The lowest is named Manjolai, which translates to ‘mango grove.’ The next estate is 10 kilometres away and 1,500 feet higher and is called Manimuttar (river of pearls) after the river that flows through it. The third, close to Manimuttar, is Oothu, which means ‘spring of water.
History says Its polygar belonged to the Siruthaali-Katti subcaste of the Maravar. According to tradition, the founder of the Singampati family was Apadhurhara Thevar, who on orders from the Pandyan ruler of the day, routed an invading Kannada army and, as a reward, was given possession of Singampati. The fifth in descent was made polygar of Singampati by Visvanatha Nayakar, the first king of Madurai. This palaiyam headed 24 palaiyams of 72 palaiyams of south Tamil Nadu (Undivided Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari)
Coalition with Puli Thevar in Poligar War
Singampati was one of the palaiyams that joined Pooli Thevan’s coalition in 1754-1761 (see Nerkattumseval). In 1766, it joined the insurrection led by the polegar of Kollamkondan after victories over the Anglo-Nawabi forces helped the revolt spread to other polygars. That same year, General Donald Campbell began a systematic campaign, taking the forts of the major confederates one by one, including Singampati. Anxious over Hyder Ali’s activities, however, Campbell settled the polegars’ revenue accounts and restored them to their possessions in 1767.
At the end of the First Polygar War in 1799, the polygar of Singampati surrendered one fort and 105 armed men to Major J. Bannerman. The palaiyam, which had been under the Company’s administration since 1798 and consisted of only one village at the time, was restored to its former chief, Polygar Nellakotti Thevar(Nallakutti Thevar), in 1801, at the conclusion of the Second Polegar War; it survived into the 19th century as a zamindari. The zamindari originally had an area of more than 90 sq. m., and included four villages.
Post-abolition of Zamindari – Singampatti currently comes under Ambasamudram Taluk of Tirunelveli District. Manjolai area is set deep within the Western Ghats within the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in the Tirunelveli District. Located on top of the Manimuthar Dam & the Manimuthar Water Falls, the Manjolai area comprises Tea Plantations, Small settlements around the tea plantations; Upper Kodaiyar Dam and a windy view point called Kuthiravetti The Tea Plantations and the whole of Manjolai Estates are tea operated by The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd on Forest Lands leased by the Singampatti Zamindar in 1929. The estates, road & the settlements in the Manjolai area are managed by Singampatti Group.
The BBTC entered the plantation business in 1913 and has been at the centre of one controversy or another from the time it acquired the forest land in 1929 on a 99-year lease under agreed conditions from the Singampatti Zemin. The company made a down payment of Rs.88 per hectare and agreed to pay an annual rent of Rs.4.32 per hectare. On February 19, 1952, the land was taken over from the ownership of the zamindar and vested with the Government under the Madras Estates Abolition Act, 1948. However, the Board of Revenue, in its proceedings of August 13, 1958, stated that although the company was not entitled to any rights in or to remain in possession of, the land leased out to it, on or after February 19, 1952, it could continue to use the land subject to certain additional conditions that were deemed necessary in the public interest. The conditions, which placed restrictions on the company in respect of clearing forests and selling timber, were modified whenever the need arose.
BBTC Oothu Estate is ISO 9002:2000 Certified. In 1988, when the idea of organic tea arose, it was natural to think of Singampatti. The isolation from external contamination was a contributing consideration, and the environment was the clinching factor.
From Tea to Organic Tea
Botanically Tea plants are the species of Camellia Sinensis or Thea Sinensis and organic tea is not a different plant but the cultivation process and natural treatment bring about a considerable difference. Organic tea cultures totally discard the flow of agrochemicals in the food chain.
Organic tea came into being by the philosophical views of Rudolf Steiner and later Lady Eve Balfour, who in the 1930s founded the Soil Association and encouraged the culture of organic and beverages in developing countries. Furthering this initiation we started organic tea cultures.
Organic cultivation is not just manpower intensive, but also taxing on the fertility front, where soil fertility has to be maintained without the use of chemicals. BBTC, therefore, made enriching composite on site, which when combined with oil seed cake acts as a banned fertiliser, improving soil condition and conservation. Vermiculture, nature’s own way of soil enrichment was used extensively.
Complete Organic Cultivation
Organic tea at Oothu is grown with absolutely no chemical input or artificial fertilisers. Nutrition is provided by the use of vermiculture and large scale application of compost and oil cakes. All pest and disease control is carried out by purely natural methods of cultivation. Today, Oothu Tea Estate produces 1million kgs of organic tea annually.
Tea appreciated the world over
In 1992, BBTC built a factory dedicated to the manufacture of organic tea at Oothu and today, both black and green tea are produced here. This production is carefully inspected and certified by The Institut Für Marktökologie, Switzerland, that is accredited to EEC and associate members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The certification conforms to EEC regulations for production of organic
Mr.P.D. Jothikumar (Ex.VP. Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd) shared the following details with me “The lease from the zamindar was for little over 8200 acres. Initially, coffee and cardamom were planted with a small acreage of tea. Coffee did not fare well and was gradually replaced with tea.Oothu, K.V and Kakachi and stream division of M.J.were originally planted with coffee. Once zamindari was abolished in the mid-fifties, the government became the owner. They allowed the corporation to continue the lease imposing some conditions. No.1 is leaving an area of about 1200 acres of cardamom abandoned to serve as a corridor for the migration of lion-tailed macaque. No.2 is not to have any activities in the Kusunguliar (Manimuttar falls)catchment area.The corporation agreed to these conditions and continuing the operations.Out of the original 8200 acres, only about 3500 acres were cleared for plantation work and the rest is undisturbed jungle even today.”
My sincere thanks to Mr. Ronne M Disawalla for the Guidance to make this article https://www.facebook.com/ronnie.disawalla