Providing a standing ovation to the silent plucker on the fields of the regional plantation companies, the tea industry on Thursday attempted to recognise the worker on the estates in a last minute decision to include them at a national event to mark 150 years of Ceylon tea. Travelling to Colombo since early 3 am [...]

Business Times

Plucker, kangani feted at grand Ceylon Tea celebrations


Providing a standing ovation to the silent plucker on the fields of the regional plantation companies, the tea industry on Thursday attempted to recognise the worker on the estates in a last minute decision to include them at a national event to mark 150 years of Ceylon tea.

File picture of tea plantation workers.

Travelling to Colombo since early 3 am when all others might be asleep, six tea pluckers, a kangani, and the estate manager from the Loolecondera plantation which was considered the first estate on which tea pioneer James Taylor was said to have planted the first tea seeds from Assam, arrived at the BMICH and were given a fitting welcome.

The event that filled its main hall to capacity was to launch a book on the trade that made a nation – Ceylon Tea and subsequently the Grand Charity Auction which was held in a grand manner with the participation of Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake and Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda.

The Old Joes Choir was brought to render their voices to the commencement of the day’s programme with the singing of the National Anthem.

Chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders Association (CTTA) Anslem Perera addressing the industry members spoke about the significance of the book “Ceylon Tea – A Trade that Changed a Nation” identifying it as the authentic historical chronicle regarding an industry that sustained the economy of the county and a reference source of great value.
The book is said to be viewing the country through the eyes of the tea industry, he noted.

Dr. Pethiyagoda kept the gathering in fits of laughter with anecdotes including one about his last speech at the CTTA AGM about a slow government bureaucracy that got him pulled up by the Minister who had in turn been hauled before the Prime Minister for taking digs at the government.

Moreover, the SLTB Chairman noted that while walking into the hall the Minister had asked whether the SLTB was also buying anything at the auction to which he had responded that if they were to do so then they would have to first obtain the approval of at least six agencies and call for tenders!

The minister had then asked him to cut all that red tape and make a bid to which he told the audience that he was saying this so that he would not be hauled before the FCID on a probe on the matter in future (clearly indicating the current status of affairs in the government)!

Minister Dissanayake taking the podium continued the banter in a more subdued manner by noting that when he was questioned by the Prime Minister his apt response had been that since Dr. Pethiyagoda was a Thomian he was making digs at the Royalists in government!

During his speech on a more serious note, he said, “I’m encouraged and frightened of the future of the tea industry.”
He noted that future governments should move away from doing business and leave it to the private sector and called for more de-regulation of the industry in order for the sector to grow.

The Minister recalled how the country had shifted from the RPCs to the smallholders that today contribute 73 per cent of the total production of the country’s tea for exports and queried who would have thought that the smallholder would be the major backbone of this industry.

Minister Dissanayake also wanted the industry to think about working together in a spirit of togetherness as was evident with the garment sector.

He noted that glyphosate still continued to be an issue at hand and added that they were “overburdened” by government regulation stating “Yahapalanaya makes sure you have to go through that process.”

Later, Mr. Perera took the stage to present the first book launched to the Minister which has been authored by Richard Simon and illustrations and photographs edited by Dominic Sansoni.

Then six tea pluckers: S. Pushparani, Maheswari, Dayamini, Kumari and Nakuramma were commended along with their kangani of the No.7 block of the Loolecondera estate accompanied by Estate Manager Dhammika Kodituwakku and Director of Lalan Group Sunil De Alwis in a symbolical gesture, receiving a standing ovation from the audience for the hard work of these workers on the plantations and given items of clothing, jewellery and other gifts for their contribution.

This idea that was mooted just 10 days prior to this event was included to minimise criticism of how the workers of generations of ancestors that contributed to the livelihood of millions were left out of the celebrations of 150 years of Ceylon tea.

Following these events a grand auction was held with brokers John Keells, Bartleet, Forbes and Walker, Ceylon Tea Brokers, Eastern Brokers, Mercantile Produce, Asia Siyaka and Lanka Commodity Brokers selling collector’s items in succession like a James Taylor bust, Sterling Silver Tea Roller, Sterling Silver Tea Pot, Sterling Silver Gavel, Sterling Silver Tasters Set and a Sterling Silver Scale including teas in a decorative tea chest.

The bust that was offered for Rs.1 million in the first round was finally sold for Rs. 2.1 million, the tea roller was sold for Rs.2.5 million.

The auction was the final act, a lively event with the auctioneers from the youngest in the field to the some of the veterans giving off their best to sell the valuable works the proceeds of which would aid the children of the tea industry workers. Throwing caution to the winds, the SLTB also participated in the auction buying a sterling silver tea tasting set.

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