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  • THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TEA INDUSTRY IN INDIA AND PAKISTANAuthor(s): Arnold WhittakerSource: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 97, No. 4800 (29th JULY, 1949), pp. 678-687Published by: Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and CommerceStable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 15:15

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    By Arnold Whittaker, c.s.i., c.i.e.

    India, Pakistan and Burma Section, Thursday, 7th April, 1949

    C. K. Nicholl, Chairman , Indian Tea Association {London), in the Chair

    The Chairman: It is an honour to preside this afternoon and have the privilege of introducing Mr. Arnold Whittaker, for there can be few who possess the same intimate knowledge not only of India and its peoples but also of tea.

    I ought perhaps to explain to you how Mr. Whittaker came to be associated with the industry. Before the Government of India Act of 1935 became operative, the Indian tea industry realized that it was essential in its best interests to have the services of men to represent it not only at the centre of the Government but in the local provincial legislatures as well. It was further recognized that the best men for such appointments were most likely to be found among the members of the Indian Civil Service, who, from their intimate knowledge of Indian problems, as well as their administrative experi- ence, were eminently suited for such duties. Mr. Arnold Whittaker was therefore offered and accepted a post as one of the advisers to the industry, and his services during his association with tea in India were outstanding.

    I am happy to think that he is still with us as a member of the Committee of the Indian Tea Association in London. In addition he rendered more than valuable help to the Government of India and the Province of Assam in many other spheres during the Second World War.

    I am quite sure, therefore, that there are not many better qualified to address you on the subject of tea and I will now call upon Mr. Whittaker to do so.

    The following Paper was then read :

    I hope that the short and simple film to be shown soon will be a better illustration than any lengthy remarks of mine of the opening-up of plantations and the manu- facture of tea in India. The film is mainly concerned with Assam, which produces more than half the total crop of India and Pakistan . Assam was the first area to be developed, and was followed by planting in the Himalayan foothills in 1842, in the Surma valley in 1856, in Darjeeling during the next two years, and by 1874 in the Western Dooars. In South India commercial planting had begun in 1853, but development was slow and nearly two-thirds of the total acreage under tea was planted after 1900.

    The industry, which has now an annual crop of almost 600 million pounds is a comparatively modern one. Its development is a tale of British enterprise and endurance, for it has survived economic adversity and lived through a political revolution - albeit a peaceful one. It has achieved a remarkable measure of autonomy in that much of the legislation which governs its production and exports, the recruitment of its labour forces and the marketing of its product was initiated by


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    the industry itself. Its critics say that the Government was merely the agent for the industry ; its friends say that it provides a perfect example of the harmony which should exist between Government and industry generally. That this tradition is continuing with entirely new governments in power and in an entirely changed political climate suggests that practical men on both sides find that the method works.

    A film entitled A Tale in a Teacup , kindly loaned by The Tea Bureau, London, was then shown. On its conclusion the lecturer continued :

    The tea industry was established in China many centuries before the Christian era. By the ninth century A.D. there was an impressive volume of literature on the growth of the plant and the technique of tea drinking. Tea had all the medicinal and gastronomical virtues imaginable, but of special interest to me is the twentieth item on the list given in a Chinese manuscript now in the British Museum which runs: "It strengthens the use of due benevolence". As your lecturer I can only hope that the brew provided by the Royal Society of Arts distils this quality for its audiences.

    The dominance of the China tea industry had two unfortunate effects on the development in India. First, the fact that the East India Company had the monopoly of the tea trade with China caused that company to discourage any tea venture in India. In 1 8 13, however, Parliament curtailed the company's powers in India and served notice that the China monopoly would end in 1833. In 1834 Lord William Bentinck, who had been appointed Governor-General in 1827, appointed a com- mittee to submit "a plan for the accomplishment of the introduction of tea culture into India and for the superintendence of its execution". The very wording of that injunction shows the determination and far-sightedness of its author - accomplish- ment and execution strike the note. That committee set about its business so thoroughly that the facts it established launched the tea industry with surprisingly few misadventures. Secondly, although Lord Bentinck 's committee quickly found beyond all doubt that the tea bush is indigenous to Upper Assam, a scientific commission set up later became obsessed, as did many other members in the Government, with the merits of the China plant ; and when the Government of the day started to clear jungle in Dibrugarh they rejected

    " the degraded Assam plant" for the China variety imported with great difficulty and at enormous expense. Another obsession that only the Chinese knew how to manufacture tea was more quickly abandoned when the first- and last - contingent of Chinese labourers specially imported ended their journey in jail for rioting, arson and theft.

    As early as 1815 a British officer (Colonel Latter) had reported that certain of the hill tribes in North-East Assam made a drink from wild tea growing in the hills. In 1823 Major Robert Bruce took a trading expedition to Sibsagar and found wild tea, the seeds from which were collected by his brother, C. A. Bruce, in the following year and planted in the Commissioner's Garden at Gauhati and in Bruce 's own garden at Sadiya.

    In 1825 this Society of Arts offered a gold medal - or fifty guineas - "to the person who shall grow and prepare 20 lb. of good quality tea".

    Mr. C. A. Bruce was appointed the first Superintendent of Tea Culture in Assam in 1836. In 1838 the first shipment of manufactured Indian tea was ready. It consisted of eight chests, about 350 lb., which was sold in January, 1839, l


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  • JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF ARTS 2TH JULY 1 949 the Mincing Lane auctions at prices ranging from 21s to 34$ a pound. In 1839 Upper Assam was brought under British control and the Government transferred its main tea-growing interests in the following year to the Assam Company which appointed C. A. Bruce its first Superintendent.

    The company ran into difficulties for disease took a heavy toll of its managers and their labour forces. Clearing this heavy jungle was costly, although 2,500 acres were under cultivation by 1841 and 29,000 lb. of tea were produced. By 1847 company was on the verge of bankruptcy when a change of management and increased cultivation of the despised Assam variety pulled the company through to the dividend-earning stage by 1852. This successful example was followed by other companies; and by 1859 there were more than fifty private enterprises producing tea. The degraded Assam plant had come into its own. Today all the tea-producing countries outside China and Japan are seeking the Assam strains for their finest commercial teas.

    From these beginnings grew the industry which is, outside China, the largest producer of tea in the world, employing ij million persons and housing over 3 million. I like to think that the shades of Major Bruce and his brother, who, with their teams of labourers used to hack their paths through the jungle in search of tea bushes, often in danger from the Burmese invaders who had dispossessed the local Ahoms, have seen in 1942 their successors building roads and bridges through the jungles of the Naga Hills to repel another invader from Burma - the Japanese. In 1942 the Indian Tea Association called for volunteers from its British managers, doctors, Indian staff and labour forces to build airfields from which supplies were to be flown to China, to build camps and roads along which were coming exhausted refugees fleeing from the Japanese in Burma, and to keep roads open through monsoon rains for transporting stores for an army which finally was to drive the Japanese from Burma. To answer this call there came the garden-labour contingents numbering at one time 96,000 men, each contingent fully equipped with its own transport and medical supplies and its own jungle clearing tools. Out of the "degraded Assam plant" came the resources which helped to fly supplies to China and to defeat the enemy of the homeland of tea - surely one of time's odd revenges.

    The development of this industry would have been impossible without a con- tinuing and on the whole successful fight against disease. In 1949, penicillin, the sulpha drugs and paludrine have become household words and their success a popular story. But to maintain a labour force of 1 million persons in the field - you will forgive this somewhat martial language - was an unremitting struggle for the doctors and the managers. The British planter now has a health record better than his contemporaries in England, but only fifty years ago a newspaper could describe the planter's diet as "quinine every morning, castor oil twice a week and calomel at the change of the moon". It is only eighteen years ago since the Whitley Com- mission reported that " The toll of life extracted in India every year by epidemic diseases is still very high and of them all malaria is perhaps the most devastating".

    In 1928 Sir Malcolm Watson of the Ross Institute went out to India to examine the possibility of organising a scheme to assist the tea industry to control malaria. In 1930 the industry was facing its most serious financial crisis due to excess


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    production and a slump in consumption. Nevertheless, a number of British firms and individuals came forward to guarantee funds which led to the establishment of the Indian Branch of the Ross Institute, which now serves many other industries in India. A footnote to this story is that malaria has become a very minor cause of absenteeism - in my own company of less significance than influenza. And when the industry's divisions marched into the Naga Hills in 1942 they had a lower sickness rate than many of the picked combatant units. That struggle, of course, goes on and nutrition in these days of food shortages and disorganised supplies is the recurring problem. It remains true, however, that the average labourer in a tea

    Collecting tea seed

    garden is better fed, better housed and in better health than his opposite number

    in the village; but clearly that standard of well-being is not a fixed one. The

    imagination which could finance the Ross Institute in a time of financial crisis is still there and will take care of the post-war health problems.

    Production The combined production of India and Pakistan is close on 600 million pounds.

    Taking 200 cups of tea to the pound this gives you, according to your inclination, either astronomical figures or a Niagara. The industry on the whole takes the view that increased consumption is the main problem, although the loss of the production from the Netherlands East Indies (approximately 260 million pounds) means that

    for the time being there is a firm market for all the Indian Continent produces. Various estimates are available about the present yield from the Netherlands


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    Planting young ta bushes in Assam

    East Indies. As internal order is restored there, production will probably expand rapidly. With increasing supplies of fertilisers, the yields in India and Pakistan can be increased as indeed they can by what is known as coarse plucking. But these increased yields may be at the expense of quality teas and may provoke a reaction from that most patient purchaser- the British housewife.

    Consumption The largest consumer of tea is the United Kingdom, which in 1947 tok

    420 million pounds. More important from the point of view of India and Pakistan is the fact that the United Kingdom takes half their production. The Ministry of Food in 1949 hopes to buy 300 million pounds of Indian tea. If ever the United Kingdom consumer reduces his consumption even fractionally below his present level of nine lb. per head per year that fact could spell a crisis in India and Pakistan. By contrast, if the American consumer could raise his consumption to more than nine ou...


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