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Author Topic: Ceylon Planters Society turns 72 by Steve A. Morrell  (Read 3623 times)
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« on: December 28, 2009, 02:34:31 PM »

Source http://www.island.lk/2008/09/19/features4.html

By Steve A. Morrell
The Island 19th September, 2008

The Ceylon Planters’ Society (CPS) turns 72 this year. By any yard stick an achievement of tenacious survival amidst the various vicissitudes faced by Planters.

Some have scoffed at its traditional approach to advances in technology, but it can not be gainsaid that the contribution of the Planting community has had many salutary benefits vis a vis the country.

More so now than ever before. Tea Rubber and Coconut were prestigious industries and the Country depended on these crops for survival. More importantly the Planters delivered.

The CPS in this day and age continues to serve the Plantation Industry and the challenges it has to face are that much more complex and multi-dimensional said Secretary Ceylon Planters Society, Nelson Wijewardena. He is the first Planter appointed to this prestigious position, not merely because he was a Planter of repute, but one with academic qualifications to suit that position. He holds a Bachelors degree in Law, and an Executive Diploma in Business Administration from the University of Colombo.

The CPS is in good hands.

There are perhaps a confusing collection of acronyms representing various organizations within the plantation industry which to an outsider might sound somewhat odd. The PA, or the Planters Association of Ceylon, set up in 1854, presently over sees the industry in its holistic context. The Ceylon Planters’ Society is the trade union of the planters. The CPS was set up in 1936, its first Chairman , D.E.Hamilton, through the aegis of the ‘Times of Ceylon’, at that time was instrumental in ensuring that the Society saw the light of day.

It had to be planned in secret, because those who owned Estates were resident in the Island, and Planters then were paid servants, as much as they are now. One difference though, was that they had a merciless hire and fire scheme. That was the unsavory part of their job, and a union, they felt was, a necessity. Naturally Planters then did not quite say they had a union - it was a dirty word. It is still a dirty word.

The CPS, had a checquered history. There were good time and bad. Planters were essentially independent thinkers and doers.

The Rodney de Mel years were tumultuous. He took over reigns 1971, and continued to hold office through 1973. Ranjan Wijeratne had already relinquished the chair. Roger Sommerville succeeded him, and meanwhile an incessant battle was brewing between the CPS and the Agency Section of the Planters’ Association.

Roger Sommerville given enormity of his physical presence could not quite contain the Colombo Agents, and invariably Planters, and more specifically the CPS came out second best. On that side were men of stature; Trevor Moy, of George Steuarts, Coomaraswamy of Whittall Bousteads, Harrison and Crossfields had Susantha Perera and George Topan,( Names that come to mind as this is written, there were many more) all veritable big whigs in the industry collectively called Colombo Agents. After the Roger Sommerville years M.H.K.Jagathsena was voted in. Jagath was the youngest Chairman the CPS ever had. He was more a pacifier and through quiet diplomacy was able to contain quite some vitriolic controversies and steered the CPS to a relative period of peace.

However when Rodney de Mel took over simmering controversies compounded and invariable battle lines were drawn. Both side flexed their muscles, and series of sniping resulted.

Backed by Ex Co he led the unthinkable. The CPS walked out of the PA Agency Section meeting, and literally in formed the Agents that unless they endeavored sincerely to address grievances Planters could not be pushed around by any body. Naturally Colombo Agents being Colombo Agents were not prepared to give in. They thought if the mighty Thondaman could be contained, handful Planters were a-piece-of-cake.

It eventually took benign intervention of Ranjan Wijeratne, who by then had moved down to Colombo to fill a Director’s, Chair in Whittalls, to re-establish communication between the planters and Colombo.

Naturally Planters rights were won. That too without adherence to strikes or violence. And no rallies.

Rallies did come, when Aubrey Gordon-Tissera led the famous rally of the CPS on Galle face green. Manthy Delwita too was in Ex Co at that time. More of that in a future airing of the CPS as we knew it.

Given the glamour of the job it was no real problem to attract good men and true to take the profession forward. But now sadly this does not happen.

Planting is as attractive now as then. But young people shun plantation life, and more so if they get a job as a planter, their talents are not retained.

Who ever is responsible rather than point fingers, there has to be some unified thinking. May be the CPS could indemnify the process?
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"You might think I say a lot about the scenery, but if you saw it, you will not think I say too much" - pioneering tea planter James Taylor describes Ceylon in a letter to his parents in Scotland
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