How did we end up with? Regional Plantation Companies
Published : 20 Aug, 2020

Most tea plantations in the island continued to be under the ownership of either foreigners, British to be more specific, or local companies, until 1976. They were also known as ‘Sterling’ Companies for British owned or as ‘Rupee’ Companies for those registered in Sri Lanka.

  • Under the Land Reform Law of 1972, tea properties belonging to individuals that were in excess of 50 acres in extent were vested with the government and brought under the Land Reform Commission, leaving their owners with only 50 acres. The lands taken over by the state were subsequently redistributed to the Upcountry Cooperative Estate Development Board (known as USAWASAMA) and Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC).
  • By October 1975, all Sterling Company estates were taken over by the government and came under the Land Reform Commission. The Agency Houses which were running them were appointed ‘Statutory Trustees’ to continue running the estates as a temporary measure.
  • 1976, Feb 6: The Minister of Agriculture and Lands Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa announces the establishment of the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB)– Janavasama – and Agency Houses ceased to exercise control over the running of the 400,000 acres of Sterling Company Estates.” Ferguson’s Directory under Historical Events.(Emphasis added).
  • Soon SLSPC and JEDB took over from the Statutory Trustees and began operations. They decentralized their organizations, in order to maintain a closer management of the Plantations and named them Board No.1, 2, and so on. A network of regional offices was located in their respective plantation districts throughout the country. However, both SLSPC and JEDB did not produce expected results as many well experienced and senior planters had either left their posts or those remaining were not given due responsibilities. Upon realizing this problem, the organizations were soon given to more experienced professional planters to manage.
  • Mr. Gamini Dissanayake became the Minister of Plantation Industries during the period 1989 to 1990. His short period as Minister of Plantation Industries saw some good management practices being implemented to the JEDB and SLSPC at a time the plantation sector was sliding away from its position as the country’s foremost foreign exchange earner. He introduced a Cluster System of management in 1989, which saw tremendous results within a short period. There were ninety Clusters, each consisting of six to seven estates under the supervision of a Cluster Director, who himself was a planter. (Mr. Gamini Dissanayake was killed in a ‘bomb blast’ in October 1994).
  • The Cluster System was short lived. Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, who was Chairman of the Land Reform Commission, was instrumental in ending the Cluster System and brought back the Regional Boards to administer the plantations. Mr. Wijeratne himself was a very highly recognized planter, who was last in charge of Demodera Group in the Badulla District, one of the largest plantations in Sri Lanka, before entering politics. (Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne lost his life under tragic circumstances in March 1991).
  • In 1992, the government decided to privatize the estates belonging to SLSPC and JEDB. Twenty three state-owned Plantations Management Companies were formed and handed over to private organizations on a profit sharing basis for a period of five years. After each company took over their share of estates allocated, there was a balance of thirty three estates, which were termed “non-viables” due to various reasons. The ‘non-viable’ estates left out continued to be under the management of SLSPC and JEDB. These estates are under their management even today, in the districts of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Matale and Moneragala. 
  • By 1995, it was found 13 of the 23 plantation companies were making profits, while the rest were running at a loss. Subsequently, the government decided to sell 49% of the plantations shares to the management companies, 10% was allocated to the workers and staff and the balance allocated to the Share Market. One Golden Share was given to the government, which had the overall authority. The companies that showed profit initially were given the option of buying 49% of the shares @ Rs.10/- each, whereas the Cluster of estates which did not show profit were auctioned and the highest bidder was given the 49% and management of the companies. The following companies finally took charge of the plantations along with JEDB and SLSPC included in the :
  1. Agalawatte Plantations Ltd.
  2. Agrapatana Plantations Ltd.
  3. Balangoda Plantations Ltd.
  4. Bogawantalawa Tea Estates Ltd.
  5. Chilaw Plantations Ltd.
  6. Elpitiya Plantations Ltd.
  7. Hapugastenne Plantations Ltd.
  8. Horana Plantations Ltd.
  9. Kahawatte Plantations Ltd.
  10. Kegalle Plantations Ltd.
  11. Kelani Valley Plantations Ltd.
  12. Kotagala Plantations Ltd.
  13. Kurenegala Plantations Ltd.
  14. Madulsima Plantations Ltd.
  15. Malwatte Valley Plantations Ltd.
  16. Maskeliya Plantations Ltd.
  17. Maturata Plantations Ltd.
  18. Namunukula Plantations Ltd.
  19. Pussellawa Plantations Ltd.
  20. Talawakelle Tea Estates Ltd.
  21. Udapussellawa Plantations Ltd.
  22. Watawala Plantations PLC.
  23. Elkaduwa Plantations Ltd.
  • Janatha Estates Development Board
  • Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation

Anver Kamiss

Tuan Branudeen Kamiss writes with the pen name ‘Anver Kamiss’ was born on an upcountry tea plantation in the Dickoya Tea Planting district and completed his senior secondary education at Highlands College, Hatton. He was the first expatriate to complete 23 years of continuous service on a United States Air Force contract in the Sultanate of Oman as the Senior Administrative Officer. Anver Kamiss had a previous life! He served for over 18 years in Sri Lanka’s lush tea plantations in the Dickoya and Dimbula planting regions, his final tint at Drayton Kotagala in the Dimbula planting region, where he was in-charge of the plantation office. His passion for Ceylon Tea never diminished, upon his return made him switch to extensive research on some of Sri Lanka’s best Tea Factories in the Upcountry area. His book was purchased by one of Sri Lanka’s top Tea Exporters – Akbar Brothers five years ago. Anver Kamiss has settled in Canada and will be contributing a series of articles on the life of Tea Estate people, Factories and Machinery, all of which go to produce what the world recognizes as CEYLON TEA! Any questions on the subject may be directed to him by email [email protected]

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