Exactly 80 years ago, there descended on Kandy the largest presence of planters and their wives. The Queens Hotel Ballroom was packed with only standing room available for the late comers. His Excellency, Governor Stubbs and the First Lady were present. Other distinguished guests seated on the platform, Mr. R.P. Gaddum, Chairman of the Ceylon Proprietary Association, Mr. A.G.G. Baggot, Chairman of the Ceylon Planters’ Provident Society, and Mr. A.C. Stewart, Editor-in-Chief of Times of Ceylon.
You may wonder why the Chief Editor of the Times of Ceylon was on the platform. The Times of Ceylon volunteered to accept in confidence all applications from members of the proposed Society, as the response for the formation of the Society from the proprietors was not known. Nearly 1,200 planters which was roughly 90% of the working planters were present. Even in those conservative days where Associations of any form were suspect, there were enlightened, far thinking proprietors who encouraged the forming of a Society for working planters. Most plantations at that time were owned and run by proprietors. The more affluent had employed Superintendents to run their properties.
The year 1936, was a year of world recession which affected the commodity market most adversely. Many planters were retrenched and some did not have the wherewithal to even buy a passage back home. It is in this background the necessity to have an organization to represent the working planter dawned on everybody concerned including the proprietors. These enlightened proprietors were even willing to assume Chairmanship of the Ceylon Planters’ Society and to guide it through the beginning.
Since this formation 80 years ago, the Society has not looked back and have gone from strength to strength. There were many who felt that they were alright with their employer until it hit them and dawned rather later in the day the necessity to be a part of a team of professionals. Not only to look after themselves but also to help the more unfortunate.
80 years have lapsed since and it could be proudly said that the Society had been a model trade union sticking to its motto, “to look after the interests of the employer as well as themselves”. It has met many a crisis with solid leadership with far thinking principles which had seen it through, throughout its existence. It faced nationalization, then privatization and provided the necessary support for the working planters to face up to these realities.
The men who sacrificed their time and energy of the caliber of the late Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne has done it voluntarily with no remuneration whatsoever because of their commitment to their fellow planters. There is no doubt, the Society will continue without disruption for many years to come. 20 years down the road, the Society will no doubt celebrate the 100th year. The Society had been part and parcel of the plantation industry of this country playing a vital role and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.
Narrated by : Manthi Delwita