28 May, 2022


Massive Land Grab On Regional Plantation Companies Managed Tea Estates

By Prasanna Kotalawala

Prasanna Kotalawala

Ever since the 20 RPCs obtained the management of 457 Tea estates there has been a litany of controversies. The latest being the unauthorized, illegal land grab of approximately an extent of 22244 (twenty two thousand two hundred and forty four hectares of land in Tea estates. In order to get a perception of the magnitude of this serious issue, a brief history of the Tea industry is necessary. 

Subsequent to the nationalization of Sterling and rupee companies in 1973 the estates were managed by three state institutions namely the USAWASAMA (Up Country Co-operative Estates Development Board), JEDB (Janatha Estates Development Board) and the SPC (Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation). The Usawasama was a total disaster, mainly due to political reasons but the other two state institutions managed the estates satisfactorily and undertook replanting, new planting and in filling etc as Capital Expenditure. During this period too, there were political intrusions but not to levels that impeded the smooth functioning of the estates.

In 1992 the government of the day decided to privatize the management of these 457 Tea estates comprising of 94.521 hectares to 20 RPCs for reasons best known to them. On an average, an estate unit comprised of hundreds of hectares of tea and the infrastructure i.e. factories , stores, other related buildings including bungalows for executives and Staff, worker housing, transport and supervisory vehicles, crèches, medical and education facilities and a network of roads etc. The estates also had competent, knowledgeable and capable managers/ Superintendents field and factory personnel and importantly a skilled work force. Each of these estates could be valued at millions of US Dollars. Notwithstanding all of the above the government decided to handover the management of these well maintained estates to Regional plantations companies at a ridiculously low and absurd rental of a paltry Rs 500/= per estate per ANNUM. It is interesting to note that then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Deputy Minister of Finance Dr. G.L.Peiris voiced his concern, in the lack of transparency in the selection of the private companies as many of them had no Managerial expertise. This alone demonstrates the callous disregard of the British who cultivated and nurtured this industry that shaped our economy for almost 150 years.

The extent of 94.521 handed over to the RPCs was corroborated way back in 1995 by Mr P.P. Manickam a credible independent analyst of the Social Scientists Association. This amount was confirmed by Mr. Sunil Poliyadde the then Chairman of the Planters Association of Ceylon, in a recent report ( www.historyofceylontea.com ) to be 94.244ha. Thus creating a short fall of 277 ha. Whatever became of that missing land?

Mr Poliyadde also referred to encroachments with political backing and some

Government take over without mentioning any details and extents.

The most serious and alarming issue now surfacing in the industry’ bordering on criminality is that the 94.521 ha. leased out to the 20RPCs in 1995, have now after 26 years, dwindled down to an extent of 72.000ha as stated by the International Labour Organization’s research and Survey report (www.I’ll.org.) on plantation Labour carried out in 2017 celebrating,100 years of ILO. This clearly denotes that an extent of 22.521 ha of Tea lands are not in the custody of the RPCs. Were they sold, which is illegal, were the sub leased, if so was the Golden Share holders informed, were they encroached, if so by whom, and was the Police authorities informed and is legal action being taken. The law of the country Prohibits encroachment of both private and public property and furthermore these leased lands of the RPCs as per the lease agreement cannot be transferred or sold without Government approval. It should also be noted that Land grabbing is a serious issue that affects the environment and the economy.

Mr, Bulamulla, Chairman of the Planters Association of Ceylon, should without flying drones explain to the people, what is going on!!!.Your Assurance that in the year 2030 the methodology of planting will be SMART PLANTING will only be a dream as was the case all along. This serious and illegal grabbing of state land if allowed to continue, this Public property will no longer be public but private. A dream coming true for the RPCs whose interest is in Real-Estate.

The approximate value of the missing land could be assessed by doing the math as follows;

22.521 ha x 2.47 =55.627 acres

55.627 aces x 160 = 8.900.320 perches

Average minimum Real Estate land in the Tea plantations could be valued at

Rs18500 or US100 per perch.

8.900.320 x Rs 18.500 = Rs165 be or US890.0 million

The tea estate lands the RPCs now holds are of enormous value. This was illustrated by the dubious transfer of over 12,000 hectares of Hatton plantations at the stock exchange by Sunshine Holdings to Pyramid Wilma of Singapore for a sum of Rs3.0 billion or US$ 16.0 million…a life line to the government.

In conclusion I wish to state that we have seen with our own eyes the pitiful sight of our national tea plantations, that planters of yesteryear strived to maintain with passion and enthusiasm only to now witness the once flourishing Tea gardens in a continuous state of deterioration at the hands of the RPCs who are now vehemently clamoring for an extension of their lease period to 99 Years, which is virtual outright ownership.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Dear Sir

    Thank you for the analysis. I equally informed by your previous writings on the same topic too.


    should we not look into leaving the tea production altogether….this is a sinful product and we should give this up for moral reasons alone??

    • 2

      Mr.Venugopal. I do appreciate your comments, in particular your comment that” it was a sinful industry’, which I fully endorse. I will never give up the fight. They and the Tea plantations were part of my life through the years of my professional career. The least I can do for them is shout from Rooftops to espress my gratitude to them. They deserve it.

      • 0

        Dear Sir PKota

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this industry a human misery we all have made a living from since Independence.

        It was only right the GOSL then brought in the Citizens act that would procedurally remove any workers Brough in by the British in the last 10 years of the Independence as agreed with India too. What business that Hon SJV had forming FP based on this and dragged us all into the gutter…except I am learning this man was brought in Colombo with the Ceylonese Malaysian background and studied with Late Hon SWRD and may have even owned an estate (I need to reconfirm this)….his buddy Hon GG did own land in SL and in Malaysia in a Huge scale??

        • 0

          I am wondering it is this private interested that was presented to the people as “Tamil” interest (another leader had the same background too)??

          Southern Tamil problem that is a Sinhala issue brought to North and East and then the North and East economic and caste issues were never addressed too?? Made a spout of the whole matter even the Workers Congress kept their distance from this Mafia??

          In the process no one addressed “Majority Sinhalese” problem that was able to have a language (their own language) for them to liberate their own life??? The above elite Tamils were never concerned about Tamils who had no access to the education because it was in English but ensured even in the North the status quo is maintained redefining human aspirations and rights altogether??

          • 0

            if it was not for the Sinhala only act and the subsequent limited use of Tamil in Tamil Majority areas with our Hon PM sacrificing his life then for his friend SJV the Tamils would have never learned anything in Tamil in Sri Lanka is the obvious conclusion??

            In the whole process no one cared about the Indians except used as pawns for their own personal interest and the “Tamil’ was a convenienet word for the abuse?

            Not a single North or East Tamils ever constructively helped the Indian Tamils but used them too as required…….funny what happed to the 200000 ++ Tamil refugees who never got Indian Passport…speaks for itself. India in return used the Jaffna children achieve all they wanted using the FP./TULF as the traitor organisation traded anything for a dime including our own children?? now we ask the GOSL to account our children missing??

  • 1

    We should rewild the land as much as possible?? this cash crop is serving whom exactly??

  • 4

    Dear Mr Prasanna Kotalawala
    It is indeed a travesty of justice. Cannibalisation of state land and property. First the robbing of EPF funds and now land which has been a bread winner for the county. What a state of affairs I ask
    Yes I remember growing up in the rollig hills of Great Western mountain range , the carpet of the tea fields ,gave you the impression that it was man made turf. The picture setting with well the manicured tea field is a site for any eyes.
    Now as you say considerable amout of estate land has been slowly but steadily being eaten away by who ,One wanders?. The scale of the loss of tea plantion land shocked me. If this degradation took only a matter of two decades or so, will there be any left for coming generation. It is a questiion I shudder to think about the of answer I would get.
    Please keep on your fight for justice and fair play. Wish you good luck in your persuance of goodness for all
    I leave here with the words of Bryant McGill
    ” Life is ever reaching for , strength, vitality, survival,and fulfillment of perpetuating its inherent message of continuance”

    • 1

      Dear RN

      Thank you.
      Do we know how much of the land was owned by the Sri LankanTamil politicians in Sri Lanka and and in Malaysia please?

  • 0

    Dear Folks

    This single crop has belittled all of us not just in Sri Lanka but all around the Colonies too. Not only we have maintained status quo but we even allowed the Colonial Masters favourites/left overs to run shows of their own enslaving us further as though we were never freed??

    FP party SL and Malaysian land owners set out to maintain the slave labours (hence the opposition to ask the tea planation workers to return back as freed labourers for better life in their own community?? then not serve them as the elected in their own upcountry constituents but migrated the problems to North and East?? not addressing the real North and East problems as a developing country but starting battle grounds based on further slaving/trapping the Indian Tamils n the upcountry??……the same misery was repeated all over the world?? Only our GOSL had solutions based on local needs that would have freed the slaved workers in the plantations??

    This is a proof we are all slave runners?? if you talk to the Malaysian Indians they will tell you how the Ceylonese Tamils who did the same to them in Malaysia too.

    • 3

      Dear Thiyaga
      Yes you are right. SJ chelvanayagam ,the thanthai owned 2 estates in the Nuweraeliya district as far as I know. way back inthe 50s
      The plight of over a million Tamil in the Tea and rubber plantations in Malaysia were displaced were made desttute in the last decade or so. I did raise this matter with Mr Withyamoorthy a leading politician in Malaysia (Please refer to Hinduwa Group )
      It time poeple of all races and religion work to gather for the betterment of all
      We must salute Mr. P Kotalawala for his unenduring efforts for bring into light the state of affairs in the Cash crop plantation sector. God bless him

      • 1

        Dear Sir

        This is what the Asians did to Asians…and blame the white man for all our crimes…and continue to do so.

        Thank you for sharing knowledge.

        • 1


          1980: The extent under Tea cultivation by the JEDB, SLSPC was 140,427ha (78.7%) and small holders around 46,800ha (21.3 %).

          2000: Estates sector, 118.954 (RPC plantations 87,852 ha) and the small holder sector 84,703 ha

          2018: Estates sector, 77,553 (RPC plantations 69,202 ha) and the small holder sector 122,448 ha.


          Total tea production in 1980 was around 79% from the large plantation estates (SLSPC and JEDB) and 17%. from the smallholder sector. Tea production 1991 was around 58% from the large plantations estates (SLSPC and JEDB) and 38% from the smallholder sector.

          In 2018 smallholdings accounted for about 75 percent of tea production, while the plantations accounted for only about 25% of the tea produced in the country. Productivity on small holdings is about twice that on estates.

          The average yield on RPC estates is 1100 kilograms per hectare, while small holdings average approximately 1900 kilograms.

          STAFF &LABOUR

          JEDB: Staff -11937, Workers 205,246,
          SLSPC: Staff 9,199, Workers 182,402

          2010 Staff 12446, Workers 202,204
          2018 Staff 9165, Workers 129,640

          • 0

            Dear JT

            Thank you for the stats and where can I find more detailed study/any books I can make reference to etc kindly advise.

            During Independence wha was the total employed in the sector please. Fully appreciate it was private owned then.

            I want to establish did we have a shortage of workers for the teas estates then?? when our GSOL thought about sending people (last 10 year arrivals) home to give opportunity to locals who needed opportunity in an Independent country was Natural?? Historically did the local Sinhalese refuse to work in this slavery conditions??

            Knowing the FP background and their personal investments and their masters interests must have been challenged by the GOSL then to an extent FP was formed and the local Sinhala land issues were Nationalised and given a human rights angle??

            Ceylon Congress > UNP + Tamil Congress + Federal Party in 1940’s > Tamil Congress + FP in 1970’s >> TULF and separatism

            This Separatism did not include the Indian Tamils and all other Tamils live in around the country including the Muslims to be sent to North and East??

            • 1

              Dear TV
              You can try the Ministry of plantations which publishes data on plantations.
              “Statistical Information on plantation Crops”. They have published figures upto 2018.’

              In 1946 the Indian Tamil population was 780,600 according to the Census department We will have to presume that 60% of them were employed.

              A shortage of workers always existed. But the then Estate Mangers had seen it in a positive manner and offered contract work to mitigate it. At present the shortage is not in the workers but in the thinking in the estate management. There is adequate labour but inadequate Man Managers.


              • 0

                Thank you so much JT. Most appreciated.

                Should we downsize the planation scope then we need to find employment to all these folks too?? Specially now the Jaffna tamils refuse to return to the Jaffna from foreign lands and down south of Sri Lanka after 2009 means we need manpower to generate economy/provide services/diversify skill sets etc even to rebuild Jaffna and am thinking should we not give these upcountry folks our fellow citizens decent lands to live and empower themselves better?? hopefully they can makeup for the lost time.

                I did visit a Planation 3-4 years back in Hatton and was pleasantly surprised by the GOSL work that has changed their life a lot better…….they have generations now educate their own children and well occupy even the civil service jobs too. It was different from the days I know teachers went from other parts of the country including Jaffna in 60 7 70 ‘s and delivered nothing.

                • 0

                  The reality the planation folks are more integrated in the Nation than the North and East Tamil children as they have mastered the Sinhalese too. Just as they have done this in Malaysia as in Malaysia all have to learn Bahasa Malaysia.

                  Courtesy of the FP/TULF folly and blunder the Jaffna man and woman is robbed of all that belongs to them too.

      • 0

        I was in Malaysia 2002 to 2019 and know exactly what happened to these folks?? That should not prevent us from looking at this estates and tea as is having serious human rights issues we have not put right??

        This is because all the attempts that were made by our GOSL were affected by our ghetto politics and one can not evaluate anything without being wrongfully challenged? Workers Congress kept themselves well away from these elements.

        In Malaysia also Indian/Ceylonese crimes amongst themselves are very ripe except one is a white coat crime and the other outright thuggery/killings……just the same what happened in Sri Lanka. Except the whole matters are well managed by the Malaysian Chinese just as Jaffna is managed by the Indians.

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