THE CODAGU PLANTERS ASSOIATION has been in existence as far back as prior to 1863 as per the Manual written by Rev. G.Richter in 1870. The Reverend, in his manual, referred to the considerable deliberations and correspondence exchanged between the then government and the Codagu Planters Association concerning halat (excise duty) on clean coffee. Eventually in 1863, the government resolved to abolish the halat of four annas per maund of 28 pounds or one rupee per 100 weight on clean coffee and to recover the amount lost through rental on an acreage basis, which clearly shows that the Association had been functioning then. For the first time in 1938, the General Body Meeting of that year was recorded as 58th and thus presumably the year of birth of the Association was taken as 1879. No doubt that it was the early European planters responsible for introducing coffee cultivation on plantation lines from around 1952, who formed the Association. It is a sobering thought that when the Europeans came to Coorg, they met up with an even earlier generation, both Coorgs and Englishmen, who had been in planting for 50 to 60 years. In the words of Rev. G.Richter penned in 1870, “the capabilities of the province as a coffee growing country have long been known to natives and it is a matter of surprise that the European enterprise did not enter the field till much later date”. As per history, Coorg district was ruled by Hindu Rajas till 1834, when it came under the control of East India Company. The history of the introduction of coffee into Coorg however remains unwritten. During the time of Rajas, coffee plants existed in places around the Nalknad palace. Captain Lehardy, the first Superintendent of Coorg did much to extend its cultivation in Coorg. It was later, around 1854, that the attention of European planters turned towards this industry; suitable areas were cleared and cultivation initiated.
The Association was first registered by the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies as Coorg Planters Association (Incorporated) on 28th February 1923 and 18 years later in 1941 it was voluntarily wound up, with Mr. C.L.J.Humphreys of Santhageri estate performing the function of liquidator. Its assets were transferred to an unregistered Association, the Coorg Planters Association, whose objects were similar to those of the Association it superseded.
Apparently the early efforts of the Association since inception was directed largely and exclusively towards the development of a communication and commercial infrastructure in Coorg and towards gaining certain concessions for the coffee industry of the time. Thus a memorandum submitted to the Chief Commissioner in November 1881 devoted itself to the issue of gaining acceptance for both European and Indian planters cultivating bane lands. The government which objected to the cultivation of such lands was requested to accept it and merely levy a fair assessment, as in the case of cultivation of government granted lands. Other issues included a railway connection for Coorg, the construction of a bridge over river Cauvery at Siddapur, the improvements of roads, the establishment of a bank and the introduction of a tonga mail service from Mysore- reflecting the concerns and needs of the planting community of that period. The following extract from the annual report for the year 1981-82 shows that with the efforts of the Association, a bank was opened:
“We have, at last the satisfaction of seeing a branch of the Bank of Madras opened here, for which your Association has been agitating for the last two years”.
Similarly the 1882-83 annual report mentions that the mighty bridge across river Cauvery at Siddapur was made possible with the efforts of the Association.
“The bridge over the Cauvery at Siddapur was the first important matter that engaged our attention last year, and I believe our letter to the Chief Commissioner on the subject had the desired effect of hastening the commencement of the work. Fair progress has been made with the project this season and I believe I may safely say that this time next year will see the bridge over the Cauvery at Siddapur completed, and North and South Coorg united throughout the year”.
A photograph of the delegation led by Mr. M.Belliappa, Assistant Commissioner of Coorg, to present a memorandum to the Viceroy and Governor General of India, on 22nd November 1895 is given hereunder. The memorandum, apart from other things, contained request to relax rules restricting alienation of Jamma lands & gazette notification of Bane land, request to upgrade the High School at Mercara to a 2nd Grade college, upgrade the Middle School at Virajpet to High School, Extension of railway line to Coorg, allocate sufficient funds to improve the roads in the District.
In 1882, the Association amended its rules to contain only twelve clauses and pegged the annual subscription at Rs.12/-. The Committee then comprised, apart from the President and Honorary Secretary, seven members from South Coorg and five members from North Coorg, the Cauvery forming a natural boundary between the two groups.
While the European presence was predominant, the Association did have Indian planters even in 1882. The list of members attending a meeting on 7th September, 1882 includes the name of Mr.K.Ganapathy. Another Mr. M.Chinnappa was mentioned a little later in the same year. However, the bent of mind of the European community can be gauged from the following resolution :
“That this meeting protests against the Honourable Mr. Ilbert’s Bill, entitled a Bill to amend The Code of Criminal Procedure in so far as it relates to the exercise of jurisdiction over European and British subjects and expresses its disapproval and indignation that any such alteration as purposed should be made, as an un-warrantable attack upon the recognized and legitimate rights of British born subjects”.
A redeeming feature was the unanimous resolution passed by the Association in 1883, to include two Coorg gentlemen, Messrs. C. Soobiah, Second Assistant Commissioner and K.Ganapathy, Mercara Taluk Subedar, in a deputation to the Governor of Madras.
But the Europeans remained apprehensive. In its annual report for 1885-86, for example, the Association states that it had sent a telegram to the Government of India and a letter to the Chief Commissioner, questioning the proposal to appoint a native of Coorg as the District Magistrate, in view of the existence of the large European community within Coorg. Presumably, owing to this trend of opinion, it was only in 1920 that Coorg saw the appointment of an Indian Magistrate. And, ironically, the appointee, Dewan Bahadur Chengappa, later became the first Indian Chairman of the Association for the two years from 1940 to 1942. The report for the year 1887-88 refers to yet another issue which raised passions in Coorg. A proposal had been mooted, at the Government level, to merge Coorg with nearby Madras, as an economy measure. Several protest meetings were held against this move. The Association, however, refrained from passing a resolution because the Secretary had good authority to aver that the Government would not set without consulting it and the people. But, on learning that several prominent Coorgs, along with other inhabitants, favoured the proposed merger, the Association submitted a memorandum to the Viceroy, stating its stand, which was in opposition to the amalgamation. The Association played a prominent part in the formation of the United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI). In 1891, it passed a resolution requesting Mr. Hamilton of the South Mysore Planters’ Association, the originator of the scheme, to call a meeting of all South Indian Planters’ Associations to discuss the project and settle details at some central place, say Bangalore.
Its concern for the future is further reflected in its concern for the environment. While, today, a statutory Water Pollution Board directs planters not to pollute streams or wells with effluents, the Association impressed upon its members the necessity of taking precautions against such evils way back in 1886. The Association has always remained a non-political body, bestowing its attention almost exclusively on matters relating to the plantation industry. It was this concern that led the Association in 1922, to represent to the Chief Commissioner, through its spokesman Mr. Ivor Bull, its request for two nominated seats in the proposed Legislative Council for Coorg. Its argument was that, though the number of Europeans was small, the interests they held were large enough to warrant two seats in the Council. During the two World Wars, the Association contributed its mite, in terms of men and money, to the war efforts . It has also made substantial donations in times of distress caused by floods and earthquakes, not only in Coorg but elsewhere in India.
The depression of the 1930s caused considerable damage and loss to the coffee industry. It took the formation of the Coffee Board to enable the industry to find its feet again. And Mr. Ivor Bull, a prominent member of the Association and its Chairman for some time, played a key role in the step by step formation of the Board.
Indian Independence saw the waning of British influence. The British planters started returning to their homeland after disposing of their holdings to the natives. Today the Association works in conjunction with the UPASI and the KPA in all matters relating to the plantation industry, with the latter two generally fulfilling the role of spokesmen of the industry. With the formation of trade unions, the Association has increasingly tried to widen its cooperation with them, not merely in settling disputes but in the larger industrywide issues, particularly wages, bonus and welfare measures including medical relief and housing.
Until the awning of the year 1953, The Coorg Planters Association functioned from the Office of its Secretary, with its meetings held at convenient clubs within the District. On 1st January 1953, the North Coorg Club made a magnanimous gesture in providing some accommodation for the office of the Association. The CPA remained there till the end of February 1977. In the meantime the growing importance of the Association reflected in the increase in its membership and it was felt to have a home of its own. This led to the purchase of 68 cents of land touching General Thimmayya Road for a consideration of Rs.62,914.15. A building was put up at a cost of Rs.86,353.88, which was inaugurated on 27th February 1977.