Controversy over Assam's first indigenous tea planter

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Tinsukia, Sep 26 (UNI) The Singphoo tribe has claimed that the coveted distinction of being the first indigenous tea planter in Assam belongs to one of its king (Gam) Nirula Singphoo, and not Maniran Dewan, as was recognized by the government.

Staking the claim, the Singphoo Jatiya Parishad's (SJP) leaders said their king had started plantation decades before Dewan had even applied for the rights to grow tea.

The king's plantation was located in the present Ketekeng area of Margherita sub-division in Tinsukia district of eastern Assam, they added.

The controversy has been triggered afresh following the naming of a tea centre in Guwahati after Maniram Dewan by Planning Commission chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia recently, recognising Dewan as the first indigenous tea planter of the state.

Challenging the announcement, the Singhpoo leaders produced testimonials to support their claim.

They quoted William Robinson's 'Descriptive Account of Assam' (published in 1841), which mentioned in page 145 that a British official had appointed king Nirula as a 'superintendent' of all the tea growing plantations under him.

The book further said the first production from the plantations had been good and king Nirula had earned 480 dollars by selling the tea at Kolkata in 1840.

It further mentioned that the tribal king had taken financial help, technical expertise and labour from the British. Another report by one Mr Mills had recorded that Dewan had not received tea cultivation permission till 1853, which clearly makes king Nirula the first local tea planter, the SJP leaders said. Moreover, noted historians Dr Amalendu Guha and Dr Sristidhar Dutta had also recognised king Nirula as the first indigenous tea planter.

King Nirula had to leave for neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh after he revolted against the British later. The village in which he settled down is called Nirugaon (also Payong), in Namsai district of the neighbouring state.

The Singphoo leaders claimed that their forefathers had perfected the art of tea making from the leaves and tea was known as 'Falap' (Fa 'what' and lap 'leaf') in the language.

They pointed out that Singphoo tea was famous and favoured all over the world now and the British had also picked up tips from them during the early stages.

The SJP had written to Union Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh for naming the tea centre after king Nirula and correct the 'mistake'.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the chief minister, DoNER minister, the state Commerce minister, Mr Ahluwalia and the local MP. Ruing the non-accordance of due recognition to king Nirula for his contribution to tea cultivation in the state, the Singphoo leaders said their king's contribution had been 'neglected' in important quarters.


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