The first European to visit these hills was the Duke of Wellington in 1790. The ‘Planting Opinion’ of 1896 records that the Duke, then Col. Arthur Wellesley, was dispatched by General Meadows to cut off the retreat of Tipu Sultan at Kumaly gap. Tipu’s intelligence, however, forewarned him of this move and Wellesley was ordered to retrace his steps.
It was nearly 30 years later that Lieutenants Ward and Connor of the Madras Army and seconded to the Great Trigonometrically Survey located the mountain peaks of the High Range, and in particular, the Aneimudi and the Chokanad.
In 1877 Henry Gribble Turner and A.W. Turner came to India for shikar, reached the mountains by a pass called the Bodimettu and guided by the local hill men, the Mudhuvans, eventually reached the summit of the Aneimudi and saw the grandeur of these hills with commercial advantage formulating in their minds. Before their expedition ended, they obtained a ‘Concession’ of approximately 227 sq. miles from the Poonjar Raja of Anjanad. Small holders then began to purchase plots of these lands and planted a variety of crops ranging from cinchona to coffee and sisal to tea, and eventually these planters formed themselves into the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society Limited in 1879.
In 1895, Sir John Muir, Baronet of Deanston, Scotland bought over the deeds of the Concession for further development. In 1900 the Concession area became vested with the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company Limited, of which the Finlay Muir held a large interest, and the area started to develop very rapidly along more commercial lines, the main crop becoming tea.
The beautiful tea covered area that we see today was a completely virgin tract covered with thick forest until 1879, when Mr. J.D. Munro and Mr. A.W. Turner formed the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society and started planting crops like sisal, coffee, cardamom, etc. Then, in the year 1897, Finlay Muir & Co. of Glasgow became interested in this area & formed the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Co. Ltd. Thus the flagship company KDHP was formed, and its two subsidiaries – the Anglo-American Direct Tea Trading Company & the Amalgamated Tea Estates Company – formed subsequently, became more interested in the development and cultivation of tea among all other crops.
In 1976, as a result FERA, the James Finlay Group of Companies entered into an agreement with the Tatas of India, forming the Tata-Finlay Limited, which in the year 1983 was fully acquired by the Tatas, giving rise to one of the biggest tea companies in India with around 33 tea estates. Tata Tea Ltd. spent the next 22 years modernizing its tea estates and raising the living standards of its employees by fully committing themselves to safeguarding & promoting the core values which also had been a part of Finlay’s policy.
Then the winds of adversity started sweeping across the Indian tea industry in 2000. Persistent oversupply resulted in tea prices dropping sharply to uneconomic levels, while the steadily spiraling cost of production further compounded matters. This trend lasted for 5 years, leading to closure of several tea companies in India.
Tata Tea’s South India Plantation Division too faced losses for 4 consecutive years despite having made all possible efforts to improve quality. Left with no other viable alternative, TTL reluctantly decided to exit tea operations to focus more on branded tea business. An outright sale of estates was considered initially, but dropped subsequently since there was no guarantee that the welfare of the workers and the fragile ecosystem would be maintained.
A second option was a co-operative model, but a 3-month trial in one of the estates did not prove promising. Eventually, the concept of an employee buy-out was mooted and accepted by the Board of Directors.
Thus the KDHP Company was reborn with the name Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company Private Limited on the 1st of April 2005.
The company’s 12,700-plus employees are shareholders and hold approximately 69 % of the company’s Rs. 13.94 crore equity capital. TTL retained an 18 % stake and the remaining 7 % is held by a trust and 6 % is held by ex-TTL employees and business associates.