Duncan Group



February 1 2016

Here are some  more web stories about the Duncan Gardens kindly

forwarded by Minoo Avari please click to read each sad story



January 30 2016


From the Kolkutta Telegraph kindly forwarded by
Hamish Young


Centre takes over 7 Duncan gardens

Calcutta, Jan. 29: The Centre has authorised the Tea Board to take over the management control of seven gardens of the G.P. Goenka-headed Duncan Industries in north Bengal, stepping onto a populist but tricky terrain left open by Mamata Banerjee ahead of the Assembly elections.

The Union ministry of commerce and industry invoked a rarely used section of the Tea Act of 1953 to take control of the gardens in the Dooars, saying they "are being managed in a manner highly detrimental to the tea industry and to public interest".

The gardens, which are officially open but are ailing, can potentially generate 10 million kg of tea and employ 17,555 workers. Chaired by Gouri Prasad Goenka, Duncan, which has 14 gardens in Bengal, has run up mounting dues on salary and statutory benefits.


After taking over the seven gardens, the Centre appeared keen to send a message that it had acted while the state government dithered.

Only the Centre can invoke the takeover law but the Mamata government, which owns the land leased to the gardens, had been unable to bring about dramatic change on the ground in spite of holding talks with Goenka. Although police had wanted to question Goenka on alleged dues to a worker, signs of a rapprochement had emanated after Goenka met Mamata in Nabanna.

Nirmala Sitharaman, Union commerce minister of state with independent charge, told The Telegraph: "The chief minister wrote to the Prime Minister and put the entire onus on the Centre. But the Centre took the onus and we are moving forward."

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the takeover but with a rider. "It is good if the gardens function. What we want the Centre to ensure is that all benefits the workers are entitled to should be given to them. That is of utmost importance."

Sitharaman suggested that wages would be paid but not the dues. "We will ensure the workers start getting their wages right away.... The new management will not have to bear the burden of the old liabilities left by the previous company. Neither will the Centre shoulder the liabilities. However, we will address each and every concern of the workers."

The dues in all the 14 Duncan gardens are said to be around Rs 70 crore. Several deaths have also been reported in some gardens although the suspected cause - malnutrition - has not been conclusively established.

Bengal government sources said the Tea Board was a promotional body with neither experience nor resources to run gardens. A better alternative would have been to ask a public sector unit with experience in tea to manage the gardens, they added.

But Sitharaman said: "We had originally intended to work in tandem with the state government and look for new buyers. But that did not get anywhere. Our first objective is to open the gardens we have taken over, we will call whoever wishes to run these on a management contract, our only condition being the person or group should know how to run them."

In the past, the Tea Board has been asked to take over the management as a temporary measure before a new player is found.

Sitharaman explained the timing of the takeover. The window between January and March is crucial for tea plantation. "That's the time the soil is cleared, the weeds are plucked so that the ground is clean and clear for the next yields. If we do not open the gardens for operation, the total production loss will be considerable," the Union minister said.

The state government sources did not rule out the possibility of a legal challenge by any of the stakeholders.

Duncan officials expressed surprise at the move. "We had a meeting with the workers a few days ago. It is strange that the Centre chose to intervene in the matter when things are on the mend," said a senior official of Duncan.

The notification issued by the commerce ministry cited various representations on "the deteriorating condition of the tea gardens" and an inspection report.

The notification said the ministry also received a report from the Mamata government. "...the situation of the said tea gardens has been assessed by the central government on the basis of the report of the Tea Board and the state government of West Bengal and consultations with the stakeholders of tea sector," it added.

According to the provisions of the Tea Act, the gardens may remain under the new management up to 12 years unless the Centre is convinced that it was no longer necessary and they can be handed back to Duncan.

The Centre can invoke the takeover clause if a tea unit made losses in three out of five immediate preceding years or habitually made defaults on the dues of workers and employees or its production yield was lower than the district average by 25 per cent or more. Industry sources said the seven gardens would qualify on all these counts.

If the workers start getting wages, the Mamata government is certain to claim credit. If anything goes wrong, the Centre will be blamed. The Saradha scandal offers an insight: as soon as the Supreme Court handed the case to the CBI, Trinamul said that repaying the dues to the depositors was the responsibility of the Centre.

The BJP-led government at the Centre is also expected to capitalise on its decision to wade into the troubled gardens while the rest of the Opposition in the state is likely to charge Trinamul with leaving the workers to fend for themselves. Several BJP leaders and ministers, including Sitharaman, had visited the tea gardens and accused the Trinamul government of inaction.



July 2003
The Duncan group

This is the foreward of the book created for the centenary of the Duncan Group --written in 1959 to celebrate 100 years since the Company started--The Editor has the book but obviously will not give all of the wonderful contents but very much an abridged version --we start with the Foreword dated January 1 1959. Here is a start - -it will take a little time to complete


ONE hundred years ago to-day Mr. Walter Duncan arrived in India to found the Calcutta firm which bears his name and which has, in the intervening period, attained a position of some note in the business life of that city, and especially in tea circles. The idea of writing a brief 
record of the Calcutta and 
London houses originated, it is believed, with the late Mr. J. D. Nimmo, who had collected material relating to their early days, and a short history was compiled and printed for private circulation in 1931.

The desirability of bringing the book up to date was subsequently urged by Mr. Dunlop, and was much in the minds of the members of the home partnership some twenty years later on the occasion of its conversion
into a public company, but other and more pressing demands on their attention at that time made it necessary temporarily to put the idea aside.  More recently, however, the approaching centenary of the  Calcutta house suggested that the time had come seriously to  attempt the task, and the following pages are the result and are  offered as presenting an unambitious account of the growth  and achievements of the two businesses founded by Mr. Duncan a century ago. They have been put together by one of the partners in question, now in retirement and having the leisure,  formerly lacking, to fulfil that desire, and I and my colleagues  are grateful to him for undertaking the task-although I do not for a moment think he looked on it as a task. By his wish  his name
does not appear on the title page as he disclaims any right to be dignified as the author, the history having, he says, been contributed by many hands and resting on the memories of others besides himself; but he
does accept responsibility for the arrangement of the book and for the composition of all but the first ten chapters, constituting the original work as printed in 1931.

It is the hope of my colleagues and myself that this book will be of interest to our friends and connexions everywhere and that it may afford inspiration to those in whose hands the destinies of the companies will rest in the future. If it serves to show them, amid the cares and preoccupations of these difficult  times, that the past has had its share of frustrations and difficulties-frustrations and difficulties which may, on occasion, have arrested the progress of our organization but have never succeeded in halting it-it will, I hope, afford them the
encouragement to go on in the knowledge that the companies have seen many vicissitudes and that adherence to the sound principles on which their prosperity has been based may be expected to ensure their continuing success.

1st January, 1959.

Then we have the start to the actual book ----

Chapter 1 


MR. WALTER DUNCAN, the founder of the two firms of whose activities a brief account is given in these pages, was descended from a line of farmers in the county of West Lothian, and parish of Abercorn. He was born in the year 1834, and he began his career in the office of a Glasgow firm of merchants, Messrs. Playfair, Bryce & Co., in the year 1855, or possibly in the early part of 1856. 

Scarcely any information is available concerning the activities of the firm, except that they traded chiefly with Canada. Mr. Duncan appears to have been appointed on the recommendation of the Rev. David Playfair, Minister of the Parish of Abercorn, who was related to the senior partner of the firm, Bailie James Playfair. The Rev. Mr. Playfair's brother, Mr. Patrick Playfair, was also a merchant in Glasgow at the time, but he was not connected in a business way with Playfair, Bryce & Co. He was, however, a close friend of Mr. J. D. Bryce, the second partner in the firm, in addition to being a relative of the senior. He carried on a business in Demerara, trading under the name of Playfair, Allan & Co. This business was not prospering in 1855-56, and Mr. Playfair had decided to wind it up. To give effect to this decision, he purposed sending a representative to Demerara, and his choice fell upon Mr. Duncan. He was doubtless influenced by his friend, Mr. Bryce, who, on learning of the position of the business, suggested that Mr. Duncan should be sent out to put things right. Mr. Duncan accepted the offer which was thus made to him, and he sailed for Georgetown towards the end of 1856. He was then twenty- two years of age; and the fact that so young a man should have been chosen, on the suggestion of his employer, for so respon- sible a mission, is evidence that while with Messrs. Playfair, Bryce & Co. he must have given promise of altogether unusual capacity.

Not a great deal is known of Mr. Duncan's work in Deme
but a few interesting details were put on record in 1922 by his friend Mr. William Lightbody. When he arrived in George-town from Europe in October, 1857, Mr. Lightbody had with him a letter of introduction from a mutual friend to Mr. Duncan, with whom-their tastes and inclinations being in accord he soon became on very friendly terms. Regarding the firm of Playfair, Allan & Co., Mr. Duncan told him that, after con-sidering his report on the details of the business, and certain orders for new goods which had been sent home, Mr. Playfair had proposed that the business should be continued. With this object in view he had offered Mr. Duncan a partnership if the latter would remain in Demerara. But Mr. Duncan said that he had declined the offer. The business did not appeal to him, and he had consequently asked Mr. Playfair to permit him to carry out the original intention and to close it as soon as possible. It is not stated by Mr. Lightbody, but it may be inferred, that Mr. Duncan did not like the business because he thought that it was on too restricted a scale. That such was his opinion appears from a letter written by him from Calcutta two years afterwards to Mr. Lightbody. Referring to the class of business that he was doing in Calcutta, he said that things were "done on a very different scale from the Demerara one. Packages are never opened, and sales are made from sample.... With all its faults, I like the style of business done in Calcutta. It is worth one's while to spend some time over a bargain when the thing arranged is not a dozen of Carlisle's thread, but ten cases of Figured Shirtings, twenty bales of Madapollams, or as many of Mule Twist, each package always averaging about £30 value."

Mr. Playfair did not apparently press his proposal for the continuance of the business and Mr. Duncan proceeded to dispose of it. He was no believer in half measures, and, according to Mr. Lightbody, "when the close of the business was effected, it was in a way that set the City talking, as I can well remember, because it was so summary at the end". When it became known that the business was for sale a Portuguese merchant, who occasionally looked in at Mr. Duncan's office for a chat, astonished him one day by asking: "What will you 
take for the whole stock in the store?" Mr. Duncan replied that he could not say straight off, and he asked the Portuguese
to come back later for his answer. He forthwith set about making the best valuation possible in the circumstances; and when the Portuguese returned the bargain was struck immediately.

The stock and fittings were bought with a time allowance of the premises for the sale of the goods. The transaction was for cash; and, to quote Mr. Lightbody, "in not a  very long time afterwards, Mr. Duncan was on his way home  very nigh with the same steamer which had in its post-bag the 
bill for the sale. I remember well the surprise of the whole of the business community at the transaction, as it seemed a record one of its time, how smartly an affair of that amount was got  through."

It was in the spring of 1858 that Mr. Duncan returned to Glasgow from Demerara. Soon after his arrival Mr. Patrick  Playfair evidently offered him a prospective partnership. For in  writing to Mr. Lightbody, on 14th
August, he said that he was  going to a business firm in Manchester to learn all that he could  of the various classes of goods sent from there to India. The reason for his doing this was, he added, that he was to go out  to Calcutta to establish a business in which he was to be associated with Mr. Playfair. He sailed from Southampton on  20th November; and in a letter which he wrote from Calcutta  in the following February to Mr.
Lightbody, he gives a vivid account of the voyage Yes, here I am in Calcutta, an evidence to you that since  the date of my last, I have been doing something. Shortly after you heard from me, I returned to

Glasgow, completed  my arrangements with Mr. Playfair for commencing business  in this Eastern Metropolis, and, after waiting about six weeks  for a passage-all the steamers in the interval being full left Southampton in the "Peru", per overland route for 

Perhaps the best thing to be done may be to give you  one or two notes on the kind of passage I had. Nothing need  be said about the tender emotions awakened by parting with  many valued and dear friends-you know , that in every man's experience there are things that according to good  authority are too sacred "for a stranger to intermeddle with",  and these are some of them. But all these having been got  over--every cord snapped-our anchor was up and we  steamed off from Southampton on 20th November-from  the same place, on the same day and at the same hour on
which I had left for the West Indies. For some days previous to our sailing a severe storm had prevailed all along the coast,so much so that five mail steamers were all driven into Falmouth Harbour for shelter at once.

Though the storm had subsided, the swell caused by it still continued, and we had it rather rough crossing the Bay of Biscay and all the way to Gibraltar. Being a screw steamer, the vessel rolled very much, and it was no uncommon thing to see half-a-dozen chairs capsized at once and their astonished occupants sent spinning up against the bulwarks. Arrived at Gibraltar, we could scarcely see the Rock for the heavy rain that fell, and evening soon darkened down to hide it entirely from our view.

The railway is now completed all the way from Alexandria to Suez, and our company was the first to cross since it had been opened. We saw nothing of the vans that used to be at once so romantic and so uncomfortable. We saw them indeed, but I mean we did not need to use them. It would tire both you and myself to recapitulate all I
saw in Egypt, but if ever you travel that way, I commend you to a ride on a donkey as one of the most enjoyable things you have ever tried. Pompey's Pillar, Cleopatra's Needle, the Sacred Nile, the Pashas' Palace, the Pyramids, and all the other wonders we saw. Malta with its Church of St. John, a most splendid building at once the most ancient and most gorgeous in internal magnificence I ever saw.

Aden, with little else than its famous tanks lately discovered-but yet having no more to show a stranger than "some crows, a few donkeys, and one or two Scotsmen". Ceylon, "where spicy breezes blow soft" as our Missionary hymn has it; and Madras-all tend to make the overland route exceedingly interesting; but the arrangements on board the steamer are inferior to those of the West India line, notwithstanding the high name they get. Our passage from Suez to Calcutta was tedious, as the boilers of our steamer were bad. One day in the Red Sea we made only 81 miles in 24 hours! So strong was the wind against us. 

We anchored in the Hooghly on New Year's Day, and got up to Calcutta on 2nd January. Coming up the river, for you know Calcutta is 120 miles up from the sea, we saw some vultures fluttering over a black object in
the water. The black object was the mortal remains of some poor Hindoo- and it is no uncommon thing to see these ravenous but useful birds  on the river's bank "hold o'er the dead their carnival".

Calcutta is a very gay place with its 600,000 inhabitants- as yet I cannot say a great deal about it. My object in coming here is to establish a business under the firm of Playfair, Duncan & Co., and although all is new, and I must count upon difficulties, yet for these I have made up my mind and in the long run I think the style of business will suit me better than anything in Demerara. When next I write, after hearing from you, I will be able to say more; meantime, silence best befits those who are only buckling on their armour