When a parcel of land with houses, wells and trees became a soap factory

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents)

Once the site of a busy soap factory, a parcel of land close to four acres at Vellayil now awaits its new avatar. It lies at the city centre and is now mostly a space for a few trees as the project for a convention centre here is yet to be realised. But history shows that the first time this land was acquired for a commercial purpose the deal was struck in the quickest possible time. It was acquired for “an experimental and demonstrational soap factory on the west coast.” Such a soap factory was meant for a purpose — “to turn out from 600 to 1200 tons of soap per annum.”

Files from April 1918 cite the government order in January sanctioning the establishment of such a factory. F.A. Nicholson, honorary director of fisheries, writes a series of letters to the Collector of Malabar about acquiring a suitable parcel of land for the soap factory. Nicholson appears to have done his homework before writing. He writes, “I have examined a plot of land, about 4 acres in Vellayil, to the north of the north pier at Calicut which is intrinsically suitable for our requirements.” He even furnishes the site plan.

Without much fuss

Acquisitions are often a sore point in land transactions, and Nicholson narrates the situation pertaining to this land. Since it is a joint property, he advises the Collector against going in for purchase and instead suggests acquisition. “The owner of the land is Mr Raricha Moopen of Calicut but as it is the joint property of Mr Moopen and the members of his tharawad, private arrangements with him for the purchase of the land may not be easily affected. It seems to me therefore that the best plan will be for government to acquire the land so as to expedite the purchase and avoid unnecessary litigation; apparently Mr Moopen is agreeable to this course,” he writes.

Nicholson pushes for quick acquisition and immediate construction of the factory. The First World War was already in its last stages and history suggests that many experiments were underway in this small-scale industry. He advocates a quick establishment of the factory “in order that the soap industry, especially of the smaller types, shall be by way of being established before the termination of the war and that various other important investigations into the oils and fats linked industries may be carried out.”

Nicholson’s impatience is evident in the series of reminders he sends the Collector. By June 1918, a letter goes from the Revenue Divisional Officer to the Collector regarding the chief occupants of the land. It shows that even then it was a prime piece of land and housed “several buildings belonging to different persons.” The revenue officer tries to buy time, citing the complexity of the properties involved. He says the occupiers are the owners in most cases and “that valuation of materials of houses involves a large amount of measurements being taken which takes much time.”

Stream of letters

Meanwhile, Nicholson’s stream of letters continues and in June he writes to the Collector, “I request that you will be good enough to put me in possession of the land if possible within the next month.”

Finally, by August the revenue officer draws up an estimate. The property to be acquired appears to be an affluent one, boasting “four tiled houses with two wells attached to two of them, (two houses are storied), eight thatched houses and huts...one basement, three other wells and three small shrines besides tharas (small basements) dedicated to gods.”

The land, he says, also nurtures “165 bearing cocoanut trees...11 bearing jackfruit trees” along with pepper vines, plantains and other miscellaneous vegetation. The “jenmi of the land is Kallingal Rarichan Muppan,” while a few have karmam rights over the land, says the officer.

Unlike some other acquisition, this one was mostly hassle-free. The revenue officer mentions that “none of the claimants have any objection to the acquisition,” though he also writes about Mr Moopen’s claims. “The jenmi Mr Muppan claims 40 times the rental of trees and 20 times the rental of houses and in addition he wants the vacant portion valued as waste land, but he does not specify the actual amount he wants nor does he give reasons in support of his demand.”

Finally, an amount of Rs 21,070 is fixed for the 3.75 acres of land. By October 1918, Nicholson had again written enquiring about the stage of acquisition. “There is no difficulty about funds as government has already allotted a lump sum for the new factory,” he writes.

By mid-November the Public Works Department approves the proposal and by late November, the note comes from the Government of Madras about funds being transferred for the purchase. The acquisition is done in seven months’ time.

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)