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Uncertainty of life: Remembering three ‘Nangis



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Some of us are fortunate enough to advance in years with all faculties intact and in reasonably good health, albeit with the help of medication. However, it comes at a price due to the ever-continuing process of losing friends and relations. As the Buddha pointed out, separation from the pleasant or the beloved is suffering (“Piyehi Vippayogo Dukko). The suffering becomes even worse when you lose younger relatives; worse still when it is sudden and dramatic. Having lost three Nangis–– two younger sisters and a sister-in-law––during the past five years, the only thing I can do to ease my sorrow is to pay a tribute to them by reflecting on their well-lived lives.

I remember the phone call received from Sri Lanka, in the early hours of 23 March. Kusum Wijetilleke told me that he had just been informed that his mother died suddenly of a heart attack. My wife’s sister, Dhammika, had been in an intensive care unit of a private hospital in Colombo with Covid pneumonia. In all likelihood, she acquired Covid after she had a minor surgical procedure, unfortunately. We never expected her to die as she was improving and did not need any ventilation. We could not attend her funeral as she was cremated the following day as per Covid protocol, but were hopeful we would be able to attend the three months’ Dane but the raging epidemic has prevented that too, distressingly.

I came to know Dhammika in December 1958, when I visited their house in Kirulapone. She was a charming, playful schoolgirl then but matured to be a stoic matriarch, being the prop behind the immense success of her husband, Rienzie Wijetileke. Soon after her marriage to Rienzie, they sailed to the UK for Rienzie to work in the London Branch of Bank of Ceylon and further his banking studies. When I arrived in the UK for postgraduate studies in September 1969, they were at Heathrow airport to receive me and, more importantly, they accommodated me for months in their tiny bedsit in London. With hindsight I wonder what an imposition I would have been, as they had tiny Harsha, their first-born too. They left the UK a few weeks after the birth of their second son, Chamira.

Dhammika, I consider to be my seventh sister. I shall quote from a tribute written by our daughter, Mihirinie as I cannot better the description of her beloved Punchi Amma:

“Dhammika laughed easily – an infectious, high-pitched giggle, which occasionally morphed into a delightful howl, that would ring out through the house and spread joy in abundance, and she was slow to anger – although she was no pushover and it was a wise person who refrained from incurring her wrath! She told outrageously funny stories that made everybody laugh (to question the veracity of these tales would have been to ruin her expertly-crafted yarns) and she was incredibly quick-witted, coming up with brilliant retorts and zinging one-liners that left listeners both in stitches and in amazement how agile her mind was. She was fun-loving and happy-go-lucky, and nothing really seemed to faze her. She rarely cried.

“Her home was always open and welcoming to anyone who wished to enter. If someone visited at a mealtime, they were immediately invited to stay, with extra food being rustled up if required. She was extremely hospitable, as well as being kind and generous to a fault. She never advertised her good deeds, although there were plenty of them to mention: from supporting her family and friends, to helping those who worked for her, to even sending money to complete strangers who were in need. Her actions made it clear how she felt about not only the people in her life, but also human beings in general. She never went on or came back from an overseas trip empty-handed: presents were procured for everyone”

My Loku Nangi, Swarna, died five years ago. In a way, her death was a relief as she had been in a persistent vegetative state for about a year following the rupture of an aneurysm in the brain. Though she lacked academic achievements, her life was one of sacrifice: devoted to others, looking after our ageing parents and looking after the three children of the fifth sister in our family. Mali would not have been able to specialise in Eye diseases and work full-time if not for Swarna’s support. Mali was able to reciprocate by tending to her needs during the terminal illness, keeping her in her house under supervision. Whenever I visited Swarna and said ‘Loku Nangi’, I could see a tear-drop in her eyes though she was not conscious.

They say truth is stranger than fiction and the death of Sunethra, fourth sister in our family well illustrates this. It was November 2019 and we all were at the Hilton Colombo celebrating the wedding of Madara, the daughter of my youngest (sixth) sister Champa. Madara studied in Japan and fell in love with Pulasthi, who studied with her. They flew from Japan to get married and fly back to their jobs in Tokyo. I had a chat with Sunethra, who was living in Kandy with her husband Cyril, the previous evening when she told me she would not be attending the wedding though Cyril would and was looking forward to meeting me at the home-coming, which was in Kandy.

The couple had just got down from the Poruwa and everyone was in a jubilant mood. As I came out of the Hall, to escape the noise, I noticed my brother Jagath in a pensive mood, near the door. When I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’, he said Sunethra had died. I was perplexed as his wife was also Sunethra and I had seen her a few minutes before. It soon became clear he was referring to our sister because he then told me Cyril and one of their three sons, who were at the reception, were on the way back, having been informed that Sunethra had been admitted to hospital.

In conversation with the other brother Ranjan, who joined us shortly, we decided not to let anyone know of this tragic news. Whilst others dined, wined and danced, the three of us had to suffer in silence pretending that nothing had happened. Though the few hours spent till the end of the ceremony were probably the worst hours of my life, I am very glad we did not spoil the fun of the young couple who had flown thousands of miles to get married in the company of their relations.

Sunethra had a few medical problems but I had no cause for concern as she was under the excellent care of one of my trainees in Grantham Hospital, Dr Kumudini Jayasingha. She had felt faintish suddenly and an ambulance had been called but was found to be dead on arrival at the hospital. Later, it transpired that this occurred almost at the time the couple were getting on to the Poruwa. Sunethra has indicated that her body should be donated to the Peradeniya Medical Faculty and the only time they could accept the body was the time of the home-coming! Whilst one half of the family was handing over the body of Sunethra to the medical faculty, the others including me attended the home-coming. Pulasthi’s parents were initially disappointed when they saw a small crowd coming with the couple but were very understanding when I explained the circumstances to them, privately. We told the couple only when we were about to leave when Madara told me how she had visited her Loku Amma, on arrival, and had a long chat embracing each other. That is the uncertainty of life. Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction.

Fortunately, this trauma has not adversely affected Madara and Pulasthi who are doing very well in Tokyo.

May Swarna, Sunethra and Dhammika attain Nibbana!





Keeping an Even Keel



Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wickramasinghe, Retired Additional Secretary to the President


Having worked in the public service for 44 years, of which, 22 were spent working for four Presidents, retirement came almost imperceptibly in November 2005.

In these reminiscences, I will endeavour to describe anecdotally (to sustain the reader’s interest), some of the more interesting episodes in my career in the public service from 1961 to 2005. I also propose to deal with the distinct and distinguishing personality traits of the Presidents, and Ministers I had the privilege of serving (reflecting on both, their particular strengths as well as their foibles). I shall additionally, attempt to outline the principles, norms and standards that guided me in the work I performed, as a public officer working under these Heads of State , Ministers and Secretaries to Ministries .

My appointment as Assistant Commissioner of National Housing

It is certainly no easy task going back forty odd years trying to recollect one’s feelings,the excitement and the elation one would have experienced, getting into a good staff position in the Public Service. I only recall being happy but not particularly exhilarated on receiving the news of my appointment by PSC letter under the hand of the Secretary of that office.I recall distinctly that I was, at the time house –bound and too miserably ill with chicken pox, to jump for joy on hearing the good news.

After the mandated quarantine period, which I spent productively, reading Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, I reported for work at the Department of National Housing where I was to function as Assistant Commissioner. My boss, the

Commissioner, was Mr. K.M.D. Jayanetti, a jolly bureaucrat with an impish sense of humour , who on seeing me remarked that my face did not seem too much disfigured by the attack of chicken pox.

He outlined the work of the Department as comprising the construction of Flats and Housing schemes (the State Engineering Corporation was the contractor) for middle income and lower middle income categories and maintaining them once they were given out on rent. He also said that he was assigning me to work initially, in the different sections of the Dept. for a period of one month in order to acquaint myself with the work I will have to handle.


Induction training within the Dept.

Accordingly, I worked in the different sections and obtained first hand, an insight into the inner workings of the Department. I was also able to interact with the officers of the different branches who were at the time a smart, intelligent and disciplined lot, thoroughly conversant with and fully involved in, the tasks assigned to them.

I further, spent this interim period gainfully, studying the National Housing Act very closely and reading all the Departmental circulars. Later on when I was transferred to other Govt. Depts.,the first thing I did before assuming duties, was to obtain a copy of the relevant Statute and study it thoroughly and also read up all the available Departmental Circulars. This gave me the confidence I needed to take on and handle whatever assignments given to me.

This was the standard approach I was taught to follow religiously by some senior mentors of mine in the Public Service, who assured me that once this was done, one was reasonably well equipped to handle competently the different situations and the problems one would have to face in the particular Dept./Ministry I was posted to. Leelananda de Silva, my good friend from school days and who was already holding the post of District Land Officer in the Public Service, was indeed a veritable source of guidance and inspiration to me at this time.



Taking decisions within the policy guidelines laid down

A salutary lesson I learnt from my boss Mr. Jayanetti, was to take decisions boldly within the broad policy framework laid down. When I once submitted a file asking for a direction from him, he called me up and told me that unless it was a matter which was outside accepted policy, I should get used to taking decisions on my own. I still recall gratefully his friendly advice “Do not hesitate to take decisions, where you can justify such decisions, I shall cover you if the need arises.” I have worked on this principle right through my career in the Public Service and I hardly had occasion where I was found fault with by my superiors, for doing anything irregular or for infringing policy guidelines.

The work assigned to me in the Housing Dept.was quite heavy as it involved work relating to Housing schemes and Flats in the Colombo District. There were four other senior colleagues in the Dept. (two of whom ended their careers as Secretaries to Ministries and one as the Public Trustee), who were ever prepared to lend a helping hand to me whenever I sought their assistance – M. Ramalingam, Senerath Dias, C Wijayawickrema and Malcolm Samarakkody.

I remember working very hard to clear the files which used to keep piling up as flat dwellers in particular, seemed to have endless problems, particularly with their immediate neighbors, for which quick solutions were demanded by their importunate persistence that I should personally interview them and hear their complaints. I remember taking bundles of files home and attending to them till late in the night. I recall clearly one particular instance where I had to sign a building contract with the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), I think it was for the construction of the Tower Block near the sea front in Bambalapitiya, running into millions of rupees. Mr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, who was Chairman SEC at the time, met me and pleaded with me to sign the contract in the absence of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, as the former was out of the island and the latter was indisposed.

Having checked with the Legal Branch and the Finance Branch on the correctness of the documentation, I placed my signature to the document on behalf of the Dept. much to the relief of Mr.Kulasinghe who made haste to proceed to the construction site to commence work on an auspicious note! Although I was somewhat apprehensive signing such an important contract document in my capacity as Asst. Commissioner, I was also conscious of the fact that I was on good legal grounds in doing so, as the National Housing Act defines Commissioner to include a Deputy as well as an Assistant. I was guided here by the sound advice given by Mr.K.M.D.Jayanetti who instilled in me the abiding principle that I should not hesitate to take decisions as long as I was acting within the law and accepted policy.


Minimum political interference

One redeeming feature at the time was that there was hardly any political interference. The few MPs who met you, were very courteous and very much unlike their pompous and impossibly overbearing counterparts of today, and were prepared to abide by the rules applicable, once these were explained to them. In this sense, I must say that working in the Public Service was relatively much easier and pleasanter in the nineteen sixties than in the seventies and thereafter. As long as one worked within the framework of the rules and regulations laid down, one was safe from being upbraided even by one’s Head of Dept.


The Public Service Commission

Authority and control over the Public Service before 1972 was exercised by the Public Service Commission through gazetted delegation. All public servants were acutely conscious of this fact, as much as others including politicians, were painfully aware of it, much to their discomfiture. Working in a Govt. Institution was further, relatively easy at the time, as there was discipline and strict conformity to established norms of conduct and behaviour by all concerned, including Ministers.

Furthermore, financial control was rigorously enforced and cases of malfeasance and corruption were few and far between. I remember the time I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services in 1966, where the Deputy Commissioner while inspecting the cash collections of a Shroff in the Dept. and finding a shortage of Rs.5/= , issued on him a letter of immediate interdiction. This certainly did not mean that the Public Service was totally devoid of corruption. What it did mean was that if and when defalcations and frauds were detected, swift disciplinary action followed, with the punishment meted out being very severe. This kind of summary disciplinary action kept both the laggards and the miscreants on their toes.


Department of Agrarian Services

From 1966 till 1968, I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services. Working in the Dept. of Agrarian Services was particularly rewarding as the range of services offered to the public was so variegated, encompassing manifold functions. The purchase and milling of paddy, minor irrigation works, paddy lands (implementation of the Paddy Lands Act),Crop Insurance and the distribution of fertilizer to paddy farmers, were the primary functions of the Dept.

This was the time of Prime Minister Mr.Dudley Senanayake’s ‘food drive’ and the entire Dept. was geared to meeting targets and deadlines for expanding paddy production and the cultivation of subsidiary food crops. Mr. J.V. Fonseka, a fine administrator cast in the classic mould, who was the Commissioner of Agrarian Services, spared no pains to meet the paddy production targets set by the Prime Minister and inspired the officers in the Dept. to work equally enthusiastically and diligently

The work assigned to us was very challenging and onerous as there were many employees in the Dept., like store keepers, who were defrauding the Dept. and accumulating private fortunes. They had to be kept on their toes by surprise inspections of paddy stores. My good friend and colleague, the late Chula Unamboowe, had a penchant for this and his surprise inspections were dreaded by store keepers. Circuits had also to be made to paddy growing areas to check on claims made for damage /loss to paddy harvests following droughts /floods.

I found the work enjoyable as I was able to visit remote areas in outlying Districts and interact with rural farmers. These official circuits which were done in the company of the Divisional Officer, made my work pleasurable as well as satisfying, particularly where we were able to recommend the release of funds for repairs to anicuts and minor irrigation systems, thereby ensuring uninterrupted Maha and Yala cultivations which were a great boon to paddy cultivators who were dependent on water stored in these small village tanks for their paddy crops.

Officers like V.T Navaratne, Eric de Silva, Chula Unamboowe, D Wijesinghe, Rex Jayasinghe, I.K. Weerawardene, Garvin Karunaratna, Neville Piyadigama, Ernest Gunatilleke, with their pioneering efforts, made a signal contribution towards ensuring the smooth delivery of Departmental services island-wide. Being a key Dept. in the agricultural sector, it was no easy task organizing the multifarious activities it had to engage in, covering the entire island. The success achieved in this endeavour was for the most part due to the dedication combined with the exceptional ability, shown by these officers in discharging the tasks entrusted to them. I found this Dept. one of the better Depts. I had served in, as far as the challenging tasks one had to contend with, were concerned.


The Land Settlement Dept.

The Land Settlement which I did a two-year stint was one of the oldest Depts.,with deeply entrenched colonial traditions. In fact,I was somewhat bemused when I first went to the Dept. to see fading photographs of imperious looking British Royalty hanging on the walls of the office. No one seemed to bother about them and they remained on the walls up to the time I left the Dept. on transfer.

The Land Settlement Dept. was located on the third floor of the old Treasury building, almost cheek by jowl with the prestigious office of the Public Service Commission, where all the interviews for staff appointments in the Public Service including Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) interviews were held . I recall how, so many University friends used to haunt the place, waiting to be interviewed for staff appointments. It was in that sense, to us at least, quite a hallowed place. I still remember how some people who came in shirt and tie without the required jacket, had to borrow jackets from others waiting to be interviewed or had finished their interviews. Some of these borrowed jackets were at times, ill-fitting and expectedly, sat somewhat awkwardly on the wearers.

About one year following my assumption of duties as Asst. Settlement Officer, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from Mr. L.J. de S Seneviratne who was a Senior Civil Service Officer and who functioned as Secy/ PSC, at the time. He addressed me as Mr. Wickramasinghe and politely enquired whether he could come and meet me in the course of the day. As his office was just next door, I respectlfully said, ” Sir, you can meet me anytime, even now”. He thanked me and said he would come straight away. In a matter of minutes the imposing personality dressed in ‘full kit’, as we used to say, walked in and I stood up respectfully and greeted him asking him to take a seat.

Mr. Seneviratne sat down and addressed me, to my utter consternation, as ‘Sir’ and went on to say that he was responding to the notice issued by me, under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Ordinance (LSO), on his wife (who was Sir Francis Molamure’s daughter).He said that his wife had inherited hundreds of acres of land on ‘Sannas pathra’, some of which had already been settled under the LSO and she was now staking her claim to the balance lands that had still to be settled. He then submitted several Sannas for my perusal.

I informed him that I will have to check on the authenticity of the Sannas pathra with the records in the Dept. of Archives before I could make a Settlement Order on her claims. What was funny to me was that, when I was respectfully addressing him as ‘Sir’, which to me was the proper form of address of a Junior to a Senior Officer, Mr. Seneviratne was himself calling me ‘Sir’ during the conversation. It made me even wonder whether Mr.S. addressed me in that manner, out of deference to my position as Inquiring Officer before whom he had to give evidence. I further wondered whether he did so as he knew that a Settlement Order made under the Land Settlement Ordinance was final and could not be set aside even by the Supreme Court. Whatever may have been his intentions, after I recorded his evidence, he thanked me and left.


Soon afterwards , Mr Seneviratne retired from Service

I met him once in a crowded lift in the Central Bank building. The poor man appeared lost. He looked around to see whether people would recognize him. Sadly, no one did. When I greeted him, he beamed, I thought this was just ‘the way of the world’. When powerful individuals cease to wield power and influence, they are ignored and are cast into the ‘limbo of forgotten things”. That’s just, ‘in rerum natura’(in the nature of things). This inspired me to pen a few lines of verse on the incident:


The Bureaucrat Who Was – ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream’.


He gets into the elevator slowly,

Eyeing the seated elevator boy intently,

Getting no response,

He looks around quietly, Knowing him, I avoid his gaze Deliberately.

His disappointment seems intense!


A decade ago,

A short trip in a crowded elevator

Would have swung heads towards him,

Magnetically, respectfully;

Yet, now, jostled by the irreverent young,

And ignored by the few who knew him,

This shattered Colossus,

Pygmied by unrecognition,

Moves out of the elevator,


Stops at the threshold ,

Blocking my way,

A last pathetic plea – it seems , For identity!

In the milling throng,

I excuse myself and move on – Catching only a sidelong glimpse

Of a broken man’s gratitude, For the small plank Shoved underneath his feet , On the quickening sand.


The Land Settlement Act was a powerful statute which empowered Settlement Officers to inquire into claims made by people who had pedigree title to such lands by virtue of their being in possession of ‘Sannasas’ or on pedigree title or valid title deeds or again by their having cultivated such lands over a reasonable period of time. This meant Settlement Officers having to at times, examine archival material etc. to determine the title of these claimants.

Interestingly, one of the claimants under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Act was the then Prime minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Accordingly, as required by law , I had notices served on her and some other members of her family who also had made claims to a Nindagama land called ‘Rassagala Nindagama’ in Ratnapura, summoning them for an Inquiry. Soon afterwards I received a call from Secy/PM MDD Peiris who was a friend, in the course of which he said “Chandra, you don’t summon the Prime Minister of the country to come and give evidence. I will arrange a suitable date in consultation with her, for you to come over to the PM’s office and record her statement”. I remember apologizing to MDD immediately saying there was no offence meant but that it was done by me routinely as stipulated in the Act. I also requested MDD to obtain a date from the PM and let me know.

I recall vividly the interview I had with that gracious Lady PM. She greeted me rising from her chair and shaking my hand while thanking me for calling over at her office. The PM, I recall, looked quite vibrant , turning around energetically in her swiveling chair, all the time being very attentive to whatever work she was engaged in. I proceeded to record her statement and at the end of the interview, she once again rose from her chair and shook my hand, thanking me for coming over. I recall well, her parting words to me “You take whatever decision you have to on the matter Mr. Wickramasinghe and inform me”

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An encounter with JRJ and the start of the privatization of the production of electricity in Sri Lanka



by Vera Gamini Samarasinghe

In 1987 I was awarded a Rolex Award for Enterprise by the Rolex Watch Company of Geneva Switzerland for doing original work on the river flows of the Belihuloya, which I had meticulously collected daily for four long years, walking four kilometres every morning sun or rain notwithstanding.

The water flows and the subsequent topographical measurements which I made with physical surveys gave rise to the Belihuloya Hydropower Project, the highest project in Sri Lanka and the third highest in the world with a head of nearly 1,400 metres! It could have been built to a 85 MW capacity giving electricity for six hours a day during the peak period. I had built a wooden weir across the highest reaches of the Belihuloya where it exited the Horton Plains with the help of a friendly firm SKANSKA which was building the Kotmale project at that time and measured the water flows every morning around 8.00 A.M having started my walk around 7.00 A.M.

The building of the weir across the Belihuloya was done within 48 hours, the materials being carried on their heads through the thick montane forest on a footpath by over 200 men from the Non Pareil Estate together with four Swedish engineers and surveyors who worked throughout the night with the aid of generator fed lights to finish the work as soon as possible. The footpath to the site of the weir was narrow and through thick montane forest and my daily trudge thereafter to measure the water flows was not uneventful, with the regular growls of leopards and the calls of threatened sambhur on the way!

The Ceylon Electricity Board which was unaware of this project subsequently came to know about it and wanted my readings of the water flows for four years, which I gave them. This project according to the CEB engineers was due to its very high head one of the best projects to be done in Sri Lanka for the production of hydro-electricity but due to unfairness and corruption it has still not been done. I shall refer at the end of this article to recent developments with regard to it.

I cannot remember the exact date but I believe it was towards the end of 1987 that I got a phone call from Mr. Nihal Weeratunga the private secretary to President Jayewardene asking me to meet with the President at his office at the old parliament building in the Fort which is still the President’s office.

I believe it was at 10 A.M. one morning when I walked into the office of President Jayewardene to see him seated at his desk with one tall bodyguard behind his chair. There was one other man too seated at the front of the desk, a short man with a moustache and with his legs dangling from the chair with somewhat high heeled shoes whom I later got to know was the Secretary for Power and Energy at the time, Dr. K.K.Y W. Perera.

When I walked in President Jayewardene showed me a chair and asked me to take a seat and when I did, he turned to Dr. Perera and said to him that he appreciated that I had got an international award but what should be the next step. Dr.Perera, who I believe was averse to anybody from outside the CEB or the Ministry delving in to the electricity sector, however extolled the project but then began with his “but Sir you see Sir” to which I quickly interjected with the following:

“Sir, in spite of the CEB having difficulties, could you not think of allowing this as the first private sector project for electricity in Sri Lanka. As I am the discoverer of the project, I could try to find the money and build it as a private sector operation; and besides Sir many Asian countries including Taiwan and Malaysia have both governmental and private sector production of electricity and why can’t we do the same Sir?”

I looked at the President who was somewhat taken back at the unexpected request, but he suddenly brightened up and turned once again to Dr. Perera and told him that my request seemed logical, and he asked him to form a committee and look into allowing the private sector and especially the Belihuloya project to be done by the private sector.

Dr.Perera seemed somewhat confused by the Presidents words but acquiesced to his request. I was so excited at the President’s positive attitude that I thanked him profusely and without waiting for him to call the meeting closed, stood up and went out of the door. Once out of the door I realized that the President had not called the meeting closed but it was too late to do anything about it but I was relieved to see President Jayewardene, his bodyguard and Dr.Perera standing up too and coming out of the door. That was the short meeting which heralded the start of the privatisation of the electricity sector of Sri Lanka.

The aftermath of this meeting and the formation of a committee etc took a long time and there were untold difficulties and things proceeded very slowly. However this was the start of the private sector involvement in the electrical sector and at present several projects with both hydro electricity and renewable electricity have been done but NOT the Belihuloya project as the CEB then brought in an unwritten law that no private sector project should exceed a 10 MW capacity of plant. This stopped the Belihuloya project and the CEB and its friendly companies later built a small 1 MW plant below the projected site of the Belihuloya dam effectively making it difficult for the proper Belihuloya project to proceed, making a great loss for Sri Lanka.

However, I take this very lightly as new technical developments with sea wave energy to develop very large quantities of electricity will be soon shown to the world, based on a PCT patent of mine which was acquired in 2011 by two large energy firms from the USA and China. This development will make obsolete not only land based hydro power plants but both wind based and solar based electricity plants as immense quantities of electricity at cheaper prices will be made available in the near future. Mind you, water is 1000 times more dense than air.

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LTTE Terrorism immediately prior to 1981



Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd) Edward Gunawardena

Reference has already been made to the return of trained LTTE cadres who had fled to India in 1979. With their return after intensive training by PLO experts in Indian jungle camps, arms and explosives also had been smuggled into the country and stored in safe-houses. The Jaffna District Intelligence Bureau reported to the Intelligence Services Division that police patrols were under threat of attack by pistol gangs and that more and more youths were joining the rebels.

The Superintendent of Police Jaffna had reported to the DIG of the Northern Range that the Government Agent Yogendra Doraisamy had received anonymous telephone calls ordering him under threat of death not to (a) Carry out instructions of government when making appointments in government departments without a letter from one ‘Kanthan’ alias ‘Harry’ (b) not to carry out any requests of TULF leaders and (c) not to issue liquor licences unless recommended by ‘Kanthan’.

I met Yogendra Doraisamy for the first time in 1979. He was at the airport to receive Brig. Weeratunga and myself when we went to Jaffna for the Emergency operation. Yogendra Doraisamy, a former diplomat who had retired from the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, was a gentleman of the highest integrity. Hailing from a distinguished Hindu family of the Jaffna aristocracy he was a highly cultured, erudite and able administrator who had been nurtured in an atmosphere of high democratic and moral values. Such threats coming from people of his own ancestral Jaffna would have been truly heartbreaking.

The treatment that this much respected gentleman had to endure demonstrated in no uncertain terms the dramatic change that was taking place in the peninsula. Clearly it was a manifestation of the rejection of the hitherto respected values and the gross disregard for the lawfully established instruments of administration by the ‘Boys’ hellbent on destroying the establishment.

It is not clear whether the DIG Northern Range ‘Brute’ Mahendran reported this dangerous development to the President or the Defence Ministry. Mahendran, himself a Tamil with relatives and interests in Jaffna, naturally would have been apprehensive of repercussions. The tigers had proved that they had no mercy for


The Escalation of Violence and Political Intrigue

From the time the Jayewardene government decided to hand over the administration of Jaffna to the people of Jaffna, violence had begun to escalate. Policemen serving as well as retired were the targets. When the People’s Bank cash was robbed at the Neervely junction in March 1981, Constables Muthu Banda and Ariyaratna were shot dead with a Sub-machine gun.

Apart from the violence angle, the political intrigue that developed and the socio-political environment of the time in Jaffna also need to be looked at to properly understand the circumstances that prevailed in Jaffna during the DDC elections when there were several cases of arson including the burning of the library.

Intelligence reports suggested that if a District Development Council was formed with elected representatives the problems of the people could effectively be addressed and the influence of the militant youths would wane. President Jayewardene also believed that by the vigorous development of industries and fisheries more employment could be provided. He was also keen to develop the schools and promote sports.

The Tamil political parties naturally came to the conclusion that if the UNP or any other national political party won, it would be their death knell. The TULF and the Tamil Congress decided to enter the fray using their maximum resources. These parties expected the support of the militants. But the latter though overtly with them entertained fears that a political victory for the TULF would lead to their downfall. They also told the TULF in no uncertain terms that they could form a district administration with the militants for which a committee was to be formed under the chairmanship of a confidant of Prabahakaran.

I as the Director of Intelligence at the time kept the President and the Ministry of Defence informed of the above developments but the TULF was not in a position to offer any assistance or co-operate with the President. The TULF in fact refrained from accepting any office or responsibility for the administration of the District resulting in a UNPer becoming the District Minister.


The Role of Indian Intelligence

By the end of the seventies the relations between India and Sri Lanka were far from cordial. JR had even most undiplomatically made an insulting reference to the Congress Party symbol. As mentioned earlier, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) had been given a distinct task —the disruption of the election.

A highly disturbing prospect for RAW was the emergence of a democratic Eelam with elected rulers. RAW was of the view that such a development would not only lead to dangerous separatist repercussions in Tamil Nadu but also be an obstacle to India’s avowed ambition to be the sole and undisputed power in the Indian Ocean. India was becoming more and more convinced that a state of Eelam would be a threat to the defence and stability of India.

Even in the seventies Indian defence analysts like K. Subramaniam, the Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies had expressed fears that an Eelam would not be strong enough to resist superpower influence and it would also link with the massive Tamil community of South India which could present India with a problem more serious than the Kashmir — Jammu, Assam or the Naxalites. It goes without saying that the LTTE by this time distrusted the UNP and the Tamil political parties and determined to disrupt the DDC elections to prevent the emergence of a democratic set-up. RAW would certainly have briefed the ‘Boys’ on what India desired.

At this point I cannot help but recall an incident that occurred on the day following the burning of the library. In the late seventies as Sri Lanka’s Director of Intelligence I had been able to make direct contact with RAW. On my visit to Delhi with President Jayewardene in 1979, I was taken by Mr. Gonzales the acting Indian Foreign Secretary to the South Block and introduced to Norshi Suncook, Director of RAW. Thereafter I was able to make a few good RAW contacts.

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