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D.J. Wimalasurendra the founding father of hydroelectricity in Sri Lanka Great sons of Galle

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In the year 1918, D. J. Wimalasurendra read before the Engineering Association, a paper titled ‘The Economics of Power Utilization in Ceylon’, embodying his exhaustive investigations, most of which were done at his own expense.
When he referred to at length the benefits that the country would derive industrially and agriculturally by harnessing the waters of the River Mahaveli, Kehelgamu Oya and Maskeli Oya to produce hydroelectricity, some of the European engineers dismissed his thesis as “Journeys to the realm of fantasy”. Fortunately for our motherland, he had the unstinting support of the eminent leaders of the day and the national press.

From then onwards what was uppermost in his mind was the harnessing of the Laxapana waters to produce hydroelectricity and to supply ‘lakhs of lights’ as the name Laxapana implies. Nine long years later, a project based on the original proposals of Wimalasurendra but ill-advisedly modified by the European engineers was started by the British Government. Three years later it had to be abandoned after spending nearly three and half million rupees. Had Wimalasurendra been entrusted with the task it would have been a success.

Undaunted, Wimalasurendra pressed the government of the day to resume the project, fearing that it would be shelved forever or passed onto a foreign combine. With this in view, he briefed D. S. Senanayake of the proposed sale of a vital section to Whitewall Securities Corporation. When D. S. exposed this fact in the Legislative Council, the European rulers gave 24 hours notice to Wimalasurendra, to retire.

By now Wimalasurendra realized that he had lost a battle but not the war itself. With that in view, he entered the State Council in 1931, from Ratnapura. In the State Council, he urged the Government to restart the project which was resumed at last in the year 1938. On October 30, 1950, Sri Lanka was illuminated with hydropower for the first time.

It no doubt would have been the happiest day of his life! From his sick bed he travelled all the way to Watawala and saw for himself the power station there and declared, “Although it was not my good fortune to execute the scheme I had originated, I am happy that I have lived to see it brought to fruition by my countrymen and that I should have in the evening of my life been able to see the light, the dawn of which I beheld 50 years ago.”
No sphere of engineering activity escaped this genius. And, when the construction of the railway line from Bandarawela to Badulla baffled the white engineers, Wimalasurendra who was sent there by the Government authorities, performed the “looping the loop” at Demodera and reduced the proposed distance by three and half miles!

He also designed the gem-studded 24 foot gold plated pinnacle of the Ruvanweliseya Dagaba, which held the Chudamanikya. It was a labour of love.
When he was serving as the District Engineer of Uda Pussellawa, he received a telegram from his friend the newspaper tycoon D. R. Wijewardena, who had bought a new rotary press and the foreign engineer who had come from England to install it had failed to do it properly and the press had begun to deliver the newspapers in shreds! Wijewardena had consulted many engineers in Colombo but none of them could set it right.
As soon as Wimalasurendra arrived, he took one look at the machine and called for its book of instruction. He had glanced through the book, and with a thinly disguised smile of sarcasm on his face, fidgeted with some screws. And presto the newspapers came out at the rate of 40,000 copies an hour.

He also translated many Pali Buddhist texts to the German language. Indeed he was a great son of a great father, Mudliyar Don Juan Dewapura Wimalasurendra, who was a master craftsman, personally commended by Queen Victoria. Wimalasurendra was born on September 17, 1874, at Muhandiramgewatta in Galwadugoda, Galle. In the year 1926, he provided electricity to his home town. He also constructed the Hiyare reservoir to give pipe borne to the Galle town. Notable improvements to the Galle Harbour were also made by him.

The Government of the day, issued a commemorative stamp to mark his birth centennial. The new Laxapana power station was also named after him. The Galle Municipal Council renamed Humes Road which passes through his village, as D. J. Wimalasurendra Mawatha, while the grateful people of Galle erected a life-size statue of him.

Dewapura Jayasena Wimalasurendra, the patriotic son and giver of light, passed into luminous sleep on August 10, 1953 and is the living light in a free and independent Lanka!

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Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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