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Damaging the Parakrama Samudraya relapanawa



I wonder what the Government Agent at Polonnaruwa was doing while the relapanawa of the Parakrama Samudraya was being removed or damaged, to make a walkway. Walkways have to be appreciated, but to damage the irrigation heritage that our forefathers have bequeathed to us is unforgivable.

  The GA’s residence is on the bund, and he must have known what was happening. The GA is the highest-ranking officer in the District, and to my thinking, though the Parakrama Samudraya belongs to the Irrigation Department, this action should have been his concern.

The Parakrama Samudraya is a masterpiece of irrigation engineering.

I gained knowledge of irrigation works when I was in the Agrarian Services. Minor irrigation projects were taken over from the GAs and handed over to the Agrarian Services Department.

I was in charge of minor irrigation work in the Anuradhapura District in 1963 and ‘64, when my team of Technical Assistants and Cultivation Superintendents repaired tanks.

At the base of a tank bund there is a core of puddled mud mixed and settled in like concrete. The earth is put over this puddle mud and the relapanawa is to withstand the waves and the water beating on the bund. I have on my inspections seen how waves beat the bunds, and the stone relapanawa is an essential part of a tank bund, to ensure that the earth on the tank bund can withstand the beating it gets from the water of the tank. This does not mean beating when the tank is full.

  I wonder why no one in the irrigation Department talked. The relapanawa is an accepted integral part of any tank. We should be very thankful to the Maha Sangha who took up this cause.

Our irrigation works are precious marvels bequeathed to us. There would be no life in Polonnaruwa if not for the Parakrama Samudraya.

The gradient of the Jaya Ganga, the 50-mile canal that brings water from the Kalawewa to Nachchaduwa and finally to the City Tanks in Anuradhapura is on a gradient of six inches to a mile, i.e. six inches  to 5280 feet or to 63,360 inches. It is a gradient that defies all engineering knowledge today. This came to the fore when I presided over the Cultivators Meeting of the Tanks under the Jaya Ganga in 1963, when to settle the problem of the water not reaching all tanks in time suggested a concrete base for the full length. The District Irrigation Engineer was baffled and was silent for over five minutes and then he replied that it cannot be done. How do you attend to repairs to the Jaya Ganga I quipped, and he admitted that  they would never dare to touch the entirety of the Jaya Ganga, but would attend to limited work  in disconnected sections.

This is what I said in my book, ‘How the IMF ruined Sri Lanka’: “We are all novices in the vast field of irrigation.  The Kashmiri Chronicle, the Rajatarangani,  tells us that King Dighadipa wanted irrigation engineers from Sri Lanka in the ninth century. Has anyone ever heard of the ancient tanks collecting silt? Our ancient engineers knew the art of designing tanks in such a manner that silt did not collect in them. It has so happened that we do not have the administrative and technical capacity to even maintain the vast irrigation systems  that have been handed over on a platter to us by our ancient engineers.” (From ’How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternative Programmes of Success’, Godages, 2006)

It is necessary to replace the removed relapanawa immediately, before the November rains. Otherwise, the Parakrama Samudraya is very likely to breach. In Nuwarakalaviya it is not the rain we know in Colombo. It is a deluge that lasts for days. That will be a major disaster.


Former G.A. Matara

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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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Expert advice on tax regime



The Government’s new tax regime has led to protests not only by high income earning professionals but also by Trade Unions.In my view the problem is not with the rate of taxation which is 6% – 36%, but with the tax exemption threshold. Due to hyper-inflation and the high cost of electricity, water, essential food items etc, the Exemption Threshold of 1.2 million per year is far too low.

If the Exemption Threshold is increased to at least 1.8 million per year, the Trade Unions are likely to accept this. It will also lessen the burden of taxation on high income professionals. And it should not impact on the IMF agreement.

The time has now come for a compromise between the Government and the protesters.

(The writer is a retired Commissioner General of Inland Revenue)

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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