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Implementing the Paddy Lands Act of 1958 – the Cultivation Committees



by Chandra Arulpragasam

Introduction: A Personal Note

In the CCS in early 1958, I was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Agrarian Services Department, in charge of implementing the Paddy Lands Act of 1958. In setting out to draft the Administrative Regulations under the Act, I came across a number of structural, legal and operational considerations, which probably had not been foreseen by its authors. This was probably the first time that it was being looked at by an administrator with field experience – and the first time that it was being looked at by someone who was new to the Paddy Lands Act and to its thinking.

First, from a conceptual side, the concept and design of the Act did not fit, for example, the agrarian conditions of the Batticaloa district, which raised some problems of implementation. Secondly, because of the Act’s contentious nature, its legal provisions were likely to be challenged and its implementation obstructed. This made it necessary to examine its provisions from an adversarial point of view – which revealed many legal and administrative vulnerabilities. Thirdly, there were new problems of implementation. For example, the Act safeguarded tenants, but there were no records of tenants or of landlords. New records of land ownership, tenancy, etc. would have to be created from scratch before implementation could even begin.

In comparison, the land records in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had been built up over a period of 200 years by the British imperial power. How could such records be created within six months before the Act would become operational in six districts of the country – as stipulated in the Act? Moreover, there were all sorts of potential legal and administrative problems in the elections of the Cultivation Committees. And so on.

The Commissioner of Agrarian Services happened to be abroad for three weeks. Thus, not only was I was the Acting Head of a Class I, Grade 1 Department at the age of 28 years, but I also needed policy-level help, because this was hitherto unchartered territory in the country. So I asked for an appointment with the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Phillip Gunawardene, the author of the Act, whom I had never met or seen before. The Minister was charming, affable and even fatherly, over a cup of tea and cakes in Parliament. Getting down to business, I brought to his notice the number of legal difficulties and some of the administrative problems that needed his guidance.

I was so intent on my presentation of the potential legal problems of the Cultivation Committees that I failed to notice that he had tossed his spectacles on the table, which was a sign (I was told later) that he was losing his patience – and his temper. I was only half way through my list when he suddenly banged his fist on the table with a loud noise, stopping me abruptly. “Young man” he exclaimed: “Have you come across these difficulties in the field – or are they in your head?” When I pointed weakly to my head, “Go and work”, he thundered! “And when you come across these problems, then you come to me!” In complete disarray, I scooped up my files and scooted from Parliament, leaving a trail of paper in my wake! This was the first and last time that I saw Mr. Phillip Gunawardene.

Within a few months, he was isolated and pushed out of the Cabinet, to be succeeded as Minister of Agriculture by Mr. C. P. de Silva. This resulted in two difficulties that I had to face. Within a few months, every one of the legal and administrative problems that I had raised with the Minister had actually come to pass. But secondly, when I needed ministerial help, Mr. Phillip Gunawardene, was no longer there. Instead, there was a new Minister, Mr. C.P de Silva, his political foe, who was actually opposed to the Act, and who decided to let it fester in its own legal difficulties so as to discredit it countrywide. In fact, I had to battle with the new Minister to amend the Act in order to give effect to the intentions of Parliament, or to repeal it. I gathered that he was not prepared to go to Parliament to publicly repeal it, since it was publicly popular. As late as 1960, I was struggling to get the same loopholes plugged that I had pointed out to the former Minister (Mr. Philip Gunawardene) in 1958.

Although upset by my encounter with Mr.Phillip Gunawardene, I came later to recognize that I had been looking at it only from my own administive and legal point of view, not appreciating his political difficulties in going back to Parliament for amendments before implementation had even began! Although I never met Mr. Gunawardene thereafter, he must have appreciated my work, for he later paid me a handsome compliment in Parliament, as recorded in Hansard.


New Ideas: The Role of the Cultivation Committees

Starting from the premise that the state machinery, especially at lower levels, was subject to the influence of the landlords, the Paddy Lands Act created a new Agrarian Services Department at national level, devoted to its implementation. Moreover, in order to bypass the lower level of administration at field level (which was thought to be under landlord influence), it created Cultivation Committees with assured majorities for the actual cultivators. This attempt to bias the administration in favour of the weaker sections of the agrarian society represented a change from the view prevailing from colonial times, namely, that the administration would be neutral in its dealings with all sections of the public. It is relevant to note here that most of the agrarian reform programmes in Latin America started from the same premise. Similarly, they opted for separate, dedicated agencies for the implementation of their land reforms, outside their existing ministries. The experiences of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were quite different because their land reforms were carried out under martial law, or with the active backing of the military.

The Act was also innovatory in that it represented the first time in any country in South and South East Asia that legal powers in the implementation of tenurial reforms and the management of irrigation and cultivation at field levels were given to an elected body. The idea that an elected body of semi-educated farmers could take over functions from the government bureaucracy was clearly revolutionary at that time. For example, since the rent payable on a particular field was fixed as one-fourth share of the harvest, how could a distant court know how much the gross harvest of a particular field was? The Act recognized that such factual questions at field level could only be answered at field level. The failure to recognize this and to provide for beneficiary participation in implementing such reforms has been one of the greatest weaknesses of similar programmes in other countries of the region at that time.

The first role of the Cultivation Committees was to help in the implementation of the tenancy provisions of the Act (Sections 8-19). The Committees were also authorized to act as intermediaries between landlord and tenant in the collection of rents, etc., thus reducing the personal hold of landlords over their tenants. The Cultivation Committees were thus expected to play an important socio-psychological role in bolstering the confidence of the tenant-cultivators to actively claim their rights under the law.

Secondly, the Cultivation Committees were given important development functions, with powers for the advancement of paddy cultivation in their areas. They were given access to technical advice in the form of Agricultural Extension Officers and Village Cultivation Officers, who were made ex-officio members of the Committees; but with a right only to speak but not to vote at their meetings. It was hoped that with such technical advice emanating from within, and adopted by the Committees, would enable both paddy production and water-management to be greatly improved by the farmers, acting on their own volition..

A third major innovatory function of the Cultivation Committees was in respect of (irrigation) water management, with the Committees taking over the functions of the Irrigation Headmen (Vel Vidanes) at field level. These functions, among others, included enforcement of rules relating to cultivation dates, clearing of channels, fencing, etc, as well as improving water management. This was in a context where bureaucratic and technical means of water management at field level had already failed. The Paddy Lands Act of 1958 thus predated international recognition of the need for farmer participation in water-management by at least 20 years! In practice, however, the Cultivation Committees under the Act of 1958 never made any progress in this field because they were legally invalidated soon after their formation.

A fourth innovation was in the field of agricultural extension. It was evident then, and more evident now, that agricultural extension systems based on the western models of one extension worker dealing face-to-face with each individual farmer were completely unrealistic in most developing countries with a multitude of small farmers. For example, in Nepal, an extension agent would have to walk one whole day to even reach 50 farmers in remote vellages! No developing country in the world could afford such a system in the context of multiple small farmers, which would require a quadrupling or more of extension workers. Ironically, this has been the recommendation of FAO and the World Bank for decades since the Paddy Lands Act of 1958! It is therefore obvious that a two-stage system or a group system of extension had to be devised, either with the extension agent working through farmer leaders, or through a system of group-extension, as envisaged by the Paddy Lands Act. Thus, the Act’s introduction of such a group extension system with farmer education and participation in the planning and implementation of such self-decided programmes of agricultural development was at least 40 years ahead of its time.

Lastly, the tenurial provisions of the Paddy Lands Act needed to be supported by a broader package of institutional support for smallholder agriculture, in order for the Act itself to be effective. Such a package was provided by the establishment of the multipurpose cooperatives, agricultural credit for smallholders, a fertilizer subsidy, a guaranteed price for paddy and a pilot crop insurance scheme. It is important to recognize that the Green Revolution could not have taken off in Sri Lanka around 1967 if the institutional support structure for small-scale paddy farming had not been laid in the late 1950s, alongside and with the Paddy Lands Act.

While the Act provided for an active role by farmers’ organizations (the Cultivation Committees), it is clear that the latter were not neutral farmer organizations. It was known, for example, that the village cooperatives in most countries of South Asia were under the control of the big landlords. The Paddy Lands Act, therefore, went to great lengths to neutralize the overweening power of the landlords by weighting these Committees heavily in favour of the actual cultivators. The landlords, however, retaliated by getting the Cultivation Committees declared legally invalid. This had the effect of cutting off the implementation structure at the knees, with no feet on the ground, making field level implementation impossible.

Thus one of the main laudatory features of the Act, namely, its provision for beneficiary participation, proved also to be its Achilles heel, leading ultimately to its collapse. Although such local farmers’ associations weighted in favour of the actual tillers succeeded in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, they were supported by martial law, or by military force. In contrast, our Cultivation Committees were subject to a judicial system under the rule of law in a democracy. In fact, it even allowed a President of a Village Tribunal to famously declare from the bench: “Pillippua Parippua-ge kumburu panatha appete epa” (We do not want lousy Phillip’s Paddy Lands Act!)

The Department of Agrarian Services organized rounds of field-level meetings, trying to encourage the Cultivation Committees to hold fast, promising that legal amendments would soon be forthcoming to remedy their legal incapacity. But in fact, these amendments came too late. They were passed only after the landlords had already evicted their tenants, and only after the Cultivation Committees had been seen to have failed in their cultivation and irrigation duties, thus losing the confidence of the farmers themselves.

It is also necessary to consider the socio-political climate in the villages at that time. There was euphoria among the tenant-cultivators and agricultural workers when the Act was passed, heightened by their participation in the formation of the Cultivation Committees, which they felt would support them against arbitrary eviction and higher rents.

This enthusiasm was reflected in other aspects of cultivation too. Fertilizer consumption doubled in the first year of the formation of the Cultivation Committees, but collapsed in the year following their legal invalidation. This collapse caused great demoralization among the cultivators, since they had gained great socio-psychological support from the Committees in standing up for their rights. With their collapse, many tenants surrendered their rights, accepting their plight as “hidden tenants” with no rights under the law. There was chaos in the paddy fields too, since there was no agent/agency left to ensure that the fields were fenced or the water issued. Hence, by the time the Cultivation Committees were re-legalized by the Paddy Lands (Amendment) Acts of 1961 and 1964, the latter served only to close the stable door after the horse had bolted. The Committees never regained the vigour and vibrancy that accompanied the first flush of their formation under the Act of 1958.


Legal and Administrative Challenges: The Collapse of the Cultivation Committees

It is left only to record the legal arguments that led to the collapse of the Cultivation Committees of 1958 – which provides a lesson in itself of how legal finagling can upset progressive legislation.  A Cultivation Committee was to consist of twelve (12) members (Section 29). “Of the prescribed number of elected members of the Committee: (a) not less than three-fourths shall be elected by the qualified cultivators……; and (b) not more than one-fourth shall be elected by the qualified owners….” Clearly the intention was to give greater weight in the Committees to the actual cultivators as opposed to the landlords.

In administrative terms, it was clear that there had to be two separate elections: one for the owners to elect their members, and one for the actual cultivators to elect theirs. This required that separate electoral lists be prepared for the owners and separate ones for the cultivators. Given the predictable opposition from the landlords, every name on every electoral list was liable to be challenged, while the elections themselves could be disputed in law. I had pointed this out to Mr. Phillip Gunawardene in my first and only encounter with him.

But there were even more serious problems. Since the law and relevant regulations stipulated that all Cultivation Committees shall have twelve members, the refusal by landlords to elect their representatives would render most of the Committees invalid. This again was a potential problem that I had brought to the notice of the Minister in my initial and only meeting with him – for which I was chased out by him! Faced with this situation on the ground one year later, we took the position (with the agreement of the Attorney-General) that if the landlords failed to elect their three representatives, the cultivators could elect the full twelve members of the Committee, since they (the cultivators) were entitled to elect a number “not less than three-fourths” of the Committee. The landlords then consulted Mr. H. V. Pereira, the highest legal luminary in the country. His brilliant mathematical argument in the appellate court was that since the landlords were to elect “a number “… “not more than one-fourth”, and since the qualified owners had elected nought representatives, and since nought is not a number, the Cultivation Committees were not legally constituted! On this abtruse mathematical argument, the Court decided that the Cultivation Committees were not legally constituted!

All past and future actions of such Committees were also declared null and void! This ruling encouraged the landlords to boycott the Cultivation Committee elections all over the country, thus rendering them legally invalid and their actions legally void. Thus the implementation machinery of the Act at field level was completely demolished on the basis of this legal argument! Since these Committees had by law taken over important irrigation and cultivation functions (the vel vidanes having been abolished) their invalidation led to a breakdown in the common arrangements for cultivation and irrigation, thus causing complete chaos in the field. And the Minister in charge of its implementation (Mr.C.P. de Silva) was not prepared to pass the needed amendments to plug the legal loopholes.

This placed me, as the implementer, in a professionally unenviable position. On the one hand, my duty was to implement the Act; but on the other, my own Minister who was also supposed to be implementing the Act, seemed intent on making its implementation impossible. Nor was he willing to repeal the Act, since it still had popular appeal. Two Commissioners of the Agrarian Services had been transferred out of the Department because they had agreed to sign the needed amendments to plug the loopholes in the Act. After more than two years of this unequal and unsuccessful struggle, I capitulated and sought a transfer out of the Ministry.


(The writer, a former member of the Ceylon Civil Service, later worked for a long period at the UN’s FAO in Rome).

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Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’



Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.

True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.

Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently

Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.

He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.

Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”

And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!

The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.

The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’

Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan

The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental. 

Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.

Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.

There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.

“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”

 Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida  and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called  ‘Love at the Edge.’

Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,

No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle.. 

The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna,  which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..

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Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando



This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.

His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.

As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.

His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.

He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.

We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.

Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.

He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.

He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.

He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.

Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.

His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.

Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.

SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.

However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.

At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.

Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.

May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!


Dr Mohan Jayatilake

Consultant Cardiologist



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Boogie Night with Suzi



Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.

From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).

Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.

She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.

TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.

And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.

Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.



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