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Mahaweli – A spectacular achievement of JRJ regime piloted by Gamini D

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Ronnie de Mel’s contribution undervalued, corruption later gnawed at its vitals

Excerpted from volume two of Sarath Amunugama’s autobiography

One of the spectacular achievements of the Jayewardene regime was the completion of the accelerated Mahaweli Development scheme. The Ceylon National Congress and its successor the UNP under the Senanayakes paid special attention to the development of the Dry Zone which was the heartland of the Sinhala Buddhist civilization. Archaeological findings have shown that Anuradhapura from the fifth century BC onwards was a magnificent world centre of Theravada Buddhism.

In addition to the monasteries and dagobas, bigger than the pyramids, the Sinhala Buddhists were heirs to an advanced irrigation and water management system the like of which the world has rarely seen. It was part of a hydraulic civilization which was strong enough to spread its influence throughout Buddhist Asia of the time. However, with invasions from South India and the spread of malaria, Sinhalese kingdoms began to drift south westwards along the rivers and tributaries and by the 16th century finally sought refuge in the hilly fastness of Kandy.

The ancient irrigation systems were abandoned, and the jungle tide enveloped the Raja Rata or the land of Kings. D.S. Senanayake made -the restoration of the irrigation system of the Rajarata the linchpin of his agricultural policy. Step by step he restored the ancient tank and canal system and settled the population overflow from the wet zone in the newly reclaimed areas. These settlements were called colonization schemes. It was an unfortunate use of terminology which was used by the diaspora to allege racial bias.

DS also imbued two of his promising youthful ministers, Dudley and JR with the mystique of the ancient civilization of the Sinhalese. JRJ would, over a brandy after dinner, regale his friends about the trips he made with DS to the Rajarata. The old man, who was a trained planter from the Agricultural School in Kundasale, knew of the value of frequent inspections and easy familiarity with the farmers. JRJ had enjoyed his stint as the Minister of Agriculture in an early UNP cabinet and was credited with the introduction of the Wap Magula’ about which we will narrate later in this book.

The early work on the damming of the Mahaweli ganga was undertaken by CP de Silva during Dudley’s 1965-1970 regime. This was the largest river valley development which could be undertaken in the country because the length of the river necessitated the construction of several dams. With Mrs. B’s victory in 1970, Maithripala Senanayake who was made Minister of Irrigation also supported this venture since as a leader of the Rajarata his dream was to bring Mahaweli waters to his home base.

Thus, when JRJ and Gamini Dissanayake turned their attention to this project they were lucky to find that most of the preliminary work in planning this venture was already complete. One of Gamini’s strengths was that he could get on with a job without starting a ‘witch hunt’ against Government officials. With his ample charms and persuasive skills, he could win over any able civil servant without wasting his time on recriminations.

This was a great advantage since he could build up a team of engineers and officials who had worked on this project under different administrations. I knew personally that he shrewdly flattered Maitripala Senanayake by consulting him and giving him credit for promoting this scheme. Senior engineers like Alagaratnam, Ratna Cooke, Manamperi and Laduwahetty became his chief technical advisors. On the planning and administration side he relied on a senior Civil Servant Sivagnanam who had guided the project under Maithripala Senanayake. This was a strategically wise decision because Siva played a vital role till the completion of the project.

But it was JRJ who gave life to the project. After a thorough briefing by officials, with maps on the table, which the President listened to with rapt attention, he inquired about the timeline for the completion of the project. When told that it would take 30 years, he gave a directive to his stunned listeners that it should be completed in six years. In other words he wanted the Mahaweli headworks to be completed by the end of his term of office.

Few knew that he had spent two days before that, intensively studying all the reports on the Project. How was this telescoping possible? The Mahaweli project was to have five dams – Rantambe, Kotmale, Randenigala, Victoria and Moragahakanda and a gigantic network of canals which would both augment many existing tanks in the dry zone as well as bring new areas under cultivation. JRJ was quite capable of giving such peremptory orders which modern management experts call ‘thinking out of the box’.

Nobody there and certainly not the ambitious Gamini, would think of telling the President that it was impossible. In fact, when they examined the problem they found that it could be done. The success of the Mahaweli scheme was Gamini’s path to fame, and though it drew the envy of others like Premadasa, he became a Presidential hopeful with a solid reputation and a dedicated staff behind him.

The earlier 30-year perspective was based on a sequential building of Mahaweli Dams. The new six-year timeline demanded that at least four of the dams be built more or less simultaneously. This entailed a massive funding and organizational effort on a scale which the country had not witnessed before. With the President identifying it as a lead project, the full support of the Ministry of Finance was mobilized, and though Ronnie de Mel always complained that his contribution was not duly recognized, he played a very important role.

It was decided that the funding and contracting out of the construction of each dam and canal network be undertaken on a bilateral basis under the umbrella of the World Bank. Though there were many earlier misunderstandings, the Bank under its deputy head David Hopper came to recognize it as one of its major global projects.

It must be mentioned here that the reputation of the JRJ government in the west as a pathfinder in ‘rolling back communism’ gave it a favourable positioning when seeking bilateral funding. There was a large component of grant aid in the financing packages while the World Bank ensured that bridging finances were provided at concessionary rates.

Since the Mahaweli scheme made the country self-sufficient in food grains, the net savings in the national budget on rice imports made repayment feasible unlike in later long gestation projects like highways.

The funding of Kotmale [Sweden] Randenigala [FRG] Victoria [UK] was secured on concessionary terms. Contracts were given to major companies like Skanska and Balfour Beaty who built up a local construction industry by subcontracting to local enterprises which today are the front line construction companies in the island. Since these projects were awarded on a `turnkey’ basis they were completed on schedule.

After Mahaweli, Sri Lanka became self-sufficient in food grains. Unfortunately after Gamini’s dismissal from office, successive governments have given this portfolio to incompetent and corrupt rural politicians who have not been able to harness the full potential of this major development project. These ministers were more interested in the lucrative business of awarding tenders and allocating newly opened Mahaweli lands to their kith and kin and political supporters.

It is well known that most Ministers of Agriculture have educated their numerous children abroad with funds provided by suppliers of fertilizers. Today Mahaweli is nowhere near being the game changer of our economy that was envisaged by JRJ and Gamini. It has however closed the chapter on ‘rice politics’ which had been the bane of JRJ’s political career and the linchpin of SLFP’s politics.



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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