Irritation in Irrigation—the “Gama-Kana” Engineering in the downstream (Part 19-VII)
Posted on February 27th, 2011

Geethanjana Kudaligamage

Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony (Part 19-VII)

Although the origin of the vernacular idiom “Gama-kanawa” is not known, when asked an engineer of Irrigation Department of his work, he had answered in one word, “Gama-Kanawa.” By this single termed expression, he had explained a thousand words about his innate frustration of the nature of his work. It also revels that there are many engineers who silently weeping about the very destruction they cause upon the lives of masses and to a historical landscape of its ancient fabric of agricultural infrastructure of a country due to blindly carrying-out orders of the policy planners in the upper echelons of their vocation. The most regretful situation is that this ancient infrastructure was durable therefore could last for almost three thousand years, but was unable to stand against the onslaught of the brutal forces of modernity for last one hundred years. Comparing to the life span of these ancient irrigational infrastructures has lasted; one hundred year is utterly an insignificant peanut length of time. But it was the most gruesome period for the ancient structure. Therefore these one hundred years must be marked as the darkest period of Sri Lankan history of irrigation having nothing to glorify other than the glory of modern engineer similar to that of the bull entered into the pottery shop.    

 In any discipline, it is accepted tradition to reassess its own past to recognize successes and the failures””‚strengths and the weaknesses of the said discipline in its respective field of activities, mainly for the benefit of the humanity as well as its own future. For instance, not long ago that the traditional tools and existing theories practiced in criminal justice were condemned in the USA after finding that many previously convicted inmates were proved innocent by advanced science of DNA forensics with genetic analysis. Although it was too late to pardon most of those convicts since they had already been executed, still for the sake of future of the justice system, the authorities had acknowledged that its past was a failure in terms of justice. Isn’t that the more logical way for progress? But it is the opposite in Sri Lanka when it comes to assessing the past actions of our Irrigation Department. What bothers them to accept their failures and the true effects of their destruction in some cases of irrigational works? What is more scientific, the arrogant denial or rational evaluation?

 In Sri Lankan context, “Balu Van-eka” means not something working for the benefit of dogs, but bringing death to them. Likewise, for the villagers who make their living out of ancient reservoirs, the irrigation department means something bringing destruction to existing irrigation systems and their lives rather than developing them, like forest department is for destroying forests. The forest department was established to cater the demand of colonial settlers in increasing their profits and exploitation of natural resources of the colony. Irrigation department was established to maintain the sustainability of such exploitative agenda through the use of existing infrastructure to support the life world of the colony. The sad fact is these two departments still maintain the colonial legacy and the exploitative purposes of colonial administration even after the independence.

 In their web link to “Our Organisation”, http://www.irrigation.gov.lk/Our%20Organisation.htm the department of irrigation pay their gratitude to almost all British governors and officials by mentioning their names, but never mentions a single name of real owners of the glory, the ancient kings. If they saw some significance of mentioning names of British officials and governors, why they did not see any significance to mention those paid hard labor to construct these marvels? Isn’t that colonial servility? This is like paying homage to the one who invented electricity meter for gifting electric power for the benefit of mankind while sidelining the true contributors who shared their knowledge to invent electricity power as a source of energy.

 The following article is of an engineer who had reassessed his own work in the past with the out come of it in the present. With enormous admiration to this engineer’s honesty, I decided to attach this piece of writing to this article in homage to him.

 Mass Impoverishment: the inconvenient truth behind the miss-landscape of the farmlands- Engineering the Downstream. (By Mahinda Panapitiya)

 Since the Independence, annually, a colossal sum of national wealth is diverted on the lines of food production and the implementation of engineer oriented irrigation projects. Provision of infrastructure for cultivation of paddy has become the major focus on the subject.

  The extent of land under agriculture is around one fourth of the total land mass of the country. And the paddy cultivation holds nearly half of it-around 860 thousands hectares. One fifth of the total irrigated land under paddy falls within the Mahaveli Development region which is largely administered by the Mahaveli Authority where decision making on carving out the boundaries of the farm landscapes- its scale, the variety of crops that it should grow and the architecture of the settlements – simply molding the whole landscape is decided by the engineers- the heirs to the colonial traditions!

 It is estimated that out of the 80% of the total population of the country live in the rural backdrop- in the “ƒ”¹…”periphery’. Out of them more than 2 million people depend directly on paddy cultivation which account for production of nearly 2 million metric tons of rice annually. This production can only be met with less than 65% of the total national consumption of grain. The balance which is more than 35% is usually imported. The wheat flour is a large fraction of this imported grain to supplement the national requirement.  What the general consumer has experienced during the current and the latter half of the previous year is that there exists an inevitable crisis borne in the field of food production in the country. Rice though dominates the topic it is not an exception in this food scenario. Attentive and inquisitive minds can find the root cause of this tragedy harboring lazily on the domain of the irrigation systems christened by the so-called modern engineers for the last few decades.

 Sri Lankan Farmers, especially the paddy grower, including the pioneering colonists who have been settled in the early part of the century, under various irrigation systems which were either newly developed or rehabilitated, are still leading a livelihood at subsistence level. Recently implemented Fertilizer Subsidy can be reckoned as a good indicator of the economic plight of these farmers who are still manipulated by the irrigation technocrats. Fertilizer Subsidy for farmers is in fact identical to the “ƒ”¹…”doll’ for unemployed people in developed countries who are striving to lay an economic footing. What has led the government to subsidize the paddy growing farmers in an unsustainable magnitude? How long can the government continue the subsidy? Is there any sustainable alternative or effective solution for this pathetic situation? Why has the ministry of Agriculture embarked on production of organic fertilizer in a mass scale? Will this be a technical alternative for application of chemical fertilizers? These are the simple questions an observer might raise on this issue.

What has led the government to subsidize the paddy growing farmers in an unsustainable magnitude? The explanation for this question looks simple that the expenditure on the inputs for paddy cannot be met with the out put- the harvest. But reality is something deeper which lies in the realms of principles of sustainable agriculture. then how come an innocent irrigation technocrat is responsible on this positive impoverishment of the farmer in question? Irrigation Department / Mahaweli Authority which played a primary role in implementing those projects should take s serious note on this issue. Because there could be an alternative way of developing the combination of water resource and the landscape using guidelines which are different from conventional methods practiced during last century.

 However one can ask, for Example in Mahaweli Areas the farmers are better off than their former way of living without ½ Ha Homestead and 1 Ha irrigable Land with guaranteed water for irrigation throughout the year.  However at the same time, somebody else can also argue that this is not the level of livelihood expected from project with such a guarantee because even after 30 years, the beneficiaries of the Project are still living at the expense of Tax Payers. Therefore there would have been better way of utilizing the same resource base in alternative way so that the country as a whole would be benefited. May be the very basic approach adapted to combine the Water and Land Resource with the main objective of irrigated agriculture and settling people would have been at fault.

 Let us now analyze the approach adapted by the implementers involved in the transformation of a natural Landscape to a manmade Farmland. Irrigation Engineers are the very first set of professionals who normally inaugurate and take the leading role in this transformation. The very basic data sheet used by them in this task is a contour map of the target area indicating the natural features of the landscape. The first activity is ti identify the command are to lay the Canal System. The main theme which decides the canal traces on the Contour Map is the identification of a maximum land area which can be commanded by gravity from the water source. Water Source could either be a Canal or a Water Storage. Engineers then trace the shortest route for the canal trace along which water can be conveyed from a point A to a B as fast as possible. Naturally all these traces on the contour maps comprise of Straight Lines connected together using transitional bends. Then Engineers assume a predetermined canal slope and apply Hydraulic Equations such as Manning’s to decide the cross section of the canal to convey a volume of water Volume of water to be conveyed along the canal is decided entirely on needs for irrigated agriculture, mainly to produce foods (mainly rice) for Human Consumption. Area was then fragmented into 1 Ha allotments and after the construction phase they are handed over to individual farmers assuming they share the water equally among each other.

 Engineers also expect that the social cohesiveness between neighboring farmers should be purely based quantitative parameters such as equal volume of water for each farmer. In their expectations, there is no place for qualitative dimensions of human relationships between neighboring farmers.  Equal share of water to each farmer would be the binding agreement between the farmers even though the equal share is not the fare share because needs are different from farms to farm and also from farmer to farmer. If they farmer not do the sharing as expected, then another set of professionals are introduced to organize farmers teach the business of sharing. Food produced from their individual lands is also valued on commercial basis and sometime the Farmer Organizations created for Water Sharing are advised to become Farmer Companies. Incorporated for commercial agriculture however what really achieved is opposite. For example even though these companies are expected to pay Taxes to the Government, ironically these farmers arte still depend on Tax Payers money.

 Now let us analyze the basic objective of Irrigation Engineering. Main purpose of Irrigation System is to engineer water resource to be available on demand for human beings. When water is made available on demand, foods production for Human Consumption could be only one aspect of a total benefit which can be generated from a landscape. There are so many other intangible benefits such as maintaining the natural environment intact, keeping the area aesthetically pleasing, respecting the right of living other animals and trees ect. However in the modern approach designers have overlooked these features of the landscape which could have played a major role in generating benefits more than irrigated agriculture.

 When I was the Project Engineer attached to Mahaweli Board, we were entrusted to develop Kalawewa Right Bank Area for irrigated agriculture using additional water received from Mahaweli Diversion. The area which were entrusted us to develop were originally commanded by Yoda Ela flowing from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura.  I remember that I used to buy lot of cereal such as Kurakkan, Green Gram ect to take home from this area at that time. I also remember most of original settlers had 1 of 2 cows. They in fact led a self sufficient livelihood. Latter after our intervention in Seventies, we had to demolish most of the tanks in the area to suit our Design, Some tanks which were of bigger size had to be left as it is because of the pressure from the original settlers in the area. We also noticed that there were also numerous small bunds across the valleys within the forests which were to be cleared to develop farmlands under the project. After clearing those forests to lay canal systems, we had to remove those bunds hiding in the forest in order to make the land drainable and to irrigate maximum possible area below the main canal. Old Yoda Ela which took a Zig Zag path had to be straightened and converted to a Modern Canal called Right Bank Main Canal (Jaya Ganga). There were no regulating concrete structures across ancient Old Yoda Ela, Therefore while straightening the Old Canal we also introduced Regulating Structures across the new canal to divert water to the newly developed areas.

 Now I wonder, after all those massive capital investment backed by the latest Hydraulic Engineering Principles, how come the farmers living on these “developed” lands still lead a subsistence level of a life? Instead of locally produced cereal foods, they now depend on imported Dhal. Why there was no locally grown Cereal available in the area as before. Why the people depend on imported Milk Powder for their morning Tea. What happened to the Cows? What happened to the lands which were being used about 30 Years back to cultivate crops other than Paddy? Why they completely depend on irrigation water diverted from the Central Hill of the country to grow crops? Why those farmers solely depend upon imported fertilizers. What is really wrong with Chena Cultivation which is normally perceived as very notorious way of handling Landscape to produce crops other than rice? In the place of Chena Cultivation we promote farms in foreign countries to produce alternative replacing products generated from Chena. What is the reason behind Elephant Man Conflict? Is that conflict has anything to do with the misuse of landscape? What happened to local knowledge in Indigenous Medicine? Most of those knowledges can not be applied now because the forests which had those medicinal trees were no more there. Instead we can see lot of Pharmacies in the area. What happened to aesthetic aspect of the landscape which can be viewed from the Bund Top of Village tanks? Why don’t we hear any Rural Folks musical voices such as Rural Poems (Seepada) and Sound of Flutes from the landscape? What kind role presently plays by Temples in managing the day to day affairs of the farming communities? Why people are fighting each other for water?.

 Conclusion

There could be alternative ways of synergizing water with the landscape to generate optimum benefits to the country both economically and socially on long term basis. There is a need to investigate for alternative ways before Engineers apply the conventional Technological Approach for Future Irrigation Development Programs. The way of handling the subject in ancient hydraulic systems might give a clue to begin the investigation for alternatives This does not mean that we should follow the settlement pattern of ancient system comprising of the Tank, village and the temple. What one should investigate is the secret behind the 2000 Years old sustainability against the fragile nature of the new system which are experiencing economical deterioration within 30 Years. May be the importance given to other assets of the landscape such as Soil, Flora, Fauna and Aesthetic Values, during the design stage would have not been sufficient. Author strongly believes that there must be alternative ways of handling combination of Landscape, Soil with Water Resource to produce wealth to the nation in more sensible way. He also expects creative ideas from the Irrigation Professionals because they play a major role in implementing future Irrigation Projects.

 ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________________________________________________________________

 Unscientific stubbornness of the Irrigation department that maintains the legacy of white mythology

Wherever white man goes, he makes the new environment suitable for his life. He does not adjust to the new environment, he adjust the environment to make it suitable to him. He changes it, brings his mythos, ethos, signs, and symbols and even changing the natural composition of flora and fauna, he introduce verities of flora and fauna known to him without bothering their consequences in the new environment. The story of Robison Crusoe is the best example for this white man’s legacy. When he went to Nuwaraeliya, first thing he did was to kill all mountain elephants, a unique variety existed only in Sri Lanka for the entire world. This psychopath had killed over a hundred of mountain elephants to accommodate British tea plantation in up-country, therefore a local waterfall, even in this so-called independent era, called the Baker falls.

 After chasing out all indigenous masses from up lands, then white colonialists began to unleash all their environmental damage to flora and fauna in the region. Then he wanted to change the country side making the regional landscape look like a rural area in Britain. He planted Eucalyptus trees, other European varieties, built structures resembled to eighteenth/nineteenth century British architecture. Today Nuwaraeliya is the most abnormal landscape in Sri Lanka and the most popular holiday location for Kultur Colombians. Who was responsible for this change? The forest department, Public work department (later derivate the Irrigation department) and other colonial branches of the then administration. Has forest or Irrigation department ever changed shedding their colonial legacy afterwards?  No, never, instead they had a field day during JRJ regime. That is the reason why we must decolonize Sri Lanka first of all, before us beginning any of our development programs. Most of our departments do not have a vision to have a mission. Without a vision, a mission cannot exist.  

 Why Irrigation department is denying to asses their past? Why they think they are absolutely correct of all their actions. That is the crucial question we must answer to understand the whole situation. The answer again grounded in the coloniality and its hegemony of knowledge in the colony.

 Science is introduced to the colony as the dawn of an “ƒ”¹…”age of reason’. When we say a beginning of the “ƒ”¹…”age of reason’ it insinuates an end of another age as well. This end was assumed as the end of traditional knowledge of Sri Lanka. So the engineers of Irrigation department was holding a license to destroy anything non-modern without even bothering to conduct a proper investigation due to their possession of this perceived notion of “ƒ”¹…”reason’ condemning everything non-modern into “ƒ”¹…”irrational’ category, therefore considering them as non-progressive. The semiotic effect of science in the colony is even worse.  The cultural sign process (semiosis) of modern science becomes an analogy, a metaphor, a signification and a form of signs and symbols of white European cultural gift in the colony.

 But for some traditionally downtrodden classes, acquiring white culture and its knowledge opened up previously unthinkable futures. It gave a child of a downtrodden class of a remote village to situate him/herself in the summit of a society of this “ƒ”¹…”age of reason.’ In many cases it has been one positive aspect of this “ƒ”¹…”age of reason’ in which one could go up in the professional ladder by hid/her merits. Once this child reached the summit of his professional ladder, in most cases, he/she becomes the enemy of his own kind, of his own culture, of his own “thing”, or the destroyer of his own society which brought him up to that level with all existing odds.

 As I mentioned in very early articles, white being becomes the most rational being under these above said semiotics. So, under this condition, science connoted white, and the white connoted science. In short, scientific reason became a white “thing”. Each and every utterance of a white person becomes “ultimate truths.” Under this condition, a Canadian nincompoop can recommend colonial experts to eradicate “Wera” trees of a catchment area of an ancient reservoir, and introduce Eucalyptus in place changing an environmental policy tested by time for millennia. According to this line of thought, the entire scientific knowledge of irrigational network of Sri Lanka is inferior even to a brain-fart of a modern engineer and an average white colonial official.

 The arrogance and arrogating denial to acknowledge mistakes of the field of science in the colony derived from the very idea of science dominated in the colony from white master. The age of enlightenment, or the age of “ƒ”¹…”reason’, was perceived as the age that destroyed “ƒ”¹…”God’ from human consciousness. Therefore, the age was branded as the “ƒ”¹…”end of God’. This gigantic myth has been spread in the colony to suppress religion of the colony, and then to enforce colonial exploitative agenda in colonies through this scientific rationality, while promoting Christianity in the sideline with offering colonial privileges. In reality, in the west, God still existed in every field. Western law is the best example. In some states in the US, they are now discussing to include creationism into school text books. But what happened in the colony was even more interesting. In the colony, science not only destroyed the God, but also replaced god by self-proclamation of itself into the elevated position of God. In the colony science became God. Since science came in the form of white utterance in colony, in practical terms white man became God. 

 This change could be seen in social consciousness for last two hundred years. The administration of the colonial era used science as a major tool in their hegemonic agenda while the rest was handled by colonial law and order, and its fiscal regulations. So our parents of the colony wanted to see their children to be doctors, engineers, barristers or civil servants knowing very well that this is the only route to reach this Godly status. So humanities arts were condemned as subjects for les intelligent people, creating many monsters with no sense of ethical bondages to humanity in above said fields.

 At the age of six, I had to go through a serious surgery in my leg. But still I do not know what the cause was for it. Many years later when I was in my late teenage, I asked my mother what was the reason for my surgery. She said she didn’t know. For curiosity, I asked if she asked the reason from the doctor. She said she asked not only once, but twice. In both occasions doctor had ignored her question.

 Very recently I mentioned this incident to one of my closest friends. He said one of his friends also had to experience the same thing from a doctor when he took his daughter to a doctor. In that case doctor had yelled the father saying that he did not have time to waste.

 I know there are so many good doctors who respect basic rights of their patients. But there are some doctors who trying to perform the role of God upon masses. This godly position of science had made those engineers who brutally bulldozed village tanks disregarding the opposition of the villagers. That is the status of science in the colony.    

 Problem of the ethics and the praxis of existing science including the center and the colony.

According to critics, the “ƒ”¹…”beginning points’ of modern science can’t be true for obvious reasons. On the other hand, many cultures deny them. These “ƒ”¹…”beginning points’ along with their questionable bases on which they have been built upon, constitute the basis for calling science as a completely a subjective pursuit or exercise. According to Dennis McCallum, science tells only what western man wants to here. The agony and the disaster of scientific rationale behind Sri Lankan ancient “Vapi” culture is the best example that proves Dennis’s claim.

 The scientists claim their “truth” is an out come of a rigorous process.

Science is supposed to be rational, because this scientific rationality is a result of scientists’ use of inductive or deductive logic that derived from the process that”¦.

    1. – outline a problem or question

   2. – interpret an observation

   3. – formulate a hypothesis

   4. – articulate the logical implications of a hypothesis through the various tests of a hypothesis.

 Some argues that when scientists form hypothesizes they lose objectivity. They also say in number of cases these scientists have refused to take account on the data that went against their scientific hypothesizes. On the other hand, hypothesizes simply do not rise up from raw data; instead they originate in minds of observers in the field of science. Then the scientists impose the hypothesis upon data as a way of organizing them to prove their point. On what rationale can scientists determine which information that proves the “ƒ”¹…”truth’ and which is not? Can there be some vital information among excluded data that which disproves the empirical (experiential) “ƒ”¹…”truth’ of the scientist? Doesn’t that prove that scientific truth is a relative “truth” perceived within given situation that is limited to the framework of the experiment, which therefore can be changed time to time? Then how can we say that scientific truth is the “absolute truth”? Then why engineers of irrigation department cannot stomach this fundamental fluid condition of science and its “ƒ”¹…”truth’? In regard to Ancient Irrigational science, our scientists have never conducted a systematic research of above said model to come to a conclusion to declare that these systems are irrational. Then how and why they think their “truth’ is truer than Awsadahamy’s “truth?” The absolute truth is nothing but Irrigation Department has proved that their behavior is absolutely irrational.

 On the other hand, observations do not interpret themselves. They are interpreted by a mind and the biases of any particular person or group conducting the experiment under given social, political and economic conditions. Again one can also argue that human minds are affected by their culture and language to such an extent that the “actual” nature of things may be unknowable by culturally conditioned human mind.

 The other accusation is that the Science actually arrives at its perceived “truths” in response to social forces both within and without the scientific community and with or without viable scientific logic which is capable to answer all other questions outside the field of science. Not only that, their periodic shifts in position come as a result of irrational conversions on the part of influential scientific leaders, influential personalities.

 This is the exact issue that relates our case against the Department of Irrigation. The results of their irrationality could be retrieved if the damage is not severe. But how can we correct the Kalawewa case? Every citizen in Sri Lanka has the right to demand answers from Irrigation Department of their crimes of the past. And they are morally bound to obey these demands.

 The world is full of physical data, much of which we even never notice. For instance, one critic asks, “suppose if we are to study the cause(s) of light emission by certain fungus, what data would we collect? Is the time of day relevant; the ambient temperature of the atmosphere; the cycle of the moon; the presence of dog urine, bird shit? In order to collect data we must first decide what is important and what is not. But once we do that selection, we have already decided what causes can safely be excluded from consideration. In so doing, scientists may impose an artificial order upon the observations.”

Then how can this scientific truth become absolute truth? Why then scientists, doctors and engineers in colonial Lanka act like Gods?

 Do we need any more pseudo misguided science to save our agriculture in Sri Lanka? If asked the reason for the plight of farmers in Rajarata, a knowledgeable farmer will tell you that the biggest problem was and is having a government since independence, meaning they could have been better off without a government. Can present government change this psychological situation? 

 We have so many good scientists, engineers and doctors; this is the time for them to raise their voices against this irrational myth and the maddening spiral of colonial legacy of the praxis of science.

 Please visit the following link to get more information about ancient irrigation systems in the dry zone. ftp://ftp.fao.org/sd/SDA/GIAHS/SriLanka_ancient_irrigation_proposal.pdf . It also provides some illustrated information about “Bisokotuwa” by Udula Bandara Awsadahamy, the Chairman of the Institute for Construction Training and Development.

 (Part 19 is concluded)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2019 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress