Touring Anuradhapura and Tantirimale
Posted on November 1st, 2011

by Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Former SLAS, G.A. Matara 1971

 Last month we decided to visit Anuradhapura, a must whenever we visit Sri Lanka. It is the one place on earth that enthralls me and holds me spell bound. I have traveled the world, criss-crossing the USA and Canada twice and visiting every place of interest in them The countries I have been to include Greece and the hallowed Mayan Mexican Pyramids , but when I enter Anuradhapura they all fade into the dust. The Dagobas in the distance , the placid waters of the tanks and the simplicity of the people strike me. Perhaps I have spent too long working for them five decades ago. The innocence of the people made me write the novel Vidane’s Daughter available in both Sinhala and English. Though it was only two years we in the Agrarian Services did the work that others would do in a decade within that time. We were implementing the Paddy Lands Act to get the peasants out of the shackles of the landlords. What was different from working in other Departments was that we were all handpicked for that task by Minister Philip Gunawardena and his Private Secretary G.V.S de Silva, a Marxist Lecturer from the University of Peradeniya. Though both of them were thrown out, the ideas of serving the people that held all of us spell bound made us work wonders. As a team three Assistant Commissioners myself, TG Peris and Sappie Peris were indefatigable administrators working with ten Divisional Officers and Irrigation Officers.

 Tantirimale is a place due for a revisit,. It has a Samadhi Statue in living rock quite comparable to the Samadhi Statue at Anuradhapura. It has a Reclining Buddha Statue comparable to the Polonnaruwa statue. By the way I was treading on soil that was LTTE, a few years ago. The chief priest was killed in 1992 when the LTTE attacked the temple. The authorities were even frightened of reprisals because they do not mention that the Venerable priest was gunned down by the LTTE in the epitaphs at the temple.

 ƒÆ’‚£ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¡‚¬The motor I got from Kings Rent A Car at Battaramulla (0772716191) took to the rugged roads well. The stretch from Puttalam to Anuradhapura was terrible- it is yet being built and can be easily avoided because the Dambulla Kurunegala Road is perfect. The Mazda took to the roads like a shooting star at times and I even went to Tantirimale for the first time. It is great to have found Titus of Kings Rent A Car, because one is certain of a roadworthy vehicle at a reasonable charge. A few years ago I rented a car from a cowboy dealer and it gave way at Kahatagasdilliya. I was on my way to Trincomalee when the radiator sprang a leak. I managed to get close to the Kahatagasdilliya town.

 When I asked the people in the area they pointed to a small shed under a mango tree, where a mechanic was working with a few hand tools. It was a basic place with no equipment. I had no alternative but to seek his help. He saw the leaking radiator and took a hundred rupee note from me to buy some Superglue. He said he had no welding equipment but will sort it out. It was a mile from Kahatagasdilliya. I was really worried, wondering how I will have to leave the car and get back to Anuradhapura where I will have to seek the help of some of my colleagues in the Service. Perhaps the Government Agent may help me or there may be a garage that can send a mechanic and tow my car. In a short while he came back. He mixed a substance with the Superglue and coated it over the leak. He waited a while and started the engine. It had held the leak. I asked what the substance was. He grinned a while and said it was cement. I got off to Trincomalee. The next day I sped past Nilaveli. Back to Colombo in a few days I was at Kataragama and the repair held till I handed over the vehicle.

 Perhaps that mechanic, a wonder boy in the field will for ever live within the bounds of poverty, a loss to the nation. He can be a Harischandra if perhaps the Mahinda Chintanaya gets down to create an employment creation programme like the Divisional Development Councils Programme of the Sirimavo days.

 I am reminded of the work I did in Bangladesh three decades ago when The Ministry of Youth under my advice sought approval to fuse employment creation with vocational training. Then they were training 40,000 youths a year in an array of vocations and at the end, the trained youths were unemployed. This is a global phenomenon. The UNESCO and ILO advices us to open vocational training courses and at the end the youth receive a gold edged certificate. The vocational training centers have nothing to do with them any more. The numbers trained are entered into reports that adorn the Ministry records. Instead I fought for approval to make self employment creation a part of vocational training. This was in the teeth of of opposition from the Secretary to the Treasury. The Minister for Labour and Manpower got enough of listening to our arguments that lasted for over two hours. I had argued that the only method of making the trained contribute to the economy was by having a self employment programme where whilst in training any youth could opt to start an enterprise in that vocation and get guidance from the lecturers. The ILO had tried their hands at establishing a self employment programme in the earlier three years at Tangail and the Secretary to the Treasury kept harping on that miserable failure. That failure made my task more difficult.

 Finally I had to say that it would be better to guide the trained youths to become entrepreneurs making things the country needs rather than move them down as cannon fodder when they rise against the country that provided the training and left them in the lurch. The Minister, a former Air Vice Marshall, the third powerful person in Bangladesh was convinced. He knew the art of moving down people as a military officer and thought it better to avoid it. He ruled that self employment should be done.

 We went in search of the likes of the mechanic under the mango tree at Kahatagasdilliya- They were sought and trained and enticed to open up ventures. While the mechanic at Kahatagasdilliya will for ever be earning about three hundred rupees a day and living within the bounds of poverty in his shed under the mango tree, we guided them in the mechanics of producing goods and marketing them. Once the Deputy Director of Youth Development at Jamalpur reported that the brother of a trained youth, Yousuf Ali was threatening to burn his office down.

 Yousuf Ali found that his training was of no use and became belligerent at home. His threat was not reported to the Police who would have him put under bars. Instead the Deputy Director met Yousuf Ali and dragged him to attend our sessions on self employment. I was introduced to his brother who was breathing venom against us. I offered him a seat and he kept listening to what was happening- me speaking out in my broken Bangla and Bangladeshi officers detailing the economics of entrepreneurship. Yousif Ali was an immediate convert and his brother immediately provided him with money to buy a cow and chicks. Yousuf Ali lost no time and our officers guided him all the way. In August 1983 on my surprise inspections I met Yousuf Ali in his Manik farm. He had 190 layer ducks, 1 cow, 50 hens and 2 goats. He got a monthly income of Tk. 1496 a month, three times the salary of a clerical officer in the Public Service.

 My remit was to design and establish the programme and train the staff to carry it on which I did in less than two years by 1983. Bangladeshi Administrators trained by me carried it on and now they guide 160,000 a year to be self employed. A Memorandum from the Government of Bangladesh to the IFAD of the FAO in November 2010 said that over two million were made self employment under this programme that had stood the test of time.

 Let me get back to the mechanic under the mango tree at Kahatagasdilliya. He will be a wonder boy in establishing perhaps a mechanical unit that makes small tools. Instead of buying from China he can provide the items to the entire nation. In the Divisional Development Councils Programme we had many smithys that made quality tools.

 That reminds me of the Boatyard I established at Matara in 1971 in the teeth of opposition from the Fisheries Department. Over twenty youths were trained to make 40 foot long inboard-engine fishing boats and the boats were sold to cooperatives. It was a grand success till the UNP closed it down in 1978 Again we commandeered the science lab at Rahula College after hours and burnt the mid night oil to find the art of making crayons. We succeeded and established a Coop Crayon Factory at Morawaka and under the direction of the Member of Parliament of Deniyaya Sumanapala Dahanayake; we made a tenth of the country’s requirements till the UNP closed it down in 1978.(Full details are in my books: Success in Development (2010) and How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka(2006) both from Godages.

 There is an inkling of hope today. A leaked info about the coming Budget said that imports will be taxed and local production will be stepped up. That is what is required to create employment in Sri Lanka.

 It has to be Import Substitution.

 The tanks, the life blood of Nuwara kalaviya are in a moribund and decayed state. I saw the silted up tanks. They hardly held any water.

 In three to four days of rain they would be full. A Few years ago I visited Anuradhapura when many lorries were bringing earth from far to build the bund of the Basawakkulama Tank. In my days in the Sixties I authorized contracts for a D8 machine to dig into the tank bed and pile the earth onto the tank.. Then the tank became deeper and held more water.

 Every tank I saw on the Puttlam-Anuradhapura Road, the Anuradhapura-Tantirimale Raod and the Anuiradhapura- Dambulla Road were all silted up. They hardly held water even for a single cultivation season. If the tanks were deep the water would be sufficient for two crops a year.

 In my two years at Anuradhapura I got about ten tanks built. The cultivation committees are no more and the tank administration is left in the lurch because no organization replaced the cultivation committee.

 The re building of the tanks is a task that awaits a leader. Someone has to rebuild the tanks and there has to be a streamlined administration to maintain the tanks. This is a major task and perhaps it will be done if it gets into the mind of President Rajapaksa.

 Perhaps it may be a task for the Sri Lankan Army because woe be unto us if we disband the Army. The LTTE is defeated and has ceased to exist only in Sri Lanka. The US and India recently said that they have evidence that the LTTE procured weapons in 2010. We have to guard our shores for otherwise the LTTE will regroup and control us as they did till President Rajapaksa rescued all of us.

 It will be interest to note that the US has mastered the art of getting the US Army to get down to development work. Last year I saw the massive hydro electricity scheme done by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Columbia River. These are marvels of engineering. It will augur well for President Rajapaksa and the Defence Secretary to consider re building the tanks in Anuradhapura. The tanks that were purposely destroyed by the British Army in 1818 when they wanted to punish the people of Uva who rebelled have not yet been built. It was the British Army that was ordered to cut down every fruit bearing tree, burn every house,, kill every man and destroy every tank and canal. That was genocide, a War Crime that has ruined the Uva economy. There were no Human Rights activists then to take up the matter. . It would behove of the Sri Lankan Army to rebuild these tanks too.

 President Rjapaksa has done a great deal for Sri Lanka. He has defeated the monster Prabhakaran and his LTTE, the rebel outfit that even had an Air Force. He has already tackled inflation by expanding the Lak Satosa. The Lak Satosa at Anuradhapura did a yeoman service for me to get groceries packed in record time for distribution by us twice once in October and earlier in February. The Manageress Anoma was a live personality unlike the lethargic desk bound managers one normally finds.

 The Sri Lankan Economy awaits the magic wand of President Rajapaksa today.

 Garvin Karunaratne

 Former SLAS, G.A. Matara 1971

 November 2, 2011

 

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One Response to “Touring Anuradhapura and Tantirimale”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks to Dr Karunaratne for sharing these wonderful stories. We wish the GoSL would continue training of Youth for Self Employment. This should happen all over the island.

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