Mahawillachchiya Illuk to alleviate poverty and also to save foreign exchange
Posted on September 23rd, 2020

By Garvin Karunaratne,former G.A. Matara 

My craze for motoring in the forsaken neglected Sinhala areas where poor unequipped buddhist monks struggle to guide  the people  following the dictat of Lord Buddha: Charita Bhikkae Charikan Mahajana Hitaya, Sukhaya” took me this time to Sandamal Eliya, five miles before one reaches Tanmtirimale.  

The    Sandamal Eliya Temple is run by Venerable   Viharegama Sangarakkhita, a pupil of the chief monk  at Tantirimale who was killed by the LTTE cadres.  

As happens very often I think I know the roads where I had often travelled long ago when I worked in the Sixties in the Anuradhapura District.. I keep forgetting that new roads and new junctions have emerged and often get lost.  

This time I was lost in the Illuk jungles of Mahawilachchiya and Tantirimale. I motored through the dense illuk forest that seemed to have no end. I saw patches of illuk everywhere I looked. People had even resorted to burn the illuk when it invaded their homes. I was lost for long among illuk jungles.  When I finally reached the Sandamal Eliya temple I spoke with Ven Sangarakkhita and he confirmed the fact that the area is full of illuk grass, a grass that cannot be eradicated. Illuk has become a nuisance. 

Then it did flash in my mind that the machinery imported toValachenai to make paper was intended to use illuk grass.  What did happen was that illuk grass was consumed fast and the machinery lay idle. Then it was our engineers and scientists who for the first time found out that straw could be used for making paper. Then the farmers at Hingurakgoda and Polonnaruwa made good money by selling lorry loads of straw to the paper mill. I entered the scene at that time. In Agrarian Services to keep the truants and fraudsters in check I happened to be a lone islandwide flying squad and the circuit bungalow of the Valachenai provided me a night’s rest on many a day. My interests in industrial development made me see the paper factory at work several times. 

It has so happened that despite the fact that Mother Nature provided fertile land, plenty of rain water and our ancient rulers also provided a sophisticated and advanced irrigation system with canals taking water at a gradient of six inches in a mile, a feat that baffles the irrigation experts of today, there is plenty of starvation among the people. The otherday I came across a family of three living on two and a half perch house at Bandaranayakepura Rajagiriya, shared with other close relatives all living within the pangs of hunger, where they forego lunch with a cup of tea. That is in our capital. Go to the colonies at Padaviya and Mahavillachchiya, the situation is far worse. The rains will provide two crops of paddy but the cost of getting machinery to plough and harvest is forbiddingy high. Once a portion of the crop is sold for living expenses there are days when there is no money and a vast number of people have  to forgo a meal. Their life remains a true misery. This scene of utter poverty has to be eradicated. Today we perhaps have the last chance to eradicate this, if ever it can be done. 

The Illuk grass at Mahavillachchiya can come to the rescue if only some engineer and scientist can resurrect the paper making with illuk grass. It only needs the import of a small scale paper making machine from India or China. One inquiry by me on the internet found a vast range of suppliers of paper making small factories. It is a simple operation- cutting the illuk into small pieces, then churning it with the addition of a few substances to  pulp and then we can make cardboard or paper. All this is done in a small scale machine and the people will find employment and incomes while the country will be able to save the foreign exchange now being spent to import paper. 

I am dead certain that this is some task that can be done. Mind you that the team of President Gotabhaya has done wonders in the past few months by getting the Valachenai Paper Factory functional. That was a factory that was closed and neglected for over half a century from  the Eighties till the North and the East were liberated from the clutches of the LTTE- a task accomplished by no other than President Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda. For that Gotabhaya and Mahinda combination, establishing a illuk paper factory will be a simple task. We only require President Gotabhaya to order it done. 

I too can make a contribution- this time in writing a few words- mine is a NATO type- it is No Action Talk Only. But once upon a time  from 1955 to 1973 I was in a role full of action. As the Government Agent at Matara in 1971 when I was  charged with the task of creating employment I did direct my Planning Officer who was a chemistry graduate to conduct a myriad experiments to find the art of making a crayon. It took three months locked up in the science lab at Rahula College Matara, helped by the science teachers. They won the day and found the art of making superb crayons equal to the quality of the then best Reeves. Thereafter the Morawak Korale Cooperative Union under Sumanapala Dahanayake the Member of Parliament, in his capacity as the President of the Coop Union, established a crayon factory within three weeks and for the next seven years 1971 to 1978 this Coop Crayon was sold islandwide. Immediately Coop Crayon got going we secured a small allocation of foreign aid to import dyes, from the Controller of Imports, Harry Guneratne and within minutes of his signing that allocation paper to us he cancelled the import of crayons. 

I am dead certain that this is a task that can be achieved and look forward to see the day when the Illuk grass will alleviate the poverty in Tantirimale and also help our Motherland in saving foreign exchange.  

I live with the firm hope that this plea will reach our President and Prime Minister.  

Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Michigan State University. 

Author of  How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternative Programmes of Success, Godages, 2006 

How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development, Kindle/Godages, 2017 

garvin_karunaratne @ hotmail.com 24092020

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