Old memories of development: A Youth I will never forget
Posted on October 15th, 2019

By Garvin Karunaratne

Seeing what is happening in Elpitiya my mind travels back decades to a youth that struck me most in my eighteen years’ service in the Administrative Service of my beloved country.

It was a youth from Elpitiya. In 1970 I was the Deputy Director in the Small Industries Department in charge of making allocations of foreign exchange to small industrialists to import an item that was required to make something useful for sale.  Mr Kariyawasam the Member of Parliament for Bentara Elpitiya met me with a youth. Mr Kariyawasam introduced the youth to me with a number of side mirrors of cars, which he had made. The side mirrors were good replicas.  They were very well done. An allocation of foreign exchange was sought to import mirrors to be fitted into the side mirrors that he had made. It was a reasonable request. I immediately summoned one of my Inspectors and told him to inspect the process of manufacture and submit a recommendation.

In a weeks’ time the inspector reported that this was a bogus case, a youth that did not have an industry. I sent for Mr Kariyawasam and gave him a piece of my mind. Mr Kariyawasam said that he stood by what the youth said and added that the youth was not a bluff case and requested me to look into the case further. I told Mr Kariyawasam that I will myself come to inspect the industry and gave him an appointment  to inform the youth. Later he phoned me to meet the youth at the Lorry Garage of the Cooperative Union at Elpitiya. On the appointed date I was at that place ten minutes earlier and neither the youth was there nor was there any place where side mirrors were made in the vicinity. I waited a while and the youth appeared with a bag slung on his neck. I told him to take me to the place where he had the smithy where he made the side mirrors. He opened his bag which was full of all sorts of metal pieces of different shapes along with some sheets of metal cut up to different sizes. Sir these are all my tools and all these are side mirrors I have made.”

Show me the machinery with which you make.”

Sir, you have to wait a while till one of the Coop Union lorries come back. I know some of the drivers who allow me to use their jacks. I have a number of iron rods with bolts which I fix and make a jig and use their lorry jacks to get different shapes of metal made.”

I looked at his bag and there were a few iron rods about two feet long and bolts. It was a mass of metal. I could not even imagine what he was speaking about and how he made anything.

Sir, please believe me. Please wait till a lorry comes. I am sure a lorry will return soon.”

The youth looked genuine and his tone was pleasant and I felt I should listen. I then understood what my inspector had reported that the youth had no industry. He had only a bag of tools and pieces of metal of different shapes. I waited and waited. He looked to be too genuine for me to tell him not to fool me.  In a while a lorry came in and the youth ran to the driver and got back to me.

Sir that driver is not going to give me the use of his jack. I will wait for the next driver.”

I waited a few minutes and luckily another lorry came in.

That is a good driver. I can get his jack.” He ran away and returned with the lorry jack. I yet could not fathom what he was going to do. He moved to a corner of the lorry garage pulled up his bag and got hold of the two feet rods which he fitted with bolts to make a jig. He tightened the nuts till the jig was very firm. Then he pulled out the pieces of metal and scouted around for some bricks which he fitted into the jig. Then he got the lorry jack which he placed at different angles and moved the jack lever till the piece of sheet metal was made into a shape. The then took the piece that was shaped up and fixed different pieces of metal and used the jack to shape it up further. It took a while but he did it again and again till the shapes were fully acceptable. Then he sat on the side shaped further with a file and cut off the ends. It took a while but he made a replica of a side mirror that was exact to what was imported. I gave him an allocation of foreign exchange and asked him to call over at my office to collect the allocation paper. If only that youth had access to a lathe and welding equipment he could have done wonders. Is it not sad that we do not yet make a bicycle in our country!

I called Mr Kariyawasam and thanked him.

I know not where the youth is now. Perhaps he happened to be one of the intelligent youths who lost their lives in the 1971 JVP uprising. That mistake of the JVP done to make Sri Lanka an appendage of the socialist block- -then it was North Korea that tried to get the JVP to wrest control of our island. That insurrection  took away the lives of many intelligent youths.

We have an intelligent cadre of youths and we have to enlist their support, help them to march on an import substitution venture to make everything we import. Later as Government Agent Matara, I was able to direct my staff to find the art of making crayons and also able to ensure that a cooperative industry was established.  It took three months of nocturnal experiments locked up in the Rahula College science lab from six till midnight for three long months to find he art of making crayons. Then it took three weeks for Sumanapala Dahanayake the member of parliament to establish it. He was the President of the Morawaka Coop Union. In a few months Coop Crayon was sold island wide. That was a feat done by the katcheri staff and Sumanapala’s   cooperative youths.

To my mid therein lies the path for the development of our industries. No foreigner or foreign country will come to our help. We have to do it ourselves. The above true achievements I can speak of tell me that it is a task that can be won.

Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D. Michigan State University

Former Government Agent, Matara    15 th October 2019

8 Responses to “Old memories of development: A Youth I will never forget”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    Very moving story. Thank you for this. This guy must be a director of a big company in the USA , who knows ?

    Another thing sad is, you not knowing where the youth is now made up a another story to condemn JVP thus trying to discredit only group of politicians who are not rotten yet and are doing a good service to the country. Then below goes your Ph.D. to add more weight to a completely hypothetical dream.

  2. aloy Says:

    This is sort of approach will not work in the present context. When we should have opened the economy our brainy civil servants who did not have any idea about outside world tried to impose restrictions. Though the leaders were patriotic the civil servants lacked exposure to outside word. This is the time our CB gave me $7 to my hand as traveling expense when I wanted to go to Nigeria. However our education system was very good. That may have given the opportunity for people like this writer to go out to the world and be equals.

    Everything what we need is out there already invented and tested. So, no need to re-invent the wheel; just copy and mass produce. GOSL should always give preference to those who will bring technology to our country, not to those who give aid but start the project with our 20% down payment which is SL’s contribution and at the end we have to foot their hotel bills etc.

    Internet is a god sent thing for the developing countries. In my last project overseas I had to design a sewage pump station for fifty odd high rise buildings (with about 4km long pumping main) that would pump down words ( that is having a minus gradient). When I googled for a solution I came across discussions of some engineers in Australia and UK describing how they solved a problems in Sri Lanka in one major project. Then I found some engineers in the US giving details of very similar project with about 10 miles long pumping main and how they solved the attendant problems of odor etc.
    So, my advise to our younger generation is first see how they have done similar things elsewhere. How did our guys did the Face Recognition App?. It seems there are enough algorithms out there done by PhD students.

  3. Randeniyage Says:

    Rising mains are very common , not new , existed for more than 50 years. However, more costly to operate than gravity systems but not always possible, even when crossing a culvert we don’t use siphoning action but use a small pump well.
    Rather than the technology , I found that youth’s courage and innovation that was remarkable which should have made him rich. There are so many people with talents of entrepreneurship being wasted, because of corruption make it easy to make fast buck by importing.
    20% advance payment should be stopped ASAP.

  4. aloy Says:


    Yes the rising mains are the means of conveying sewage from a law point to a high. Whenever this encounters a high point like a culvert or a minor ground level variation you only need an air valve to maintain pressure not another pump station. If that was the case I would have had to provide about twenty PSs on the pumping main. However I did not implement this design as the contractor would have spent lot of money on it and also the residents near the air valves would start complaining about bad odor emanating from air valves. The authorities there gave me an option to design an alternative of connecting to a large existing housing scheme of about 2500 houses provided I prove to them that is is feasible. That was a daunting task as it had about 15 PSs pumping to the same Treatment Plant, but I took up the challenge as there were the entire set of as-built drawings of the system including that of the STP done some 25 years ago. So, I had to design an app to automate the process. Finally that app became even better than the SewerCad (belonging to Bentley Systems of USA). I wanted to give that technology to CMC here by training there engineers. But it seems my price for training was too high.

    Speaking of Gravity Sewers, you may not know that Sri lanka may be having the oldest working gravity sewer system in Asia. A British Governor connected Barnes Hall to a sewer system in Colombo about 150 years ago. My house too is connected to that.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    Air valves is not very desirable. Deep sewers are costly but do not have such problems as trenchless construction is now very common and advanced.
    Is the STP has sufficient capacity ? There are a lot of other issues to solve, such as wet weather increase flow etc.

    On Colombo netwrok, some people told me it is going direct to sea via Berei lake, hence the smell. Not sure how true. But definitely there should be huge issues during wet weather.
    A new netwok was build in Ratmalana area but not sure how it works.
    Not sure you are aware of even a huge city like Jakarta did not have ANY sewer system at all until recently the started slowly.
    We had everything in Sri Lanka when Suddas handed over to us with a huge sum in the bank. Kelani Bridge was built after an international tender,using our own money awarded to the lowest quote. Not a good design but we were really rich those days.

  6. aloy Says:

    Thanks for prompt response. Luckily I had worked on the same Treatment Plant previously when I was designing another STP (like the one they are building in Kandy) nearby. I had to upgrade that oxidation pond by providing large number of aerators to provide for sewage from couple of industrial estates.

    I tried to make a joint venture with the same New Zealand company which did that mega housing project to do a pump station for flood prevention when Gota was the man handling a World Bank funded project in Colombo under MOD. His military man receiving the bid gave a negative look when we were handing over the doc for which I spent a lot of time. And we were not even pre-qualified to tender. So much for Gota’s patriotism. I know same thing will happen with his catchers again. Anyway I am supporting him now with the hope that he will at least take us out of the foreign meddling. That is my only wish.

    I have inspected the pump station near the outfall at Ratmalana that you mentioned. There is no STP there, but to my thinking it is hugely oversize. So are the once interior and all those gravity lines are too deep. It is just the raw sewage they discharge to sea which is against the UN regulation. But all third world countries do that. The worst offender is India. They say the sea starts smelling when the ship is about ten miles off the coast according to my nephew who is a captain of a ship.

  7. Randeniyage Says:

    At the outfall it cannot be a “pump station”. (Pump to where ?) It should be some well like concrete structure without pumps.
    One I was talking about is a ADP funded project. They can’t simply send raw sewage to sea. ADB and World Bank are very serious about EI (Enviorn. Impact). No way that a recent project do that unless a big fraud! May be so, in a lawless country.
    Let me tell you it is a really waste of money of at least 50% to do projects under ADB or WB. I know one project ( not in SL) wasted ONE YEAR of salaries and running of a office with ZERO outcome ( design stage). Although their loans come at a low interest rate, so much wasted on consultancy. If everything is done locally ( very easy in Sri Lanka with so many educated people), I am sure a commercial loan arrangement without involving foreigners will be better.

  8. aloy Says:


    That PS definitely is the last one pumping to the outfall. I is situated between the rail line and the sea which are very close to each other. The water board guys were very cooperative and tried to help me by giving all the layouts of three major projects which were estimated at US$ 50 million each. And the Chinese party was ready to fund it via their usual funding bank. Hon. Dinesh was ready to help us. However the contractor wanted assurance that their unsolicited thing will be approved before before they spend half a million dollars each. Fortunately or unfortunately I could not meet MR even though a meeting had been arranged. As aresult I spent few more years oversea. Perhaps I may go again in the near future for the second phase of a flood prevention project.
    Now that there is no money they have no alternative other than to rely on local expertise. However once they are in power the crooks will surround them and start asking for 2.5 laks from each container truck before giving the licence. And there will be no room for a Sinhala guy who tries to do a business. This is what a taxi driver who seemed to have had a fleet of trucks and also had a degree in logistics told me yesterday. He was talking to a foreigner over the phone in very good english while driving us. So, from that and other info he gave I thought there was some credibility in what he was saying.

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