Posted on April 17th, 2022


JR tried to appear interested in agriculture. I recall a photo in the Daily News at the time, of JR bare bodied and dressed in an amude, inexpertly holding a plough at a Vap Magula.

During JR’s period of rule, the Guaranteed Price Scheme for rice was scrapped and the farmers had to sell their goods to traders at low prices.  The Floor Price Scheme and the Fertilizer Subsidy Scheme were withdrawn. Vegetables such as chillies, potatoes, onions were imported when there was plenty in the country.  The Paddy Marketing Board was abolished and was re-established in 2005. CWE shops were disbanded and brought back later.

However, JR’s government did set up Pelawatte Sugar Company. The government imposed an import tax on sugar so that sugar produced in Pelawatte could be sold competitively in the local market. The Moneragala district was selected for sugarcane cultivation because it was not possible to carry out paddy cultivation in that district.

JRs Accelerated Mahaweli Programme built new reservoirs and large hydropower projects such as the Kotmale, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe and Ulhitiya. Several Trans Basin Canals were also built to divert water to the Dry Zone. 

Kotmale was funded by  Sweden, Victoria (UK) Maduru oya (Canada) Randenigala (Germany)  and their supplementary  Rantembe, Ratinda, and Minipe right bank canals ( USA)  and Maduru oya left bank ( USA) . This resulted in a large number of foreign funds pouring in. I recall inflation going up to 20%, said a critic.

Accelerated Mahaweli was heavily criticized, from start to finish. ‘Mahaweli scheme brought in tilapia fish and all the indigenous fish disappeared, said Laki Senanayake https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JO4TY0zmic0

 The Mahaweli development Board which was the predecessor to the Accelerated Mahaweli did a magnificent job. It was set up to carry out feasibility studies, evaluate options and design the hardware of the structure required for irrigation and power. It was staffed by professionals, and their expertise was treated with respect. The project was designed to be implemented in 30 years, said Gamini Seneviratne.

Then came JR’s accelerated Mahaweli. Professionalism vanished.  There were many missteps in the Accelerated Mahaweli. What it delivered apart from fat commissions all round was much misery for people who were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands around Kotmale, Teldeniya and such places.  Farmers from these areas which were wet zone were sent to the Dry zone, like in the time of the British. The areas they were sent to were not provided with schools or roads.

System H work was a disgrace. People who were walking along or traveling in a tractor by the MASL outposts were asked to get down and dig a canal.  No professional traces were prepared; they were indicated by finger and eye measurement.

In Accelerated Mahaweli the constructions were scandalous, both from engineering and financial standpoint. The technology employed included concrete double curvature arch dam, to rock fill with clay core and the traditional earth fill with a new clay core. Some of the technology was new to the foreign contractors as well.

The new constructions did not make provision for supporting the small human settlements that existed along the canals. The planners were looking the other way towards large commercial farms to feed an export market.

In the traditional system which you could see in the Minipe yoda ela, there was provision for sluicing out for farming, for washing, bathing other domestic needs, to provide wallows for the cattle, water holes for other animals. The new canals   were lined with concrete slabs that minimized seepage loss but made the water inaccessible to the people on either side.   Deer and pig that fell in could not claw their way out, as in the traditional canals.

Kotmale was funded by Sweden. All they required was that their contractor be employed on the project. However, we went for Skanska, the biggest construction company in the world. No tenders were called. Skanska engineers were given on request air conditioned housing, swimming pools and so on. The negotiating with them went on for months, but was over turned in five minutes by JR. JR’s personal accountant was the agent for Skanska. And Skanska got double the agreed figure and walked away with 2.5 billion.

  Later Skanska kept adding to the cost. They had misassesed the scale of grout required for the reservoir bed. They had not noticed a tiny stream above the projected axis of the dam that in season became a torrent. That adjustment alone cost 250 million rupees. They screwed up the power tunnel, due to ignorance. All this coast money and we paid. Questions were raised in Stockholm but not here.

I recall listening in on a conversation in Kandy, which took place I think, at Kandy Club, among a few of its members, regarding the Kotmale dam.  The local engineers had pointed out that that if we followed the engineering calculations of Skanksa, the area from Kotmale right into Kandy town would get inundated some day, because the dam or whatever construction,  was sure to break. The location selected by Skanska was on a fault line or something like that. Skanska engineers had refused to listen and one local engineer had nearly fainted at the discussion.  He was so alarmed when he saw the Skanska plan. My recall is that the local engineers had had to force their way into the discussion.

 Then the tender for Randenigala, said a critic.  Mahaweli authority had disqualified a firm. A radio ham had accidentally got on to a set of phone calls. The voices were of the Ministry Secretary, the agent for the firm we had disqualified, and the spokesman for the firm in Zurich. They had spoken of ‘our man’ a VVIP, who was in the cabinet. (Continued. next essay PT 3J)

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