How a Separate State in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka will be besetted with poverty and destitution
Posted on September 9th, 2022

By Garvin Karunaratne, formerly of the SLAS

The Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka happen to be interlocked into the rest of Sri Lanka economically and cannot sustain itself if separated.

This fact is well illustrated in the working of government departments that deal with development.

My life in the Administrative Service began in the Marketing Department in 1955. It was called the Department for the Development of Agricultural Marketing. It dealt with the marketing of agricultural produce and in the Fifties when I joined as an Assistant Commissioner, the Department implemented the Guaranteed Price Scheme for Cereals etc. including paddy etc., the Vegetable and Fruit Marketing Scheme, the Cannery, Rice Milling, Fertilizer Distribution and Granting loans for agricultural purposes to cooperatives, among other functions.

I have worked in the Southern Province, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee, one year in charge of the Vegetable and Fruit Marketing Scheme in charge of the entire island, and also worked for short spells in Jaffna and Batticaloa. Working at Anuradhapura, when the Assistant Commissioner at Batticaloa went on leave I covered his area.

Let me deal with real happenings instead of a learned discourse. The ideas are firm and this paper contains real facts.

When I covered the Southern Province based at Ambalantota, one of my tasks was to clear some ten wagons of paddy that came to Matara and another ten wagons of paddy that came to Boosa(Galle) daily for at least four months each year. The paddy came from China Bay in the Trincomalee District and from Batticaloa. This was a major task and if I failed to clear the ten wagons every day, there would be a pile up and demurrage charges had to be paid. The paddy had to be brought into our Stores at Boossa and Matara, issued to rice millers. This was the excess paddy that was produced in the Districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

When I covered Trincomalle from Anuradhapura I had to send off ten or more wagon loads of paddy to all places in the South, to Boosa, Matara, Kandy, etc from China Bay. The Railway was asked by me to provide the maximum number of wagons they can find and all were despatched with paddy to Colombo and the South. These two Districts produced an enormous amount of paddy. . The population of the island was more in Colombo and the South and that was where the paddy found its way- turned into rice, issued to the people on a ration scheme.

In short without the consumers in the rest of the island, there will be no market for the paddy produced in the Eastern Province. The closest neighbour is India which also produces an excess of paddy and the price of rice in India is always lower than in Sri Lanka.

Take Red Onions. Red Onions were produced in the Jaffna peninsula and during the three harvesting months our Assistant Commissioner in Jaffna had his hands full visiting cooperatives that purchased red onions, ensuring that the cooperatives had sufficient funds, accepting the red onions from the cooperatives to our departmental stores, storing- rather drying the red onions, ensuring quality, packing into bags and despatching red onions by railway wagons to all other parts of the island. This happened for some three months every year and it was the duty of the Assistant Commissioners in charge of the other Districts to clear and sell to dealers.

When I covered the Southern Province in 1958 and 1959, three wagon loads of red onions were daily received at Boosa and had to be cleared, by my staff at Galle, brought to our stores and sold wholesale to dealers in the Southern Province and also sold at our departmental retail outlets. Once I had a major problem with the member of parliament at Galle Mr. Dahanayake. He had sent a telegram to the Ministry that there were no red onions in Galle. It was the red onion season and I had ensured that there were ample stocks both in our retail shop as well as in the wholesale outlet at Galle. I was informed of Mr Dahanayakes complaint by telegram. There were no mobile phones those days in 1958. I drove from Ambalantota to Galle as quick as my peugeot 203 took me. It was a life or death problem- a bad name on my career. I visited private shops as well as our stores and red onions were being sold- there was no shortage whatsoever. I then went to the residence of Mr Dahanayake and as he was not in I waited at his residence till night. He came at about ten in the night and inquired why I was there. I told him of his complaint to the Ministry and added that there was no shortage ever of red onions in Galle. One felllow, one of my supporters came and told me and to satisfy him I sent a telegram to the Ministry.” I replied; There was never a shortage of red onions in Galle and the Ministry is concerned. It will be a bad name on my administration. ” To satisfy that man I had to send that telegram.”. I told him that the Ministry would punish me if there was a shortage to which he replied that he will inform the Minister that there never was a shortage and that he had sent the telegram to keep in the good books of one of his supporters. That was all and I reported the matter to the commissioner in Colombo and the matter ended there. This shows how red onions were sold all over the island and the importance attached to the sale of red onions. .

Again when I was in charge of Tripoli the head quarters of the vegetable marketing scheme at Maradana, every day for some four months of the year there were at least five wagon loads of red onions from Jaffna and my task was to ensure that the onions were sold somehow at our fifty small shops in Colombo, wholesale to dealers and when there was yet red onions unsold there were van sales till late at night selling somehow.

So was it in other distrcts like Kandy and if not for the rest of the island the red onions will not find a market and the farmers in Jaffna will face poverty and destitution.

Take Paper. The PaperMill at Valachenai produced around half the paper requirements of Sri lanka and everyday paper products were sent by wagon to Colombo. If not for sales out of the Eastern Province there would be no sales for the paper produced in Valachenai near Batticaloa. Further the straw in Batticaloa was insufficient and straw was taken by lorry from Hingurakgoda and Polonnaruwa. In short Valachenai had to obtain straw from the Polonnaruwa District.

Take Tourism. The beaches in Trincomalle, Nilaveli, Pasikuda and Arugam Bay are marvels and tourists have to come from the rest of the island to enable the people in these areas to find employment. I have never met any locals from the Northern and Eastern Provinces in these hotels where I regularly visit when in Sri lanka. It is a few foreign tourists and people from Colombo and the South that patronize them. In short tourism will be a non runner if the North and East were a separate state.

In 1970 I worked as the Deputy Director of Small Industries. My duties included the development of small industries and ensuring that all small industries in the private sector got allocations of foreign exchange to enable them to import items that were essential for their manufactures. The amounts approved by me for industrialists was for products to be sold in the entire island, It depended on the machinery, inspected by me or one of my inspectors. Though the private entrepreneurs were sited in various districts, the places where the manufactures had to be sold was in Colombo and the South where the people live. The market for manufactures was out of the Eastern and Northern Provinces. Almost all the cement produced in Kankasanturai was sent by wagon to the rest of the island. In short any industrialist in Jaffna or Trincomalle will have to invariably sell the products in the rest of the island

Take Fisheries. The catch of fish in the Trincomalee area is enormous and has to be sold in Colombo or turned into dry fish and most of the dry fish in Colombo comes from the Trincomalee and Mannar areas.

Now let me tell briefly how we administrators managed the entire island before the advent of the LTTE. I have worked in the Department of Agrarian Services handling loans to cooperatives for agricultural purposes and for issue of fertilizer to cooperatives in 1962. I was in charge and cooperatives had to come to me from all parts of the island with their applications for loans to farmers and also to obtain fertilizer. It was my staff that processed the papers and the loans were issued and the fertilizer was issued under my signature. There was never any complaint and every cooperative was treated alike. I selected cooperatives at random and visited them inspecting their books and inquiring from farmers, to ensure that loans and fertilizer were made available in time and this included cooperatives in the East and North Provinces. Always, I was alone but cordially greeted by people. Some of my closest friends even today happen to be Tamils.

At St Peter’s College I was a non runner in Latin and it was a Tamil gentleman, a neighbour who daily helped me in my Latin homework. We lived in amity and amity is what is needed today.

Confrontations commenced with President Jayawardena and his leasing out land in Trincomalee to an American company which was resented by the Prime Minister of India, Indhira Gandhi who invited Prabahakaran, trained them in methods of warfare, equipped them with more advanced weapons than what the Sri lankan Army had and unleashed terror on Sri Lanka. Before that there were small problems but the problems commenced with President Jayawardena’s rule.

What all above facts point out is that Sri lanka is one integral whole and if any segment is split up the entire country would suffer. The population in the Northern and Eastern Provinces will suffer from the lack of employment and incomes if the rest of the island is not there to sell their produce.

Sri lanka is an integrated whole and its future lies in remaining an integral country.

Garvin Karunaratne, former G.A.Matara


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