Great Development Programmes that show us the way out of the economic meltdown:
Posted on November 22nd, 2022

Garvin Karunaratne, Former SLAS, G.A Matara

The Small Industries Textile Manufacturing Programme

This began with handloom training provided in village areas. Textile Handloom Programmes were commenced all over the island from the early Fifties and the Small Industries Department imported yarn and sold them to the entrepreneurs at cost.

The Department of Small Industries employed Textile Demonstrators who trained the handloomers.

What was very special was that sarees and other textiles could be done bespoke – according to the colour and style ordered. No one ever went to Bangkok to find an attractive dress.

The Department of Small Industries opened up Laksala a series of shops to sell the items which were produced by the handloomers. Local cooperative shops too were selling the products. As the Additional Government Agent I was in charge to ensure that the production was upto the mark.

The Department also established a state of the art Research and Development Institute at Moratuwa, called Velona. As the Additional Government Agent at Kegalla I can remember making investigations re opening a Powerloom with a specialist Ramanayake, who went into great detail in planning. I will never forget the day I travelled in his car on inspections because a mice or a small rat crawled up my trouser and luckily I held it, and released it to run away when the car was abruptly brought to a halt. We worked under constraints- old cars that often broke down – my ten year old Humber Hawk held its way but all work was done to perfection.

Later as the Government Agent at Matara, I had some five powerlooms turning all sorts of textiles of superb quality. The suiting done at the Hakmana Power looms was on demand even in London. It was so fine and superbly done that when Sri Lankans who had gone to live in London came on holiday to Sri lanka they came to Hakmana to buy the suiting and some of them even came to meet me when the stocks in the shops were all sold. I had even to get my Assistant Government Agent at Hakmana Ranjith Wimalaratne to make special arrangements for producing more suiting.

That was all done by the Small Industries Department and its Assistant Directors in the Districts. Velona was a vibrant and a very active organization.

The Ministry also stepped in and established Textile Factories at many places. When I served as Additional Government Agent at Kegalla the Ministry planned and established a state of the art Textile Mill at Tulhiriya which was at that time said to be the best Textile Mill in the entire East.

Then by the Nineteen Seventies Sri lanka produced all its textiles. There were over fifty powerlooms in rural areas and a few Textile Mills , There were some 96,000 handloomers.

I must state that the handloom, powerloom and Textile Mills programme that brought self sufficiency in all textliles to our Motherland was a great success.

However President Jayawardena who won the general election at the end of 1977 embraced the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF opened up imports funded with money borrowed on loans and ordered the closure of all powerlooms. The Tulhiriya Mill was privatized to an entrepreneur from Kabul in Pakistan. That profitable mill was used to make profits and run to the ground- Kabul left the country even leaving unpaid loans to local banks. The handloomers were all lost . The Small industries Department that imported yarn, distributed- rather sold it to the entrepreneurs and did a yeoman task was shelved.

Now we import all our textiles. We imported with loans obtained at high interest and today we face an economic meltdown after forty years of neoliberalism. 

We have to step back to the days when we produced ourselves and found employment and incomes for the people. That is the only way ahead out of the economic meltdown that we face today

The author was a Deputy Director of Small Industry in 1970 and the Additional Government Agent at Kegalla in 1967,68 and  the Government Agent in Matara in 1971-1973, when he was in charge of the handloom and powerloom projects.

Garvin Karunaratne,

Former SLAS, G.A Matara

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