A nation energised with Gal Oya mission | Daily News

A nation energised with Gal Oya mission

Sri Lanka which was a colony under the British gained independence as the Dominion of Ceylon within the British Commonwealth on February 4, 1948, eight years after I was born on February 4, 1939, seven months prior to the beginning of World War II on September 1, 1939, with the invasion of Poland by the Germans.

Don Stephen Senanayake who was honoured later in his life by the honorific title ‘Father of the Nation’ had a flair for agriculture from the early years of his life. With the ambition to sharpen this inherence he entered the School of Agriculture in Kundasale with the first batch of students and obtained a qualification.

As he became the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon in 1948, his earnestness was to develop the country to work for the welfare of the landless, homeless and hard up people. Determined to find a way to uplift the way of life of the hapless people, he selected an uninhabited area of 150,000 acres or 60,750 hectares in the Gal Oya valley a kingdom of jumbos in the east of Sri Lanka, 40 miles (64 kilometres) from Batticaloa and 318 kilometres from Colombo. The only people who lived then in the middle of those thick forests were the people who wore a pinafore dress similar to the prisoners’ dress supposed to have been brought to this country by King Gajabahu as prisoners from India and distributed in several parts of the country, and the Sinhalese from Wellessa chased away by the British. They were found when clearing operations began, and they came to limelight when jungles were felled.

Gal Oya Irrigation and Power Project

Prior to the commencement of development work, the premier hastened to provide the main infrastructural requirements, videlicet, irrigation and power. In line with this decision, on August 24, 1949, he inaugurated the Gal Oya Irrigation and Power Project. The construction of a dam (the existing one) across the Gal Oya (a river 62 miles or 99.7 kilometres long having its fountainhead in Madulsima hills in the uplands of Badulla) was entrusted to the American firm Morrison Knudson International Construction Company incorporated in San Francisco laying the foundation on August 29, 1949, and the Hydro Power Project (linked to the national grid at Laxapana) to the Canadian Engineers who were here under the Colombo Plan to assist in the development work in early 1949. On November 24, 1949, Gal Oya Development Board was passed by an Act of Parliament as a statutory body to undertake the development of the Gal Oya Valley.

The work commenced auspiciously with the blessings of the partisans and the well-wishers not without brickbats from the opposition in parliament especially from Dr S A Wickremasinghe of the Communist Party and Member of Parliament for Akuressa who said that miserable people were being driven to an insanitary and insalubrious area infested with crow size mosquitoes moreover when malarial fever existed in epidemic form. In spite of these remarks and vehement protests, as planned, men and machinery were moved to the valley and, operations continued for 21 years successfully with the unreserved cooperation, the assistance and aids of many friendly countries and the toil and sacrifice of people from various countries and our people and ended as an apotheosis – a perfect example to the developing world and especially to the satisfaction of all those who observed its progression from beginning to the end.

Today, the Gal Oya valley which is well-known as Ampara has become a place of prosperity as our dear premier anticipated when he declared “Gal Oya has become a household word. It is symbolic of the New Lanka. May it obtain fulfillment speedily and herald the progress of our march towards self-sufficiency” as he inaugurated the Gal Oya Irrigation and Power Project, inscribed in the commemoration pillar erected at Inginiyagala roundabout.

Unity and co-operation among the people of Sri Lanka and donations from people of many foreign countries was the cause of the success of this scheme. Among the Sinhalese in the Directorate of the Board were H J Luxham from England an ex-financial secretary to the colonial government of Ceylon, the first Chairperson, R L Brohier, a director, R Kanagasundaram, the second Chairperson, W T I Alagaratnam, T C S Jeyaratam, an ex-governor from India, D Caspersz and A R Mansoor were other directors.

Construction projects and colonization schemes

The Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers worked for this board in unison in real comradeship. Over 15,000 men and women in the permanent cadre and over 200,000 casual employees contributed their skills, toiled hard to ensure this success living there for 21 years under a wide range of climatic conditions undergoing untold hardships, suffering from various diseases, dying owing to sicknesses, owing to accidents whilst on duty, killed by elephants and other beasts, vicious serpents and other creatures until the fruition of this onerous objective.

The Board Secretariat, the Base Workshops, the Carpentry workshop, Hardy Institute of Technical Training, the tile factory at Irakkamam, Rice Mill at Chavalaakade, Gal Oya Sugar Industries, jungle felling and land preparation for the plantation, the massive housing scheme for the resident employees, Agriculture Extension Division, Paddy Extension Division, Massive stores complexes, Paddy and Sugar Cane harvesting, construction of several tanks including the Inginiyagala tank named Senanayake Samudra, road construction projects and colonization schemes were on which these people were deployed during two decades and one year. It’s worth to repeat and place on record that it was their unity, cooperation and determination that gave them the staying power to steadfastly continue until the end.

Today, that once existed unity among us does not exist. The people are divided. In disunity, as a result, nothing is initiated properly, implemented properly and ended properly. It’s a turmoil and turpitude that is visible, unity is not in the vicinity. The appeal in earnest from all corners of the world for this countrymen is to unite leaving the fight for political power. If the remaining few desist from rabble-rousing and trouble making and co-operate with the majority favouring unity and peace among all, our country will become a place in the seventh heaven to live. The success of any organisation depends on the proper placement of personnel and goodness of man management. In this establishment, the labour force spread in offices and sites in 150,000 acres was very large in number. They included from underworld people, island reconvicted criminals, murderers, rogues and thugs, amongst the others. So, it was not as easy as managing people at work in a compact area or in front of a manager.

They were people at work miles and miles away in the jungles. Managing these people needed dynamism. This board had a large number of dynamic people who were competent in directing and commanding personnel and obtaining the cooperation of all of them until they attained their goal during an era when management was not taught in this country. Among them from era to era were these prominent people at the higher echelons who were the driving force. Shirley Amarasinghe, M S Perera, I M de Silva, Wijayabahu Wijesinghe, a planter by profession, N E Weerasuriya, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, G R de Silva, Neville Jayaweera, B K Abeyratne, Harry Jayasinghe, M J Perera, B C Perera, M W F Abeykoon, Kapila Ratnayake, Attorney-at-Law, Nanda Alagiyawanna and D W R Kahawita who served as Chairpersons, Directors, Resident Managers and General Managers many of whom were civil servants. 


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