He was the Farmers’ Friend | Daily News


37th Death Anniversary of Hector Kobbekaduwa tomorrow:

He was the Farmers’ Friend

Hector Kobbekaduwa can be described as one of the most indelible heroes in recent history, who joined the noble Kandyan Jananayaka Veeravaliya like Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera and Weera Keppetipola Disawe. Hector Rajakaruna Senevirath Bandara Kobbekaduwa was born on August 29, 1916 into a great generation of the Kandyan dynasty that took the lead against the imperialists to save the country and Buddhism.

His father was Dr. Tikiri Banda Kobbekaduwa, a descendant of a leader of the Uva Wellassa Rebellion. His father who graduated from the University of London as a medical practitioner was the first Western physician to be born in the upcountry. Dr. Tikiri Banda Kobbekaduwa passed away suddenly while working at the Colombo Hospital. Since then, his estranged wife Sangamitta Dullewa had been responsible for the care of their four children, the eldest child, Ashley Kobbekaduwa, the only daughter of the family, Glarice Mallika Kobbekaduwa, the third child, Hector Kobbekaduwa and the family’s youngest Lionel Kobbekaduwa.

Hector Kobbekaduwa was born at the Deldeniya Walawwa in Yatinuwara and educated at the Trinity College Kandy. He entered the Law Faculty of the Colombo University, which was then known as the University College and began his exemplary career as a lawyer in 1942 in his hometown of Kandy. Due to the untimely demise of his father, young Kobbekaduwa had to face various economic difficulties.

His contemporaries reveal that he had only 25 cents in his pocket when he walked from Bambalapitiya to Hulftsdorp Court to be sworn in as a lawyer. While working as a lawyer in Kandy, he was very sensitive to the complexities and sensitivities of villagers with regard to their poverty, ignorance, land deprivation as well as the exploitation of the poor by the middle class, land grabbing and the debt of the poor.

At one point, while he was campaigning in the Yatinuwara area, he saw a mother and her three children eating boiled manioc leaves for lunch. He described this incident on several occasions and informed society that he strongly believed such poverty should be eradicated through politics.

When his character is studied, it is clear that it was because of his sensitive thinking and philosophy that he came into public politics after seeing poverty, innocence and freedom of Kandyan villagers in accordance with his own political philosophy. Kobbekaduwa appeared for the court cases of the poor upcountry villagers at no charge, further intensifying his humanitarian character.

He got married to Chandra Kiriella who descents from a respectable Kandyan family through an arranged marriage and they had two daughters. The eldest daughter is Nimali Kobbekaduwa and the youngest is Varini Kobbekaduwa. Kobbekaduwa, who has been a progressive thinker since childhood joined with the Kandy Socialist Front and joined hands with Sri Nissanka, T.B. Illangaratne, T.B. Tennakoon, C.A.S. Marikkar, and Vernon Gunasekera and it was the opening for him to enter politics. In 1952, he joined active politics as a Kandy Municipal Councilor and in 1954, he joined the Ceylon Freedom Party and contested for the Yatinuwara electorate in 1960. He won that seat in 1970 and entered Parliament.

Kobbekaduwa who came to power in 1970 under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the Minister of Lands and Agriculture, and established agricultural settlements for 13,000 unemployed youth in the country and led to the cultivation of 50,000 acres of land. Because of the Land Reforms Act of 1972, which he introduced and got passed in Parliament to be enacted, 559,337 acres of estate lands owned by private wealthy persons and certain companies in the country were transferred to the Government. According to this Act, one person could own only 50 acres of land.

He was also able to introduce the following Acts and Bills in Parliament within a period of six years with the approval of the Government and the Cabinet for the betterment of the farming community affected by poverty.

(a) Land Reforms Act No. 01 of 1972

(b) Agricultural Production Promotion Act No. 02 of 1972

(c) Agrarian Research and Training Institutions Act, No. 05 of 1972

(d) State Agricultural Incorporation Act No. 11 of 1972

(e) Paddy Marketing Board Act No. 14 of 1972

(f) Paddy Producers Savings Act No. 09 of 1973

(g) National Board for the Eradication of Hunger Act No. 15 of 1973

(h) Ceylon Fruit Board Act No. 30 of 1973

(i) Agricultural Land Act, No. 42 of 1973

(j) Settlement Act No. 25 of 1976

Kobbekaduwa acquired 415,508 acres of estates under the Land Reforms Act on October 17, 1975 under the control of one foreign company. He also established the Land Reforms Commission and the State Plantation Corporation for the management of the acquired estates and lands. Agrarian Service Centers were set up to cover each Grama Niladhari area for the development of agriculture and the rural economy. These centers also settled disputes between farmers regarding distribution, water and land.

His vision provides the foundation for the current agriculture development policy of the President, ‘Vision for Prosperity’. His efforts to strengthen agrarian communities through the provision of land and other agricultural inputs in order to curtail agricultural food imports to the country has now been considered to be a high priority in the President’s agenda. Import substitution through local production has now been introduced as a stable policy of the Government. Accordingly, it is obvious that the present Government is adopting policies related to agriculture, making the late Kobbekauwa’s vision and patriotic expectations a reality on the ground.

He had plans to strengthen the agricultural extension service to guide farmers towards prosperity in agriculture and the Government has now embarked on this as a priority.

Kobbekaduwa served as a Member of Parliament and Minister of Lands and Agriculture in the Samagi Peramuna Government until 1977 and rendered a great service to agriculture and the farming community. He ran as the Presidential Candidate of the Ceylon Freedom Party in the first Presidential Election held in 1982 after the deprivation of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s civic rights. But, at that time there were many divisions within the SLFP.

In the midst of these issues and various obstacles from the powerful UNP Government, Kobbekaduwa lost the Presidential Election, raising an indelible question for people about democracy.

However, he received 2,548,438 votes in this Presidential Election. President J.R. Jayewardene won with 3,450,811 votes. However, Kobbekaduwa received the highest number of votes from the Jaffna District.

During the seven years as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Kobbekaduwa had the opportunity to earn millions of rupees, but he was dedicated to serving people as an honest, respectable and modest person.

This venerable and immortal humanist died on September 18, 1983 as an extremely ordinary person. There are many examples that today’s politicians can learn from his biography.

Kobbekaduwa established the Agrarian Research and Training Institute in 1972 with the objective of expanding research and training in agriculture. Today, it is renamed as the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute in recognition of his silent service. Plans are being developed to expand the scope of the work of the institute towards a National agricultural university. The market intelligence platforms are also modernized to be presented on digital platforms.

The 37th commemoration ceremony of the late Hector Kobbekaduwa, a great personality of the century has been arranged with the participation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cabinet and State Ministers and Members of Parliament, Heads of Agriculture related institutions and his family and friends tomorrow, September 18, at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Centre which is a premier agrarian institute established by the late minister.

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