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Formation of Central Irrigation Board

In 1884 the contribution from the general revenue to the irrigation vote was fixed at Rs.200,000 a year, and in 1887 an Ordinance was passed creating a Central Irrigation Board, with the Governor as the President with provincial irrigation boards to serve the provinces. These provincial boards were under the presidency of Government Agents and consisted of the Provincial Engineer and the Chief Surveyor of each province as members of the Board. Central control of policy and funds were effected by the Central Irrigation Board, which had in addition to the Governor as president, Director of Public Works, Surveyor General and some members of the public too. Officers from the P.W.D were seconded to work in these irrigation boards, in addition to their normal functions in their parent department. Sir Arthur Havelock, at the first meeting of the Central Irrigation Board, which was held on 2nd July 1890 expressed his determination to press on with the work of irrigation. But he found himself obliged to adopt great discrimination and care in sanctioning projects.

A notable irrigation work undertaken during the period of Sir Arthur Havelock was the restoration of Giant's Tank in Mannar.

Separation from P.W.D. and appointment of first Director of Irrigation

Henry Parker, Irrigation Assistant was appointed to the Central Irrigation Board as the chief executive of the Central Board in 1898. However the system of irrigation boards proved to be unsatisfactory as could be gathered from Sir West Ridgeway's review of administration of Ceylon in 1896-1903. He stated that the "Irrigation works that the engineers of the P.W.D. were called upon to perform constituted an irksome additional burden and was undertaken therefore with little enthusiasm and loss of efficiency". Sir West Ridgeway further stated that "Irrigation work which required the strictest supervision was given the most superficial supervision".

F.A.Cooper was the Director of Public Works in 1899 and Cooper's 1899 Administrative report did not include any irrigation works and it says "The irrigation works maintenance have been mainly in charge of the provincial Irrigation Boards, who receive the assistance of officers of this department in several provinces. Parker, Irrigation Assistant to the Central Irrigation Board, under whose immediate instructions, the other Irrigation Assistants are placed, has charge of the larger works."

In order to carry out the execution of irrigation works in an efficient manner, the Irrigation Department was established as distinct from the P.W.D. on 15th May 1900. H.T.S. Ward, who had been the Assistant Director of P.W.D. was made the first Director of Irrigation.

Regarding the appointment of H.T.S. Ward as the first Director of Irrigation, Cooper in his administration report in 1899 writes," H.T.S. Ward will have severed his connection with this Department after working for 24 years. I wish to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the loyal support and valuable assistance he has rendered me as Assistant Director of Public works. In leaving this Department on promotion to the appointment of Director of Irrigation, Ward takes with him my heartiest good wishes for his future success.

In 1900 the population of the country was 3,521,000 and 5.6 million tons of rice were imported at a cost of Rs. 37.6 million. At this lime the total acreage under cultivation in Ceylon was 670,000 and consisted of 220,000 Acs under irrigation and 450,000 Acs rain fed. The production of rice was 18.6 million bushels per year.

Formation of the Irrigation Department

Consequent to a report made by the Governor West Ridgeway, a separate department for irrigation works was established on 15th May, 1900 with H.T.S. Ward as the first Director of Irrigation. See Fig.2.1. Henry Parker, Irrigation Assistant was his deputy and seven other Irrigation Engineers were assigned to the new department. Along with these, two Assistant Surveyors and ten Inspectors transferred from the Public Works Department (P.W.D) formed the nucleus of the new department. The department was housed in a building called "Arcade" in York Street, Fort, Colombo.

The new department was entrusted with the restoration and construction of all irrigation works and the maintenance of large irrigation schemes. The provincial Irrigation Boards were abolished and the maintenance of minor irrigation works came under the control of the Government Agent.

Technical Staff of the New Department

Henry Parker, was a qualified engineer, but designated as an Irrigation Assistant at that time. He was the second in command and was most valuable.

In order to assist Parker, a team of seven Irrigation Engineers were distributed in the field. This distribution was as below.

E.W Cade Walawe and Kirindi Oya.
J.W. Nunn   
E.G. Eves Minneriya.
S.H. Bower Sakamam.
G.H. O'Brien Vakaneri.
R.F. Morris Unnichchi.
O.D. Watts Rugam.

Besides these, Ward also employed an Assistant Engineer, an Irrigation Surveyor, two Asst. Surveyors and ten Irrigation Inspectors and Sub-inspectors in the field.

When the department commenced its work on 15th May, 1900, it took over the following working schemes from the P.W.D.

a. Kala Wewa
b. City Tanks of Anuradhapura.
c. Minneri, Giritale & Topa Wewa.
d. Pattipola Aru in Batticaloa.
e. Giant's Tank in Mannar.
f. Tissa Wewa & Walawe Ganga.
g. Deduru Oya.

Developments after 1900s

The Engineering cadre of the department was around 22 during the middle of this decade and activities in general were not very much favorable during this period due to the World War I. The other reason was the general health condition of the staff. Several officers left on leave owing to illness.

The headquarters of the department continued to be at Trincomalee and therefore irrigation development activities were concentrated more towards the North, the North Central and the Eastern provinces. However the disadvantage of having the headquarters away from Colombo was felt due to frequent visits of the senior staff to Colombo. This issue to shift the head quarters to Colombo was taken up during the latter part of the decade.

During this decade, the evolution of more scientific applications in irrigation designs, flood protection and water management had emerged owing to the dedicated leadership of Balfour, Director of Irrigation. Professional notes for the guidance of Irrigation Engineers titled "Irrigation Notes" were published in 1914. The Irrigation Manual for administration guidance was also published in the same year.

The existing Irrigation Ordinance was revised and the new Ordinance No. 45 of 1917 was enacted based on the report of W.L. Strange, which was published in 1909.

During this period, several changes were introduced and administration was decentralized. The department established six hydrographic divisions to cover the whole Island with Divisional Irrigation Engineers in charge of respective areas. There were 26 Irrigation Engineers in charge of Sub-divisions. The Divisional Engineers operated from the headquarters and Sub-divisional Engineers were in the field. This move towards decentralization proved very advantageous and greatly facilitated the work. Much correspondence that was avoided in the headquarters as minor matters could be now settled off locally.

Some of the Key Undertakings before 1930s

Planning water resources of Malwatu Oya

A scheme to bring water of the Amban Ganga into the valley of the Malwatu Oya as far as the Giant's tank had been brought to prominence during this decade. It was felt that the great number of village tanks restored within the Malwatu Oya catchment in the North Central and Northern Provinces required almost all the water from the rainfall, which drains off from that catchment. It was realized that there was a large surplus of water during certain years, and much water escaped from the spillways of the tanks into the sea. Thus, it was felt that if the tanks were made large enough to prevent any water spilling in the wetter years, it would be possible to optimize the benefit of rain. It was felt that by increasing the capacity of tanks, a large proportion of the reservoir capacity would not idle most of the time. There had been a proposal to develop some more lands for irrigation in the Giant's tank, and to provide an efficient system of irrigation for these lands at Akathimurippu.

The first step for this was to ascertain whether water could be brought into the Malwatu Oya valley from the Amban Ganga, a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga with its source in the Matale hills. Therefore, a scheme for diverting the waters of the Nalanda Oya into the Malwatu Oya valley, with a view to increasing the supply of water to Giant's tank and supplying for the proposed Akathimurippu scheme on the left bank of the Aruvi Aru was investigated. Contour surveys were done for the proposed reservoir across the Nalanda Oya and a further storage reservoir near Dambulla. Designs and estimates for the proposed dams and channels in the upper part of the scheme were commenced.

Estimation and losses and Seasonal Planning

The estimation of water for paddy cultivation was undertaken by J.H.W.Park, in 1909 and the only guideline available for this purpose at that time was the Bulletin No.46 of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to this, for successful plant growth, 12% to 20% of soil moisture depending on soil properties reckoned by its dry weight was required. Further, moisture content should not fall below 8% to 14% at any time of the year. Though they were aware of the evaporation losses from the tank water surface and percolation losses in the distributory system, no quantification was possible. However by interpretation of the above guideline, 8 inches of water for a month during the North East cultivation season(Maha) and 10 inches for the South West cultivation season (Yala) were assumed as the water requirement, in the Eastern province. The land preparation was entirely done with rainwater and therefore irrigation water was not issued during Maha. For canal losses, 33% was used and 12 inches of water were considered for land preparation during Yala. For free water evaporation, 40 inches were assumed during Yala, but evaporation during the N.E.season was believed to counter balance the inflow to the tank from the month of October to the month of December.

Provision of Irrigation Facilities

During 1912 to 1913, the staff of the Irrigation Department had been much occupied in working out details for proposals to utilize the water which would have been available by the completion of large schemes. At that time it was not considered necessary to identify a specific area and to provide a detailed plan for irrigation facilities. It was considered sufficient to construct only the head works of the tanks and perhaps a main canal, leaving the cultivators to cut their own canals. This procedure was changed and the necessity to construct a complete system of channels was identified. However this system involved a great amount of preliminary surveys, design works and then the construction before water issues for irrigation to be done.

On Farm Water Management

The colonial engineers were not only interested in the planning and construction of irrigation works, but also took a keen interest on "on farm" water management. This can be seen from the following statements made by some engineers who were in charge of Divisions at that time. According to R.F.Morris, the Divisional Engineer, Southern Division, in 1915 "In spite of cultivation rules, the plough is little used. The land being merely trampled by cattle, and in some places in the Matara District, the top soil was cut and turned over only with mammoties". The Irrigation Engineer, Hambantota, took a considerable amount of trouble in trying to establish more economical methods of irrigation under the Tissa tank and, he was greatly assisted by the Assistant Government Agent, of Hambantota who went to Tissa frequently to hold special cultivation meetings. Before the water was issued, it was emphasized that land levelling and making "liyaddas" were a prerequisite. Sufficient water was then issued by considering the effect of rainfall. The criteria adopted to issue water at that time was a depth of 4 inches per week during the mudding period and 3 inches per week afterwards.

Progressive Policy

Owing to the high price of rice and the difficulty of obtaining it, a committee was appointed in 1920 by His Excellency the Governor to inquire into the question of food production in the Island. Baker, the Director of Irrigation was appointed a Member of this Committee. One of the most important resolutions, passed by this Committee was as follows.

"In view of the agrarian policy now adopted by the Government, the Committee would suggest that the programme of new irrigation works, which has been suspended for about ten years, should now be resumed, and that the Irrigation Department should not in future be regarded so much as a revenue earning Department, but as a department spending money like the Public Works Department."

In 1920 a report was submitted by the Director of Irrigation to the Government recommending a progressive policy in irrigation. The general outline of the new recommendations is given below.

  1. Shifting of the Departmental headquarters to Colombo from Trincomalee.
  2. Provision of housing for the staff.
  3. Increase in number and pay of field staff.
  4. Increase in number and pay of engineering staff.
  5. Physical improvements to irrigation schemes.
  6. Investigation and construction of further major irrigation schemes.

Improvements after 1930s

The headquarters of the Irrigation Department was moved to the Old Town Hall, Pettah, from Trincomalee in 1930 and then in November 1931, to the Secretariat Building in the Colombo Fort. W. Brown was the Director of Irrigation at the beginning of this decade until he was succeeded by B.G. Meaden in 1931. During the directorship of Brown, the Department was saddled with the impact of a heavy flood in May, 1930 which devastated several areas in Colombo. The failure of the flood protection scheme in the Kelani Ganga was investigated by a team of engineers.

The functions of the Irrigation Department were clearly defined and departmental organization was modified by Kennedy in 1936. Laying stress on increased area for cultivation, the restoration of village irrigation works scattered throughout the island was given priority and a special mobile village works division was set up. The Irrigation Department commenced construction work on several new major works, as explained above. The Mahaweli Ganga was harnessed, for the first time in the Department's history with the restoration of the Minipe Ela Anicut in 1939. During this decade heavy machinery were used for the first time at Parakrama Samudra Scheme and Minipe in 1937.

For the systematic development of agricultural lands according to the needs of the people, District Agricultural Committees (DAC) were formed in 1934 for the preparation of priority programmes and for the investigation and construction of irrigation works. This assisted the Department to a very great extent to meet the needs of the cultivators. During this decade, activities expanded exponentially.

Emergence of the Hydraulic Laboratory

Dr. R. V. Burns was appointed, Engineer, Training and Research and assumed duties in February 1937 under the guidance of Kennedy.

After considering several sites for the buildings in the vicinity of Colombo, a plot of ground at the corner of Buller's road and Jawatta road was finally selected. Permission to use this plot was obtained on April 1937. He designed the building and its internal lay-out and went ahead with its construction. By the end of December 1937, a glass-sided German tilting flume about 50 feet long was set up in the laboratory installation of pumps and a piping system for water distribution for the experiments was under consideration and as soon as these were installed early in 1938 the Laboratory was ready for operation.

The hydraulic laboratory was officially opened by His Excellency Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott on May 21, 1938. The building was occupied within 8 months after Bums' assumption of duties. The first physical model constructed was the Nilwala Ganga model in 1938 and the Kelani Ganga model was constructed in 1939.

The structure of the Irrigation Department was modified and strengthened during the previous decade due to the far sighted vision of J.S. Kennedy, Director of Irrigation from 1935 to 1939. His conceptualization process was consolidated during the decade from 1940 to 1950 after the establishment of the necessary institutions to implement the programmes of S.G. Taylor, who became the Director of Irrigation in 1939. He was the Director who served the department for the longest period of 11 years.There had been acertain setback in the activities of the Department at the beginning of the decade due to World War II. Taylor was a great taskmaster, frank in speech and treated everyone without any partiality. He worked round the clock in order to uplift the activities of the department. The Irrigation Department was pushed forward with great vigour during this period especially for the food production drive. However having realized this situation, Taylor reconstituted the territorial organization of the department by reducing the number of executive districts from 27 to 18 and dividing the Island into 6 territorial divisions. The divisions at that time were Colombo, Tangalle, Bandarawela, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya and Batticaloa.

In 1942, the creation of the Training, Research and Designs Division under the eminent engineer R.V. Bums, led to the consolidation of the fully fledged Hydraulic Laboratory and the creation of the River Gauging Division and the Soil Mechanics Laboratory.

The Training, Research and Designs Division was reorganized and the whole complex of research laboratories and designs offices was integrated into one centralized establishment known as the Central Designs and Research office (C.D.R.O.) during the same period.

The establishment of the Mechanical Branch at Ratmalana after shifting from the Maradana repair workshop and its expansion under the Chief Mechanical Engineer A.H. Johnson was a remarkable achievement during this period. Despite the disruption to work during World War II, the activities of the department reached its peak towards the latter part of the decade. The department obtained the services of construction engineers for major construction works and sent the first batch of selected field assistants lo India for University education. The planning, design and construction of Gal Oya, the first multipurpose reservoir project of this country during the latter part of the 1940s, demonstrated the build-up capacity of the Irrigation Department during a short period. The Morrison Knudsen Inc. U.S.A., contractor under the direct supervision of the department commenced the construction of the Gal Oya dam in 1949. This gave a morale booster to the department to undertake major construction works in subsequent years.

Former Heads of the Department

1900 to Date - Directors of Irrigation

Eng. H.T.S.Ward 1900 - 1908
Eng. R.W.Smith 1909 - 1913
Eng. J.A.Balfour 1913 - 1918
Eng. C.F.S.Baker 1918 - 1923
Eng. R.F.Morris 1923 - 1928
Eng. W. Brown 1928 - 1931
Eng. B.G. Meaden 1931 - 1935
Eng. J.S. Kennedy 1935 - 1939
Eng. S.G. Taylor 1939 - 1950
Eng. W.A.Guthrie 1950 - 1952
Eng. W.T.I. Alagaratnam 1952 - 1955
Eng. A.E.C. de S. Gunasekara 1955 - 1965
Eng. T.B.E. Seneviratne 1965 - 1967
Eng. V.N. Rajaratnam 1967 - 1970
Eng. H. de S. Manamperi 1970 - 1973
Eng. P.H. Perera 1973 - 1976
Eng. A. Maheswaran 1976 - 1979
Eng. R.U. Fernando 1979 - 1981
Eng. A.J.P. Ponrajah 1981 - 1984
Eng. S. Sivasupramaniam 1985.02.05 - 1985.10.11
Eng. K.D.P Perera 1985 - 1989
Eng. N.G.R de Silva 1989.03.30 - 1989.10.31
Eng. K. Yoganathan 1989.11.01 - 1994.11.30
Eng. W.N.M. Botejue 1994.12.01 - 1996.02.24
Eng. L.T Wijesuriya 1996.02.25 - 1999.09.30
Eng. W.P Jinadasa 1999.10.01 - 2002.03.07
Eng. D.W.R Weerakoon 2002.03.08 - 2004.04.26
Eng. G.T. Darmasena 2004.04.27 - 2004.12.15
Eng. K.S.R. de Silva 2004.12.15 - 2005.11.18
Eng. B.M.S Samarasekara 2005.11.18 - 2007.12.19
Eng. H.P.S. Somasiri 2007.12.20 - 2010.09.10
Eng. Dr. G.G.A. Godaliyadda 2010.09.11 - 2012.06.28
Eng. Ms. G.B.U.Kamaladasa 2012.06.29 - 2015.01.02
Eng. Y.A. Majeed 2015.01.03 - 2016.03.15
Eng. S.S.L. Weerasinghe 2016.03.16 - 2017.02.28
Eng. M. Thuraisingham 2017.03.01 - 2017.11.03


Eng. W.T.I. Alagaratnam (1952 - 1955) was proud to be the First ever Sri Lankan Citizen to be the Director of Irrigation

Eng. W.N.M Botejue (1994.12.01 - 1996.02.24) became the First Director General of Irrigation on 1995.06.06

Eng. A.E.C. de S. Gunasekara (1955 – 1965) and Eng. A.J.P. Ponrajah (1981 – 1984) are still living in the hearts of the people who love the Department due to their Vision that they had for the next Generation and the Leadership qualities, Commitments and the Guidance.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2016 08:39  

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