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Country’s reconciliation with English and Moragahakanda

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Moragahakanda Reservoir was expected to deliver Mahaweli waters to the north

When the country received independence from British, it was blessed with an efficient administration, a high standard in education, and also sound foreign exchange reserves; the country was admired by other countries. The three major and several minor communities enjoyed perfect harmony among each other. The first Cabinet consisted of 18 members drawn from all communities representing the United National Party, Ceylon Labour Party and All Ceylon Tamil Congress and an independent member.


Transition from English to Sinhala

But few years later, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from the UNP, formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, joined hands with Phillip Gunawardana’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and contested the 1956 general elections under the MEP flag. The main slogan during the election campaign was the conversion of administration to Sinhala and won the elections. 

With the transfer of administration and education to Sinhala, relations between communities got strained and education standards crashed. In addition, during the following years hardly any development work was executed, students completing education increased but employment opportunities were few, leading to the 1971 and 1988/89 insurgencies. Tamils and Burghers were the worst affected and some left the country. 

During the late 1970s the J.R. Jayewardene Government implemented the accelerated Mahaweli project, giving jobs in the south, and the excess farmer population was settled under Mahaweli lands. Throughout, the north was neglected, leading to the 1983 riots and the 30-year-long war. 

Meanwhile, children of well-to-do families and politicians joined international schools and continued education in foreign universities, but only a few returned to the country. If the English medium education continued, students of all communities would have studied together, creating mutual bonds, and also giving them employment opportunities in the technologically-improving world.


Failure of successive governments

Although many government leaders were aware of the situation, none wished to take action for fear of losing popularity, especially among the Buddhist clergy, who had emerged as a powerful force. Although, President Chandrika Bandaranaike introduced English education in the mid-1990s, over the past 25 years the Education Department and the politicians have failed to produce English medium teachers and this continues to remain a problem. The department, having trained over 200 teachers in India, does not have even a single teachers’ college training English-based teachers.

The recent Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and discussions afterwards highlighted the need for inter-communal harmony and education institutions serving children of all communities. Unfortunately, no mention was made of English medium schools.

Singapore became an independent nation in 1965 with Malay as the national language, with English, Mandarin and Tamil as other official languages. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made English the language in schools, leading to the current status of the country.

The absence of English knowledge deprived the children from moving towards information technology, and they could secure only minor jobs as data entry and autocad, with complex jobs taken by those who were English proficient. The country’s ability to move over to English medium education depends on the production of English medium teachers or conversion of existing teachers to English medium. 

Thus it is urgent that English medium education be introduced as soon as possible. But achieving the objective early is beyond the ability of the Education Department. Thus a completely different approach will be necessary. 



A reasonable achievable target would be to convert 60% schools to English medium in three years or conversion of 20% schools per year. After five years the balance 40% schools, teaching beyond Grade 6, science and mathematics would be in English medium and after Grade 8 will join the mainstream. The schools to be converted each year would be determined in advance and announced so that the students, teachers and schools themselves could get ready.

Encouraging existing teachers to become English competent would be achieved by offering: 1. An additional allowance to English medium teachers (say 15% of salary). 2. Teachers would need to follow English classes at own cost and incur travel expenses. To compensate for additional costs a lump sum payment of Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 200,000 to be made to teachers depending on primary, post-primary, O-Level and A-Level teachers.

Teachers refusing to convert will forfeit all career advancements and salary increases in future. They would be transferred to teach primary students in Sinhala/Tamil medium. 


Teacher reactions

The announcement of conversion details will send shockwaves among teachers, as they themselves need to acquire English knowledge and teaching skills. With the demand, private teaching institutions would appear overnight. They could be assisted by allowing institutes to get down Indian teachers not exceeding 50% of staff. In addition, the British Council could be requested to improve its Teacher Training Programs. 

When a teacher fails to obtain English teaching skills, the teacher faces the risk of being moved over to a different school. In the same manner, teachers in faraway schools would get the opportunity of moving to a city school by acquiring English teaching skills. 

This push-and-pull situation with higher salaries and reimbursement of learning expenses would be sure to help speedy implementation. In addition, school principals, teacher inspectors and staff of the Education Department and the Ministry will face the same challenge and could be offered similar allowances.

Although the above procedure would convert existing teachers to English medium, improving quality would require continuous training. One could recall when the medium of instruction was changed from English to Sinhala, a similar situation arose.


Universities and other institutions

Higher education institutions such as universities too need to convert subjects to English. Current Arts students should have at least two-thirds of subjects converted to English medium. In addition introducing a large number of new courses of study with small numbers studying each course would ensure every student getting employed after graduation. Selecting new courses could be achieved by scrutinising courses offered by foreign universities, which even indicate course contents in their websites. 

Absorbing excess 

Government staff

The Government service carries large excess staff, especially so-called management assistants recruited outside the cadre. They and other graduates who clamour for jobs could be absorbed into teaching service, if they could acquire English medium teaching skills. This would allow rural schools with teacher shortage to get sufficient staff. 


Moragahakanda waters to north

The Moragahakanda dam foundation was laid in 2007, construction commenced in 2011, water was filled in 2016 and stored water was released in January 2017. On the same day, the foundation stone was laid for the Upper Elahera Canal, the first section of the canal system carrying waters northwards. The canal terminates at Yakalla (south of Anuradhapura) and completion is expected by 2024. The entire canal system is planned for completion by 2032. Until then, Moragahakanda waters would be wasted.

According to the original proposal of Maithreepala Senanayake in 1971, Moragahakanda water was expected to be delivered to north of Medawachchiya, receiving the lowest rainfall in the country. The J.R. Jayewardene Government under the Accelerated Mahaweli Project completed Victoria, Randenigala and Rantembe reservoirs and Right Bank Channel delivering water to Maduru Oya; all were completed within six years, producing hydro-power and diverting water to settler farmers. Afterwards, the Moragahakanda project was negotiated for funding with the Japanese, but communal violence in 1983 resulted in the project being postponed.

During the northern conflict, understanding amongst the political rulers was to leave Moragahakanda as part of the final negotiations with Tamil parties for a settlement of the ethnic problem. The waters of Moragahakanda would be offered as a gift to people in the north from the Sinhala people for agreeing to settle the ethnic issue. 


Moragahakanda Project

The Moragahakanda dam is located on Amban Ganga, a major tributary of the Mahaweli, collecting a large volume of water from Matale and Kurunegala (part) Districts. Moragahakanda Reservoir was expected to deliver Mahaweli waters to the north, carried over a nearly 200km-long trans-basin canal over the central ridge of the country, terminating at Iranamadu Tank near Kilinochchi.

The waters were to satisfy the water needs of the driest region of the country, especially during the Yala season (May-June), when the Northern Province hardly gets any rain. But the Rajapaksa Government, having won the war, decided water would not be given to the north and water distribution plans were modified to three phases, which also unnecessarily dragged the completion to 2032. 


Phase 1 (2016-2024) 

Phase 1 (2016-2024) includes Upper Elahera Canal, 65.5km canal conveying 974MCM (million cubic metres) of water annually northwards from Moragahakanda reservoir terminating at Yakalla (south of Anuradhapura) and trifurcate delivering water to existing Huruluwewa on Yan Oya (128MCM), Manankattiya/Mahakanadarawa Reservoirs (159MCM) and NCP canal (640MCM). 

Also included in Phase 1 is North Western Province Canal, 96kms of canals diverting water from existing Nalanda Reservoir and Dambulu Oya to new irrigation systems in the NWP.


Phase 2 (2024-2027)

Phase 2 (2024-2027): The first section of the NCPC Project, commencing from Yakalla with 640MCM of water, extending 30km northwards to Kahatagasdigiliya.

Also, pumping of 240MCM of Mahaweli water at Kalinga Nuwara to Angamedilla. The water will supplement irrigation needs of Minneriya, Giritale and Kaudulla tanks, terminating at Kantale tank.


Phase 3 (2028-2032) 

Phase 3 (2028-2032): Water supply to north, the canal from Kahatagasdigiliya would be extended to Chemmadukulum via Kebithigollewa; the 92km-long canal would flow into Kanakrayan Aru, delivering water to Iranamadu tank. 

The NCP canal will also issue irrigation water to Pavatkulam located south of Vavuniya with 30MCM, Parangi Aru passing through Omanthi and to Pali Aru both in Vavuniya District and flow westward into Kilinochchi District.


Modifications to project 

Phase 1 – Modifications made include ‘North Western Province Canal’ diverting water from existing Nalanda Reservoir and Dambulu Oya to new irrigation systems in the NWP. But water from Dambulu Oya actually is Mahaweli waters diverted through Bowatenna tunnel on the way to Kalawewa. The canal would withdraw 67MCM of Mahaweli water. The NWPC has no relevance to the main project, but was included in Phase 1 and would be the first sub-project completed. 

Phase 2 – The Upper Elahera Canal trifurcates at Yakalla, located adjoining Huruluwewa will receive (128MCM) and Manankattiya/Mahakanadarawa reservoirs (159MCM). The transfer of 159MCM of water to latter reservoirs is to replenish water in Kalawewa (Anuradhapura tanks) due to transfer 67MCM of water to NWPC. 

Currently, a dam on Yan Oya is nearing completion at a cost of Rs. 65 billion and water would be issued in 2020. In planning the project, transfer of Moragahakanda water to Yan Oya via Huruluwewa was not anticipated, nor a requirement, but solely to reduce water being diverted to the north. Phase 3 – The 60km-long canal from Kebithigollewa and Chemmadukulum will fall into Kanakanarayan Aru, feeding Iranamadu tank. The canal in addition will issue 30MCM irrigation water to Pavatkulam located south of Vavuniya, Parangi Aru passing through Omanthi and to Pali Aru both in Vavuniya District. Due to various diversions of the 251MCM of water, only 100MCM will reach Iranamadu.

The original Moragahakanda proposals had been modified to accommodate requests from different sections of people supported by local politicians; which includes feeding nearly 1,000 minor tanks in the North Central Province. 

Moragahakanda-Kaluganga projects were constructed with massive foreign loans, needs settlement and non-utilisation of the full potential for 17 long years will drag the country down. Thus the project needs accelerating.


Feeding Polonnaruwa reservoirs

President Sirisena is concerned only about water supply to the Polonnaruwa group of reservoirs. Many centuries ago King Washaba diverted Amban Ganga at Elahera, located 2km downstream of Moragahakanda dam, conveying water to Minneriya, Giritale and Kantale reservoirs. In addition, Angamedilla anicut also on Amban Ganga midway between Elahera and Manampitiya feeds the Parakrama Samudraya with a 24-mile long canal.

In addition, a 50-mile-long trans-basin canal, Minipe Yoda Ela, built during the time of King Dasankeliya (459AD), carries Mahaweli waters for irrigation and finally merges with Amban Ganga downstream of Angamedilla anicut. Thus Polonnaruwa paddies are fed with the most comprehensive irrigation system in the country. Water deficiencies in Polonnaruwa are due to non-cultivation in time and failing to make full use of rain water 


Water for Iranamadu Tank

According to current proposals of the 974MCM of water diverted from Moragahakanda, Upper Elahera Canal to Yakalla expects completion by 2024, but only 100MCM will reach Iranamadu. The water diversions at Yakalla have been exaggerated and could be modified on re-evaluation, availing more water to the north, also for irrigation in Jaffna Peninsula.

The canal system beyond Yakalla passes over generally flat land and construction would be simpler, also funding would not be an issue. The canal could be divided into sections and be offered to different contractors, commencing simultaneously for early completion. Currently, although Iranamadu Tank does not have sufficient water to satisfy the farmers’ needs, part of their water is planned to be diverted as drinking water to Jaffna Peninsula. 

Water needs of the north, especially north of Kilinochchi, depends on water stored in Iranamadu Tank (built by the British), while the Jaffna Peninsula depends on rain and ground water. Kilinochchi lands are sandy, water is easily absorbed to the ground. Water availability in Iranamadu allows only cultivation of 40% of lands. In the Jaffna Peninsula, uncontrolled drawing of ground water has resulted in sea-water seepage, making large extents of lands uncultivable.


Relationship between communities

With the changeover of education and official language to Sinhala, Tamils were reduced to second class citizens, resulting in the 30-year war. Now, after the Easter Sunday attacks, the public looks down on Muslims, creating another division.

Indian Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit had a few minutes’ discussion with a few Tamil MPs. It was reported that Modi had invited the Tamil MPs for a further discussion to discuss their grievances. It is clear that Modi, having been elected for a second term, wishes to spread his influence over neighbours. 

The political campaign in 1956 was supported by the Buddhist clergy and their influence over the society is increasing, involving more and more in politics. Buddhist priest and MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero has demanded education in the north and east be in Tamil and the rest be in Sinhala, a move sure to divide the country.  

The Buddhist priests have forgotten or overlooked that Lord Buddha, whose father was the King, never got involved in the father’s administration works.

If a future government wishes to convert education to English as suggested above, it will meet opposition from the Buddhist clergy, fearing loss of their influence. But English would allow all communities to study in a single school and religion-based schools would become redundant. With English, Muslims would move away from Arabism and become members of a single society. 

The transfer of a substantial amount of water to Iranamadu tank would fulfil irrigation water requirements of the farmer population of Kilinochchi, also drinking water and irrigation needs of Jaffna Peninsula. 

The people in the north have not requested, nor are in a position to demand, that water from Moragahakanda or any other source be sent to them. If sufficient water from Moragahakanda were to be diverted to Iranamadu, it would certainly be a gift from the people of the south. The gesture would certainly be appreciated by the northerners who would be grateful to their southern counterparts, resulting in cordial relations between north and south. 


The country’s way forward

The Presidential Election is only a few months away. If a candidate offers English medium education as suggested above, parents wishing to educate their children in English and also broadminded citizens would be sure to support. 

The accelerated Moragahakanda project offering water to the north could be completed by 2024. With sufficient water, northern farmers would cultivate, making the country self-sufficient in onions, potatoes and others. Northern soil is sandy and cannot support paddy and would not compete with southern paddy farmers. When the northerners get water from the south they would prosper and be grateful to southerners and will not demand separatism, bringing peace to north and south forever. 

When a presidential candidate offers accelerated Moragahakanda water to the north, the entire Tamil population will support. Both proposals together will bind the communities together, without second class citizens, leading to a peaceful prosperous country, away from foreign political interference.

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