The Galoya Valley Scheme & the People who made it a Reality

KK De Silva, who was an employee of the RVDB from 1967-1979







 Sir James Emerson Tennent, Colonial Secretary from 1845 to 1850, at page 432 of his book, Account of the Island of Ceylon ….. Vol. II says that on a visit to the Horra-bora Tank (Soraborawewa ), then in ruins, he was so impressed with its magnificense & potential for rice cultivation that after subsequent inspections of other ancient tanks in the Northern Division , he proposed in 1848 that measures be taken to restore important ancient reservoirs by legislative action; his proposal was approved, but action delayed due to unavoidable circumstances, possibly the 1848 uprising, & legislation was introduced later, when Sir Henry Ward was Governor, by way of the Irrigation Ordinance No. 9 of 1856 . Soraborawewa was restored in 1876. (Arumugam,1969).

The Irrigation Department was established by the British in Ceylon on 15 th May 1900 & it had taken over the following schemes which were then under the Public Works Department. : Kala Wewa ; City Tanks of Anuradhapura.; Minneri, Giritale & Topa Wewa.; Pattipola Aru in Batticaloa.; Giant’s Tank in Mannar.;  Tissa Wewa & Walawe Ganga.; Deduru Oya. ( History of the Irrigation Dept. . Among these it is the Pattipola Aru scheme that gave rise to the Gal Oya Valley Scheme.
“The ancient system had been partially restored in the form of the Pattipola Aru Irrigation Scheme which occupied the inland delta of the Gal Oya in the middle basin of the river, as well as other irrigation schemes dependent on restored ancient reservoirs, which were collectively described as Purana lands in the Gal Oya project, to distinguish them from the newly developed lands.” ( Economic Review March 1977)

Roberts (2020), whose dissertation for the D. Phil at Oxford University in the early 1960s centred on ” British Agrarian Policy in the Mid-Nineteenth Century “, refers to a young AGA in Uva, named Bailey, who identified the irrigation potentialities of the Pattipola Aru river in the 1850s (in effect anticipating the Gal Oya project of the mid-20th century) & to a visit to the region by the then Governor, who left an account of the journey in a Volume of Speeches & Minutes of Sir Henry Ward, available at the Peradeniya University Library. The restoration of the system would have been taken up later based on Bailey’s observations. (John Bailey also found an ancient stone pillar near the Soraborawewa in 1857 – Siddham Database – & it is now preserved in the Senerath Paranawithana Memorial Library in Badullla).

  1. Background & Political Leadership

2.1 Rt. Hon. Don Stephen Senanayake , Minister of Agriculture & Lands : 1931 to 1947; Prime Minister : 24.9.1947 – 22.3.1952
He identified the need for the country to attain self sufficiency in food, uplift the lives of the farming community, promote industrial activity , take steps to minimise the effect of natural calamities such as seasonal floods, drought etc. & concentrated on a) the restoration of ancient irrigation schemes in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa & other areas to make available irrigable land for cultivation, b) the introduction of the Land Development Ordinance, c) the promotion of agricultural activities utilising modern methods, d) the founding of the cooperative movement etc .

In the 1930s the settlement of people in large irrigation schemes, was undertaken to: a) increase food production, particularly paddy, by opening up irrigable land. b) relieve population pressure of the densely populated parts of the country c) provide employment opportunities to the increasing population. d) protect the peasant farmers as a class. e) promote agricultural development.

In 1939 he presented a report on ‘Aided Land Colonisation’ to the State Council & recommended : 1) a farm size to ensure an economically independent settler, 2) specific planning of cultivation programs, 3) a liberal system of assistance, 4) systematic planning of projects. Nine settlement projects covering over 14,000 acres of paddy land were established during the period 1935-1947. (Economic Review September 1986).

In a book authored by him titled “Agriculture & Patriotism” , published in 1935, he writes that ” the distribution of population in the various parts of the country is such that migration from ovèr-populous zones to less crowded areas will soon become not a matter of choice, but a grim necessity” (Senanayake 1935,p20).
He was constantly exploring ways & means of attaining these goals & he was closely following the studies then being made on the feasibility of developing the Gal Oya Valley & its potential. When he was elected as the Prime Minister on 24 September, 1947 one of his immediate priorities was the development of the Gal Oya Valley. Brohier (1934), outlines the philosophy which guided him as follows : “His self-sufficiency promotion thrust in relation to agriculture was guided by three interrelated considerations: first, as a technology based on science, second, as an industry based on tradition and thirdly, a business to be founded on economics and not merely a way of life”.

Strauss (1951) points out that for years the Ceylon government discussed the Gal Oya scheme without taking any positive action, & that as a result of a discussion PM Senanayake had with the Commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) & US Ambassador Joseph Satterthwaite for two hours, the project became a reality. PM Senanayake was no doubt the driving force behind the Gal Oya Valley Scheme . People of that era recall him travelling by cart, on horseback & on the back of an elephant on his inspection tours to the Gal Oya valley, in the early stages of its development.

  2.2  Hon. Dudley Shelton Senanayake, B.A (Natural Sciences Tripos, Cambridge), Barrister at Law (Lincoln Inn)

Minister of Agriculture & Lands 24.9.47-25.3.1952, – Prime Minister 26.3.1952-11.10.1953; 21.3,1960-20.7.1960; 25.3.1965-28.5.1970

He took over the Ministry at a time when the planning of the Gal Oya project  was in its final stages & he was responsible for the implementation of the project at its commencement. The construction of the dam & reservoir was completed during this period. Downstream development commenced when he was appointed PM. Again, it was during his third stint as PM that the winding up of the project took place under the newly formed River Valleys Development Board from 1965 to 1970. In November 1966, a Committee was appointed to evaluate the Gal Oya project in order to “ascertain the economic and social returns of investments made, and provide guidance for future development projects of a similar kind”. (Economic Review, 1977). It was also during his premiership that a bronze statue of D. S. Senanayake facing the Senanayake Samudra was placed on 24 March 1968, to commemorate D. S. Senanayake’s 16 th death anniversary on 22 March, 1968. (Punchihewa, 1998).

  2.3 Hon. C. P. De Silva C.C.S.

Minister of Agriculture & Lands, 1956-1959; Minister of Power & Irrigation, July 1960-1964; Minister of Lands, Irrigation & Power, 1965-1970.

With the change of government in 1956 many policy changes took place, but the work on the Gal Oya Valley Scheme continued as planned earlier. This was probably due the fact that he was closely associated with many settlement schemes as a civil servant & with the Senanayakes, father & son, & was convinced himself of the value of such schemes to the country. Moreover, he & Dudley Senanayake were class mates at St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. He was known as “Minneriya Deviyo” for his role in restoring & rehabilitating the Minneriya tank. (Wijedasa, 2015 ). He was largely responsible for erecting the statue of D. S. Senanayake at the Senanayake Samudra.(Jiggins, 1979).

2.4 P. B. Bulankulame Dissawe, Attorney at Law.(pix n/a) ………….. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture & Lands, Dudley Senanayake from 1947 to 1952 & Minister of Lands & Land Development from 1952 to 1956 under Premier, Dudley Senanayake & Premier, Sir John Kotelawela. He was associated with the Gal Oya Scheme from 1947 to 1956.

  1. The Role of the Irrigation Department (ID)

3.1 J. S. Kennedy M.C, M.A, BSc (Glas), A.M.I.C.E., Irrigation Engineer & later Director of Irrigation, 1935-1939

He was the Irrigation Engineer, Batticaloa & the Pattipola Aru scheme came under his purview. The area was prone to seasonal flooding & long periods of drought. He had originally conceived the possibility of constructing a large reservoir, to be held up by a dam at Inginiyagala, primarily, to reduce flood damage in the flood season and shortage of irrigation water in the areas covered by the partially restored Pattipola Aru & other schemes, known as purana lands, which were expected to benefit from the reservoir. (Economic Review, March 1977). He is described as a brilliant Scottish Engineer (Dharmasena,1989) & it was he who selected the site of the dam at Inginiyagala, while many illustrious engineers eventually contributed to the investigation, design & construction of the Galoya Project.(Dharmasena, 2000). Wijesundara (2006) also confirms that the idea of damming the river to prevent flooding, produce hydro- electric power & provide water for farm & domestic use had first originated in his mind.

In 1933 he presented a paper on the : Evolution of Scientific Development of Village Irrigation Works” at the then Engineering Association of Ceylon. After assuming duties as Director of Irrigation in 1935, he had in 1936 summoned senior irrigation officials for a discussion on the proposed first-ever multipurpose project & preliminary investigations, enginering surveys etc commenced under his direction. A Hydraulic Research Laboratory was officially opened by His Excellency Governor  Sir Andrew Caldecott on May 21,1938.

It was at this time that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a U.S. government agency was established in 1933 to control floods, improve navigation, improve the living standards of farmers, and produce electrical power along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. It involved a massive program of building dams, hydroelectric generating stations, and flood-control projects & the first dam, the Norris Dam, was launched on October 1, 1933. (Encyclopaedia Brittanica ).

This development would not have gone unnoticed in Ceylon & would have influenced policy makers & engineers to think in terms of moving away from the existing policy of restoring ancient irrigation works/cascade systems & undertaking multi purpose reservoir projects.

3.2 S. G. Taylor, B.Sc. (Eng). A. M. I. C. E., Director of Irrigation 1939 – 1950
Taylor became Director in 1939. “Taylor was a great task master, frank in speech and treated everyone without a sign of partiality. He wanted a capable engineer to assist him and hand picked D. W. R. Kahawita, a Ceylonese engineer of great talent. The success of Taylor as Director was mainly due to Kahawita, an excellent designs engineer whose project reports and designs were some of the best found in the Irrigation Department (ID) archives “.(Dharmasena, 1989) .

In 1942, the Training, Research and Designs Division was created under the eminent engineer R.V. Bums & he established a River Gauging Division and the Soil Mechanics Laboratory. (History of the Irrigation Department, www.irrigation. The collection of engineering data for the Gal Oya project continued under his direction & was completed by 1947 when a political decision was taken to set up the Gal Oya Multi-purpose Development Scheme on the lines of the Tennesee Valley Authority. (Economic Review, 1986).

At this time in India, the Damodar Valley Project & the Mahanadi Valley Project modelled on the TVA was already under way.

Arrangements were finalized during this period for the commencement of the Gal Oya Valley Scheme, the Contracting Agency commenced work in March 1949, & the project was launched on 28 August, 1949. (Wijesundara, 2006)

3.3 W. T. I. Alagaratnam, A. C.E. (Madras) A.M.I.C.E. A.M.I.W.E., Irrigation Engineer
He was assigned the responsibility of walking into the wilderness,  set up camp at Inginiyagala & carry out the preliminary surveys and investigations. It was he who produced the first artist’s impression of the envisaged project. (Dharmasena, 2000). He was the first Ceylonese to be appointed as an Irrigation Engineer.3.4 D. W. R. Kahawita, B.A. (Mechanical Sciences Tripos, Cambridge), Designs & Research Engineer
Preliminary designs and estimates were prepared by him & it was he who took them to the Consultants, the International Engineering Co., Denver, Colorado, USA. “They were greatly impressed on receiving such a complete and comprehensive set of drawings, soil tests, gauge readings and all other information necessary to formulate and design a multipurpose project as those supplied by the ID of Ceylon, & brought credit to the officers of the ID responsible for the collection and presentation of the information required.” (Dharmasena , 2000).

Rowley (2013 ) refers to him as one of the few qualified engineers, “a Ceylonese gentleman,” who had recently departed for Denver to participate in the design planning for the Gal Oya and Walawe multiple-purpose projects. ……….. When “the Ceylonese gentleman” returned from his work in Denver, he took charge of the Hydraulic Laboratory for Irrigation Development. His participation in the Denver design team’s efforts and his previous training as an engineer made him a key figure and decision maker in the project.
In 1949 the Designs & Research Branch was headed by him & he was assisted by Designs Engineer –V . D. Kothare & Actg. Designs Engineer.–V. N. Rajaratnam.

3.5 Survey Department

Surveyors attached to the department carried out contour surveys of the entire area commanded by the dam .(Dharmasena, 2000)

3.6 Dr. A. W. R. Joachim, the 1st Ceylonese Director of Agriculture
made a reconnaissance soil survey of the area. . (Dharmasena, 2000)
Testing of soil samples of the burrow areas at Inginiyagala was done later in the ID Soil Mechanics laboratory.


3.7 M. C. Abraham, B.Sc. (Eng.), Divisional Irrigation Engineer/Resident Engineer, Gal Oya Scheme, 1949. He (an Indian Engineer) carried out the construction of the A class access road from Kalmunai to Inginiyagala & the reinforced concrete bridge across the Namal Oya. The work was completed in 15 months. (Dharmasena, 2000. P462 ). He later monitored the work done by the foreign contractors on the Gal Oya dam as Resident Engineer until his premature retirement. (Wijesundara, 2006). He returned from retirement,under the FAO Technical Assistance Program & was the Chief Engineer, Irrigation for about 10 years after the construction of the dam was completed. (Wijesundara, 2006)

3.8 H.O. T. Scharenguivel, B.Sc. (Eng), A.M.I.C.E , A. M. I. St. E., Resident Engineer Galoya Scheme 1949-1953He took over from M C. Abraham as the Resident Engineer. During the construction of the reservoir & dam, he was the link between the ID & the Contractors, MKI. Strauss (1951) refers to him as an ID Inspector who was protecting the interests of the Ceylonese government, that he maintained good relations with MKI staff & had complimented them on their efficiency as builders but pointed out that they were expensive.

3.9 W. A. Guthrie, B.Sc. (Eng), Director of Irrigation 1950 – 1952

On Taylor’s retirement, Guthrie succeeded him, at a time when Gal Oya activities were in full swing. He was heavily involved in & concentrated more on the work being done by MKI . His Deputy W. T. I. Alagaratnam, an efficient and willing assistant to Guthrie, handled much of the departmental work.  (Dharmasena, 1989).

3.10 W. T. I. Alagaratnam O. B. E. , M. I. C. E., M. I. W. E. , Director of Irrigation , 1952- 1955
He was the first Ceylonese to be appointed as Director of Irrigation . He was earlier responsible for the initial surveys & investigations to ascertain the feasibilty of the project. Although the GODB was now managing the project he continued to interact with the Board of Directors on matters where his expertise was required & ID staff were resident in the project area, with specific responsibilities.


3.11 ID Staff at Ampara – Gal Oya Scheme

Divisional Irrigation Engineer : M. C. Abraham;
Engineers : C. Sabaratnam ; H. Delay; J. M. Hensman; G. N. Anghie; M. M. Ismail


Resident Engineer- H. O. T. Scharenguivel; Deputy Resident Engr. – W. H. Delay ; Field Engr.— A. H. Mertens ; Office Engr.—D. J. Ramanayake ; Accountants—S. V. F. Selvanayagarn, E. F. M. Selvaratnam & J. A. Jeharaja.

Senior Construction Engineer, Irrigation Facilities : Dr. H. Schildknecht; W. Rajakone
Resident Engineer – H. O. T. S. Scharenguivel ; .

Deputy Resident Engineer – A. H. Mendis;

Accountants – B. S. Perera, E. F. M. Selvaratnam, F. P. De Z Siriwardena

Asst. Irrigation Engineers : A. T. G. A. Wickremasuriya, R. J. Abraham,       A. Maheswaran, P. Sivasubramaniam, C. W. E. Rosa, S. Tharmananthar,    M. C. B. Mendis,

Asst. Mech. Supdt : P. A. M. Guinan
Resident Engineer—H. 0. T. Scharenguivel; Asst. Irrigation Engineers : A. T. G. A. Wickramasuriya.; A. Maheswaran;

Mechanical Engineer—F. E. Siggers; Accountants— E. F. M. Selvaratnam, S. Pattmmanathan, F. P. De Z Siriwardena (Temp)

Gal Oya Channels Division
Divisional Office– Div. Irrigation Engineer, Kalmunai – Jahangir Singh.

Irrigation Engineer- M. M. Ismail
Asst. Irrigation Engineers—C. C. T. Fernando. ; P. Sivasubramaniam,;
A. F. Dias-Abeyesinghe (Temp.) ; R. S. Tharmananthan, G. V. Gunawardena (Temp.) H. M. Ernst (Temp.)! Accountant – S. Ratnasabapathy

  1. American Participation
    4.1 US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)
    According to Rowley (2013) the involvement of the BOR arose in 1946 on a request by the US State Department to undertake the design of 2 engineering projects in Ceylon & a contract was entered into for this purpose in September 1946.
    Thereafter BOR assisted in the following activities : of the Hydraulic Laboratory in Ceylon for river modelling ;
  • training an Engineer (unnamed) in Denver ; .
  • assigning Paul von der Lippe, Engineer as Consultant & H. Tomlinson, Agriculture Technician as Adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture & Lands in Colombo;
  • coordinating the visit of D.W.R. Kahawita to Denver to participate in the design planning of the Gal Oya & Walawe schemes.
  • providing the services of the following : Dr. J. L. Savage, world renowned dam expert, John Cotton, Consulting Engineer, L. M. McCllelan, Chief Engineer BOR, D. J. Bleifuss, Engineer International Engineering Company, throughout the planning, designing & construction phases;
  • carrying out earth materials tests at BOR Laboratories;
  • assisting the government in negotiations with Morrison Knudsen International (MKI), the Contractor.


Paul von der Lippe was a Specialist in Canal, Dam, Power Plant structural design & his assignment in Ceylon included: recommending solutions on economic, technical administrative & policy matters on a wide variety of projects including water resources development & related industrial & economic development ; giving expert engineering advise on rehabilitating ancient irrigation works; overlooking the construction of a 30 mile road to the dam site, advising on the Gal Oya dam & power plant, serving as Engineering Consultant to the Ceylon Development Planning Board & serving as liaison between MKI & Ministry of Irrigation.(Reclamation Era Volume 37, p. 208)

BOR did not handle any design/construction work , which was entrusted to private contractors : International Engineering Company of Denver, Colarado & Morrison Knudsen International of Boise, Idaho.

4.2 International Engineering Co, Denver, Colorado

Designs, specifications and estimates for the project, were prepared based on data presented to “The International.Engineering Co. Inc. of Denver Colorado, USA, a subsidiary of the Morrison Knudsen International Co. I nc.. who later secured the contract for the construction of the main dam”.(Economic Review, March 1977).

An interesting issue had arisen regarding the scope of the proposed Spillway, & the original design for the spillway of the Gal Oya reservoir prepared by the US consultants was considerably increased by local technologists who were confident that a much larger design flood had to be provided for. This decision was amply justified when the phenomenal floods in December 1957 and January 1958 hit the valley. It has been said that “the expenses incurred by the taxpayer on this project were already prepaid by the sole activity of this reservoir during the flood”. (Economic Review March 1977).

In regard to the original design of the spillway , the American view as expressed by Rowley (2013 ) is different. At a conference held on 7 September, 1948 in the Resident Engineer’s , Inginiyagala , D. J. Bleifuss, Engineer of International Engineering Company “had insisted that the maximum capacity be provided for dam safety, whereas Kahawita had suggested a more limited spillway.” The Director of Irrigation had been requested to resolve this impasse, & finally Bleifuss’s advice was followed.

4.3 Morrison-Knudsen International Company (MKI) of Boise, Idaho – America Contractors
In November 1948, the contract for the construction of the earth filled dam etc was awarded to MKI & they commenced work in March 1949 & completed the task (headworks) entrusted to them in November 1951.

According to Colliers Magazine of 2nd Aug. 1952, “Morrison-Knudsen Company, Inc., of 319 Broadway, Boise, Idaho, is something special on the American scene. Although relatively unknown, it is a spectacular example of American enterprise and daring, the largest construction company on earth and builder extraordinary to the world. M-K says mildly: “We are prepared to undertake the engineering and construction of projects of any magntiude anywhere.” Morrison-Knudsen has had a competent hand in building the biggest things man has ever dared to put together and has probably done more to re- arrange the face of the earth than any other outfit. In Ceylon, leopards and Russell’s vipers were minor hazards until the jungle could be cleared for Gal Oya Dam, but mosquitoes were the real enemies until DDT went to work. ”


4.4 Terms of the contract with MKI

For the first time in Sri Lanka a major contract was awarded, on a cost plus fixed fee basis, in this case cost plus 11 % of the agreed target estimate of dollars 10.5 million to be paid in US dollars. Subsequently, the target estimate was adjusted to approximately $11.6 million and the construction which was estimated to take 52 months. (Economic Review March 1977).

Snaps of the work being done …and the arena taken by Bleifuus












4.5 Construction Phase 


4.5.1 An American perspective

  • MKI received the US$15 million contract to build the Gal Oya Dam in early 1949.
  • Staff of 60 American supervisors and 1,400 Ceylonese laborers started construction on the project in April 1949.
  • Morrison Knudsen personnel built their own “typical United States hamlet for themselves and their families” in the jungle near the dam and reservoir location.”
  • The Gal Oya undertaking was inaugurated in 1949 with the following words from Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake: “Gal Oya has become almost a household word. It is symbolic of New Lanka. May it obtain fulfillment speedily and herald the progress of our march towards self-sufficiency.””
  • The government’s vision of Gal Oya development concentrated on irrigating Ceylon’s vast Dry Zone lands, regions in the eastern and northern parts of the island that were the site of Ceylon’s great irrigation works two thousand years previously.
  • In 1954 geographer Clifford MacFadden spoke in glowing terms of “Ceylon’s little TVA” in the Gal Oya valley. MacFadden himself served as chair of geography at the University of Ceylon, a position that was jointly sponsored by the State Department under the Smith-Mundt Act and the University of Ceylon. (Sneddon, 2015)

4.5.2 MKI perspective of the Construction Phase

Extracts from pages 9 & 18 of the Emkayan Magazine of November 1949

Two Dams Ceylon

60 M-K-International men direct 1,000 Ceylonese in building flood-control, irrigation and power works.

LAST FEBRUARY M-K’s operations in the Near and Middle East swung on around to the Far East and southward, left the Asiatic mainland and hopped off the southeastern coast of India onto the Island of Ceylon, a British Crown colony of 25,332 square miles (a little larger than West Virginia) and 5,300,000 people. Morrison-Knudsen International Company, Inc., had received a contract from the Irrigation Department of Ceylon to build Gal Oya Dam and Power. house. Actually there are to be two dams, located about a half-mile apart. one of them a rolled earth fill, the other a concrete spillway dam.

Last month some 60 American supervisors and more than 1,000 Ceylonese workmen were making excellent head way under the leadership of Harry B. Olson, a noted M-K superintendent of many past operations at home and abroad, who had last previously been construction manager of the immense spread of military building operations on the Island of Guam. (See list of per-sonnel and map, page 18.)

Pictures on this page are snapshots made by Don J. Bleifuss, chief engineer of International Engineering Company. Ine., which designed the Gal Oya   project that later was contracted to M-K International. Ceylon’s Department of Irrigation is a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture. During the months that International Engineering men were planning and designing the project. Mr. Richard Kahawita was in the United States as the department’s representative assisting in the work. Ceylon is a country of pleasant and equable climate ranging from 60 to 95 degrees with cool nights, heavy rains from October through March but light enough the balance of the year that irrigation is necessary. The job is scheduled for probable completion in June of 1952.

This dual-dam construction is a multiple-purpose project having the three main functions of flood control, regulating irrigation water supply, and generating electric power. The powerhouse, to be built of reinforced concrete, will contain four generating units, each to produce 2,750 kilowatts: but only two of the generators are to be installed under this contract, the others when required by future demands.

Last May Mr. and Mrs. W. Morrison visited the project (see Those Were the Days, page 16), and engineers of International Engineering and M-K International make periodical inspection trips to this, the newest of the com-pany’s Asiatic operations. END (See CEYLON EM KAYANS page 18)

4.5.3 MKI Supervisors of the Project
(See story, page 9)

Harry B. Olson, Construction Manager: George J. Gavin, Administrative Manager and Chief Engineer: William Bushing, Secretary; George A. Miller. Office Manager: Edward S.Huddleston, Chief Accountant; L. N. MacFarlane, Chief Storekeeper: John Van Scherpenzeel, Camp Manager; Lynn Porter, Expediter(Colombo); Gusiave de la Torre, Personnel (Colombo): Stanley B. Waters, Office Engineer: Harry Ackerman. Cost Engineer: Robert Dowida, Safety Engineer; J. L. Johnson and William Orton, Chiefs of Party; S. A. Strachan, Doctor; John C. Chandler, Chief Time-keeper:Ross W.Rhodes, Paymaster.

Superintendents: Moss Hoover, Excavation; Ray Blanchard, Mechanical; Rex Chaffin, Quarry, Clande R.Burnett, Building: J. P. Bermann, Steel.
Assistant Superintendents: R.C.Edwards, Excavation; Henry M. Machado, Mechanical.
General Foremen:Howard Stokes and George Hanson, Excavation; L.H.Heffner, Drilling and Blasting; John C. Randall and Charles W. Henderson, Mechanical: John A. Pearson, Electrical; D. E. Garner, Crusher.
Foremen: Clarence Morton, Parts Warehoune: Erven M.Cerley, Crushing: Roy C. Lund, Batch: Frank Chuba, Drilling-quarry: E. N. Underwood, Concrețe; ‘H. W.’Erickson, Clean-up: J. E. Comstock; Steel-Structural; James H. Akin, Steel-reinforcing: Pete Looft and Jack La Marr, Drilling-excavation; Louis Smith, Blasting; Thomas MeDermott, M. E.Hubbard, Ernest Chee and Roy Frazier, Excavation; Francis J. La Plante, Mill: Martin Cansidy, Machinist: S. P. Smith and Mvron J. Appleman, Mechanical: Paul Barnes and II. W. Garrison, Service; E. L. Shovan, Transportation: Ray Tipton, Plumbing..
Sub-Foremen: Jack Richmond.John Pidgeon and Wesley L. Crawford, Welding; Otis Caldwell, Harlan Utley, Lemon K. Wharton, Clifford L. Miller and Onis Carpenter, Excavation.

4.5.4 Criticism levelled at MKI


“It was not widely appreciated that this contract was executed on a cost plus basis so that the contractor could and did equip himself with all facilities including personal transport (jeeps, and cars) air-conditioned living quarters, a well equipped club house which boasted even a juke box, a refrigerated supply van which was reputed to have run virtually continuously between Colombo and Gal Oya bringing consumption goods like beer, during the course of the contract, and so on. ” ( Economic Review March 1977).

MKI was aware of this criticism as it had been raised at the beginning, & their response was as follows : “The construction camp paid for by the Ceylonese government but built to the specs of MK , was unusual & excellent, located in the middle of the jungle. It consisted of high class permanent buildings that would be considered lavish on a Reclamation job in any of the 17 Western States. In hand were a hospital, a staff doctor, & most modern and finely equipped mess hall with all electric kitchen, comfortable furnishings, and reasonably  plenty machinery of all types. The expenditure therefore all paid by the Ceylonese government under the MK contract was justified by the contractor on the ground that this type of establishment was necessary to secure the skilled, experienced technicians MK was bringing to the island from the American West Coast operations, plus the established fact that comfortably healthy construction camps are generally good investments. There was only a minor complaint from the Ceylonese government regarding the expenses for the layout. ” (Strauss, 1951.)

4.5.5 Recollections of the Children of MKI Staff

Ron Utley

My father worked for Morrison Knudsen and built the earth filled dam across the Gal Oya river. I was thirteen years old and lived at the main camp for eighteen months with my father and other American construction workers. I will be seventy years old this year and I often think of the many enjoyable times and friends that were part of my life in Inginiyagala and Uhana. Uhana was a borrow pit area for top soil used in the construction of the dam.I have too many stories to tell about in this message so I would just say I hope that not too much has changed over the years. It was truly a wonderful time then. Thank you, Ron Utley 31 May 2008
on November 28, 2008 at 7:05 pm | Reply
Ron –
Thank you so much for sharing your memories. I’m the 60 year old son of 93 y.o. Jack who also worked as your father did for Morrision Knudsen construction company previously headquartered here in Boise, Idaho. Jack worked in Ceylon on the Gal Oya project back in 1949 – 1950. He recalls meeting up with the folks from the family camp at the evening movie showings under a big tented area. Perhaps you were there at that time. Jack also mentioned the older trains used there were similar to ones used during the Panama Canal construction. Jack remembers when the Gal Oya dam area under construction was flooded causing them to have to start all over again with the removal of back down to bedrock. Apparently when the monsoon rains came it raised the river some 35 ft over night, causing the trees to become full of snakes and monkeys escaping the floods. Jack worked in Ceylon under agreement that when the dam got topped out that the employer,MK’s,would pay for his return flight back to Idaho to re-join his wife and three young children. Jack worked 12 hours every day for 7 months without a day off. His work shift started at 6 p.m. worked all night untill 6 a.m. the next morning. The local people working on that project would be paid a sum of .20 US cents per day plus some food and camping allowances for the lowest skilled labors. Skilled native workers were paid $1 US dollar per day.My father Jack brought back many momentos from his work stay in Ceylon. All during my childhood I was fascinated by his stories and momentos. During my post college days I traveled to India and Ceylon overland from England on the infamous “hippy trail” and experience these fascinating countries and people as they were back in 1975. We would like to hear more of your and others memories stories and experiences associated with the Gal Oya region.
on December 1, 2008 at 5:06 am | Reply
Thomas Frazier
Mr. Utley,
My, what a pleasant surprise! Your father, Harlan, worked with my father Roy Frazier on this job. I met your dad years ago in Port Arthur, and I enjoyed the day as he and dad talked of old times. I have quite a few pictures taken of the jobsite and the surrounding country. You no doubt have many wonderful stories of floods, snakes, elephants, and people I would love to hear.
One of the most memorable things about the visit with your dad was that he had the opportunity to return to the project years after its completion. His opinion was that it had helped transform the surrounding region into a lush, productive, garden like farming area. He remarked that of the many jobs he had been a part of, the Gal Oya project, and its positive effect on the area, was by far the one he was proudest of.
I hope this message and my e-mail address is forwarded to you. My e-mail is
Best regards, Thomas.
on December 1, 2008 at 5:14 am | teply
Mary Huddleston Portugal
Thomas Frazier and Ron Utley,
What a surprise for me this morning. I was just checking on dams built in Sri Lanka and found this website. My brother and I lived in the camp with Ron Utley and I remember pictures of your parents. That was a wonderful life for us living in Sri Lanka. It was and I’m sure still is a beautiful region where the dam was built. My dad worked for Morrison Knudsen for years and we had a wonderful life living and traveling the world. Thomas, I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you ever heard from Ron. My brother and I have often wondered where he is. Just the other night I had a call from Jim Aiken who also lived there during the construction and worked for Morrison Knudsen. My Email address is

4.5.6 Contacts with the Tennesee Valley Authority (TVA)


TVA (1952 p. 47) provides basic details of the project/ proposed projects & records that :

  • technicians & students from Ceylon visited the TVA, &
  • detailed information, including technical reports, regarding the TVA development were sent to Ceylonese officials at their request.
  • TVA (1961 p. 16) also provides details of the project & records that :
  • the Gal Oya project was completed in 1952;
  • an American firm of consulting engineers had secured the contract in connection with the development of the Walawe river basin & that detailed investigations have been completed;
  • plans for a flood control project in Colombo are under way;
  • 2 TVA employees , J. P. Ferris & J. W. Frink served in Ceylon in a professional capacity as advisors;
  • nearly 60 persons from Ceylon visited the Tennessee Valley Project.

There is no doubt that the success of the TVA inspired policy makers to establish a similar organisation here to manage the Gal Oya Valley Scheme . The TVA , however, was very much larger in scale. In the words of the TVA , “the island’s 25,000 square miles is not quite two thirds of the area of the Tennesee Valley. ”

  1. Scope of the Project

The Project involved :
1. the construction of thd biggest reservoir in the island by damming the Gal Oya river;
2. the construction of a number of other smaller reservoirs & anicuts;
3. the incorporation of a number of already restored medium scale reservoirs into the system.

Headworks were completed in 1951 ; the development of the Left Bank took place between 1951 & 1960, & the Right Bank from 1957 to 1964.

It was intended to serve multiple purposes : Irrigation, Flood Control, Domestic Water Supply, Hydro Power.

The irrigable area under the reservoir was stated originally as follows:
LB Channel 25,000 ha or 61,776 acres ; RB Channel 11,500 or 28,417 acres ; River Division 13,000 ha or

32,123 acres ; Total  49,500 ha or 122,326 acres. (

Gal Oya is a river , 108 km long, which rises in the hill country east of Badulla and flows through the south east of Sri Lanka passing Inginiyagala & empties into the Indian Ocean 16 km south of Kalmunai.

The river was dammed at Inginiyagala creating the Gal Oya reservoir & named after D. S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon from 1947 to 1952, who took the initiative for the creation of the reservoir during his stewardship. The reservoir was named “Senanayake Samudra ” on one of his vists to the Project in 1950, prior to completion. (Wijesundara, 2006, p.53).

Catchment area : 384 sq.miles;
Earthern dam : 3600 ft long, 140 ft. high, 30 ft wide; 2 M cu.yds. of earth.
Storage capacity : 770000 acre ft. of water. Spread : 30 sq. miles
Concrete spill : Overall length 1020 ft. Spill length : 770 ft. long, 60 ft. high ; Doors : 6;  Sluice : 13 ft diameter pipe.
Hydro power
Penstock tubes : 714 ft long, 13 ft in diameter; Generators : 4;
Capacity : 10 MW  (later, 11.25 MW)

Irrigation Supply : Target – 80,000 acres LB ; 40,000 acres RB.

Cost : Rs. 750 lakhs (1949)

Irrigation Water
LB Channel : 32 miles ; RB Channel : 22 miles

Source : Arumugam (1969)

The Reservoir System
Left Bank -New tanks by GODB

Aligalge 1950-1951 Conveyance Tank; Himidurawa 1951-1952; Namal Oya 1961-1962.

Left Bank – already restored tanks incorporated into the system : Kondavattavan; Ampara; Valathippiddy; Veeragoda; Chadayantalawa.

Right Bank – New tanks by GODB

Navakiri Aru 1950-1954; Ekgal Aru 1955-1957; Alahena 1957-1959; Pallang Oya 1957-1960; Malayadi 1959-1961; Andella oya ? ; Ambalan Oya ? ; Pannal Oya  ?

Right Bank – already restored tanks incorporated into the system

Irrakkhamam; Balagolla.

Source : Arumugam (1969)

Power Generation

Power Plant : 4 units : 1 & 2 commissioned in 1952 ; 3 & 4 commissioned in 1962. The 4 units produce 11.25 MW. Equipment donated by Canada under the Colombo Plan. Installed by Canadian engineers.


6.1 GODB was created by the Gal Oya Development Board Act No. 51 of 1949 enacted on 24th November 1949, and commenced to function on 15 th December 1949. Its operation was financed from a fund to which annual contributions were made by Government, in addition to revenues raised by the Board.under the powers’ vested in it. The GODB took over the responsibilty of managing the Project from the Irrigation Department in 1949 & did do till 1965, when with the formation of the River Valleys Development Board, the latter organisation took over its management.

The principal functions of the Board as specified in Section 8 of this Act were the following

(a) To develop the undeveloped area;
(b) To promote and operate schemes of (i) Irrigation; (ii) Water Supply; (iii) Drainage; (iv) Generation, Transmission & supply of Electrical enerrgy; and (v) Flood Control;
(c) To promote and control irrigation and fisheries;
(d)To promote afforestation;
(e)To control soil erosion;
(f) To promote better health;
(g)To prevent and control plant and animal diseases; and
(h) Generally to promote agricultural and industrial development and economic and cultural progress in the area of authority.

6.2. GODB : 1949 – 1965

6.2.1 H. J. Huxham, former Financial Secretary,Ceylon (1936-1946) , Chairman, 1949-1952;

Board Members : R. L. Brohier, F. R. I. C. S. , F. R. G. S. former Asst. Surveyor General, 1949 -1954 ; J. A. A. Amaratunga, Planter, 1949 -1957; W. J. A. Van Langenberg, C. C. S. 1949 -1953? (Treasury).
Resident Manager : H. S. Amerasinghe, C.C.S , 1949 -1952.
Secretary : Dr. N. Wijesekera, C. C. S., 1951-1952.

Major works & activities :

Work on the headworks was already in progress throughout 1950, 1951.

12 November 1951 – Last Euclid load was deposited on the dam. MKI completed the headworks;

10 December 1951 – Water was issued through irrigation outlets

January 1952 – Reservoir filled to elevation 245.0.

August, 1952 – Power Station taken over from MKI.

September 1952 – Final works were handed over.

25 November 1952 – Connection of the penstock to the surge tank & power house was made.

Preliminary work on commissioning 2 units of Power Plant commenced.  ………………………….. (Wijesundara, 2006).

RB Navakiri Aru Tank commenced in 1950.

Left Bank development commenced in 1951.

LB Aligalge conveyance tank completed 1950-1951

LB Himidurawa Conveyance tank commenced 1951

Construction of Ampara Airport undertaken.

1st batch of 296 colonists were settled in Units 1 & 2.

1500 colonists were settled in the next 10 units.

Planning & preparation for downstream development was ongoing.

Building of administration, residential & commercial buildings, hospitals, village centres, townships, colonist cottages, etc using local contractors commenced. Cooperatives were established.

Reservoir was named Senanayake Samudra in 1950, when it was nearing completion, at the time of a visit by Prime Minister Senanayake. (Wijesundara, 2006, p.53).

GODB had a staff of 340 officers by the beginning of 1951/1952 : 295 were Technical Officers while the balance 45 officers attended to administrative & other duties.

Chairman Huxham resigned with effect from 16 July 1952 & went to the UK on three month’s leave..

Unusual Event – Major Flood in January 1951

Wiickremasuriya (1951), Engineer attached to ID relates one of his experiences as follows : ” Inginiyagala was almost totally cut off from the rest of the country for about ten days. I owe a debt of gratitude to my Yankee friends who worked at Inginiyagla for loading my car and me to the top of one of those massive high level flat bottomed Euclids and sending me from Inginiyagala to Batticaloa, across deeply submerged roadways and dangerously damaged causeways, one of which was the one at Kallar. On being safely unloaded from the Euclid on reaching Batticaloa, I was compelled to avoid my usual route to Colombo via Manampitiya, and instead had to proceed via Bandarawela to reach my destination and destiny just two nights before the 25th January 1951, the day of my wedding.”
Visit by Distinguished Persons

Dr. B. C. Guha, Member of the Damodar Valley Corporation & Mr. E. R. Black, Chairman of the World Bank had visited the Scheme.

6.2.2 K. Kanagasundram, C.C.S, former Land Commissioner, Chairman , 1952-1957.

This was the most eventful period of the project during which bulk of the work was completed & the balance work was planned.

Board Members : R. L. Brohier, F. R. I. C. S. , F. R. G. S. former Asst. Surveyor General, 1949-1954 ; J. A. A. Amaratunga, Planter, 1949-1957 ; W. J. A. Van Langenberg, C. C. S. 1949-1953? (Treasury) ; N. E. Weerasooriya, QC, 1955-1957 ; W. D. Gunaratne, C.C.S, 1955 (Treasury) ; H. S. Amerasinghe, C.C.S, 1956-1957 (Treasury)

Resident Manager : M. S. Perera , C.C.S, 1952 – 1956 ; D. F. Abeywardena , B. Sc. Lond., 1957 – 1962. Deputy Resident Manager : O. P. C. B. P. Forbes, C. C. S. , 1956-1959 .
Secretary : T. C. S. Jeyaratnam, I. C. S. 1953-1962

Major works & activities

Building of administration, residential & commercial buildings, hospitals, village centres, townships, colonist cottages, etc using local contractors contnued.

2 units of the Power Plant were commissioned

LB Conveyance Tanks – Himidurawa Tank completed in 1952.
RB Conveyance Tanks – Alahena Tank commenced in 1957.
RB Ekgal Aru Tank completed in 1957. . Preliminary work on Pallang Oya Tank ( Jayanthi Wewa ), Namal Oya Tank commenced.

RB Navakiri Aru Tank completed in 1954.

Giant Rice Mill at Chavalakade almost completed.
Kondavattavan Tank, Valathippiddy Tank Veeragoda Tank, Chadayantalawa Tank , Irakhamam Tank, incorporated into the system.

Colombo – Ampara air service was inaugurated in June 1953.

Left Bank development started in 1951 was continuing.

Right Bank development was started in 1957.

Land settlement , Agriculture & Livestock Development,

Folk dancing, sewing, cooking , weaving etc for women started at Saskatchewan Centre with Canadian aid.

1765 colonists were settled in 12 units in 1952/53, 600 in 4 units in 1953/54,

619 in 4 units in 1954/55, 332 in 3 units in 1955/56. No colonists were settled in 1956/57.

Gal Oya National Park declared in 1954 to protect catchment area.

Technical Training Institute opened on 15 January, 1956

Establishment of Technical Training Institute (Excerpts from an article by Engr. Gamini Swarnapala)

Professor Evan A. Hardy, Head of the first foreign mission of UN/FAO and an experienced agricultural engineer, arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) as an advisor to the Government of Ceylon. He was the Head of Agricultural Engineering Department at Saskatchewan University, Canada.

He was called upon to set up a technical training institute at Ampara to produce local engineers and middle management technical officers needed for the development projects in the country, with financial assistance from the Colombo Plan, FAO and Asia Foundation. The architectural designs of the buildings and locations finalised were similar and identical to his University in Canada viz: University of Saskatchewan. Proper accommodation facilities was was provided to incoming staff & students. He prepared the curriculum and syllabus for the two-year diploma courses in six engineering disciplines viz: Agriculture, Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Soil and Survey.

On 15 January 1956, the Technical Training Institute (TTI) commenced . International donor countries such as UK and Canada classified it as a ‘Regional TTI’ for South East Asian countries. A large number of foreign students from various countries viz: Burma, Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand were enrolled while lecturers and experts came from the countries like UK, Poland, Germany, South Africa and India.

Recruitment of World War Refugee-Engineers
In a Speech made by Hon. Francis P. Bolton in the US House of Representatives, on 14 Feb. 1952, recorded in Congressional Record : Proceedings of the US Congress, 1952, Vol. 98. Part 8. Appendix A 871, he has stated as follows:
“To overcome how to leap the barrier against brains, so to speak, special representatives were sent throughout the world to find individual openings for refugee specialists. The results more than justified expectations. Ceylon, for example, recruited engineers for a gigantic reclamation project in the Gal Oya Valley.”
The Project benefitted from the expertise of a few highly experienced engineers who were recruited through the UN/ FAO. Among them were : Dr. Dolfino Dolfi, Dr.  Schildknecht, C. S. L. Frances, Burkhardt, Chekovitz.

Kanagasundaram (2017) , son of the then Chairman, refers to three of them as follows :
” Burkhart, a barrel-chested native of Danzig
He earned the respect of his tough Sinhala workers by being able to repair any type of machine with his bare hands. ”
“Chekovitz, a Jewish refugee from Czecoslovakia
He was the GODB architect – he introduced the concept of airy building using natural ventilation even before Geoffrey Bawa. He was responsible for the office and staff quarters.”
” Stan Francis – a gentle giant of a man from the South African railways.
Not only was a he a superb mechanical engineer but he was an excellent organizer and motivator who cajoled his Sinhala workers to Herculean heights. Morrison Knudsen had left behind all their heavy equipment used in the dam construction. Stan Francis set up a base workshop and repaired and refurbished these machines and had them ready for round the clock work on land clearing and building the irrigation system which was the responsibility of the GODB . My father later said that he not only had he saved the country millions in foreign exchange but also cut down the time required by six months “.

They had left Ceylon when conditions were conducive to return home.

Social Scene

Kanagasundaram (2017) describes the social scene in Gal Oya at the time as follows “Then the Gal Oya valley entered an idyllic period – the main objectives were being met on time, the farmers were bringing in their first crops, there was a thriving Club for officers of the GODB at Ampara with tennis, tombola for the ladies, bridge, snooker and carrom. It was a thriving community of Sinhalese , Tamils and especially Burghers attracted by the pioneering challenge.”

Unusual Events
1. Anti- Tamil Riots at Gal Oya from 11 to 14 June, 1956.
It would appear that an attack on a Tamil satyagraha demonstration in Colombo to protest against the adoption of Sinhala as the official language, following the formation of the new government, resulted in reprisals elsewhere , which thereafter escalated until the Army stepped in to curb the violence. A huge Tamil demonstration in Batticaloa which resulted in 2 deaths by police firing & wild rumours of possible attacks by both sides was the spark that ignited the riots in Galoya. Harold Wriggins had estimated the number of deaths as between 20 & 200, while Manor’s estimate was 100.(Tambiah 2017).
Tambiah (2017, ) later Professor, then a 27 year old Social Scientist at the Peradeniya University, was on the spot at the time of the riots , having accompanied a group of 33 undergraduates to Ampara on 11 June to carry out a survey of the peasant settlements. When the riots erupted on 11 June they were taken unawares, & they had an uneasy time until they were evacuated to Batticaloa on 14 June, & returned to Peradeniya unharmed. His contemporary account & his description of the riots can be read here :

Chairman Kanagasundaram was in Ampara directing operations to quell the riots & to safeguard vulnerable people & property(Kanagasundram, 2017)

6.2.3 I. M. de Silva, C.C.S, Chairman ,1957-1963;

Board Members : W. T. I. Alagaratnam, former Director of Irrigation, 1958-1964 ; W. Wijayasinghe, Planter, 1958-1959 ; A. R. Mansoor, 1960 , M. L. D. Casperz, C. C. S., 1958 (Treasury ) , G. R. W. de Silva, C.C.S,1959 – 1961 (Treasury) ; C. A. Cooray, C.C.S, 1962 -:1963 (Treasury) .

Resident Manager : D. F. Abeywardena , B. Sc. Lond., 1957 – 1962;
Deputy Resident Manager : O. P. C. B. P. Forbes, C. C. S. , 1956-1959 .
General Manager : N. Jayaweera , C. C. S. 1963
Secretary : T. C. S. Jeyaratnam, I. C. S. 1953-1962

Major works & activities

Building of administration, residential & commercial buildings, hospitals, colonist cottages, etc using local contractors continued & completed.

Balance 2 units of Power Plant were commissioned.

RB Alahena Tank completed in 1959; Pallang Oya Tank (Jayanthiwewa ) complete in 1960; LB Namal Oya Tank completed in 1962.

Hingurana Sugar Industries, Gal Oya Woodworking Industries, Brick & Tile Factory established

348 colonists were settled in Units 38, 39 & 40.

Left Bank development was completed.

Right Bank development continued.

Unusual Events

Major Flood in December 1957

De Silva (2020 ), son of Chairman I. M. De Silva refers to a major flood in December 1957 when the Senanayake Samudra spilled over for the first time since completion of the dam. Hundreds were marooned . The Navy, Police and a unit from the U. S. Navy Seventh Fleet had mounted rescue operations, De Silva joined in the relief & rescue effort. Some who had climbed trees to escape the floods had their arms and legs “frozen” in position and it caused them extreme pain when their limbs were moved in the rescue efforts. Over one thousand wild boar were drowned, together with a smaller number of deer. Elephants, leopards & bears were unaffected. Apparently there were no human casualties.

6.2.4 M. W. F. Abeykoon, C.C.S., Chairman 1964;

Board Members : W. T. I. Alagaratnam, former Director of Irrigation, 1958-1964 ; U. K. P. De Silva , 1964 ; C. Sivanathan, C. C. S. 1964, (Treasury).

General Manager Gal Oya : B. K. Abeyratne , 1964-1965.

General Manager Walawe : H. De S Manamperi , 1964-1965.
Establishment Officer : M. W. Peiris .


Gal Oya
Right Bank development was completed.

Unfinished work continued & Maintenance & enhancement programs carried out.


Preliminary work on headworks, buildings, roads, workshops etc commenced

6.3 RVDB : 1965 – 1971

The Gal Oya Development Board was wound up when the Act which created it was superseded by the River Valleys Development Board Act of August 26th, 1965. All personnel, plant, equipment etc. of the Gal Oya Development Board were absorbed by the newly created River Valleys Development Board.

6.3.1 D. W. R. Kahawita, B. A. (Mechanical Sciences Tripos) Cantab. A. M. I. C. E. , former Deputy Director Irrigation, Chairman, 1965-1969 ;

Board Members : C. R. Karunaratne, 1965-1967; V. G. W. Ratnayake, Planter, 1965-1969 ; W. Wijayasinghe, Planter, 1967-1969 ; C. Sivanathan C. C. S. 1965-1966 (Treasury) ; J. B. Kelegama, C.C.S,1967-1968 (Treasury) ; B. H. De Zoysa, C.C.S,1969 (Treasury).

General Manager Gal Oya: B. K. Abeyratne , 1964-1965 ; W. H. Jayasinghe, 1965-1967; Engr. D.D.G.P.Ladduwahetty, 1968-1969; Kapila Ratnayake, AaL, 1969.
General Manager Walawe : Engr. C. C. T. Fernando, 1965-1966 ; Engr. M. C. B. Mendis, 1967 – 1970.
Secretary : R. V. Jayasuriya, 1965-1970 .

Major works & activities

Gal Oya

Maintenance & Enhancement programs continued.

Winding up activities commenced.

Youth Settlement Scheme at Ekgal Aru commenced as pilot project

Hingurana Sugar Industries handed over to Sri Lanka Sugar Corporation.

Uda Walawe

Udawalawe Headworks completed. Downstream development commenced .

Townships, Baseworkshop established in project area

Agricultural Research Station established at Eraminiyaya

Tile Factory, Concrete Products Yard, Rice Mill, Agriculture Tractor Station established

Settlement of colonists undertaken

2 Youth Settlement Schemes commenced at Kiri ibban Wewa & Tunkame in Embilipitiya as pilot projects


6.3.2 M. J. Perera C.C.S, Chairman 1969-1970;

Board Members : V. G. W. Ratnayake, Planter, 1967-1969 ; W. Wijayasinghe, Planter, 1967-1969 ; B. H. De Zoysa, C.C.S,1969 (Treasury) .

General Manager Gal Oya : K. Ratnayake, AaL, 1969 .

General Manager Walawe : M. C. B. Mendis, 1967-1970 .

Secretary : R. V. Jayasuriya, 1965-1970 .


Gal Oya

Winding up activities expedited

Uda Walawe

Downstream development continued.

Settlement of colonists continued

6.3.3 I. M. de Silva C.C.S, 1970-1971;

Board Members : ?

  1. Sivasubramaniam , 1970-1971 (Treasury)

General Manager Gal Oya : Engr. K. H. P. de Silva .1970-1971

General Manager Walawe : T. Devendra C. C. S. 1970-1971
Secretary : E. Hippola, 1970-1971.

Gal Oya

Winding up activities completed

Uda Walawe

Downstream development continued

Settlement of colonists continued.

Note: GODB was under RVDB from 1965-1971.

6.4 GODB Staff


6.4.1 Staff of the GODB at the beginning was drawn from the Government Service on secondment, recruited directly, or secured under FAO/Colombo PlanTechnical Assistance Programs. Many locally recruited staff who worked on the construction of the dam etc were also absorbed.

The Monthly Paid Staff at the GODB according to its Report for the year 1951/1952 was as follows :

A.-Beginning of Financial Year) ; B – End of Financial Year 1951-52
Gr I   II    III    IV    V    VI    VII    VIII   IX    X    XI    Total
A   2  5   15   10  22   53   70    116  17   2    28    340
B   2  6   16   15   36   95   132  193 45   2    43    585

6.4.2. Some of the Senior & other Staff at the initial stages were as follows :

Civil Engineering / Irrigation Branch
Engineers : M. C. Abraham, Chief Engineer, Irrigation(FAO/Colombo Plan, August, 1952) ; Dr. Dolfino Delfi (UN refugee, FAO/Colombo Plan), M. S. M. de Silva ; S. de S. Wijesundara, T. O. P. Fernando ;   M. M. Ismail ; Douglas Waidyaratne , G. E. S. Proctor.

Mechanical Equipment Branch , Baseworkshop & Plant
C. S. L. Frances, Plant & Equipment Manager, August, 1952 – UN refugee, FAO/Colombo Plan); Burkhardt (UN refugee, FAO/Colombo Plan) – Workshops; Col. Jonklaas, Capt. Rajadurai, Basil Liyanage – Field Operations ; Joe Perera – Transport.

Buildings Branch
V. Santhirasenan (Chief Engineer)
Chekovitz (UN refugee, FAO/Colombo Plan)

Roads Branch

Planning Branch
D. F. Abeywardene, Chief Development Officer – On secondment ; D. A. P. Yapa – On secondment .

Land Settlement Branch
S. W. Atukorala, Chief Peasant Settlement Officer – On secondment.

  1. T. Ratnatunge, Asst. Settlement Officer – On secondment .

Kanapathipillai, N. S. B. Amunugama, B. D. Perera – On secondment.

  1. Kuruppu, G. Punchihewa, G. Jayawardena, S. Jayasinghe, K. D. A. Perera, Ms. P. Isaacs.

Agricultural Development Branch
Dr. S. T. Farouki (FAO, Feb. 1952), Adviser General Agronomy
………………………… (FAO, Feb. 1952) ; Dr. C. Van Dillawijn (FAO), Specialist Sugar Cane Cultivation ; Mc Veight (FAO), Forestry Expert; D. V. Ariyanayagam, B. Sc. Lond. Agriculture Research Officer , K. S. Perera, V. M. F. Alles – On secondment .

Power Generation & Distribution
H. Sudharman de Silva, Elect.Engr.

Saw Mill & Carpentry Workshop -Mechanical Engineer in charge = D. L. Piyadasa

Brick & Tile Factory


Dr. V. Perampalam, Research Assistant – On secondment.

Accounts Branch

Accountant from UK=  W. E. Tomlins (Colombo Plan), to formulate Costing System

Administration Branch =F. X. Pooraja ; C. S. Cooray ; . J. Francis ; . P. Tambimuttu ; . S.V.KanapathipiIlai ; M. B. Ekanayake ; F. J. Emmanuel ; D. E. A. Abeyeratne ; M. D. Gunatileke – On secondment.

Stores & Suppplies Branch =M. M. A. Sameem, Mylvaganam, L. de Silva

Head Office = D. P. A. Abeywardena, Bertus Snr, H. Gnanamuttu, M. A. Maasillamani, A. Alles, N. Perera

  1. Land Settlement

7.1 The Economic Review (March,1977) outlines the principal objective of the Gal Oya Development Board as being “the establishment within its Area of Authority of the maximum number of families of Ceylon citizens that the area can carry at a reasonable standard of good and comfortable living conditions”.

In order to achieve this objective, “the Board was expected to provide irrigation facilities to individual allotments according to “the principle of peasant colonisation whilst at the same time encouraging the growth of collective agricultural and industrial undertakings among such peasant colonists”.

To achieve this the Board was empowered “to organize a system of planned cultivation of the most suitable crops arranging for such rotation as is deemed agriculturally necessary or advisable and for the profitable marketing of the produce”. There was also provision for the supply of electric power.

7.2 The Economic Review (September, 1986), records that the scheme was designed for :

  • the agricultural development of 42,000 acres (32,000 acres in
    paddy land and 10,000 acres in sugar cane)
  • flood protection , and
  • provision of domestic water to over 20,000 farm families.

By 1965 the project had established over 30 villages and about 12,000 families in both village expansion and major colonisation areas. (This last statement does not seem to be correct in the light of what follows later. )

7.3 A report on a study carried out by Engineering Consultants Ltd, , a firm of local consultants, under the sponsorship of USAID describes the purpose of the project as follows :

  • Flood protection for the Pattipola Aru fields ;
  • Irrigation of the above fields and 42,000 acres of new land of which 10,000 acres were set apart for the cultivation of sugar cane for making sugar;
    (c) Generation of approx. 12 mw of power by passing the water for irrigation through 4 turbines;
    (d) provision of drinking water for 20,000 people.

7.4 The size of allotments in village expansion schemes at the time for peasants from thickly populated localities within the Board’s Area of Authority as well as some neighbouring villages in the Batticaloa district varied betwen 1 acre and about 3 acres. (Economic Review , March, 1977).

The original allotments to each peasant family was 4 acres of irrigated paddy land and 3 acres of highland. This was reduced to 3 acres of paddy land and 2 acres of highland in 1953, and still later to 2 acres of paddy land and 1 acre of highland. (Economic Review, March, 1977)

7.5 Settlement Progress

7.5.1 The first group of peasants consisted of 296 families displaced from villages taken up for development or from villages due to disappear beneath the waters of Senanayake Samudra (Economic Review, March, 1977). 138 were original settlers whose lands were submerged.65 were from the catchment area bordering the periphery of the reservoir. 93 were from the purana villages near the area developed.

7.5.2 Pathmanathan (2021), a writer in the Dinamina newspaper quotes a report from R. L. Brohier, a Director of the GODB at the time, on the number of families settled from 1951 – 1953 as follows; Batticaloa district – 852 families; Kandy district : 213; Kegalle district : 275; Uva district : 250 ; Hambantoa district : 175, making a total of 1765 families.

7.5.3 Tambiah (1996) provides a summary of the progress made in the scheme from 1950 to 1958 as follows :

  • of village units set up in the Left Bank : 43
  • Total number of colonists given allotments : 5,859.
    Composition of the settlers :
  • about 50 percent came from the board’s “area of authority” in the Eastern Province, consisting of local Muslims and Tamils from the east coast and Sinhalese or Sinhalized Veddahs from the interior jungle villages, who had been displaced by the dam and reservoir.
  • about 25 percent came from “Kandyan” Sinhalese villagers from the Central Province , the majority being from the Kandy and Kegalle districts.
  • balance 25 percent came from other areas, such as the Southern (8 percent), Western, and Sabaragamuva provinces, and they were all Sinhalese.
    He further observes that :
  • although the colonists were ethnically mixed, the Sinhalese colonists were spatially separated from the local east coast Tamils and Muslims.
  • the former were settled on the favored upper reaches of the Left Bank, immediately below the dam, and
  • the latter were allotted less well irrigated lands at the ends of the irrigation channels contiguous with their original settlements.

7.5.4 An interesting study has been made by Jayasuriya (1963 ) , a former District Land Officer at the time, on the status of the villages established in the scheme, in the Left Bank, about 11 years after their settlement ie. from 1951 – 1962.

It reveals that :

  • 15 villages , each with about 150 families (about 2250) families) were occupied by 2 categories of people :

1) original settlers from the area (Veddah community), who were the 1st to be settled in Wavinne & Paragahakelle in 1951, & allotted 3 acres of highland & 4 acres of paddy land; they were hunters & chena cultivators & found it difficult to adjust themselves to their new surroundings & planned cultivation; their land produced about 30-40 bushels of paddy per acre.

2) people from East Coast villages around Kalmunai, who were settled thereafter, & allotted 1/4 acre of irrigable highland & 3 acres of paddy land ; they were not interested in changing their traditional methods of livelihood; their land produced only about 25 bushels of paddy per acre.

  • 25 villages, each with about 150 families (3750 families) , were occupied by people brought from outside   ie . Kandy & Kegalle in 1955/1956 . They were allotted 1 acre of highland & 3 acres of paddy land: they were more enthusiastic than the others & wanted to better themselves; their land gave the highest yield of 45 bushels per acre due to the use of fertlisers & improved methods of cultivation.

After a study of all aspects of the life of the people in 3 villages representing the above 3 categories , Jayasuriya (1963) concluded that the extra land & a cottage had not made any significant impact on the people who were earlier living in and around the area but that those brought from Kandy & Kegalle have persevered & endeavoured to better themselves. He also foresaw the problems that would arise in the future for succeeding generations due to landlessness & lack of employment opportunities.

It would appear that about 6000 families were settled in about 40 villages, & that 2250 families were from the area while 3750 families were from areas outside the Batticaloa district by 1962.

7.5.5 Page 115 of a report prepared in 1985 on Recurrent Cost Problems of Irrigation Systems by a local consultancy firm, Engineering Consultants Ltd, under USAID sponsorship provides a detailed account of the progress of settlement in the Left Bank, sourced from GODB Annual Reports, as follows :

1950/51- Units 1 & 2 – 296 families
1951/52 – Units 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12 , part of 18, 19 – 1500 families
1952/53 – Units 7, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, parts of 10, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 – 1765 families

1953/54 – Units 27, 28, 29, 30 – 600 families
1954/55 – 31, 32, 33, 34 – 619 families
1955/56 – 35, 36, part of 37 – 332 families
1956/57 – Nil
1957/58 – 38, 39, 40 – 348 families

This information indicates that from 1951 to 1958 a total of 5441 colonists were settled & could have been accepted as correct, except that those settled in Units 6, 20 & 21 appear to have been missed.

Jayasuriya’s (1963) estimate of 6000 is likely to be correct as settling 6000 families appears to have been the original intention.

7.5.6 Vandervelde (1982) classifies the settlers on the basis of their location along the Left Bank channel as follows:

Top end area: all families are from the Sinhala community ; they generally have no problems with irrigation.

Middle zone are: majority of families are from the Tamil speaking Muslim community & others are from the Sinhala & Tamil communities; they have serious problems with irrigation during the yala season.

Tail end area: families are from the Tamil speaking Muslim community & Tamil community; this area experiences the most acute & persistent water problems, including domestic water, occasionally, especially during the yala season. Vandervelde observes that this area would be the principal beneficiary through the implementation of the ongoing water management program & the restoration of the severely deteriorated physical system.

7.5.7 Wijayaratne & Uphoff (1997) refer to the irrigation problems in the Scheme, taenas a whole, as follows :

  • ” the most productive farming in Gal Oya was done in parts of the Right Bank and,
  • in the central portion of the system served directly by the Gal Oya river, because these areas had better water supply.The population in these areas was mostly Tamil and Muslim.
  • In the Left Bank, in contrast, Sinhalese households were in the majority. Most of these were settled in the head and middle areas in the Left Bank, while Right Bank (Left Bank ?)Tamil and Muslim households were located downstream. This ethnic distribution complicated the normal problems between head – and tail-end farmers.”

7.5.8 The relocation of the Veddah community in newly developed lands was not entirely successful. Arulpragasm (2019 ), whilst still at University had lived for a few days with a Veddah community lin Bintenne, for the purpose of a sociological survey. At the time, they had been noticed to leave their homes & land as they would be inundated by the waters of the Gal Oya Reservoir but had been dejected & also defiant. However, finally, they had to leave  & later they were given an allotment under the Gal Oya Scheme, comprising a brick and mortar house with tiled roof, a fenced highland allotment of two acres together with a three acre lot of irrigated paddy land. The Government believed that the Veddahs would benefit from a settled life, greater food security and a higher standard of living.
Arulpragasm (2019) joined the Ceylon Civil Service in 1951 & some years later he was the AGA, Batticaloa. He was officially informed that some Veddahs from the Gal Oya Scheme were being brought to be resettled among the few surviving Veddah families in Pollebedde in the Batticaloa district. The Director of Rural Development, Mr. G.V.P. Samarasinghe had accompanied them. By a remarkable coincidence one of the Veddahs in the group was the one with whom he had lived in the Bintenne area several years earlier. He had attended to their immediate needs and settled them among their kin in Pollebedde. after providing them with materials for housing, rations and subsidies to tide them over till the end of the next cultivation season. This was one group who could not adjust themelves to the new environment

7.5.9 Punchihewa (1999), who worked in the GODB/RVDB/Mahaweli from 1955 to 1991, & has written a number of books & articles on river valley schemes, veddahs etc , refers to a group of Veddahs who managed to adjust themselves to their new environment.

” I lived and worked with the G.O.D.B in Gal Oya in Namal Oya in 1962- 70 as a village officer-in-charge of those newly carved out villages, 2B and 5B. Village 1B comprised some of those purana villages drawn from such displaced villages like Mullegama, Dabagolla, Puthuliadda, Thimburuhena Weva and Katuhampola. Even the Veddahs who lived in Hennebedda (now forlorn) and Bingoda, Iadambowa were re-settled in this village.

When I was working as village officer in Namal Oya from 1970-72, I had been a regular visitor to these villages of Rathmalgahaella-Mullegama-Galgamuwa-Rathugala. I still recall those joyful times spent around Mullegam, Rathmalgahaella, Nelliadda, Kurunduwinne, Galgamuwa, Rathugala. The villagers’ diet was mostly Kurakkan thalapa and Kurrakan rotti mixed and some game flesh curry which we relished with gusto. The luscious oranges came from their orange orchards (which are now no more as a virus has set in some years ago)………
Among those villagers at Rathmalgahaella, I had a good old friend and tracker named Madigawala. He and his family were constant visitors to our residence at Namal Oya. The last time I visited these villages of Mullegama-Rathmalgahaella Galgamuwa and Rathugala was in 1991 when I met my old companions.”


7.5.10 Excerpts from a news report by Kumudini Hettiarachchi & Oshani Alwis titled ” An Ocean of Gratefulness Still Flows” appearing in the Sunday Times of 4 Feb. 2018 is quoted below:
There were two groups of people who were settled in the villages ‘carved from the jungle’ around the Gal Oya Scheme.Colony hathalihak hadala minissu dura gam walin genawa, says Appusingho, as Menike nods vigorously. (Forty colonies were established with people brought from distant areas.)“They were those displaced by the waters of the reservoir who were given lands in lieu of those they had lost and others who were brought from far off lands and resettled in the area (colonists),” says 85-year-old Ekanayake Mudiyanselage Appusingho in Polwatte. He himself from Bandarawela did not come as a colonist but to do wadu-weda (carpentry) as he was working at the Small Industries Ministry then and formed the construction team which put up the shuttering and also built the silos in which the paddy harvests would be stored later. He met and married K.A. Podi Menike, now 74, who had come as an eight-year-old with her parents from Gonagala in Kegalle to make their home as colonists here.

Menike relives those early years when her father left his ancestral home and hearth and arrived with only his family and bundles of clothing to make a life here. Large swathes of land had been “dozered” bare. Each colonist family was given “everything” — a small cottage with three rooms, all tools such as mammoties, pannittu (buckets), kethi (sickles) needed to cultivate the land as also a harak banak(a pair of cattle) for ploughing, along with a four-acre mada idama for paddy and a one-acre goda idama for big and small trees including coconut and mango.

Sweat and toil were the routine of the early days at the new frontier, wracked by the fevers of malaria, with an ambulance “like a lorry” taking the sick to hospital. Of the colonized villages, earlier “gana wanantare” (dense jungle) infested with wild animals including elephants, 36 were occupied by the Sinhalese and the others by Tamils and Muslims.

We cross the Left Bank canal at Alioluwa Handiya to go to the home of 78-year-old Herath Mudiyanselage Gunaratne. whose family came from Badulla. They were amongst the first settlers, arriving to a literal desert, with all vegetation cleared by huge machinery and set ablaze in the village of Wawinna. Their new houses were of cement-block walls and tile-roof while a school in the area before the scheme sported only goma-meti biththi (mud walls) and an iluk-thatched roof. Gunaratne attended the new village school which had on its register about 140 children and was the first to pass the Senior School Certificate from there, after which he trained as a teacher and returned to serve the area, retiring as a Principal.

It is in the garden of the Ampara Hospital that we meet 63-year-old Digamadulle Ranawira who has been discharged after a scan. He has written two books, ‘Gal Oya Nilame I & II’ in Sinhala on the lives of the “Gal Oya colony karayo” at the urging of his father. His father was from Hindagala, Peradeniya and his mother from Dunkewila, Gampola. News filtered to Gampola that Gal Oya needed settlers.  It was 1952 and a lorry picked up the walang-pigang, latta-lotta (knick-knacks) and dropped them at the Gampola Railway Station. When they de-trained at Batticaloa, they were met by a Colonization Officer and two Village Officers.

Gal Oyata paya thibba gaman mal vessak vessa, says Ranawira recalling what his father had told him how there was a mild shower of rain auguring well for the colonists. He too ticks off on his fingers what was provided to the colonists including lantherum(lanterns), 400 rupees to buy cattle for ploughing and two busal of bittara wee (seed paddy) of the Illankaliya variety. D.S. Senanayake mahattaya colonistslata avashya hema dema dunna. (The colonists were given everything they needed by D.S.)  “They were expected to cultivate paddy with rainwater and after they had eaten rice from two or three  kanna (seasons), they were promised water from the Left Bank canal of the Gal Oya Scheme,” he says.

7.5.11 Excerpts from an article in the Lankadeepa Online – Stories told by the pioneers of the Galoya Scheme / their children
Mendis Kapugama (85 ) of Ambalanoya, Heavy Machine Operator who worked for 21 years in the Galoya scheme & 10 years in the Hingurana Sugar Industry.” I left Matara on 22 August 1949 with my grandfather & the bus journey through a circuitous route to Ampara took nearly 15 hours. Huge modern machines were being used , jungle clearing , camp construction etc was going on throughout the day & night on 3 shifts.On 28 August 1949, I was at Inginiyagala to watch the launch of the Galoya Scheme. Hon D. S. Senanayake arrived on the back of an elephant, unveiled a pillar & made an inspiring speech. I heard from the people that he made frequent visits to Inginiyagala, & that he travelled by cart, on horse back or on the back of an elephant, through jungle areas………. Jungle felling was done by dragging a 20 ton chain with 2 bulldozers each at either end. Another bull dozer followed behind clearing the remnants.”
80 year old Vairamuttu Pracharapillai Sivaprakasan was a Virakesari reporter in 1951. He later joined the GODB as a translator. ” One day on hearing that the PM was visiting Inginiyagala, I accompanied Batticaloa Irrigation Engineer Ibrahim in his Morris Minor car & came to Ampara. We went to Inginiyagala. The PM was with the Chairman of GODB., Mr. Kanagasundaram & the Director of Irrigation, Mr. Alagaratnam & while they were inspecting the bund I took photos with my Rolleiflex camera. The PM smiled. At the time, the reservoir was not completely filled. On a previous occasion I had seen him travel from Ampara to Inginiyagala in a cart, but on this occasion they went in a big van.”
69 year old Wanasinghe Mudiyanselage Sudubanda was a resident of House 19 in Colony No. 1 at Wavinna. “In 1952 I was about 10 years old. I remember going to Paragahakelle junctiion on hearing that the PM was coming.I saw him going past the junction on horseback. Around 1949-1950, our land was surveyed & we were told that we have to vacate the land we were living in because a big reservoir will be built & the land will get submerged.They promised to give us alternate land .Some returned to Wellassa from where their ancestors had come after the 1818 rebellion. In 1951 those who remained were brought & settled in the new area. We were given 3 acres ofs highland & 4 acres of irrigable land. ”

  1. Evaluation of the Gal Oya Scheme

8.1 Extract from an article ( Sunday Island, 25 Sept. 2016) by Ajit Kanagsundaram is reproduced below :

“In 1966 the Dudley Senanayake government appointed a Committee to evaluate the Gal Oya Project. It consisted of a distinguished set of people:

  • H Farmer – Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge; author of ‘Pioneer Peasant Colonization in Ceylon’ and ‘Ceylon – A Divided Nationt’; leading authortity on South Asia’; former Chairman, 1965 Land Commission
  • Dr G Usvatte Aratchi, Central Bank economist, under secondment to the Ministry of Planning, who later distinguished himself at the UN
  • T P De S Munasinghe – former Director of the PWD
  • S Arumaugam, former Deputy Director, Irrigation Department and an outstanding engineer
  • D S de Silva – former Auditor General
  • Tissa Devendra of the Ceylon Administrative Service who went on to a remarkable career in public service as GA in Matara, Trincomalee and Jaffna and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission was the Secretary.
  • I was the Assistant Secretary

At the outset the Committee decided to confine themselves to a strictly technical approach eschewing the political dimension as many of the people involved were now with the government. The Committee would do a cost-benefit analysis of the project, agricultural policies and the secondary industries started.

After a year of intense work the Committee published their findings [ Sessional Paper 1/1968]

  • From a purely cost/benefit point of view the project was a failure. However from a colonization, paddy production point of view the project was successful.
  • The Committee chose to ignore the fact that the main objective was Sinhala colonization in the East – and this was achieved .
  • Total costs up to date and projected were Rs 1 billion while expenditure was approximately the same and, if one accepted a discount rate of 10% ,the net result was negative. I will comment on this finding below.
  • The power generation project was a success even using the unreasonably low cost then prevailing for alternatives means of generation. The oil crisis was then far away.
  • The returns on the improvements in irrigation and flood control of the scheme in the Purana lands was very positive.
  • The sugar project was a disaster given the fact that the output of sugar cane never satisfied more that 18% of the factory’s need – but I have pointed out earlier the Board was aware of this challenge and proposed to bring in Japanese farmers (Japan was the still recovering from the war and was eager to encourage emigration) – this out- of- the- box solution was rejected by the government.
  • The other projects like the rice mill and tile factory had only a marginal impact
  • One obvious conclusion – not explicitly stated in the Report – was that by 1957 all the dams, irrigation works, land clearing roads, bridges, workshops had been completed and 70 % of the colonists settled, but the GODB spent the same amount over the next ten years to achieve very little. The GODB had a scheme to move all the equipment and staff to the Walawe project but this was not achieved due to political interference and unnecessary new infrastructure was created at Walawe. If the GODB’s activities in Gal Oya had been wound up in 1958 or 1959 and its infrastructure moved to Uda Walawe, as was the plan of the GODB , then the economics of the project would have been very different. Once again the culprits were with the ruling party .
  • The Committee also faulted the Board for being extravagant in the expenditure on roads, staff housing etc. But this had been necessary to attract suitable staff into the wilderness of the Eastern province, and the roads and bridges and schools built still serve this area

It is unfortunate that the findings of the Committee have been mixed up with some observations , in an otherwise excellent essay.

Peiris (2017 ) points out that in B. H. Farmer’s second and revised edition of ‘Pioneer Peasant Colonisation” he has not referred to any ethnic discrimination in the establishment of irrigation-based settlements in the Dry Zone. though he was fully aware of the strains in Sinhalese-Tamil relations. Peiris (2017) also seems to doubt the adequacy  & accuracy of the surveys on which the report was based.)

hItps:// A comment ( 2 October, 2016) by Dr. Uswatte Aratchi, member of the Committee in response to the above article (25 September, 2016) is reproduced below, because of its relevance today.

“A decision that the Committee made, on the initiative of the Chairman, at its first meeting, was that the Secretary shall keep accounts of all expenditure made by and for the Committee. Periodically, the Committee asked for an update and when the Committee had finished its work, the Secretary was ready with a sheet and it was ordered to be published as Appendix A of the Report, reproduced here for your information. We were mighty pleased that we had spent so little. Salaries were paid to a staff of perhaps four. The Secretary was from the Civil Service and came to the Committee free. We did not ask for a car for the Committee. Transport costs were for two journeys we made to Ampara by air and transport in the Valley. Office space was rented in the Plywood Corporation (?) premises on Baudhaloka Mawata. We told the Minister when the Report was handed over that we expected that that practice of publishing the accounts of the Committee would be adopted in future by all such Committees and Commissions. Well, if hopes were horses, beggars would be riders.”

8.3 Another View on the Findings of the Evaluation Committee by Wijedasa K. H. J. 2015, Remembering “Minneriya Deviyo” , a man of the people .

“The failure of the Gal Oya Develop ment Board to achieve its objectives was brought out by an evaluation committee appointed by the Minister of Land, Irrigation and Power, Mr. C. P. de Silva in November 1966, in order to “ascertain the economic and social returns of investments made, and provide guidance for future development projects of a similar kind”.

The evaluation committee discovered that the entire investment for develop- ment of undeveloped land yielded a negative return; specifically the develop- ment of new irrigated paddy lands, irrigated sugar cane, the industrial establishments including the rice mill, the wood- workng project, the brick and tile factory, the base workshop and the sugar cane factory were run at a loss and could not be made to yield a profit. Only the investment in providing improved irrigation facilities to existing Purana lands yielded a profit, which was estimated as a rate of return greater than 10%. ”

8.4 The Economic Review (March 1977) comments as follows on the findings of the Evaluation Committee : “It is thus seen that the Gal Oya project which was set up in the hope that a new approach to land development and settlement was being discovered and which therefore rudely abandoned earlier techniques, has in fact turned out to be a failure. To put this tragic misadventure into its proper perspective, it is necessary to appreciate the fundamental error in this approach to development which is of an imitative nature. What was successful in the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States of America during Roosevelt’s New Deal could not be transplanted in a newly independent colony which already had its own hoary traditions of irrigated agriculture in the traditional sector.”

8.5 A critique of the Committee’s findings by Nanayakkara ( 1972) , a M.Sc. student in Agricultural Economics at the Michigan State   University, whose paper was prepared on a suggestion by Professor Rainer Schickhele, who set up the Agricultural Economics Dept. at the Peradeniya University from 1967-1970 (Roberts, 2017) can be accessed here :

His objective has been to focus on the following :

  • to ascertain whether the benefit-cost assessment of the Committee was, in fact, correctly executed, and to see whether the main policy conclusion follows from their analysis;
  • to determine whether benefit-cost analysis was adequate for providing guidelines for the formulation of national policies in regard to the strategy of agricultural development;
  • to suggest a more appropriate framework for the evaluation of ongoing peasant colonization settlement projects in Ceylon.

8.6 Mendis (1993), a former President of the Institute of Engineers, who has written extensively on various aspects of irrigation schemes, too has voiced his concern, on different grounds, over the need to undertake large irrigation schemes in preference to restoration of ancient tanks, pointing out certain beneficial aspects of the latter, & negative aspects of the former. The following paragraphs indicate his line of thinking :

Neither Leach nor any of the other scholars who have studied the history of the ancient systems have realized that the clue to understanding them is to see them as water conservation systems and not as hydraulic systems. Even today, only a very few engineers and agriculturists are convinced about this, and it will take a while before it becomes accepted as common knowledge. This shows the importance of inter-disciplinary studies on the ancient so-called irrigation works, which should rather be known as the ancient water conservation ecosystems of Sri Lanka.”

“Whereas the ancient systems had flourished for centuries, generating considerable economic surpluses, before their final decline after the 12th century, modern irrigation systems designed on hydraulic engineering principles, without exception, have shown ecological and economic stress from a very early stage. This makes it imperative that the old systems be re-examined without prejudice, so that any useful lessons learned could be applied on modern schemes.

8.7 Dharmawardena (2021), has addressed some of the criticisms of dry zone colonization schemes & emphasised the fact that it was the need to feed the increasing population that resulted in the state undertaking large modern irrigation schemes in preference to the existing policy of restoring ancient tanks or the policy of industrialization of the rural sector suggested by some others.

8.8 It is the Tennessee Valley development that gave rise to the modern multi-purpose development schemes . The Damodar Valley Project & the Mahanadi Valley Project in India, modelled on the TVA , was already in progress at the time the Gal oya Scheme was undertaken. Many other countries were planning / implementing similar development programmes, based on the success achieved by the TVA & its personnel travelled to nearly 75 countries to advise on similar projects (TVA, 1961). One can only surmise that the Gal Oya Scheme was undertaken on the best advice that was available at the time.

8.9 One of the main conclusions of the Farmer Committee in relation to Peasant Colonisation was as follows : “The policy of colonisation is at the core of the problem that this committee was called upon to report. Our detailed findings have revealed some striking features to which close attention must be paid by policy makers in the future, The first is the poor benefit/cost ratio of the colonisation element of the
Gal Oya project. The existing expenditure on the infrastructure and the low productivity of individual colonists have been clearly shown in our evaluation. This finding makes it necessary that policy makers take a long, hard look at the advisability of diverting resources to what is essentially a social welfare function in an economy where the greatest need is to maximise production”. (Sessional Paper 1 of 1970 ,p.140).

The Committee consisted of distinguished people with wide ranging expertise & their conclusion is based on the material placed before them . It was made at a time when the Walawe Development Scheme was ongoing, & the Mahaweli Development Scheme was on the drawing boards. The fact that these projects continued makes It clear that the needs of the people /country took precedence in the eyes of policy makers, as it did, when ancient rulers built tanks & dagabos for livelihood & spiritual development. However, an evaluation of even these projects, on the same parameters would probably lead to the same conclusion.

  1. Current Status of the Scheme

9.1 Ampara Range, Director of Irrigation :

Total Extent under Major / Medium Irrigation Schemes
Under Central Irrigation Department : 56,101 Ha ; Under Provincial Irrigation Department : 4,837 Ha ; Under Department of Agrarian Service : 2,517 Ha ; Total : 63,455 Ha.

Population Density : Ampara District
Sinhalese : 228,938 ; Muslims : 268,630 ; Tamils : 111,948 ; Others : 1,203 ; Total : Total : 610,719

9.2 Irrigation Department

Reservoir/Tanks Division wise in the Ampara RegionAmpara, Akkaraipattu, Sammanthurai, Kalmunai Divisions

Senanayaka Samudra 51,279 ha   126,659 acs

Ampara Division

Namal Oya Tank : 1,498 ha , 3700 acs; Pallan Oya Tank :1,417 ha,     3500 acs; Ambalanoya Tank :1,830 ha, 4520 acs ; Ekgal Oya Tank : 992 ha , 2450 acs ; Pannalgama Tank :1,093 ha, 2700 acs;
Tempitiya Tank : 185 ha, 456 acs.
Pottuvil Division
Navalaru Tank :1,695 ha, 4186 acs; Lahugala Tank : 302 ha, 745 acs; Rottai Tank : 638 ha, 1,575 acs; Panama Tank : 272 ha, 672 acs ; Karanda Oya Tank : 1,774 ha, 4381 acs; Radella Tank : 403 ha, 995 acs ; Willoya Tank : 262 ha, 647 acs.

Total                        63455 ha, 156,734 acs

Source : Table at Regions Ampara

In this connection an observation made by Vander Velde (1982) in the course of a study on Farmers & Water; Increasing Rural Participation in Irrigation Management in Gal Oya, begun in 1980, is interesting & is included here for purpose of record.. It reveals that there was some difficulty in ascertaining the irrigated area commanded by the Left Bank channel & its tributaries designed originally to irrigate 36,000 acres. He quotes a UNDP team which estimated in 1975 that it was sbout 46,000 acres, & CH2M Hill team which estimated in 1979 that it was about 40,000 acres & a subsequent USAID Paper which revised the figure upward to about 52,000 acres. However, there was agreement that about 19,000 farm families were resident in the project area, at the time. Vandervelde attributes this increase to ” an unknown but substantial area of encroachment on Government reservation and drainage land, mostly occupied and cultivated by second or third generation sons and daughters of original colonist families for whom no provision for agricultural land was made in the original settlement.

  1. Contemporary Accounts of the Project

The Gal Oya Dam & Power Project – M. C. Abraham & A. H. Mendis, 1949

The Gal Oya Valley Project in Ceylon – R. L. Brohier, 1951

Gal Oya Dam & Power Plant – H. O. T. Scharenguivel & A. Maheswaran 1952

Flood Control And Maximum Utilization Of Water Resources Around Gal Oya Valley M.M. Ismail 1958
Development of Multipurpose Reservoir Projects – H. O. T. Scharenguivel 1962

  1. Conclusion
    The Gal Oya Scheme is truly the result of an international effort. British, Scottish, American, & Canadian engineers, UN refugee engineers, together with Sinhala,  Tamil, Muslim & Burgher Ceylonese engineers, under an Indian Chief Engineer were involved in the process. Locally, it was a multi ethnic effort in that Ceylonese of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay communities , within the area & outside of it were employed in the project. It received technical assistance from the FAO/Colombo Plan.

The beneficiaries were the original settlers from the Veddah & Tamil speaking communities in the area, & the Sinhala people from outside who were settled on newly developed lands, though it is on record that some of the Veddahs were disillusioned with their new surroundings & had to be relocated in a location similar to the one they had been used to.

Stories related by some of the pioneers, in particular the settlers, show the the difficult conditions that prevailed at the beginning & it is to their credit that most of them remained & through their hard work, grit & determination improved their lives. The staff too who experienced these same difficulties living away from their homes & in camp conditions , contributed immensely to the development of the area, though there were drop outs too because of the harsh conditions.

It is often alleged that the objective of the scheme was to change the demographic pattern in the Eastern Province by introducing people from the Sinhala community.  It is a fact that in an area which was predominantly occupied by the Veddah community , Tamil speaking community & an area which was still a jungle, the jungle area was developed and Sinhala people from outside the area were brought in to occupy the developed area.
It is a debatable point whether the scheme was implemented to reclaim jungle land for the purpose of increasing paddy production, settling landless people etc or whether it was intended to change the demographic pattern in the Eastern Province.

The Compiler wishes to apologise for any omissions in this record due to information not being readily available.


Arulpragasm L. C.  2019, The Veddahs in the East of Ceylon, ……………Accessed Jan. 2022.

Arumugam S, 1969, Water Resources of Ceylon ,Utilisation & Development, Water Resources Board, 1969, p. 163. Accesed Jan. 2022.

Brohier R. L. 1934, Ancient Irrigation Works in Ceylon, Survey Department, Ceylon Govt. Press. 1934-1935, p.70

Congressional Record: Proceedings of the US Congress, 1952, Vol. 98. Part 8. Appendix A 871, Speech by Hon., Francis Bolton. In the House of Representatives, 14 Feb. 1952 about deployment of WW II refugee engineers in the Gal Oya Project. Accessed Jan. 2022.
De Silva R. I. (2020) , Major Flood in 1957 & his Experience , Accessed Jan. 2022.

Dharmasena G. T. 1989, Make History Alive – Saga of the Irrigation Department, Engineer December 1989, p. 3 to 5.Accessed Jan. 2022.
Dharmasena G. T. 2000, Hundred years of the Irrigation Department: Centenary Commemoration Volume 1900-2000; 2000. P. 49-53.

Dharmawardena C, 2021, 31/addressing-a-criticism-of-d s-senananyakes-dry-zone-colonization-schemes/

Economic Review March 1977, Irrigation & Multipurpose Development in Sri Lanka , p. 6,7………….Accessed Jan. 2022.

Economic Review September 1986, Land Settlement in Sri Lanka, p.9. Accessed Jan. 2022.

Emkayan (Morrison Knudsen International )Magazine of November 1949, Two Dams in Ceylon,

Ferguson’s Directories

Hettiarachchi K. & Alwis O., 2018, An Ocean of Gratefulness Still Flows, Accessed Jan. 2022…………………..
Jayasuriya W. 1963, Some Aspects of Colonisation in Gal Oya Valley , Ceylon Historical & Social Studies Publication Board, 1963. Accessed Jan. 2022.

Jiggins J, 1979, Caste & Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese 1947-1976, Cambridge University Press, 1979. Accessed Jan. 2022.

Kanagasundaram K, 2017, …………..
Accessed Jan. 2022.

Kennedy J. S. 1936 , Evolution of Scientific Development of Village Irrigation Works” in Proceedings of Engineering Association of Ceylon, Colombo, (pp 229-320)
Lankadeepa 2004, Stories told by early settlers of Gal Oya Farmer Colony, Accessed Jan. 2022…………………

Mendis D.L O. 1993, Historical Perspective – The Ancient Water Conservation Eco-Systems of Sri Lanka : A Discussion of Some Environmental Issues.  Accessed February, 2022 …..

Nanayakkara U. 1972, A Critical Appraisal of an Evaluation of Peasant Colonisation and Settlement in the Gal Oya Valley of Ceylon, Research Paper submitted to the College of Agriculture, Michigan State University for the M. Sc. in Agricultural Economics. Accessed Jan. 2022. ……

Peiris G.H, 2017, Addressing Errors in Ajit Kanagasundaram’s Recollections, Accessed Jan. 2022.
Punchihewa G. 1998, Gal Oya in Retrospect,Accessed Jan. 2022.

Punchihewa G. 1999, Purana Villages Lost in the Mists of Time , Accessed Jan. 2022.


Reclamation Era Volume 37 , 1951, United States. Bureau of Reclamation, Water and Power Resources Service, U.S. Department of the Interior – ‘Irrigation’ p 208. Accessed via google.books. Jan. 2022.

Report of the Gal Oya Development Board, 1951/1952, Annexure II, Published 1959. The Annexure was obtained through the kind courtesy of Mr. Danaja Maldeniya, Ph.D Candidate at University of Michigan, where a copy of the Report is available.
Report of the Gal Oya Evaluation Committee, Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1970, Government of Ceylon.

Roberts M, 2020, The Eastern Regions of Sri Lanka in British Times, Accessed Jan. 2022.

Roberts M. 2017, Ceylon in the Rainer Schickele Papers, Accessed Jan. 2022.
Rowley W.D., 2013, From Developing to Managing Water, 1945-2000 Volume 2, Bureau of Reclamation, Govt. Printing Office, June 13, 2014. pp. 597-604. Accessed via google.books. Jan. 2022.
Senanayake D. S. 1935, “Agriculture & Patriotism” , 1st edition, 103 pages, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon.

Siddham, The Asia Inscriptions Database, 2017, Soraborawewa Stone Pillar, Accessed Jan. 2022…………….
Strauss M. D, 1951, 26,000 Miles Along Reclamation Street: Summary Report and Observation on Asian Irrigation and Power Programs, January and February 1951, US Bureau of Reclamation pp. 30- 34. Accessed via google. books. Jan. 2022.
Sneddon C. , 2015, Concrete Revolution: Large Dams, Cold War Geopolitics, and the US Bureau of Reclamation
‘Sri Lanka / Ceylon ‘ p. 174/ Appendix. Accessed via google.books. Accessed Jan. 2022.
Tambiah S. J., 2017, Anti-Tamil Riots at Gal Oya, Accessed.Jan. 2022.

Tambiah S. J. 2017, Report to Vice Chancellor about the Riots in Gal Oya , Accesed Jan.  .
Tambiah S. J. 1996, Levelling Crowds. Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia, New Delhi, Vistaar Publications, for University of California Press, 1996, pp. 82-87.
Tennesee Valley Authority, 1952 on Ceylon, TVA as a Symbol of Resource Development in Many Countries: A Digest and Selected Bibliography, of Information, Tennessee Valley Authority Technical Library 1952. Accessed via Google  Books, Jan. 2022.
Tennesee Valley Authority, 1961 on Ceylon, TVA as a Symbol of Resource Development in Many Countries: A Digest and Selected Bibliography, of Information, Tennessee Valley Authority, Vol. 25, Technical Library 1961. Accessed via Google Books. Jan. 2022.
Vander Velde E. J. 1982, Farmers and Water : Increasing Rural Participation in Irrigation Management in Gal Oya, Sri Lanka, prepared for the 11th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison, November 5-7, 1982. See footnoote 5. Accessed Jan. 2022.

Wickremasuriya A. T. G. A. , 1951, Major flood in1951, & his experience,  Accessed Jan. 2022.
Wijayaratne C.M & Uphoff N , 1997, Farmer Organization in Gal Oya : Improving Irrigation Managementbin Sri Lanka, in Reasons for Hope: Instructive Experiences in Rural Development, Anirudh Krishna, Norman Uphoff & Milton J. Esman, West Hartford, CT, Kumarian Press. Accessed via Google Books. Jan. 2022.
Wijesundara S. D. S , 2006, Construction through the Ages – Centenary Commemoration Publication 1906 to 2006, Institute of Engineers, p. 49 to 53. Accessed via Google  Books. Jan. 2022.

Books, Newspaper, Web Articles of Interest relating to the Gal Oya Valley Scheme

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka & their Fisheries, Table 5…
Fernando S. Dr, 2017, Quotes from A. T. G. A. Wickramasuriya
Kannangara Sunil, 2017, Gal Oya , Story of a New Land,

Liyanaarachchi L. A. W. 2014, Strength of Senanayake Samudra Lay on the Rocks
Liyanaarachchi L. A. W. 2011, Inauguration of Hingurana Sugar
Punchihewa G., 1999, Purana villages lost in time, …..

Punchihewa G, 2006, Sweet Reminescences of Wijesoma, …… a01.htm

Punchihewa G., 2008,  Kanchanakudah Memories

Punchihewa G, 2009 , Souvenirs of a Forgotten Heritage, Stamford Lake Press.450 pages
Wickramasuriya A. T. G. A. 2002, Development of Resources at Regional Level to meet National Requirements

Wijeratne L., 2017, A Nation Energised with the Gal Oya Mission,


Filed under accountability, architects & architecture, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, demography, economic processes, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, patriotism, politIcal discourse, rehabilitation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, transport and communications, unusual people, working class conditions, world events & processes

3 responses to “The Galoya Valley Scheme & the People who made it a Reality

    “Thanks Michael. This is a comprehensive survey of the facts surrounding the Gal Oya project …….Ajit”

    “Ajit’s pater was intimately coonected with the project [as KK’s compendium indicates] and AJIT himself has writtn on the topic and works as an academic in UK. So, his reaction is telling,”
    PS: i will be compiling a BIBLIOGRAPHY of writings on the GAL OYA Project so I encourage readers of this item to send in pertinent references –addressed to

  2. Chandre Dharmawardana

    This account would be immensely enriched if some of the classic pictures taken by Engineer D. J. Bleifuss could also be included here.
    The Gal Oya model where costs and targets were met and the construction was done on time as scheduled was never repeated in later projects where cost overruns and political meddling were extensive. Furthermore, unlike Gal Oya, they were done with borrowed money or aid money. DS Senanayake and Dudley gave the job to the best technical and administrative people, and provided the political support without trying to plant their political henchmen into the works..

  3. Suresh Jayawardena

    I came across this post while browsing for historic projects carried out by GODB and RVDB as both my late parents were former employees. My father HPM Jayawardena (known as Jaye) was a draftsman and my mother Lilani was the telephone operator/receptionist. The both started employment in the mid-50s, fell in love and got married in 1956. My elder brother was born in 1960 and I was born in 1961; we spent our early childhood at Ampara, till we moved to Colombo in 1967 for our education. I am an engineer and in my early 60s now and would be grateful if any living colleague of my parents or sibling could contact me to revive grand old memories of the era. My email is and mobile +94776099460.

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