A former Curator of the Royal Victoria Park Nuwara Eliya and senior citizen Austin Wijetunga is in procession of historical evidence of his own town Nuwara Eliya as well as how the Local Government system in (Ceylon) Sri Lanka evolved, beginning 1892.
Wijetunga, elaborating on how the Local Government System originated in his own town, says that the colonial rulers initially introduced a Board of Health and Sanitary Board, for Nuwara Eliya in 1892.
Six years afterwards they had replaced it by introducing the Board of Improvement. This Local Government body served the Nuwara Eliya town, until 1932.
Thereafter, the Urban District Council System had come into operation. Nuwara Eliya gained Municipal Council status only in 1948.
Tracing the history of Nuwara Eliya, he says the ‘Little London’ became a strategic point among the Britishers, due to its unexpected climatic similarities with London.
In 1819, it had been first cited by Major John Dave of the British Army’s Riffle Regiment. Ever since Britishers have taken immense interest to develop the township.
The area had been badly affected with epidemic disease Malaria. Accordingly, as an initial health measure they planted Synkona trees, to obtain Quinine, but the plantation failed, until they moved to Haggala, where it succeeded.
Among his valuable documents were the Gazette Notices of the colonial era, on Forest Conservation since 1887, and the most fascinating document he had with him was the official publication of the Association of the Urban District Councils of Ceylon, established in 1932.
The Gazette reveals that there were only 27 urban councils in the Island in 1938.
The primary batch of City fathers Islandwide, who were entrusted with the responsibility of implementing and mobilizing, the hither to unknown Urban Administrative scheme, had committed themselves to act unitedly. As a result the All-Ceylon Association of urban District Council was established in 1932. Six years later they published the Annual UDC Gazette, to highlight countrywide Local Government activities.
G.S. Wodmen, the Officer Administering the Ceylon Government, in a congratulatory message issued from the Queen’s House, had emphasized the usefulness of the UDC Gazette.
The then Local Administration Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, commending the united effort to establish the UDC Association, as the body serving a very useful and genuine purpose, had said that the functions of the Association of UDC, were two fold.
Fifth conference of the Association of UDC’s of Ceylon held at Weligama on February 11th and 12th in 1938
In the past members of the Local Government Councils or even those elected as the Central Government representatives, did not enjoy enormous perks for themselves as now at the cost of public expense
Firstly, it provided the means of discussion and secondly, it constituted a representative body for the purpose of dealing with the Central Government.
The Association had resolved to hold its Annual conferences by turn in each District Council Area.
Ambalangoda UDC was its first venue for the all-Island Council representatives to get together.
T.C.P. Fernando, President of the Association and Chairman U.D.C. Ambalangoda said that the field of Local Government constituted a training ground for National Government and indeed the Donoughmore Commissioners laid special emphasis on this fact. Many of the ablest statesmen and legislators have received their early training in the sphere of Local Government. And in Great Britain the local authorities have often been the pioneers in various fields of political activity, more especially in the direction of social improvement. The tendency in that country whose institutions often serve as a model for us is for the sphere of Local Government to increase steadily. From time to time Parliament has been compelled to delegate extended powers to the local authorities, and the number of functions now entrusted to them emphasizes their importance in the life of the public.
Whatever may have been the various forms of Local Government before the advent of the British to the Island, the beginnings of Local Government in the forms which we know them now are not difficult to trace. Although the Gansabha appears to be an institution which has persisted from the time of the ancient kings notwithstanding the changes effected by successive European administrations, the more important units of our Local Government today have their origins in the statute book of the Island.
The annual reports from each council which were published through their UDC gazette reveal the unique principles and their ardent commitment to uplift the living condition of their poor voters and by and large the countrywide general public.
The conduct and the policies of the bygone day city fathers, is exemplary and offers a lesson to some of the present day corrupt politicians.
In the past members of the Local Government Councils or even those elected as the Central Government representatives, did not enjoy enormous perks for themselves as now at the cost of public expense. More or less they performed an honorary service.
They never had armed body guards to shield themselves from the people who gave them such official status. Nor did they ask for vehicles, mobile phones, office
On the other hand pomposity was not the order during that era. Their minutes amply highlight their knowledge and the awareness of their functions and responsibilities.
Their annual meetings were not mere eating and drinking sessions. Their prime objective had been to survey comprehensively the countrywide local development, study foreign experience and gather available knowledge that would accelerate the progress of Local Government bodies.
Unfortunately our society is still content to let matters remain as they are, as if they expect some dynamic power to urge them on to action. It is high time the general public makes use of the Right to Information Act to unearth what had been yielded to the Nation in return for the colossal expenditures of public funds by the politicos. It is enlightening to go through some of the past council reports that had been presented annually.
In 1938, S. Nataraja UDC chairman Anuradhapura, commences his report with an impressive introduction. The city is as old as the Sinhalese race and its story lies written large in the pages of history. It has survived many vicissitudes and the remains of its architecture still excite wonder and admiration.
In area it is 9 ¼ square miles with a population of 9,700, revenue Rs. 78,311/= continue fully.
The city was made the Capital of Ceylon (circ 4th Century B.C.) by King Pandukabhaya.
The whole city was placed under an officer called Nagaraguttika (later Nuwara Ladda), who was made responsible for its sanitation and policing. The post was held in very high esteem and the king’s uncle was the first Nagaraguttika of this city. Paranavitane, the Epigraphical Assistant to the Archaeological Commissioner, to whom I am indebted for this information, informs me that reference is made to a Nagaraguttika in a pre-Christian Brahamic inscription found at Alagamuwa, near Anuradhapura and that references have been found in inscriptions dated the 10th century A.D. to an officer called Nuwara Ladda (one who has received the city). The remains of an ancient waterworks, drains sewers, bathrooms, water closets, urinals and latrines are found in many parts of the city testifying to the high degree of perfection attained by the ancients in matters of sanitation and public health.
Whatever may have been the various forms of Local Government before the advent of the British to the Island, the beginnings of Local Government in the forms which we know them now are not difficult to trace
Though the improvements made by the present local authority regarding these matters will look puny when compared to what had been done during those good old days, yet the Anuradhapura Urban District Council can lay claim to some substantial improvements that had been effected since its inception in 1933.
As a result of the measures taken, the health of the town has vastly improved.
(a) One of the first tasks undertaken by the Council was to improve the roads in the town. Today we have 5 ½ miles of fully metalled and tarred roads, whereas, when the Council took over there were no tarred roads at all.
(b) A pure water supply scheme, is now under consideration and it is hoped that within a year work on the scheme will be commenced.
(c) Two new markets, have been built
(d) Surveys are being made for the purpose of formulating a drainage scheme for the town.
(e) An electric lighting scheme, was completed in 1934 and extensions were made in 1936. Today we have a full 24–hour supply of current and the scheme is paying its way.
(f) A Town Hall and U.D.C. Office are now in the course of construction. The architecture of the building is in keeping with the ancient buildings of the town.
(2) Nuwara Eliya
E.C. Misso, J.P., U.P.M., Chairman, U.D.C., Nuwara Eliya had submitted that the Council was established on January 1, 1933, in place of the Board of Improvement which had been in existence since 1898 and which left it a legacy of a wisely-administered town with a pure and abundant water supply, good roads and paths, beautiful amenities, a large surplus balance and a singular freedom from zmotic disease.
The normal population is 8,000 which rises up to at least 10,000 during the ‘Season’.The area is divided into 8 electoral divisions.
Pidurutalagala, the highest mountain in Ceylon, is its prominent landmark. The Nanu Oya and the Hawa Elita with their tributaries meander through the town into 2 artificial lakes, Lake Gregory and the Hawa Eliya Lake. Lover’s Leap waterfall associated with a tragic legend, the Unique View and Ladies’ Waterfalls are delightful items of landscape.
Two trunk roads serve the town connecting it with all important centres.
The water supply comes from the three intakes situated in the hills. A scheme for augmenting and improving it has been sanctioned at a cost of over Rs. 400,000. The first stage of the scheme is in hard. About 12 miles of water mains are maintained. Nuwara Eliya water is of a pure quality. The conservancy and scavenging service was carried out departmentally till 1935 from which year it is being carried out on contract.
The town is well supplied with public latrines. The total number of seats is over 200.
Facilities for recreation are amply provided for. Miles of forest sides and paths through virgin forest and varied scenery, the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club with its extensive Links, the trout streams which attract visitors from India, Burma and the Straits, the Nuwara Eliya racecourse with its annual fixtures, the Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association Courts, the drive through the enchanting Sita Eliya Valley to the Hakgala Botanic Gardens, through the equally beautiful Kotmale Valley to the Ramboda Waterfalls, the Annual Agri-horticultural and Horse Show, fishing in Lake Gregory for the small and giant carp, hill climbing to Single Tree and Pidurutalagala, pleasure walks around the lake, in the Woodland Park and through Galway’s land jungle, offer the visitors with a wide range of selection.
Nuwara Eliya town is free from malaria and epidemics of the serious types of contagious and infectious diseases.
Electricity is in use, the Council pays the Government power service plant sodium lights are likely to be introduced.
- Seven ‘Public bathing Places’ are available at convenient centre.
- A Housing Scheme has provided model tenements for 150 poor class families
- Under the town beautifying scheme 31 plots of land have been planted
- A Sunday Fair, was stated four years back
- The Town Hall premises is to be renovated at a cost of Rs. 15,000/=.
Besides schemes are being carried out: Grain Stores, water supply augmentation, town and assessment survey and roads.
- A child welfare and maternity clinic
- A free dental clinic and treatment centre. Meanwhile for improving the sanitary conditions of the Bazaar is in progress.
- The Council built 12 model shops at a cost of Rs. 125,000/
- Education facilities are provided by eight schools.
(3) Similarly Dehiwala – Mt. Lavinia Chairman C.W.F. Pereira, presents an interesting account of the activities and performances.
UDC Office Nuwara Eliya
Dehiwala – Mount Lavinia Town is 6 1/3 square miles in extent and has a population of 41,600.
Dehiwala – Mount Lavinia is a town of recent growth. Twenty-five years ago, in this area was a group of villages with few narrow lanes and innumerable footpaths, serving as thoroughfares. The dusty P.W.D. roads to Galle passing through this town were the only roads of any size.
The population was less than one-third the present number. These hamlets, except Ratmalana South, came within the Colombo Sanitary Board about twenty-five years ago. The Sanitary Board according to the limitations of its Constitution had no elected members, and except for a very short period, it had not even, a nominated representative from this area.
The whole city was placed under an officer called Nagaraguttika (later Nuwara Ladda), who was made responsible for its sanitation and policing. The post was held in very high esteem and the king’s uncle was the first Nagaraguttika of this city
During the regime of Sir J.G. John Fraser, G.A. as Chairman, Sanitary Board, a definite town improvement scheme on loan money was initiated. Fraser looked far ahead and planned various schemes, but his progressive ideas were very much in advance of the progress in thought of the people, most of these did not materialize. Fraser being however fully convinced that his schemes were necessary to meet the growing demands of this suburban town,
brooked no opposition and acted in a manner which was then regarded by the residents as severe and even autocratic. Not being able to secure the co-operation of the residents in the contemplated improvement schemes, Fraser, after opening up certain areas in the northern part of the town, and building what is now the U.D.C. Office, and Dehiwala Public Market, turned his energies to other areas under the Colombo Sanitary Board.
Now, with the test of time, the wisdom of Fraser’s town planning programme is appreciated.
With the granting of Local Self-Government in 1929, the scattered hamlets consisting of Dehiwala, Kalubowila West, Kalubowila East, portion of Kirullapone, Nedimala, Nikape, Pallidora, Karagampitiya, Kawdana, Galkissa, Watarappola, Ratmalana North and Ratmalana South were formed into a township to be administered by the Urban District Council of Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia.
Dehiwala – Mount Lavinia has grown rapidly and is daily growing in importance. At present there are 34 ¼ miles of roads. Out of this figure over 20 miles of roads are not less than 20 feet in width. The Zoological Gardens, the Railway Workshops and the Aerodrome are recent institutions, adding to its importance.
Following population figures, together with comparative statistics of the neighbouring town will give some idea of its growth.
Literacy – In 1921 the literacy of this town was 51% for males and 15% for females. At the same census, the literacy of Colombo city was 54% for males and 20% for females. No literacy figures are available from the formal census of 1931, but it can be stated without fear of contradiction that literacy has gone up rapidly within the last ten years.
The Free Ayurvedic Dispensary is now fully reorganizedand two Ayurvedic Physicians in addition to the paid resident physician serve the public.
(4) Major Montague Jayawickrama had been Chairman Weligama U.D.C. during 1938.
A gazette report by Annesley de Silva discloses an inspiring account.
Weligama is in extent of 2 square miles with a population of 10,100. Revenue :Rs. 25,521.
The beach, is Weligama’s chief glory, and the sea bathing the finest and the safest in the Island.
There is an island close to the shore which rises from the sea like an emerald set in coral. That is Taprobane, the residence of a noble gentleman – The Count de Mauny.
Turn away from the beach and wander into the little town. History has not passed Weligama by. One of the most striking traditions of the place is concerning the statue of Kushta Rajah, carved in high relief in a niche hollowed out of the rock.
A temple of interest is the Agra Bodhi Vihare. Within the precincts, is a Bo-tree planted during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. Shortly after the sapling from the sacred Bo-tree at Buddha-Gaya (India) was brought to Ceylon and planted at Anuradhapura, 32 seeds from the same tree at Buddha-Gaya, are said to have been brought here, and the first of these, reckoned to be the chief (and so called Agra), was planted at Weligama.
Go to Weligama, where the air is salt and sweet, mingled with the scent of sea and earth. To inhale it, is like drinking a fragrant wine.
Lets hope and pray that these lessons become an eye opener at least for some of our present Local Government representatives.
Fraser,building what is now the U.D.C. Office, and Dehiwala Public Market, turned his energies to other areas under the Colombo Sanitary Board