In 1971, the Ministry of Irrigation, Power and Highways decided to transfer all excess River Valleys Development Board employees at Gal Oya to Walawe. This would soon bring up the total strength of RVDB personnel at Walawe to 15,000 and, consequently, a highly-experienced hand was required to keep this huge number usefully employed in jungle clearing, land development, road-building, putting-up new housing, constructing distributary and field channels as well as building a police station, post office, hospital and a school. An agricultural research centre and the huge mechanical workshop, too, had to be kept going at full strength. There was a dire need for housing and other infrastructure to deal with the large influx of those who were being transferred at short notice.
Because of the not-so-hospitable working and living conditions, Minister Maithripala Senanayake, appointed Mr D.D.G.P.Ladduwahetty (“DL”) from the Irrigation Department, as the Resident General Manager. DL was well-experienced in land development and the provision of irrigation facilities to farmers’ allotments.
In 1971, there were forty-three trade unions in the RVDB. Whereas almost any administrator would have been at loggerheads with at least some of them, DL dealt easily with all of them by welcoming them with a warm smile and a cup of freshly-made tea. His genuinely friendly inquiries about the union presidents’ families and other personal matters went a long way to disarm them before the main issues came up for resolution.
During the period that I worked as DL’s civil engineering deputy I was insulated by him from having anything to do with all politicians who visited Walawe. Although DL himself had often to deal with demanding lawmakers he managed to steer his way diplomatically through the continuous stream of requests, pleadings and demands that they presented to him.
He was not willing to wait for the long time that would be needed for planning and design preliminaries ahead of active land preparation and construction work. However, in order to bypass the delays that would ensue by trying to carry out the work strictly “according to the book”, DL started his working day at 6.00am, accompanied by a trusted surveying technician and an experienced team of labourers. He would go out to the field and start walking from the location of each planned outlet at the distributary canal and follow the contour of the ground by eye estimation from the outlet, giving a slight downward slope to the channel to facilitate a controlled flow of water. By using this ‘short cut’ he was able to issue irrigation water to farmers much earlier than if he had followed standard practices.
Although DL himself had often to deal with demanding lawmakers he managed to steer his way diplomatically through the continuous stream of requests, pleadings and demands that they presented to him
DL hardly ever looked at a clock. He just got on with whatever required the most urgent attention. It was particularly easy to assist him because he concentrated on working in the field and left me to manage from my office the work; which needed the services of more than four hundred engineers, draughtsmen, surveyors and their skilled labour.
All our time was spent on the huge task of developing the Walawe Valley as quickly as possible so that landless peasants could be given their allotments without delay.
DL treated me with more respect and affection than a subordinate could have reasonably expected. When I left the RVDB after thirty-three months to follow a free-lance consultancy career, DL most generously gave me an unsolicited service-cum-character certificate that I greatly value to this day.
Not too long after I left Walawe, DL was made Chairman of the Mahaweli Development Board and, later on, moved on to the Board of Airport & Aviation Services Ltd. I lost track of his career thereafter, but maintained personal contact whenever we got the opportunity.
When he died at the ripe age of ninety-six years recently, I lost a friendly, cheerful and knowledgeable ex-boss as well as a good friend. If there are any after-worlds, he will certainly get a place in one of the superior ones.
MA(Cantab), PhD(London), DIC, MICE, MIStructE, MIE(SL)
Formerly Dep.Gen.Mgr (RVDB)