Deshabandu Dr. A. N. S. Kulasinghe - A True National Genius

I first met Dr. Kulasinghe in London in 1958. He had come to London to sit the final part of the Bachelor of Science, (Engineering) degree. He was staying with someone known to me and I used to meet him off and on during his stay. I then lost touch with him until my return to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1961 as a chartered Civil Engineer. A colleague of mine, Mr. Allirajah, was also in Sri Lanka about the same time having completed his charter in London.

One morning we decided to respond to an advertisement by the Ceylon Steel Corporation calling for Engineers and called over at their office on Bullers Road to collect two application forms. We were ushered into the office of the General Manager, Mr. Manikkam, and interviewed together. At the end of the interview Mr. Manikkam called Dr. Kulasinghe at the Port Commission and arranged for us to be interviewed in the afternoon..

As we walked through the door to his office he said that he was getting ready to write to me to ask me to return and join him in a new organization that he was going to head. Since the State Engineering Corporation (SEC) was not gazetted at the time, both of us were recruited as Engineers to the Ceylon Steel Corporation and started work the very next day.

The SEC was gazetted in January 1962 and started literally from scratch with Dr. Kulasinghe as the Chairman and CEO while retaining his substantive job at the Port Commission. The staff consisted of the two of us and a handful of engineers and technical assistants from the then Department of Industries with offices in their premises, and absolutely no resources other than the will and drive of one man who inspired us.

The construction of the Steel Factory at Athurugiriya and the Tyre Factory at Kelaniya, both funded by Russian aid, were the first two projects assigned to the SEC. The fact that the then Government decided to do so reflects not only the confidence the Government had in Dr. Kulasinghe but also the fact that he symbolized the spirit of nationalism that prided in the abilities of indigenous talents to meet the challenges before the country.

It was in this background that Dr. Kulasinghe was able to transform the SEC in a relatively short time into a premier institution with a demonstrated ability that it could undertake virtually every type of construction. Each project challenged his ability to invent, innovate and adopt techniques not tried before. He introduced techniques such a prestressed concrete, precast concrete, shell structures and several other techniques that today have become commonplace in the construction industry. The result was to nurture virtually an army of engineers and technicians who were technically competent and confident; traits that they carried with them wherever they went.

With the change in Government in 1971, attempts were made to tinker with the SEC and he left the country and sought opportunities for his skills abroad. Again, with a new Government in place in 1977 he returned and took charge as Chairman of the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) in 1978 as well as Chairman of the National Engineering Research & Development (NERD) Centre.

While CECB gave the opportunity for him to be at the center of the Accelerated Mahaveli Programme, a challenged he cherished, NERD Centre gave him the opportunity to try out all the ideas his fertile mind could create. What was remarkable and unique about him was that instead of being confined to a specific field his interests and contributions spread over such a wide range that his services were sought by several Statutory Boards and Institutions engaged in both science and engineering.

In recognition of his many diverse contributions, Institutions and the State conferred on him titles such as Doctor, Vidyajothi, Deshabandu and Doctor of Science.

After a lapse of 30 years during which I used to see him now and then, the winds of circumstance brought us together again, when we were appointed Consultants to the Ministry of Urban Development & Water Supply in 2004, by Minister Dinesh Gunawardene. It was like old times once more. I will surely miss his judgment and counsel as we explore solutions to new challenges.

His life and work caused an awakening in a new paradigm in the field of engineering construction in this country. At the heart of this awakening that is bound to affect generations of engineers and scientists to come, is the reliance on the genius of native abilities; a true pride in everything that was national. This above all is the legacy he leaves to a nation in acknowledgement of which the State participated in blessing him on his journey through Sansara with a prayer that he would attain the final bliss of Nibbana.

It is for us, the living to consecrate his life and work by keeping the spirit of what he stood for alive; the spirit of reliance in our own abilities and strengths to meet whatever the challenges the nation has to face.

Neville S. Ladduwahetty


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