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
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
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
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