All human progress has depended on ‘new
questions’ rather than on ‘new answers’ to the old questions.
Alfred North White – Science and the Modern
The story of water is the story of man [woman].
Question: Is it possible to take a water
resources management approach in devolving power (empowerment)
to masses (village-level) and to politicians (regional-level)?
Answer: The size and type of the devolution
unit both at micro (village) and macro (region) levels is a key
issue in this regard. Part I of the answer is discussed below.
Under the Colombo (colonial) paradigm, a group
of Colombo ruling families tried to provide answers to an "old
problem" that they themselves had created. They mismanaged the
separatist demand by a sub-group of Colombo Tamils. Since the
early 1920s these Tamil separatists had direct links with the
Dravidasthan separatist movement in South India and expected to
benefit from British views such as "India is a myth" and "India
has two nations" (India and Pakistan). With the colonial
divide-and-rule policy, local British governors Manning and Hugh
Clifford aided and abetted the separatists in this sinister
design (ref. Communalism and language in the politics of
Ceylon, Robert Kearney, 1967, p. 37 and the 1977 TULF
Fortunately, the colonial masters in London
refused to apply the two nation theory to Ceylon (Donoughmore
 and Soulbury  Commissions; Donoughmore Report, pp.
92-93, Soulbury Report, pp. 66-67). Instead, they left the
colony with a system of checks and balances and a fine 1947
Constitution which in turn was based on the previous "Ministers’
Draft". The Colombo politicians of UNP, SLFP, CP (Mos-cow
party), LSSP (bangawewa party), UNF and PA destroyed this
system and in 1978 ended up with a "bahubootha"
vyawastava. In desperation, looking for quick fixes, they
even addressed the terrorist negotiator (Anton Balasingham) as
"His Excellency". The tiny island ended up with many
Antho-Jata-Bahi-Jata (mega) problems.
The Colombo crowd faced several humiliating
slaps such as the 1987 Indo-SL Accord (from India), 2002 CFA
(from Norway) and 2003 ISGA (from Tamil terrorists). Albert
Einstein once said, "the significant problems we have cannot be
solved at the same level of thinking with which we created
them". Yet, the Colombo crowd continued to look for answers to
their old question, "how can we continue the kolambata kiri,
apita kakiri [milk for Colombo, melon for us] social,
political and economic system even if that means the breaking up
of Sri Lanka"?
The 2005 Presidential Election saved Sri Lanka
by a razor-thin margin. The life-sacrificing ground work of the
Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera and the JVP-JHU support empowered
the rural forces of the SLFP under a new midwife and the Pancha
Maha Balavegaya (PMB) of the 1956 fame—buried after 1959 and
almost killed after 1978—was resurrected, and a new paradigm—"Mahinda
Chintanaya (MC)"—is struggling with birth pains.
Indian model or Pondicherry model?
How can Colombo families as well as non-Colombo
masses enjoy the fruits of freedom, peace and prosperity where
the entire island is the homeland of everybody? How can the law
provide equal opportunities for all its citizens? How can Sri
Lanka avoid trying to legislate against geography? What are the
"legitimate Tamil grievances which should be accommodated within
a devolution plan?"
The size and type of the devolution unit both at
micro and macro levels depend on the purpose of (and motives
for) devolution. In India, in 1956, language was taken as the
basis in deciding the size at the macro level because prevention
of further uncontrollable disintegration of India into perhaps
hundreds of "fighting" units was the primary purpose (see map 4
for geographical dimensions of 13 major language regions and
tribal language areas).
In 1993, Panchayat Raj Institutes (PRI) was
enshrined as the micro level unit because the Indian
constitutional model with language-based macro level state units
failed to deliver socio-economic progress or justice to the
Indian masses. The Hindustan Times cites a report (www.
hindustantimes.com, October 20, 2006) that puts India behind Sri
Lanka and Bangladesh on economic and social progress.
In Sri Lanka during 1995-2000, the late Neelan
Thiruchelvam was driven by a desire to give Tamils a homeland
(macro level) and therefore he preferred the Indian
language-based macro level model, but refused to accommodate the
Pondicherry sub-model (micro level) which is part and parcel of
the Indian model. In October 2006, Anandasangaree is also silent
on the Pondicherry model, but Rauff Hakeem of the SLMC is
pitching for a Pondicherry model, (www.tamilnewsweb.com,
September 18, 2006) "wherein Muslims can have various Muslim
pockets spread over the East (or Beruwala, Akurana, Puttalam or
Hambantota?), under one Muslim administration" (Pondicherry has
4 pockets in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, see red dots
on Map 2. P-1 = Pondicherry City, P-2 = Karaikal, P-3 = Yanam
and P-4 = Mahe).
Panchayat Raj model, Pondicherry model and the
It appears that Sri Lanka is ready to copy the
Indian Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI model) as the basic
devolution block at the grass roots level. PRI is closer to the
Pondicherry model than to the failed language-based Indian model
at the macro level. In Sri Lanka, we have the gamsabhawa
(British governor Henry Ward discovered them in 1856) which is
similar to the PRI model (ref. The Report of the Local
Government Reforms Commission, Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1999,
the Abhayewardhana report).
For thousands of years the Sri Lankan
socio-economic environment was based on the trinity of
gama-vewa-dagoba, village-tank-temple (The Power Pyramid
and the Dharmic Cycle by A. T. Ariyaratne, 1988, chapter 7).
Our ancient civilization was linked to water. Isn’t it then
possible to adjust/align the boundaries of village councils and
their wards (in 1981 there were 549 VCs and 7137 wards, (Abhayewardhana
report, p. 452) to fit in with boundaries of watersheds or
hydrological basins? Then traditional VCs are converted to
ecological-political units at the micro level.
Since watersheds/basins have a hierarchical
order of progressively increasing in area/size they can become a
large River Basin Region at macro level. Seven such River Basin
Regions (see map 1) could replace the present arbitrary nine
Provincial units. In New Zealand, a small country with small
river basins like in Sri Lanka, under the Resources Management
Act of 1991, local governments units follow river basin
boundaries (ref. www.dia.govt.nz/www.stats.govt.nz).
Sri Lanka has 319 AGA divisions, 257 Pradeshiya
Sabhas, and 38,259 "villages" (www. statistics.gov.lk, 2002
data). Until the 1990s it had about 4000 GSN divisions, which is
now a mind boggling number of 14,009. By selecting river
basins/watersheds as the lowest PRI-type administrative unit for
Sri Lanka this GSN number could be decreased to an ecologically
appropriate, socially equitable and economically efficient
number. The water tanks inventory prepared by the late Chief
Justice Hema Basnayake could be useful in this regard.
Failure of the Indian ‘F’ model
It took India 50 years and nine Five Year Plans
to finally accept the failure of the Indian model of
language-based state demarcations, and to grant constitutional
teeth to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) by the 73rd and 74th
Constitutional Amendments of 1993. Indian Five Year Plan
documents are replete with information on the socio-economic
failure of the Indian model (ref. Planning Commission,
Government of India: Five Year Plans,
www.planningcommission.nic.in/plans). The Indian constitution
could not make a significant dent on the misery and poverty of
millions of Indians living in villages other than creating a
super rich affluent class living in Delhi and state capitals who
receive praise in books such as The World Is Flat.
The language-based homelands path became a
formula of "feeding a cancer to cure it" for India. Original 13
language-based states are now increased to 24 (on map 2 each
black dot is a state capital). This slippery path has no
end in sight. Just to give two examples; in Assam the Indian
army is fighting with the separatist United Liberation Front of
Assam (Daily News, September 27, 2006). In Tamil Nadu,
Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramadoss is demanding a separate
state within Tamil Nadu for the Vanniyar castes. As a reaction
to this demand the Dalits in Tamil Nadu are also demanding a
separate state. Unlike Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu is large enough for
such separate states (ref. www.hinduonnet.com, Frontline
vol. 19  August 17, 2002).
Indian model and river basins
During the colonial period some native and
foreign engineers made proposals to demarcate India on the basis
of its major river basins. In this regard it is useful to
compare the major river basins map of India (map 5) with a
similar map of Sri Lanka (map 1). It is not easy to use rivers
as boundaries for Indian states because India is so big and it
is a sub-continent comparable in size to Western Europe.
But India has come to wrestle with river basins
from a new state boundary-nullifying perspective. Rivers do not
respect language boundaries and water resources are a state
government subject. But if the Delhi government decides to
manage water shortages and water conservation issues as a
national priority then states borders become insignificant. Just
like India is excited about its PRI path (for the past 11 years)
it is even more excited about its mega Inter Basin Water
Transfer Link Project (map 6). The Indian President, Indian
Supreme Court and the Indian government are all promoting the
project that will cost between 112-200 billion USD. There will
be 30 water links. The project has already started and is
expected to be completed by 2016 (Central Water Commission,
http://cwc. nic.in; National Water Development Agency, http://
River basin model for Sri Lanka
One of the first major river basin management
plans in the modern world was the Tennessee Valley Authority in
USA. The TVA model was copied for the first time outside USA in
Sri Lanka to develop the Gal Oya Valley in the Eastern Province.
In Gal Oya as well as later with the Mahaweli project local
views to undertake them as smaller projects rather than mega
projects were ignored to unwanted misery and suffering to the
people. However, the Mahaweli project has now become the water
resources anchor of Sri Lanka. There are 15 river basins now
considered as the Mahaweli Project Area (Transformation
towards Mahaweli River Basin Management Authority, P. T.
Senaratne and D.C.S. Elakanda, 2004).
On map 1, Professor of Geography C. M. Madduma
Bandara (chapter 4 in Fifty years of Sri Lanka’s
independence: a socio-economic review, edited by A. D. V. de
S. Indraratna, 1998, p. 83; The Island, February 7, 2001)
has proposed Seven River Basin Regions (this writer superimposed
the Eelam boundary on his map). They are: 1. Yalpanam 2,
Rajarata,3.Dambadeni, 4. Mahaweli, 5. Digavapi, 6. Kelani and 7.
Under this scheme each unit has access to the
sea. Yalpanam is totally within the boundary of Eelam and
Digavapi is also largely within Eelam borders. No one unit is
exceptionally larger compared to other units. As stated earlier
the beauty of this kind of demarcation is that the lowest unit
(PRI-village-GSN unit) is ecologically linked with the largest
unit and any religious and language promotion activities could
take place independent of the boundary lines of even the highest
seven spatial units. On the other hand at the lowest level the
ancient trinity could be transformed into a multicultural
trinity of village/town-tank/oya-church/mosque, where one
village/town community does not have to suspect another
village/town community for infringing upon each other’s
aspirations. If the rain water falling on to the two sides of
the roof of the Ginigathhena police station goes to two rivers,
Kelani and Mahaweli, it does not matter if Tamils, Muslims or
Sinhalese live below.
As the Supreme Court decision which declared the
merger of N-E null and void states, the equal protection of the
law unifies people on the basis of the Rule of Law (unlike the
divisive ethnic yardsticks such as language, religion or caste).
A system of water resources-based administrative units ideally
fits with this Supreme Court thinking.
It is unfortunate that the university teachers,
the social science unit of the National Science Foundation or
other numerous NGOs in Sri Lanka have not shown any interest in
the concept that map 1 has proposed. This writer found only two
newspaper articles on this subject in the past. (River basins as
administrative divisions, L. M. Samarasinghe, President Soil and
Water Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, Daily News,
November 14, 2005; Devolution and water flow, V. R. Nanayakkara,
Former Forest Conservator, The Island, September 25,
Because "The World Is Flat" (economic liberalization) only
for the rich, and for the poor "the world is flood" (global
warming) it is important that lawyers and constitutional experts
listen to conservationists and geographers who take a holistic
perspective on human-environment conflicts.