|Thursday, 14 November 2002|
Book on "Agriculture and patriotism"
The Sinhala translation of the book "Agriculture and Patriotism" written by Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake was released on 21.10.2002 at the J. R. Jayewardene Cultural Centre.
by L. M. Samarasinghe
The first Legislative Council that had a majority of Unofficial Members was the Council appointed in 1921.
There were 14 official members and 23 unofficial members. Into this Council Mr. D. S. Senanayake was elected to represent Negombo District. He also functioned as Secretary of the unofficial members of that Council.
In the State Council that came in 1931 consequent to the recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission Mr. D. S. Senanayake was elected member for Minuwangoda unopposed and was also appointed the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Agriculture and Lands and became the Minister of Agriculture and Lands.
This was the only Committee where there was no contest for the chair and he belonged to the then Congress Party.
At the 1936 Elections to the State Council Mr. Senanayake was returned unopposed as Member for Minuwangoda and once again was elected the uncontested Chairman of the Executive Committee on Agriculture and Lands and became the Minister of Agriculture and Lands.
Mr. Senanayake's interests in land for the peasant's did not commence for his assumption of duties as Minister of Agriculture and Lands, but a long time before that he had developed interests on the problem of landlessness of the peasantry. It was difficult for the average person to acquire land and due to indebtedness people lost what little land they had.
Then there was also the problem of fragmentation resulting from ownership passing onto the children and other heirs. This problem of landlessness became quite a challenge and even the colonial administration was conscious of this unhappy situation. The Government appointed the landless villagers committee in 1925 under the Chairmanship of H. W. Codrington and Mr. Senanayake took much interest in making representations to this Official Committee.
The then Government accepted that the landless villagers committee was inadequate to meet the challenges of that time, and appointed and Land Commission in 1927 and the recommendations of that Commission led to the passing of the Land Development Ordinance in 1935. The expectation was that this law should have been passed much earlier than that. But it was delayed until 1935. Prior to the passing of this law the method of land alienation was under Land Sales which was a revenue earning exercise and benefitted only the rich.
The Land Development Ordinance provided for the appointment of the Land Commissioner and the alienation of Land to the peasants on a Permit or Grant system and on a very nominal annual payment. It also provided for the alienation of land to the middle class person in blocks extending up to about 25 acres per person. This procedure also avoided possible fragmentation of such land by introducing the rule of nominated successor for each such land and provided protected tenure.
The applicants of land had to appear at a Land Kachcheri which was held quite close to the place of residence of the applicants of a particular village area. It was positively a pro people exercise and did not place unnecessary burdens on the applicant.
The British Administration had passed the Irrigation Ordinance No. 9 of 1856 and the Irrigation Department was set up in 1900.
Land and Irrigation were both under Mr. Senanayake and he started restoring the ancient irrigation system and major reservoirs in the Dry Zone region and Colonization Programme commenced. Landless peasants were brought in large numbers - mostly from the crowded wet zone regions and were provided the allotments of irrigated land and high land with a well built cottage, a pair of buffaloes and a financial allowance until the farmer got his first crop.
Mr. Senanayake regularly visited the Colonization Schemes throughout the Dry Zone region to ensure that the allottees of land were happy and contended. The colonists had great faith in Mr. Senanayake and he never let them down.
When this nation-building exercise was started the country's population was little less than 6 million and we produced only about 10% of the total requirement of rice. The rest had to be imported. Thanks to Mr. Senanayake's efforts and guidance today we produce 90% of the total requirement of rice for the present population of over eighteen million. The nation surely is indebted to him for this great service.
This is a success story which has no parallel anywhere else in the Asian region. All this work he carried out with local funds. Foreign assistance came in only with the Gal Oya construction programme. Apart from the setting up of Major Colonization Schemes under the restored ancient irrigation systems the Land Development Ordinance also provided facilities to alienation land to peasants under village expansion schemes throughout the country.
In his book titled "Agriculture and Patriotism" he emphasizes the need for growing of fruits and crops needed for food locally.
It is a pity that today our shops and pavements are full of imported fruits while in the rural areas the farmer producers remain helpless. This is a pattern that Mr. Senanayake would never have permitted in his days.
Mr. Senanayake was also the Minister in charge of the Co-operative Department and during the most difficult period of the Second World War that started in 1939 there was a food scarcity which could have caused most serious problems to the people of Sri Lanka. Mr. Senanayake activated the Co-operative Department and got co-operative stores societies set up almost in every village throughout the country and ensured the satisfactory and fair distribution of the food items without allowing the blackmarketeers to take command of the difficult time and harass the people.
The food scarcity was quite acute and the country had to depend on imported food but no one died of starvation because the co-operative stores provided alternate varieties of food items imported from various sources.
In the selection of candidates at election time Mr. Senanayake never encouraged anyone and everyone to jump in and submit nominations. He was quite concerned as to who came up as candidates. The result was that his team of Members of Parliament were well accepted and constituted a dependable and loyal team. The voters and the public were quite happy with their representatives.
After he became the Prime Minister of the First Parliament he cultivated a habit of summoning the party MPs to Temple Trees once every three months or so and had heart-to-heart chat with them and guided them on their political path. When he advised the MPs he always told them not to interfere with the work of Administrative Officers.
No M.P. ever came to the office of an Administrative Officer to interfere with his work during that period. It is interesting to recall that he did not go before the Soulbury Commission to give evidence or lead delegations.
But he took them on a tour of the ancient ruined cities of Sri Lanka.
While they were on such a tour Mr. Senanayake suggested to Lord Soulbury that he speaks to a farmer working on a roadside paddy field. Somewhere close to Kegalle he stopped near a field and called a farmer who was in loin clothes. The farmer came up to Lord Soulbury and spoke to him in fluent English and inquired about some matters in the United Kingdom and Lord Soulbury was quite amazed that an average farmer had that degree of fluency in the English language and was so knowledgable about affairs in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Senanayake of course was aware that the farmer was non other than Mr. E.A.P. Wijeratne who later became a Minister and also High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. That was an example of Mr. Senanayake's superior strategy.
Mr. Senanayake was quite conscious of the problem and needs of the Kandyan Peasantry who were harassed and suffered during the struggle in 1818. He got the Kandyan Peasantry Commission appointed in 1949 to look into the problems of the Kandyan peasantry and make suitable recommendations.
The findings of this Commission are quite revealing and action was taken later on to set up a Department of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission to implement the recommendations of that Commission.
Mr. Senanayake also had a less known practice of cultivating a dependable and non demanding and highly respected informant from each of the more important Districts who visited him once in a quarter or so and gave information to him about the general situation of that particular District, the problems and welfare of the people, the functioning of the various people connected institutions and such other relevant information which provided a reasonable picture of the prevailing situation in that particular area. He did not encourage communal approaches. He expected everyone to think and act as Sri Lankans.
Mr. Senanayake's strategies, his patience and his superior ability to harness the right person to carry out a difficult task were quite unique.
The most successful manner in which he got the British Administration to grant Independence to Ceylon and keep them as our best friends would remain a bright chapter in the modern history of our land.
Produced by Lake House