is now the largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo, with 270,000
residents. It has a low population density of 3,000 per square
kilometre. In the mid 20th Century, Kaduwela was the happy hunting
ground of the Left-wing nationalist movement, led by Robert Gunawardena,
who was MP for the area from 1947 to 1965. From 1965 to 1977 it was
represented by Chandra Gunasekera, another Leftist firebrand
Last month all eyes were fixed on the local elections in the North.
As a result observers appear to be missing a significant landmark in the
South: the elections in the Kaduwela area this time were not for a
Pradeshiya Sabha (Divisional Council), but for a Municipal Council.
It is unprecedented in Sri Lanka for an area to change its
designation overnight from rural to metropolitan - usually it is an
Urban Council which is upgraded to a Municipality - yet this is
precisely what has happened in Kaduwela.
Of course, it has been an urban area for some time, but this was not
administratively recognized. Its importance was acknowledged by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he opened the local authority's new
administrative complex last January.
He pointed out that affluent people in Colombo were selling or
leasing out their properties and moving out to the Kaduwela area. Poorer
people, from areas like Borella, Rajagiriya and Kotte, too have also
migrated there in the past two decades.
In fact, Kaduwela is now the largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo,
with 270,000 residents. It has a low population density of 3,000 per
square kilometre - actually considered the ideal density by British
'Garden City' planners such as Ebenezer Howard, Raymond Unwin and
Kaduwela has historically been part of the Colombo District's
nationalist and Left-wing heartland. King Rajasinghe I levied troops
from Koratota and Hokandara on his way to the Battle of Mulleriyawa
where he vanquished the Portuguese.
It was in honour of the part that these men played in that victory
that the county was renamed 'Hewagam Korale', from 'Hewakam' - military
service. So it perhaps apt that the new military headquarters are coming
up at Akuregoda, near Pelawatte.
In the mid 20th Century, Kaduwela was the happy hunting ground of the
left-wing nationalist movement, led by Robert Gunawardena, who was MP
for the area from 1947 to 1965. From 1965 to 1977 it was represented by
Chandra Gunasekera, another Leftist firebrand.
The area now covered by the Kaduwela MC used to be administered by
the Battaramulla Town Council and two Village Councils.
After JR Jayewardene abolished TCs and VCs, there was no local
government in the area until the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe
Premadasa introduced the Pradeshiya Sabha concept.
It was Kingsley T Wickramaratne, MP for Colombo district and SLFP
Organizer for Kaduwela, who first proposed that Kaduwela be made into a
This was to acknowledge the fact that the area was becoming much more
urban. Former rubber plantations in Malabe, Pelawatte, Hokandara and
Athurugiriya had become middle-class suburbs.
It also reflected the position of Battaramulla as part of the new
Capital - although Parliament is in Sri Jayawardhanapura Kotte, road
access is through Battaramulla. Furthermore, government offices such as
Sethsiripaya and Isurupaya were firmly within the former Battaramulla TC
Apart from the new Capital, there were some other factors which
engendered the rapid expansion of middle-class suburbs in the Kaduwela
The first was the development of roads, notably the new Parliamentary
dual carriageway, the New Kandy Road and the widening of Borella Road
The build-up of traffic on the Galle Road, the Baseline Road and the
High Level Road/Havelock Road suddenly precipitated the understanding
that the North-South axis was not the only possibility for Colombo's
Kaduwela and Athurugiriya are the same distance from Colombo Fort as
Moratuwa and Ja-Ela. However, the travel time is much faster because the
roads are not as congested. Kalapaluwawa is closer than Kirulapone,
Pelawatte has easier access than Kalubowila.
The large private-sector housing development at Athurugiriya, known
as Millennium City, also helped the flow of middle-class people into
this hitherto semi-rural mainly working-class area. Smaller private
sector housing schemes exploded onto the map of Kaduwela. The large area
and the vast open spaces, including bodies of water and paddy fields,
make for a highly desirable residential area for those of the elite
wishing for an urban-rural habitat, with wildlife in the backyard.
The area around the Talangama Tank has become an exclusive upper
middle class zone, while property prices have sky-rocketed in Kotiyagoda
(across the Kolonnawa Ela from Rajagiriya), where two luxury high-rise
residential towers have come up.
Considering the size and wealth of its population, the Pradeshiya
Sabha had a surprisingly low income. This was because hitherto rates
were not collected in many areas. Indeed, most developed lands had not
even been assessed.
However, last year the Valuation Department completed the assessment
of properties in Kaduwela as part of an ongoing process. Hence, with the
transition to Municipal status, the local authority will be in a
position to levy rates at a higher level.
The way is thus open for the development of Kaduwela as a city in its
own right. Its population is due to explode once the new Outer circular
Highway, with an exit next to Kaduwela town, is completed in 2014.
It is to be hoped that the newly elected Municipal Council, headed by
the new Mayor, veteran local politician GH Buddhadasa, will be mindful
of the mal-development of Colombo city and its neighbours. Kaduwela has
the chance to be a Garden City and a model for urban development in the
entire region. The new council has an historic opportunity which should
not be muffed.