D. J. Wimalasurendra (1874-1953)
Father of the Hydroelectric Scheme
The name of D.J. Wimalasurendra must be inscribed as one of Lanka's greatest sons. Wimalasurendra was a visionary, an engineer par excellence and a dedicated politician. Only a visionary could have 'created light' the way he did. The British engineers of the time were sceptical that he would be able to achieve such monumental engineering feats as the successful introduction of hydro-electricity in the country.
@ LL /RH Sep 2006
D. J. Wimalasurendra was born on 17th September, 1874, as the eldest son of a master craftsman Mudaliyar Don Juan Wimalasurendra of Galle. D.J. Wimalasurendra had his early education at Ananda College, Colombo. Later he obtained Corporate membership of Electrical Engineers and Civil Engineers of United Kingdom. He joined the Public Works Department (PWD) as a head overseer (this was usual during those days) and subsequently as Junior Engineer. His first job was to construct a camp for Boer prisoners of World War 1 at Diyatalawa. He was also assigned the task of prospecting for minerals that could be used in war efforts. In the process he not only identified mineral deposits but also potential and profitable resources such as water and forests.
Wimalasurendra was responsible for designing the "looping the loop" railway track at Demodara railway station, which still remains as an edifice for his creativity.
In 1913, Wimalasurendra gave his thoughts in the construction of a small hydro power station at Blackpool, between Nanu Oya and Nuwara Eliya, to supply electricity to the Nuwara Eliya town. It proved successful and, in 1918, he submitted a project report (Economics of Hydro Power Utilization in Ceylon), to the Engineering Association, to make his dream come true. He estimated that the water potential, combined with Maskelioya and Kehelgamuoya, could be diverted to produce electricity to light 100,000 lamps (Hence the name 'Laksa-pahana', for brevity sake 'Laxapana'). The idea was to feed power to the national grid.
He argued the case for the development of hydro potential of the country. He estimated that 114.5 Mw could be developed from Kehelgamuwa oya. The engineering fraternity, who were essentially Englishmen at that time were septic of the whole project. Besides they wondered what the country would do with 114.5 Mw of power? Wimalasurendra countered them and pointed out the need for cheap power for setting up heavy industries for the development of the country. This included the electrification a section of the railway.
In 1923, the government accepted the proposal for constructing a hydro-electric project and the PWD were entrusted with the work. Wimalasurendra was side tracked. Frustrated Wimalasurendra was bitter about the treatment meted out to him and went on long leave to England. he returned to the island only at the request of the Colonial Secretary. In 1926, he was appointed the Chief Engineer of the PWD.
He recommended the separation of the electrical section of the PWD and nationalization of the Colombo electricity scheme, established in 1918 by Boustead Brothers.
He also recommended the installation of thermal plant. The Department of Government Electrical Undertaking (DGEU) was established in 1927 and the Colombo Electricity scheme was vested in it. A thermal power station on the banks of Dematagoda ella was commissioned in 1929 and named after the the Governor, Sir Stanley.
His mission unaccomplished, and his pet project muddled, Wimalasurendra retired from public service in 1930 a frustrated man. the defiant and indefatigable Wimalasurendra, Successfully contested for the State Council from Ratnapura. He, unlike the run of the mill politicians, with courage of conviction fought for the speedy implementation of the hydro-electric scheme. With all his efforts, the scheme on which work was started in 1923 was completed in 1950 only.
In 1933 he proposed the setting up of a "Central Electricity Authority". In 1935, the State Council passed the "Electricity Board Establishment Ordinance No. 38 of 1935. Alas Wimalasurendra's happiness was short lived as the Board was dissolved in 1937 and DGEU was re-established.
The Maskelioya rises from the hills of Upcot (Samymalay), and the Kehelgamuoya from the hills of Bogawantalawa, and the waters of these two were combined to form the Laxapana-Aberdeen Hydro Project, and it was inaugurated on February 18, 1940, making Wimalasurendra's dream a reality.
Wimalasurendra did not live to see yet another of his proposals taking shape, when on 1st. November, 1969, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was established.
His contributions at the State Council ranged from suggestions on Technical Education to Industrialisation. He was not a politician with greed for power, nor was he guided by any political or economic dogmas, but acted on his convictions. He is an engineer par excellence, committed to the up-lift of the society in which he lived. That was his only goal.
Railway electrification, another dream of Wimalasurendra still remains a dream and the present indications are that it will remain to be so for quite some time.
We have named one of the hydroelectric power stations after him. The government has issued a stamp to perpetuate his memory. The only way we could perpetuate his memory is to ensure that cheap electricity is made available to meet the needs of the country, on a continuous basis. The Ceylon Electricity Board owes this to its originator, if not for the benefit of the fellow citizens.
"Although it was not my fortune to execute the scheme I have originated, I am happy that I lived to see it brought to fruition by my countrymen, and that I should have, in the evening of my life, able to see in reality the dawn which I saw in the mind's eye over half a century ago. Now, if I leave this world, I leave fulfilled." - late D.J. Wimalasurendra in 1950, at the ripe age of 75, when he visited the Hydro Electric Scheme stage 1 work