Appreciation – C. P. De Silva
A Politician Who Wanted To Live A Free Man In A Free Society
Men of an Era” are rarely born, but once born they live in the hearts of the people long after their demise. Late C. P. De Silva, the Minister of Lands, Land Development, Irrigation and Power from 1956 to 1970 except for a few months in 1959 and 1960, devoted his life to the North Central Province and is considered one such man. Thirty eight years after his demise he is still referred to as “Minneriya Deviyo” (The Angel Of Minneriya).
Charles Percival De Silva, fondly known as CP to his friends and colleagues, passed away after a brief illness on the 9th of October 1972. He was one of those rare politicians who represented the large and difficult Polonnaruwa District, at that time the Pollonnaruwa electorate, for 13 unbroken years from 1952 and subsequently the Minneriya electorate from 1965 for the next five years. He was the only hope to the poor farmers of the entire Polonnaruwa District for 18 long years, until he too was caught in the UNP debacle in 1970 and lost by 1000 votes.
The election result released early that night, not only shocked the people of the Polonnaruwa District but the whole country. All knew if CP had lost, the UNP Government would loose too. It was only a few months before that the Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake laid the foundation stone for the Polgolla Diversion commencing the biggest single multi purpose project ever – the Mahaweli irrigation project, for which CP had dedicated his entire Civil Service from 1935 to 1952 and his political career from 1952 to 1970.
He was born on the 12th of April 1912 at Randombe, Balapitiya. His father C. R. De Silva was a well known Attorney at Law practicing at the Balapitiya Bar. He began schooling at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda and soon moved to S. Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia. He shone as a brilliant student at St Thomas’ and began to win many scholarships at school. His name began to appear on several Honour Boards at St Thomas’. He became the Head Prefect and carried away the prestigious Gregory Scholarship and the Miller Award for brilliance in Maths and Science. He then won the “Exhibition Scholarship” to enter the University and Graduated with B.Sc Special Maths Honours ( First Class ).
His professor at the University was Mr. C. Suntheralingam. His parents who by then was educating the other academically promising members of the family who later became the well known child Specialist in Dr Stella De Silva, Research Scientist in Dr L. B. De Silva, a fine Civil lawyer in A.H. De Silva ( MP for Polonnaruwa ) and that fine Ceylon boxer in Merril De Silva ( MP for Minneriya ), had no hesitation in sending CP because he was the eldest, to England to pass out as a Civil Servant, the most prestigious position to be in under the British administration.
In 1935 CP returned to Ceylon and entered the Civil Service, as one of the youngest Civil Servants to ever pass out in the history of Civil Service in Ceylon. He was promptly sent to Jaffna and then to Puttalam as a Cadet.
He then served as an AGA for seven long years in the Districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where human settlements were being created by D. S. Senanayake opening acres of thick jungle supported by well planned irrigation projects. He also served in the Kalutara District for a short time.
As a young and enthusiastic Civil Servant, CP resisted going back to a life of luxury, marriage and a family his parents wanted for him. Instead he chose to live in the small human settlements surrounded by thick jungle under very difficult living conditions. CP lived alone in the Rest House overlooking the Giritale tank and traveled in a canvass top Willys Jeep once a week all the way to Matale via Elahera to buy milk, eggs, fish and meat to fill his kerosene fridge and other provisions to last the week.
More often than not, his lunch was in a farmer’s hut as there was no coming back for lunch. He used to be often sent to Colombo for treatment for malaria and water born deceases, but came back quickly determined to serve the farmer peasants for whom his heart bled.
Prior to being transferred as AGA Anuradhapura, C. P. De Silva served as an Assistant Secreatary of the Ministry of Agriculture under Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. In 1946, he served as the Assistant Land Commissioner. In 1949, he was elevated to the position of Director, Land Development under Dudley Senanayake who was the Minister of Agriculture. Thus he served the poor farmers under the direction of both D. S. and Dudley Senanayake and is known to have personally overseen the farmer settlements in the entire Rajarata and in particular in the Minneriya colonization scheme.
The Minneriya Colonisation scheme was in crisis as it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade the colonist to stay on. D. S. Senanayake called for his young Assistant Secretary and had given the task of proceeding to the NCP as Assistant Government Agent to resurrect the dying scheme. CP never forgot the support DS and C.L. Wickremasinghe the then Land Commissioner gave him in reviving the Minneriya Colonisation scheme. It is said that his Minister and the land Commissioner used to accommodate CP for hours in the Ministry in Colombo discussing the Minneriya scheme and the several issues faced by the farmers. It is said that at every such meeting, D.S. and C.P. finished the Gold Flake cigarette case pulled out by DS and the tin of Gold Flake brought by CP before retiring for lunch.
CP was so closely associated with his Minister and the Land Commissioner that the GA Mr. Richard Aluvihare ( later Sir Richard ) was quite intrigued with the knowledge CP had of issues connected with land and land settlements and Government thinking on them. So much that, the G.A. knew all CP’s requests on behalf of the farmers were met by the Government led by D.S. and Minister Dudley Senanayake. It was no surprise when the proud D. S. Senanayake paid a glowing tribute to the AGA, NCP in the then State Council when the Minneriya Colonisation scheme revived and became a great success.
(To be continued next week)
Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku