Lalith — a noble son of Mother Lanka

lalith.jpg (9133 bytes)by Godwin de Alwis
On 22nd April 2002 the grateful people of Sri Lanka will commemorate the 9th death anniversary of the late Lalith Athulathmudali a noble son of Mother Lanka who laid down his life for the sake of democracy and well being of his fellow countrymen.

My humble attempt is not to present a traditional eulogy but to highlight some of his human characteristics which would certainly inspire us to work towards the vision he had for our motherland.

On that fateful day the fatal and brutal bullet which pierced through his heart put the entire nation into shock and grief. The sea of humanity which thronged to his residence at Inner Flower Road was a clear testimony of the love, admiration and respect the people had for him.

I had the rare privilege of associating myself with this great and unique personality in my official capacity as the Assistant Secretary of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. I wish to deal with three areas in which I have got myself involved, in this memorial note.

a) Development of port of Colombo;

b) Completion of Varaya Sambuddha Jayanthi Chaitya; and

c) Maha Pola Scholarship Scheme.

Development of Port of Colombo

As a comparatively young dynamic Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of Trade & Shipping had a vision for the ports in Sri Lanka and the port of Colombo in particular. As the creator of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in 1979, he had set targets and motivated and inspired the entire organization from Chairman downwards to reach the set goal. He instilled in the minds of everybody the importance of team spirit which brought forth rewarding results.

Colombo the hub Port of South Asia

Through his dedication and commitment he was able to inaugurate the "Queen Elizabeth Container Terminal" on 1st of August 1980 to coincide with the 1st anniversary of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. It has to be recorded here that Colombo was the first port in South Asia to install a gantry crane at a cost of Rs. 100 million from SLPA’s own funds. One more gantry crane was installed in 1989 with a Japanese Government loan. This terminal provided an annual capacity of 250,000 TEUs.

Based on a master plan prepared by the JICA (Japan International Consultancy Agency) in 1980 and with the financial assistance from the Japanese government by way of a loan the construction work on Jaya Container Terminal No. 1 berth was started in May 1983 and completed in 1985. Work progressed into JCT No. 2 berth as well to complete it in 1987. JCT No. 3 berth construction commenced in 1991 continuing into No. 4 berth.

In 1980, at the inception, the Port of Colombo handled only 41,622 TEUs ranking at 139th position in the international container ports and in 1988 Colombo port handled 628,485 TEUs a sharp increase when compared with performance in 1980 and rated 26th position. One of the biggest achievements of the late Lalith Athulathmudali was the conversion of country port of Colombo into the hub port of South Asia.

Port promotion

Though there had been no specific division to market the port of Colombo, Lalith Athulathmudali with his sagacious outlook had ensured that the Colombo port is the premier port of Sri Lanka and it must also strive to be the most important port of the Southern Asia. Under his able, inspiring and dynamic leadership we were able to sustain the growth, protect our market share and attract major shipping lines to Colombo. The Publicity and Public Relations Bureau of the SLPA played a positive and key role towards this end. A number of programmes and projects were planned, designed and implemented to promote the corporate image of the SLPA, with emphasis laid on the Port of Colombo.

A Port Hand Book was released every three years with updated data and information. Colourful brochures embodying facilities and infrastructure available and quality service offered were circulated regularly for the benefit of the local and international shipping community. Seminars were conducted at national and international level and the SLPA participated in seminars and exhibitions held abroad. Ministry officials and members of top management of the SLPA represented the interests of the port of Colombo and other ports at the IAPH, ESCAP and UNCTAD thus promoting the cause of ports of Sri Lanka and promoting Colombo as the Hub Port in this region.

Maha Pola Training Institute

The inauguration of the Maha Pola Training Institute on 21st January 1987 in the port of Colombo marked a major milestone in the annals of the history of the Port of Colombo. The brain child of Lalith Athulathmudali, the main objective of the Maha Pola Training Institute was to upgrade the skills in three main areas i.e.

a) Port operations;

b) Management; and

c) Technical fields.

The Training Institute is complete with

1) Workshops;

2) Equipment;

3) Class rooms; and

4) Facilities for Computer & High Technological Training.

The SLPA had set apart Rs. 45 million from its own funds towards this project assisted by UNDP through the UNCTAD/ILO project.

Completion of Varaya Sambuddha Jayanthi Chaitya

Another significant milestone in the Athulathmudali Era in the Port of Colombo was the completion of the "VARAYA SAMBUDDA JAYANTHI CHAITYA" work of which had been progressing at a snail’s pace. In 1979 after the creation of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority by Lalith Athulathmudali, the then Minister of Trade & Shipping a decision was taken that the Port Authority should release all necessary funds and materials to expedite the work on the Chaitya. A sum of Rs. 6 million was thus set apart from the SLPA funds for this purpose.

On 13th March, 1985 on the invitation of Lalith Athulathmudali, the then Minister of National Security and the Deputy Minister of Defence The President the late J. R. Jayewardene declared open the Varaya Sambuddha Jayanthi Chaitya for public veneration. This was indeed another mission of his for the spiritual advancement of the people of this country and port employees in particular.

The golden era of the Port of Colombo

While all possible measurers were taken to develop and promote the port of Colombo to international level Lalith Athulathmudali was conscious of and interested in the welfare and well being of the port employees. Accordingly on his advice a host of welfare and recreation projects and programmes were implemented with positive and active participation of port employees and their family members.

There had been annual events the port workers looked forward to "BAK MAHA ULELA", "VESAK BETHI GEE", "CHRISTMAS CAROLS", "SPORTS FESTIVAL" are a few of them. "APE VARAYA" a monthly publication dedicated for port employees provided a forum to promote cordial employer-employee relations. "Varaya Kala Kendraya" provided ample opportunities for employees to display their latent talents. A musical group of "Kala Kendraya" toured the length and breadth of the country and performed from Maha Pola stage earning public admiration. On the foregoing facts without any hesitation and with due respect to his predecessors and successors it would be recorded that "THE ATHULATHMUDALI ERA IS THE GOLDEN ERA OF THE PORT OF COLOMBO".

Maha Pola concept

Another significant and outstanding achievement to the credit of Lalith Athulathmudali is the "MAHA POLA CONCEPT" introduced by him. Even today people of this country and the student populace in particular admire and appreciate "The Maha Pola Scholarship Scheme" which is considered a living force even after 9 years of the untimely and sudden demise of its creator.

I note here some of the salient features of "The Maha Pola Concept"

a) Maha Pola Scholarship Scheme

b) Maha Pola Trade Exhibitions

c) Maha Pola Gnanadarshana Seminars

d) Maha Pola Gnanapradeepa Library Service

e) Maha Pola Dharma Yathra Service

f) Maha Pola Lottery

All the above were driving forces which helped to uplift the knowledge, moral and spiritual life of the people and particularly the rural populace in Sri Lanka.


In conclusion I invoke the reasoning and sentiments of everyone to recognise the fact that Jaya Container Terminal, Maha Pola Training Institute and Varaya Sambudda Jayanthi Chaitya stand out today as living monuments to the memory of the late Lalith Athulathmudali.