Former rice bowl flourishes again
By Dhaneshi Yatawara
Today the D7 irrigation canal or better known as Adakilamodai canal,
carries an uninterrupted flow of water to feeder tanks from the Giant's
Tank in the Mannar rice bowl. Earlier the poorly done renovations were
not helping this three-and-a-half-kilometre long canal to carry water to
its full capacity. The main reason was that the canal was abandoned for
more than twenty years due to terrorist threats just like all the other
irrigation canals and tanks in the rice bowl of Sri Lanka.
Soldiers renovating the D7 canal
After many failed attempts to repair it by the local authorities and
village farmer communities, the Department of Irrigation requested Sri
Lanka Army's 542 brigade, to assist in renovating this main canal, to
provide adequate water to the paddy fields of the rice bowl.
Irrigation systems abandoned
Around the Giant's Tank the terrain is dotted with small tanks and
webbed with irrigation canals. With terrorist attacks, a major part of
these irrigation systems were abandoned and paddy lands were scattered
with landmines. As the people resettled, the Government authorities,
with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Army, slowly but steadily made
every inch of this fertile land free of danger.
One by one the irrigation canals were cleared, repaired and restored
enabling a steady flow of water from the Giant's Tank to the rice
fields. Soldiers are experts in the art of repairing and rebuilding as
they are the sons of the average villager.
Sri Lanka Army personnel, specially those troops deployed in the
resettled areas, are in constant contact with villages and local
authorities. The Army is on standby to help the community
when the need arises.
In the Vavuniya-Mannar region, under the instructions of Commander of
the Security Forces Headquarters Major General Boniface Perera, each
village has formed a collective of prominent senior villagers and ground
level government administrative officers to be in contact with the
closest Army camp at all times, be it for the help in development work
or a disaster. Army personnel deployed in Mannar conduct various
community service projects to ease the life of these resettled
In this background the 542 brigade under Brigadier Mervin Perera
undertook the task of repairing the 3.5-kilometre long canal amidst the
other community based projects the Brigade was responsible for. In the
area of responsibility coming under Brgd. Perera, this is the main
grievance the farmer community was facing.
Though one may think that the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Armed
Forces ended on May 19, 2009 by eliminating terrorism from the
motherland, it certainly did not.
These true sons of the soil never gave up and still continue their
service to the nation. Army personnel are involved in a large number of
development works such as agriculture, building roads and helping the
Paddy cultivation flourishes
Soldiers commenced working from January this year on the land that
their brethren saved from the iron fist of the LTTE. They help the
farmers to cultivate the land that was once soaked with blood, sweat and
tears of their own peers.
This most fertile land of our country was totally cleared by our
troops in June 2008. It was initiated by the 58 Division under the
command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva (now Major General).
By end of September 2007, Sri Lanka Army decided to launch the 58
Division to liberate the Northwestern coastal belt above Mannar starting
from the `Rice Bowl' and Brigadier Shavendra Silva was appointed as its
General Officer Commanding (GOC).
A web of irrigation canals spread across the plain. Even the
slightest movement of an object was clearly visible for several miles! A
major part of the battle was carried out in the darkness of the night.
Even amidst heavy rain, dipping themselves in muddy water, while
their colleagues on either side dying or getting injured and knowing
that the terrain they are to cross was dotted with lethal anti personal
mines, soldiers never gave up and fought hard.
The bunker lines of the LTTE in the rice bowl in 2008
Having studied the ground situation and the strength of the enemy,
Brigadier Shavendra Silva started the advancement of the Division on
three fronts - one moving forward from Thirukethiswaran towards
Manthota, the second towards Palakkuli and the last from Uyilankulama
towards Parappakandal. By November, the troops strongly felt the enemy's
weak responses. By the end of November they broke the first enemy
defence line including Palakkuli, Manthota and part of Parappakandal
But the troops engaged in 'Operation Rice Bowl' faced the biggest
obstacle in the months of March and April due to the unexpected rainy
weather. The entire rice bowl went under water during the rainy season,
restricting movement of the troops.
With the rains, the LTTE expected the Army to relax their momentum
but with determination the valiant troops moved ahead.
LTTE was stoutly resisting troop movement and kept on holding onto
their fortified camps, bunkers, villages and tank bunds that were
strategically important to them.
Troops had to cross several kilometres of open land and at different
points they used different tactics. At times they moved in between two
enemy lines and destroyed both at once. The mission would be either an
assault or moving towards the enemy by digging ditches or fixing
haversack covers during the night and launching their attack in the wee
hours of the following day.
The entire Army defence line was steadily progressing towards the
general areas of Adampan, Pikkulam, Parappakandal and Karukkakulam
breaking their second defence line. Signifying their accelerated
progress, troops captured Adampan town on May 9. Progressing from
Adampan troops next captured Mullikandal, Minnaniranchan and
Marattikannadi villages by June 24. While progressing towards
Minnukulam, Nethunkandal, Periyakulam and Alankulam troops breached the
LTTE's third and last defence line in the `Rice Bowl' area.
In the middle of the fighting to regain the Vedithalathivu area Sri
Lanka Army's 57 Division exerted severe pressure on the LTTE. The troops
attached to the 58 Division under the command of Brigadier Shavendra
Silva and 57 Division under the command of Major General Jagath Dias
linked together in the South West of Periyamadu Village. This broke the
main supply line of the LTTE chasing them towards the North.
Breaching the stiff resistance troops reached Nethunkandal and
Minnukulam and advancing further captured two villages, Maraththikandal
and Chalampan which were strategically important to the enemy. With this
victory troops successfully blocked the main supply routes of the LTTE
from Vedithalathivu to the `Rice Bowl'.
Capturing over 123 square kilometres of flat land and about 23 square
kilometres area of the Giants' tank soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army
regained the entire `Rice Bowl' eliminating enemy strongholds.
According to statistics available with the 58 Division immediately
after this liberation, nearly 2,058 LTTE cadres were reported killed
while 1,408 were injured in addition to the large stock of weapons
discovered by the Army.
This is the first time in the two and half decade long history of the
North and the East conflict the Security Forces had been able to fully
liberate the 'Rice Bowl'. And it is one of the rarest experiences they
had where the troops crossed such a huge open terrain within a span of
nearly nine months, facing stiff resistance from the LTTE.
Today on this land liberated with such dedication and commitment
paddy cultivation flourishes. Adakilamodai canal irrigates 5,368 acres
of paddy land. Counting all of its branches this canal is 4.5 km long.
"This irrigation canal is parallel to the Murunkan-Mannar road and it
carries water to the feeder tanks. Thus it was a main water supply line
for the farmers," said Brigadier Perera.
Accordingly the irrigation department has valued the repair at nearly
Rs. 4.5 million.
"Our Soldiers are skilful with tools but they needed technical
assistance to repair an irrigation canal. And the Irrigation Department
gave technical advice to clear the canal properly," he said.
There have been a lot of weeds growing on the banks of the canal. The
soldiers removed the weeds, smoothed the banks of the canal and cut the
branches of large trees overhanging the canal. "The Irrigation
Department wanted to have neat work since this canal flows close to a
main road and to make it an eye catching scenery too," Brig. Perera
This is not the only assistance the troops extend towards the
community. They are engaged in disaster situations like flooding during
heavy rains. When the tanks overflow during the Southwest monsoon Army
hurries to the scene as the entire rice bowl gets flooded. During the
months of December and January next year, troops of 542 Brigade will be
heavily loaded with civilian rescue operations.
The `Rice Bowl' covers 123 square kilometres and is dotted with
approximately 153 major and minor tanks and a web of irrigation canals
spread across the plain.
The government has taken steps towards a massive agricultural
development drive in the Mannar district. A government sponsored rapid
irrigation system rebuilding program is in progress in Mannar to ease
the problems of the farming community affected by the scarcity of water
for cultivation and other purposes.
There are around 25 farmer associations whose paddy lands benefit
from the waters of the canal. The 542 Brigade will continue maintenance
until the end of 2013 and hand it over to the farmer community.
Hopefully by then they would have rebounced back to their glorious past.