Retired Conservator of Forests
On this hundredth birth anniversary of that outstanding, patriot, statesman and humanist – C. P. De Silva – may I record some anecdotes of my long association with him?
It was 1953, as Divisional Forest Officer – North Central Province, after inspections, I was seated alone having lunch at Polonnaruwa Rest House. At the adjoin table was a loquacious young man, holding forth to his companions. The Rest House Keeper briefed me that it was the new politician C. P. De Silva. I did not meet him that day.
Having as Divisional Forest Officer Galle after 1956 – accompanied him – he was then Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Power, along with his soft spoken Deputy, D. A. Rajapaksa; - on field inspections in Galle District – a gradual association was built up.
At a District Committee Meeting at Matara Kachcheri, he held forth over some forestry affairs, and stated that the Forest Officers should be sacked. The M.P. for Matara – Mahanama Samaraweera – Minister of Local Government intervened immediately and stated "Mr. Perera is a very good and efficient officer". C.P. replied, "I did not mean him but the Head Office Staff!"
In fact shortly afterwards he wanted me transferred to Head Office to monitor islandwide Timber Operations.
He appointed a Civil Servant as Conservator – but as Deputy I always accompanied the Minister on forest inspections; and not the Conservator.
On one occasion, it so happened that we were both staying at the "Mona Maya" Guest House at Haputale.
On the morning of the inspection, he got into my private car – we had no official cars then – I drove to the Rest House and picked up the Land Commissioner, H. C. Gunawardene – and in the next few hours indicated to him the patina lands available around Haputale – Bandarawela – Boralanda – Haldummulla – Ohiya for land development projects.
On our return to "Mona Maya" he dug me in my stomach and stated "H. C. Perera has shown me all the lands in a few hours – which you have failed to do in few years – he should be appointed Land Commissioner!"
When the outside Conservator of Forests – J L E Fernando left – the Union demanded a technical officer as Conservator of Forests. On meeting the Unions he informed them that he was appointing me – overlooking of two senior officers Namasivayam and Weeraratna.
We were summoned to meet him at, his sister Dr. Stella’s house at near mid night. Namasivayam and Weeraratna went in my car. I had parked the car by the gate and we went in. The Minister’s Uncle E. R. De Silva – Chairman State Plantations – arrived in his car. On going out to remove my car, Dr. Stella’s Alsatian who was behind my car, growled and leaped directly at my neck – on extending my forearm he embedded his teeth – but E R De Silva’s shouting he relaxed his grip. The conference ended in C.P. dressing my forearm in Dr. Stella’s Consultation Room! Shortly afterwards – M. Namasivayam – the most senior, was appointed Conservator.
Soon after my assuming duties as Conservator of Forests – the issue of mechanized logging at Sinharaja to feed the Giant Wood Working Complex at Kosgama was debated at Cabinet Sub- Committee level. C. P. De Silva backed my memorandum criticizing both: but he was shouted down by Philip Gunawardene.
For twelve consecutive years my administrative report was the first of all Heads of Departments.
C. P. wanted to see me one morning to discuss the Administrative Report. Having gone to Dr. Stella’s house – he summoned me to his room at about 9.30 a.m. - leaving many others in the drawing room.
We discussed forestry, world affairs, music and innumerable subjects then he said he must go to Thabbowa. He stated that cook women at Thabbowa had chickenpox or measles and wondered whether he would get it. I said "Sir have you had chickenpox?" He replied that only his mother would know! This was C.P. the human being - he had plenty of these simple tracts.
As I reached the door to leave – he said "I say why did you come?" I replied "Sir you wanted to discuss my administrative report. He took it – introduction was the statement – "the Forest Department resurveyed the boundaries of the Reserves" – he added in front "on the instructions of the Minister of Lands Irrigation and Power" – this was quick correct.
Alas, our country now appears to be devoid of statesman, human beings, and intellectuals of the caliber of C.P. De Silva.