September 5 marked the 21st death anniversary of my younger brother, Merril Kariyawasam.
In the 1970s, Merril was an advocate, practising in the Kalutara Courts. He was also a member of the Kalutara Urban Council. At the 1977 General Election, he won the Agalawatta electorate with a thumping majority, defeating a political giant of the time.
Of the eight electorates in Kalutara District, Agalawatta was the least developed. Access roads, bridges and basic facilities were minimal. There were no road transport facilities.
Agalawatta had large areas of state land not earmarked for development.
Merril came up with idea of the Agalawatta Highlands Development Scheme – a project to develop unused and neglected state lands and provide infrastructure.
With the blessings of the then Minister of Lands, Merril distributed several acres of unutilised land among the most deserving farmers. Each farmer was given half an acre of land to cultivate.
Kalutara District is famous for its rubber, but Agalawatta has rainfall all year, so the number of dry days for tapping rubber trees is limited. Merril started focusing on low-grown tea as an alternative crop.
He encouraged the farmers to cultivate tea on their lands. Thanks to Merril, this initiative helped Agalawatta become the largest tea-growing area in the district. The farmers who received lands under the scheme were finally able to shake off the poverty that had shackled them for generations.
As a Member of Parliament, Merril was a fluent speaker and an ardent champion of the Mahaweli Scheme and the Indo-Lanka Agreement. His memorable words in Parliament – “A Dutugemunu lives in the heart of every Sinhala youth” – were quoted widely.
This declaration was considered bold and patriotic. The LTTE and the anti-nationalists were at their peak at the time. His involvement in the nationalist movement made him a target of the LTTE and the anti-nationalists, who masqueraded as patriots. These forces ultimately took away his precious life in a most dastardly manner.