Plus - Appreciation

Remembering a beloved champion of Chilaw

James Charles Welikela (Jim) Munasinha

James Charles Welikela (Jim) Munasinha was born on February 21 to Francis and Angelina Munasinha née Ameresekere of Meda Walauwa Madampe, in the North Western Province. The youngest in the family, he had four older brothers and a sister.

After completing his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, he returned to his hometown where he became involved in social service. During the Second World War, he was actively involved in the co-operative movement in the area. He launched a paper-manufacture industry using “borupang”, a type of grass found in the wetlands. He also set up a school of weaving to train village girls in handloom production.

He took to politics when the Madampe Town Council was established and was elected as its first chairman. During his tenure, the local authorities set up two housing schemes in Madampe, one of the country’s earliest housing schemes. He contested the first election in 1947 as an independent candidate, but was unsuccessful.

As an active member of the Sinhala Maha Sabhawa of the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, he hosted the annual convention at his residence in 1951. It was on this occasion that the famous Madampe resolution was adopted. In fact, several resolutions were passed at this convention, and the Sinhala Maha Sabhawa decided to ask the United National Party (UNP) to incorporate these into the UNP’s programme. The UNP decided against these proposals. Mr. Bandaranaike resigned from the Government on July 12, 1951, and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on September 2 that year.

At the 1952 April elections, held just seven months after the formation of the SLFP, Jim Munasinha contested the Chilaw Electorate and lost to Shirley Corea by 52 votes. In the subsequent election, held in 1956, he won and was elected to Parliament to represent the Chilaw electorate. He was appointed the Chief Government Whip, in addition to being the Junior Minister of Industries and Fisheries. In 1959, when Philip Gunawardena and his group left the government of Mr. Bandaranaike, he was appointed as the Minister of Industries and Fisheries. He was also the party’s General Secretary.

During the short time as the Chilaw electorate representative, he launched many development projects, including the Wilpotha and Katupotha colonisation schemes, the powerloom textile factories of Kaakkapalliya and Madampe, and the Bangadiniya state tile factory.

The floods of 1957 caused extensive damage to the area, and patients in the Chilaw base hospital had to be moved to other hospitals. The difficult situation prompted Jim Munasinha to propose setting up a new hospital for the area. Land was acquired for the purpose in Madampe and plans were drawn up for a central hospital, as Madampe is about 40 miles from Colombo, Puttalam and Kurunegala. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike laid the foundation stone, but work never got underway, because of the political changes that followed. Today, only a small Ayurvedic hospital stands where there was to be a central hospital, and it is surrounded a vast area of unused land.

Unlike today’s politicians, Jim Munasinha did not appoint kith and kin to high government offices, even if these people had the required qualifications. He stopped his brother from being appointed to a post in the Judiciary, although he was a Barrister-at-Law, qualified in England, and with a special degree in social science, which was a requirement. (Instead, the job went to a person who was expressly sent to England to qualify for the post.) In 1950, when he was chairman of the Madampe Town Council, Jim inaugurated a housing scheme that was opened by the then Minister of Local Government and Housing, the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

The scheme was named Bandaranaike Pura. After Jim Munasinha’s death, the Madampe Town Council chairman, the late Segu Dawood Ibrahim renamed the road leading to the ancestral Munasinha residence as Jim Munasinha Mawatha, and a housing scheme built during Mr. Ibrahim’s tenure as town council chairman was named Jim Munasinha Pura.

Nihal Munasinha

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