The Sunday TimesPlus

3rd November 1996




Work on Marine Drive finally takes off

Driving home early

Motorists in Colombo, increasingly plagued by traffic nightmares can look forward to some impending relief. Work on the Marine Drive, long overdue, has finally begun. Simultaneously authorities are trying to continue with the Duplication Road extension project. Both roads will end at Wellawatte and when completed, provide alternate outlets for the traffic-clogged Galle Road.

The Marine Drive, for now will run parallel to the southern railway line from Bambalapitiya to Wellawatte . The original plan for the Marine drive, initially drawn up even before independence in 1944 was for a 80 -foot road from Galle Face Green running to Wellawatte . The present day plan is identical to this. For over 50 years the project did not get underway, as there was a shortage of funds, Municipal Officers said. Even today due to financial and security considerations, the present plan is for a 2.5 kilometer driveway between Melbourne Avenue in Bambalapitiya and Ramakrishna Road in Wellawatte. Already the bridge built across the mouth of the Wellawatte canal is nearing completion and road work has commenced from the bridge towards the Ramakrishna end. When completed the Marine Drive will be a straight four-lane road, running a few feet away from the railway line with a suburb sea frontage.

The Duplication Road extension is similar, in that it is also a parallel road to Galle Road, running roughly the same length - from Kollupitiya to Wellawatte. The present road stretches a few hundred metres past the Dickman's road intersection. The plan is to extend this across Wellawatte Canal through to Dhammarama Lane in Wellawatte. Both projects are jointly handled by the Road Development Authority ( RDA) and the Colombo Municipal Council ( CMC) . Funding for both - which amounts to Rs. 440 million - has come from the coffers of the RDA . In both instances the CMC is involved with the road construction, while the RDA tackles the initial steps of clearing the roadway, evacuating people and preparing ground for the road construction. The two bridges over Wellawatte canal were built by the RDA.

However, there is no fixed date for the work to be completed. "When the RDA clears a section of road and hands it to us, we commence the construction work with the fund allocation for that stretch," a CMC Engineer explained. "He said that the project had to be done very slowly to allow time for people to be relocated and for those houses in the road's pathway to be demolished. Along a by-lane close to the Wellawatte bridge, a group of hired contractors had just completed demolishing two large old houses that had been standing in the way of the Marine Drive. "

There is already an existing road line along the proposed Marine Drive ," Director Special Projects RDA, P. Ediriweera said. " But to make a wide road we will have to expand on it and some houses will have to be removed."

When the project was revised in 1948 to narrow the road to 60 feet, the CMC demarcated the land that is in the path of the road . "No construction was allowed since 1949 on the roadway. If there were any structures built after that, they are illegal," a surveyor at CMC told The Sunday Times.

A gazette notification - 899/9 of 1995 August 29- told of the government acquiring the land that is on the proposed roadway. Along the path of Duplication road extension, are two schools and several dozen houses all of which will have to make room for this project.

In fact the procedural delays regarding both roadways were mostly due to problems that arose when attempting to evacuate and resettle people whose homes were caught in the proposed road plans. For the entire Marine Drive almost 200 units of built land including houses, offices and even the Galle Face Hotel. have to be cleared, while for the present stretch of 2.4 kilometers some 98 housing lots have to cleared. It is not good news that only 28 have already evacuated."

The delay in getting these projects off the ground was the difficulties in clearing ground- evacuating people. it's a costly affair and the Municipality could not afford it ," Ediriweera said.

More than half the project cost is budgeted to pay compensation for the people who are losing their properties and homes to the roads. But even that amount would doubtless fall short of the people's expectations of payment."

This house and 25 perches of land is worth almost Rs 20 million," said a resident of Bambalapitiya gesturing to his sprawling single storied house. He said that they have already sought legal recourse to ensure that they get proper compensation. "The house is occupied by an extended family of 19 people. If we break this house, where will we live ?"

A large old house standing in the way of Duplication road extension will be spared, with the road closely skirting the house. "There has been no talk of compensation yet ," the lady of the house told us. In addition to the houses, Duplication road will cut across St. Peter's College play ground and some buildings belonging to Muslim Ladies College."

The Education Ministry is already constructing alternative buildings for the Muslim Ladies College and we will build an overhead bridge for them connecting the school," Ediriweera said. Ò At St. Peters we will build an under pass for the safety of the children."

Rector of St. Peter's College Bambalapitiya Fr. Felician R. Perera said, "We don't really like it. But we have to oblige the government for the sake of development." He said that in addition to the underpass, the RDA has promised the school sound proof walls separating the classrooms from the road. "

We must ensure the underpass is used exclusively for the school so that it will not be a hang out for unsavoury characters like prostitutes and drug addicts," Fr. Perera said.

According to the RDA compensation is paid through the Divisional Secretary, who after establishing ownership and inspecting the property will hand over to the Government Valuation Department to make a value estimate. Compensation will be paid - as for land- to the market price at the time of gazette notice. This is long procedure initiated only when the residents have agreed to hand over their homes to be razed to the ground, which is often not a comfortable arrangement with people if they have no alternate accommodation. The residents are mostly middle class employed families who can ill afford to move entire kith and kin to a similar location with short notice.

There is absolutely no doubt that the city needs all the roads it can afford to have- looking at the present day perennial traffic congestion but the human aspect of the entire affair has to be given serious thought

St. Mary's: a monument to Catholic education

by Shermal Fernando

St. Mary's College, Negombo which chalks up 125 years of existence this year, always reminds me of a child who has grown up without over straying from its mother's side. The mother is of course St. Mary's Church, Grand Street, which has a close influence on the lives of its predominantly Roman Catholic community.This pioneering educational institution is undoubtedly, yet another monument to Catholic education in Sri Lanka.

St. Mary's has produced men who have been ornaments in the public life of this country - luminaries of the bench and bar, eminent scientists and surgeons, engineers, administrators, academics, ministers, diplomats and captains of commerce and industry. Among the very many distinguished old boys is Rt. Rev. Nicholas Marcus Fernando, Archbishop of Colombo.

Glimpse into early history

By the year 1750 the pioneer Catholic educationists of Negombo had wrested from the Dutch Government the right to educate their children. Thereupon Catholic swabasha schools sprang up and carried on until Sri Lanka passed into the hands of the English in 1796, when English education became useful and necessary. Therefore Monseigneur John Vistarini, the then Parish Priest of Grand Street, Negombo with characteristic foresight began the construction of St. Mary's College.

This article would be incomplete without a mention in brief of this "Man of God" - also called "Sammanasu Swamy" or Angelic Priest. He was born in Italy of noble parents on 1.7.1817. His piety and love for the poor at an early age made him enter the Seminary and he was ordained at the age of 23. As a result of a serious nervous breakdown which was pronounced incurable he made a vow to God and was cured. In fulfilment of his vow, he reached Sri Lanka in 1846 and worked assiduously for the plague- stricken in the Jaffna Mission for 11 years. In 1857 at the age of 50 he was posted to the Grand Street Mission and during his era spanning for nearly four decades, he built both the Church and the school. Various 'miracles' have been attributed to him. A life-like statue of the saintly priest stands even today before the facade of the Church as a perpetual tribute to the life and work of this man of God.The year was 1871, Mgr. J. Vistarini had just completed the new college building and ushered in Rev. Bro. Timothy, FSC as Director and five other Christian Brothers with one lay teacher as the staff of the college. This was the fruition of the dreams of Mgr. Vistarini.

In 1888, the college was passed onto the hands of an entirely lay staff. The Headmasters of the period were Mr. Sam Munasinghe, Proctor, Mr. Saundranayagam, Barrister, Mr. D. Delican, Dr. W. Loos, Mr. Gunawardena, B.A., and Mr. J.C. Perera. In 1906 Rev. Fr. F.L. Breton, OMI took charge of the college and it soon improved in every department. The number on roll increased from 175 to 400 and the tutorial staff from 6 to 20 while the status of the institution rose from 'school' to 'college'.

The Diamond Jubilee year 1931 saw Rev. Fr. J.D. Marcellus, OMI at the helm. He was ably assisted by Mr. J.C.S. Fernando. The Diamond Jubilee was celebrated on a very grand scale and an elegant Diamond Jubilee Magazine was published.

Foster father

In 1929 Mr. J.C.S. Fernando reached the helm of his Alma Mater and continued in that office till 1943. By his untiring labours and sacrifices to put this college back on its feet Mr. J.C.S. Fernando has most fittingly earned the affectionate apellation of "Foster-father of St. Mary's College".

The second golden age of this college dawned in 1944 with the appointment of Mr. X.J.S. Rasanayagam, B.A., (London) as principal. On his predecessor's well laid and strong foundations he built a solid structure. Mr. Rasanayagam was just the principal for this institution in the hour of her need. In the new classification of Assisted Schools Grade One was the highest. Mr. Rasanayagam had fulfilled all eligibilities for this grade and even written to the Deparment of Education claiming this status, when he relinguished his office in 1947. Mr. S.P. Selvaratnam, B.A. (London) MRST, assumed duties as principal of St. Mary's in 1947 and under him the college was raised to Grade I. One noteworthy event in the school's religious devotions to its Heavenly Patroness was the inauguration of the Wednesday Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in 1954.

Era of Rectors

At this stage a Rector was appointed by the General Manager of Roman Catholic Schools, Colombo Diocese. Rev. Fr. Mervyn P. Weerakkody, B.A., Dip. Ed. D.D. came as the Rector of the new dispensation in 1958. Thus the period 1958-60 was one of dual-control at St. Mary's College. It must be recorded to the great credit of both Rev. Fr. Weerakkody and of Mr. Selvaratnam that this period was marked by excellent concordat and collaboration highly fruitful in the field of education.

In May 1963, Rev. Fr. Ignatius Gamalath, M.A., D.D., took over the reins of office as Rector of this college.

He was a brilliant administrator and promising educationist. He was followed on 1 May 1964 by Rev. Fr. Neville F. Emmanuel, B.A., who stepped into the breach and steadfastly held this fort of Catholic education.

In 1971, the centenary celebrations were held under the patronage of Sri Lanka's first and only Cardinal, His Eminence Thomas Cooray, OMI under whose generous benefaction, watchful care and paternal solicitude, the college survived in the times of anxiety and stress.Then the hallowed portals of St. Mary's were flung open to a brilliant administrator in the person of Rev. Fr. Stanley Mellawa. His silent and determined approach to matters galvanized all his associates and subordinates with enthusiasm and devotion. Magnificent victories in athletics and sports as well as high academic achievements at public examinations put this college in the forefront of educational institutions during the era he guided the destinies of the institution.

To open the new era of Lay Principals in the annals of St. Mary's Mr. Perera, B.A. (Hons.) Lon., took over the reins of the institution with the departure of Rev. Fr. Mellawa.

However a glowing tribute must be paid to the parents and old boys who stood by the institution in its darkest hours of gloom - during the period of transition. Today St. Mary's, still continuing to exist because of these same loyal Old Boys, Parents and Benefactors whose response has been magnificent.

Special mention must be made of the teaching staff for their sense of loyalty and devotion to duty. It is they who maintain the traditions and character of the school.

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