The Variation in the Diffusion of Electrical Power

SWR de Samarasinghe[1]

Thanks for sharing the very informative map — in  your piece “Dark Nights in Sri Lanka: The Incidence and Spread of Electricity.”[2] The relative deprivation of north outside the Jaffna Peninsula is striking but not surprising. Sparse population, poverty and the war are key explanatory factors. Economics plays a role to the extent that the overhead cost of supplying a single dwelling or a business in these areas will be higher than in more densely populated areas and the expected income for the CEB lower. The solution is a government subsidy for the CEB. My understanding is that such a subsidization has been government policy for a long time. The social benefits are substantial and in the long term it pays off economically as well.

But there will be areas of weakness and one arena has been identified by Chandra Fernando of Anduren Eliyata: viz, the Customs department and gatekeeper officers at the entry point in the ports who expect bribes orinssit of collecting import duties.

Giving or not giving a subsidy is a government decision. This is where devolution and democracy (one person one vote) matter. Devolution allows the local people to take decisions that affect their lives. The vote matters because that is one of the main if not the only tool that the relatively disempowered have to persuade those in power to help them.

The charitable project that you highlight helps when the government ignores the disempowered or they cannot afford electricity owing to sheer poverty. I very much respect such effort. I personally do similar things on a regular basis in the Kandy area. But I also feel guilty because such voluntary contributions are not a substitute for good public policy.

I cannot give a direct answer to your question about small communities that still lack electricity. The map suggests that the absolute numbers are comparatively small.  CEB in its annual reportclaims that 99.3% of Sri Lankan households had electricity by the end of 2016. That is an impressive achievement. In 2004 it was about 75% …………………………………………………………………………………….  see .

On a more personal note, your reference to Nalin Angmmana brought back mixed memories. He was my contemporary in Dharmaraja. You are probably aware that he was a very good cricketer. He was one of the opening bowlers in the first eleven team in the clearly 1960s. He was also a relative of mine.



Let me essay some thoughts on Sam Samarasinghe’s useful memo.

  1. Roughly 16 percent of Sri Lanka’s land area has been cut out for National and wildlife parks and presumably this percentage encompasses the elongated lagoons and swamps that run parallel to the coast on both the western and eastern littoral; whole also taking up some localities in the Jaffna Peninsula. How these natural features inform/bear on the distribution Map that I found via Google is a question I raise here …… seeking an answer.
  2. During two brief holidaying visits to Arugam Bay and Passekudah in 2015 mid-2010’s I was impressed by the progress of road building and river-bridging that had been effected by the Rajapaksa government (an achievement to which one must add the Pooneryn Bridge to the Jaffna Peninsula). So, my question is this: does this form of economic development as well as the restoration of the rail links to Jaffna assist the supply of electricity? I raise this query from a position of ignorance in my bourgeois drawing room.
  3. Anduren Eliyata’s latest distribution of solar-powered light units to Udagaldebokka in Kandy District on 21st September 2019 sustains my emphasis on the presence of “nooks and crannies” in the spread of electricity. This qualifying note on my part developed out of my attentiveness to landscape when (1) traveling and (2) when assessing wartime operations. So, where is Udagaldebokka? What is the terrain like and why does this locality have spots and/or families with no access to electrical power? Over to you locals and fieldworkers………… AE – Kandy Photocard -Sep2019


  1. My NOTE above literally crossed flight paths between Adelaide and Sydney with a comment from Chandra Fernando. Deploying his experience as well as his charity work, Chandra underlined the fact that generalised distribution maps do not capture the problems of poor families who do not have the wherewithal to pay electricity bills. In other words, the good people within the bourgeoisie, like me, need to have this hammered into their brains. He noted: since “thelist of students without electricity in their homes is daily increasing, it is evident that there are areas which needs addressing.  Some families have told us that there is electricity in the area, but they are unable to pay electricity bills.”
  2. Chandra went on to underline this argument via an Australian analogy. When John Howard was Prime Minister the government was able to deploy statistics to their advantage by deleting underemployed personnel, such as engineers employed as clerks, from their overall figures so that the this number came down three or four percentage points. 

    AN EMAIL from GERALD H PEIRIS in KANDY, 28 September 2007Michael, …..I am glad to learn that Udagaldebooka has benefited from this solar power project. I am familiar with it because many years ago (probably early 70s) I introduced a student whom Gananath [Obeyesekere] had sent from the US to SL to study 19th century village life here; and Udagaldebokka had been identified for that because of its remoteness. Sudath Gunasekera had found for us a guide. When we went there (7 mile walk across mountains and valleys) I was quite disturbed by the fact that there was only one house in the entire village with tile roofing, and except in that house, no other dwelling had a latrine. Since the area also had quite a large serpent population, I wouldn’t have dared to stay there even one night. This girl however remained there for about 9 months as the adopted “daughter” of a “respectable” family and did her field work. When she came to Peradeniya in the company of her foster mother (quite an impressive woman) and a brother before her departure she was quite fluent in Sinhala.

    For solar electricity to be made available to that village this year (it now has road access), there must have been quite an improvement in its conditions.

    Regards, Gerr


Lawrence Machado: “Lighting up the lives of poor Sri Lankan one village at a time,” Island, 22 December 2018,

Thuppahi:Anduren Eliyata in Sydney: Its Energetic Distribution of Solar Powered Units to Households in Si Lanka,” 23 September 2019, ……………………

Michael Roberts,Dark Nights in Sri Lanka: The Incidence and Spread of Electricity,” 24 September 2019,


[1] Sam Samarasinghe is an old friend who was an active figure in the Ceylon Studies Seminar circle in Peradeniya University with me in the 1970s and anchored it into the 1980s. He has been teaching at Tulane University n Washington since the late 1980s but sustained an abiding interest in Kandy and Sri Lanka from then on. He sent me ts Memo ashian Email comment. It is too pertinent to be left in that ‘dustbin’.

[2] This article was inspired by the work of Anduren Eliyata  from Darkness to Light)  and the bibliographical references will lead people to this work. My findings should be treated as preliminary. One map is not adequate. One must secure a map for the year 2011 or 2012 on the one side, and then one for 2018 or 2019 to work out the growth of the grid.  I travelled to Jaffna for a brief visit in mid-2010 and then again in 2011 – spending two nights at Kilinochchi on one occasion. Given LTTE rule in the northern Vanni from 1995 to 2009 and the devastation of war in the years 2008/09 the deficiencies in these areas in 2014 are not surprising. But my brief encounters also brought to my attention the intelligence and capacity of such Tamil administrators as Ganeshan (GA, Jaffna) and Singham (LEEDS) Annet Royce (Sewalanka) …. together with indirect evidence of the capacity of Mrs Charles (GA Vavuniya then).

But there will be areas of weakness and one arena has been identified by Chandra Fernando of Anduren Eliyata: viz, the Customs Department and gatekeeper officers at the entry point in the ports who expect bribes orinssit of collecting import duties.


Filed under accountability, economic processes, energy resources, ethnicity, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, modernity & modernization, performance, politIcal discourse, population, power sharing, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, working class conditions, world events & processes

2 responses to “The Variation in the Diffusion of Electrical Power

  1. Pingback: When Solar-Light reaches the Disadvantaged … Udagaldebokka Hasalaka | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. EMAIL Note from CHANDRA Wickremasinghe, ex-NMahida, Pera Uni and CCS, 28 September 2019: “Thanks Mike. I think solar power is the most feasible solution. Solar is sadly opposed by certain vested interests in the CEB, for their own self serving ends

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