By S. Sivathasan –
It appears to be the design of destiny that Jaffna should await three decades to have the benefit of an imposing Building. The purpose is to house the Jaffna Town Hall together with an impressive Municipal Council Secretariat. Through the munificence of a benevolent institution, funds reached Sri Lanka. The Foundation is devoted to the noble purpose of Good Governance. This multi million rupee project received in addition, contributions from the Government of Sri Lanka, Northern Provincial Council and the Jaffna Municipal Council.
A great personality in Sri Lanka placed in a strategic position, had the mind and the good sense to channel the Good Governance fund to Jaffna. It was with high vision, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, then the Prime Minister made it to Jaffna much to the appreciation of her citizens.
The Benign Hand of the Prime Minister
The occasion arose since the Mayor of Jaffna at an earlier meeting with the Prime Minister had presumably broached the subject. The bombed and subsequently demolished Town Hall needed to be rebuilt. The elegant and eye-catching Town Hall the pride of Jaffna, had stood for half a century. In modern times, new requirements for official engagements and ceremonial occasions needed an iconic edifice. The Prime Minister sensitive to these sentiments and challenges has responded with an appropriate quantum of finances. Completion will bring forth a fresh grandeur to Jaffna.
Vicissitudes of Jaffna Town Hall
The evolution of the Jaffna Municipal Council, is traced to the establishment of the Urban District Council in January 1923. It operated within the confines of a small office in the Jaffna Kachcheri. Seeing the people’s aspiration for an elegant structure to match a developing town, the Chairman of the Council R.R. Nalliah built the new Municipal office in the early thirties. It was formally opened by the Governor Edward Stubbs in 1936. The Town Hall was added later. A fine and elegant, architect designed building became the cynosure of the city. What followed next was an Urban Council which was established in January 1940. Finally superseding it was the Jaffna Municipal Council in January 1949.From that time to now ages had to lapse, for a magnificent new one to rise from the ashes of the old. It was given to the people of Jaffna to have it from the hand and mind of Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe. Completion before January 2024 may be the next challenge.
“Six of the seven wonders of the world are of stone”, said George Bernard Shaw. As the centre-piece of the Prime Minister’s New Plan to develop Jaffna, he picked out the rebuilding of the Jaffna Town Hall. There couldn’t have been a higher priority for Jaffna. The foundation was laid by the Prime Minister himself, on September 7, 2018 in the presence of the Mayor of Jaffna, Emmanuel Arnold. There were other people’s representatives besides.
“Miracle of Asia”
In the latter part of 2022, the Prime Minister had occasion to visit Jaffna for the opening of the Indian Cultural Centre. Since the Town Hall was only a few paces away, he made it a point to inspect it. Seeing the building in an advanced stage of completion in a short span of time, an exultant Prime Minister consumed in its splendid beauty and immensity blurted out, Miracle of Asia. The crowd gathered around him was exhilarated.
Mayor of Jaffna
During the stewardship of Emmanuel Arnold as Mayor of Jaffna 2018 – 2020, the Jaffna Town Hall took shape with the initial arduous work of fund mobilization and architectural planning. With his whole academic career and notable sports record at St. John’ College, he did a special degree in Philosophy at the University of Jaffna. He was President of the University Student’s Union and the Sports Council. In addition he was also a Professor Thurairajah Gold Medalist. Leadership qualities evident from the above achievements show how facilely he was able to move with the Prime Minister and high officials.
The architect Sayanthana Kumarathas too is an old pupil of St, John’s College, with his whole career therein. He did not fail to reward his Alma Mater with a much lauded design for a magnificent Bicentennial Block. Even at a young age of around fifty, he is well known for his competence with quite a few noteworthy projects to his credit. Rich in experience, he has much to contribute to enhancing the cityscape of Jaffna, if not many more cities of the North. He has proved his mettle in the Jaffna Town Hall project, owing much of the credit to St.John’s College, Jaffna and to Moratuwa University.
The Bicentennial Celebrations of St. John’s College, Jaffna gave the occasion for me and my family to go to Jaffna in March this year. The functions in Colombo and the more elaborate ones in Jaffna were meticulously organized. Diaspora Old Boys from several parts of the world attended in their hundreds giving great distinction to the occasion.
Among the many distinguished old boys I met were the former Mayor of Jaffna, E. Arnold and the Architect Sayanthana, both of whom I had known earlier. The photo was taken by my son from the seven storey Jetwing hotel, in the heart of the city. What is seen in the foreground of the Town Hall is the luscious greenery of Subramaniam Park. Adding to the lustre of the environs is the lagoon in the background.
Looking nice even with shallow waters, it can yield its identity of a lagoon, to a nicer Maidanam of a few square kilometres. May it be known that Singapore since independence in 1965, has added 130 sq. km. in 50 years. This was vision and determination. The process is yet on. Jaffna in the last 70 years has hardly added a perch.
When a breach with the past is made, the lagoon is reclaimed and suitably developed with acres of turf skirted by luxuriant trees, the bustling city will have a haven abutting on to the magnificent Town Hall.