In 1884 the contribution from the general revenue to the irrigation vote was fixed at Rs.200,000 a year, and in 1887 an Ordinance was passed creating a Central Irrigation Board, with the Governor as the President with provincial irrigation boards to serve the provinces. These provincial boards were under the presidency of Government Agents and consisted of the Provincial Engineer and the Chief Surveyor of each province as members of the Board. Central control of policy and funds were effected by the Central Irrigation Board, which had in addition to the Governor as president, Director of Public Works, Surveyor General and some members of the public too. Officers from the P.W.D were seconded to work in these irrigation boards, in addition to their normal functions in their parent department. Sir Arthur Havelock, at the first meeting of the Central Irrigation Board, which was held on 2nd July 1890 expressed his determination to press on with the work of irrigation. But he found himself obliged to adopt great discrimination and care in sanctioning projects.
A notable irrigation work undertaken during the period of Sir Arthur Havelock was the restoration of Giant’s Tank in Mannar.
Henry Parker, Irrigation Assistant was appointed to the Central Irrigation Board as the chief executive of the Central Board in 1898. However the system of irrigation boards proved to be unsatisfactory as could be gathered from Sir West Ridgeway’s review of administration of Ceylon in 1896-1903. He stated that the « Irrigation works that the engineers of the P.W.D. were called upon to perform constituted an irksome additional burden and was undertaken therefore with little enthusiasm and loss of efficiency ». Sir West Ridgeway further stated that « Irrigation work which required the strictest supervision was given the most superficial supervision ».
F.A.Cooper was the Director of Public Works in 1899 and Cooper’s 1899 Administrative report did not include any irrigation works and it says « The irrigation works maintenance have been mainly in charge of the provincial Irrigation Boards, who receive the assistance of officers of this department in several provinces. Parker, Irrigation Assistant to the Central Irrigation Board, under whose immediate instructions, the other Irrigation Assistants are placed, has charge of the larger works. »
In order to carry out the execution of irrigation works in an efficient manner, the Irrigation Department was established as distinct from the P.W.D. on 15th May 1900. H.T.S. Ward, who had been the Assistant Director of P.W.D. was made the first Director of Irrigation.
Regarding the appointment of H.T.S. Ward as the first Director of Irrigation, Cooper in his administration report in 1899 writes, » H.T.S. Ward will have severed his connection with this Department after working for 24 years. I wish to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the loyal support and valuable assistance he has rendered me as Assistant Director of Public works. In leaving this Department on promotion to the appointment of Director of Irrigation, Ward takes with him my heartiest good wishes for his future success.
In 1900 the population of the country was 3,521,000 and 5.6 million tons of rice were imported at a cost of Rs. 37.6 million. At this lime the total acreage under cultivation in Ceylon was 670,000 and consisted of 220,000 Acs under irrigation and 450,000 Acs rain fed. The production of rice was 18.6 million bushels per year.
Consequent to a report made by the Governor West Ridgeway, a separate department for irrigation works was established on 15th May, 1900 with H.T.S. Ward as the first Director of Irrigation. See Fig.2.1. Henry Parker, Irrigation Assistant was his deputy and seven other Irrigation Engineers were assigned to the new department. Along with these, two Assistant Surveyors and ten Inspectors transferred from the Public Works Department (P.W.D) formed the nucleus of the new department. The department was housed in a building called « Arcade » in York Street, Fort, Colombo.
The new department was entrusted with the restoration and construction of all irrigation works and the maintenance of large irrigation schemes. The provincial Irrigation Boards were abolished and the maintenance of minor irrigation works came under the control of the Government Agent.