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10,000 hectares to come under maize cultivation in Mahaweli Zones



Abandoned lands to be reacquired

State Minister of Mahaweli Zone, Canals, and Settlement Infrastructure Development, Siripala Gamlath, unveiled plans to cultivate 10,000 hectares of maize in Mahaweli Zones under the national food cultivation program ‘Vision of Prosperity’ launched by the President and the Prime Minister.

He said the government has taken a policy decision to suspend the import of non-essential food items. In this backdrop, moves are already underway to grow different varieties of food, including maize for which 10,000 hectares of land have been earmarked in the Mahaweli Zone.

The State Minister was addressing a group of representatives from farmer organizations in Mahaweli B Zone and some investors at a meeting to discuss prevailing issues, in Manampitiya, Polonnaruwa, last week.

“The annual demand for maize in the country is 500,000 metric tons. Of this, 250,000 metric tons are produced locally and my Ministry expects to supply 10% of the demand through the Mahaweli Zone. The balance has to be imported at a cost of Rs. 3 billion”, Gamlath noted.

The State Minister also participated in an inspection tour to review the progress of lands leased to large-scale investors in Welikanda, Aselapura, Ellewewa, Sinhapura and Punani in the Mahaweli B Zone.

During the inspection, it came to light that certain investors had not shown any interest in the projects. It was observed that these investors, who had obtained lands from the government for various agri-business projects, had abandoned them. This resulted in the lands remaining idle for years.

At this juncture, the State Minister directed the Director-General of the Mahaweli Authority, Sunil S. Perera to take over such lands.

He advised the Director-General to introduce a system to utilize the abandoned lands for productive purposes such as leasing them for cultivation to suitable investors or farmers.

It was also observed that certain investors have made the lease payments merely to hold on to the ownership but not put their lands into proper use. Certain investors have used only about 10% of the total land they obtained under the lease agreement.

The State Minister also noted with appreciation the investors who have fully utilized the lands they had obtained for projects.

Saying that abandoning Mahaweli lands in this manner is a waste of public property, Gamlath instructed the officers to properly scrutinize the projects in advance and allocate lands only to prospective investors in the future.

Mahaweli Authority Director-General Sunil S. Perera said that action has been taken to re-acquire 120 plots of land from a group of investors who failed to embark on viable projects or go in for any development activity so far.

He further said that 50 such blocks of land have already been allocated to different investors to begin development projects.

According to the Mahaweli Authority, 15,000 acres have been leased out to investors, farmer organizations and 806 other individuals for agricultural projects.

Deputy Director-General of the Mahaweli Authority, Engineer P. G. Gunapala, Director of Mahaweli Agriculture, B. Neville Rajapaksa, Mahaweli Project Development Director, Wasanthi Senevirathna, Mahaweli Livestock Resources Director, Thamara Priyadarshani, Director – Land, Asanka Gunasekera, Director – Land Use, Indika Jayawardana, Mahaweli B Zone Residential Project Manager, Sugath Weerasinghe, Mahaweli C Zone Residential Project Manager, Noel Jayasiri and several other officials also participated.

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PMB declines to release Rs 1.2 bn FD for paddy purchasing



Treasury forced to bear responsibility for Rs 2 bn in loans

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said that the State Banks weren’t in a position to release funds to the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) as the enterprise owed them a staggering sum, running to over Rs 20 bn.

Due to the failure on the part of the state enterprise to settle previous loans, the Treasury has been compelled to accept the responsibility for repaying them, the State Minister said.

The Kegalle District lawmaker said so on the live political programme, Salakuna, telecast on Hiru on Monday night. The State Minister was responding to interviewer Chamuditha Samarawickrema’s query regarding the inordinate delay on the part of the government to implement the paddy purchasing scheme.

Referring to Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s abortive efforts to obtain the required funding, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the Treasury was helpless.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya said the PMB couldn’t be faulted for the crisis as successive governments had directed the state enterprise to purchase paddy at a higher price, then ordered it to sell at a much lower price, thereby causing staggering losses.

The State Minister also acknowledged management level shortcomings and political interventions caused the ruination of the PMB.

The PMB owed the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank Rs 1,600 mn and Rs 690 mn, respectively.

The State Minister acknowledged that the issue couldn’t be resolved in spite of interventions made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Dinesh Gunawardena. Referring to a subsequent discussion he had with the Secretary to the Treasury Mahinda Siriwardana, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the BOC has asked for Rs 1.2 bn fixed deposit as security though the PMB declined to do so. According to the State Minister the PMB asserted that it couldn’t forgo the fixed deposit as the

interest received was utilized for day to day running of its operations.

The State Minister said that the banks could release the required funding on the basis of a guarantee given by the Treasury. The lawmaker explained the inability on the part of the Treasury to give such a guarantee as further deterioration of public finance could have a devastating impact on the banking sector. Such an eventuality couldn’t be allowed, the SLFPer said.

The Minister acknowledged that the failure on the part of the government to launch a paddy purchasing scheme would dishearten the farmer community.

Chamuditha Samarawickrema pointed out that the private sector had managed their ‘operations’ in a much better way.

The State Minister said that the situation was so bad that of the recent Rs 93 mn public sector salary bill, the government could meet Rs 82 mn. The government had no option but to ask those state enterprises to pay salaries from their funds, pending repayment, the MP said, reiterating the Treasury couldn’t help the PMD at the moment.

Responding to further questions, the State Minister said that the government would definitely give priority to the PMD issue once they finalized public sector salary payments. The Minister urged the media not to pursue an agenda detrimental to the government’s recovery efforts. Asked to explain, the State Minister said that there had been accusations the government didn’t purchase paddy to clear the field for the private sector. The Hiru team pointed out that the banks had released substantial amounts to the private sector to purchase paddy. The Minister explained the banks tried their best to help but circumstances were such the government couldn’t help at the moment.

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PSC proposes amendment to Children and Young Persons Ordinance



A meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality in progress. Among those present were lawmakers Rohini Kaviratne, Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Dr. Seetha Arambepola and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera (pic courtesy Parliament)

The Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality has decided to propose amendments to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance to consider all those below 18 years as children.

The PSC presided by its Chairperson Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle that met in the Parliamentary Complex last week also decided to replace the reference ‘young persons’ in the Ordinance and to rename it as the Children’s Ordinance.

As per the amendments every reference to “Children and Young Persons Ordinance”, “children and young persons”, “child or young person” and “age of sixteen years” in any regulation or rule made under the principal enactment or notice, notification, contract, communication or other document issued under the principal enactment shall be read and construed as a reference respectively, to “Children’s Ordinance”, “children”, “child” and “age of eighteen years.

Section 71 of the Ordinance will be amended, by the repeal of subsection (6) of that section establishing that “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the right of any parent, teacher or legal guardian to punish a child or youth”.

The purpose of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance Clause 23 is to make orders for the establishment of Juvenile Courts for the supervision of juvenile offenders for the protection of children and young persons.

State Minister Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Members of Parliament Thalatha Atukorala, Rohini Kaviratne, Eran Wickramaratne, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Manjula Dissanayake, Secretary to the Committee and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera and senior officials representing the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms were present at the PSC meeting.

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80 houses destroyed in fire at Thotalanga



The scene of the fire(pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

At least 80 houses were destroyed due to a fire that broke out in a highly congested area in Colombo on Tuesday (27) night. Around 220 people had been displaced, the police said.

The fire broke out at Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga at around 8 pm on Tuesday and it took firefighters several hours to bring the fire under control. Twelve fire engines were deployed, but many of the dwellings had been burnt out as approach roads were not wide enough for the vehicles to reach the fire.

Those who are affected are now housed in community centres and places of worship.

No casualties were reported in the incident. The police are yet to determine the cause of fire and the total damage to property has not been estimated still.

Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is on an official visit to Japan, has instructed Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake to take steps to provide immediate relief to all victims of the fire.

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