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A fundamental deterioration in nature

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By Debapriya Mukherjee
Former Senior Scientist
Central Pollution Control Board, India

A widespread loss of pollinating animals in recent decades is a fundamental deterioration in nature. This loss will ultimately lead to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”. Although the decline in pollinator population abundance and diversity has been registered worldwide but their critical role and invaluable advantages in biodiversity and ecosystem services are not getting due importance, may be, on account of poor environmental awareness among the people despite knowing that “animal pollination supply a major proportion of nutrients in the human diet”. In addition, fodder crops, plant-derived medicines such as aspirin and morphine, and fibres such as cotton are all animal-pollinated. Also many of the trees that are the lungs of the planet and absorb carbon from the atmosphere are animal pollinated.

Politicians all over the world strongly advocate importance of biodiversity but in reality this particular issue is not taken into consideration in the name of development though we all know that biodiversity improves human wellbeing through various ecosystem services, including material (e.g. food, fibers, timber), regulating (e.g. pest regulation, pollination, and nutrient cycling), and non-material (e.g. health, aesthetic, spiritual, education, or recreation) contributions. Pollination is regarded as a fundamental ecosystem service that provides direct commercial benefits to crop production and makes a key contribution to the dynamics and persistence of native plant species and communities. Pollination occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species, or within a single flower by wind or insects and animals. Successful pollination results in healthy fruit and fertile seeds, allowing the plants to reproduce. The extensive and critical world of crop pollinators is a $200 billion a year industry.

Pollinators are vital for global food security, with approximately 73% of the world’s cultivated crops are dependent on pollination, of which 56.5% are pollinated by bees, 19% by flies, 6.5% by bats, 5% by wasps, 5% by beetles, 4% by birds, and 4% by butterflies and moths. The 25,000 different bee species differ greatly in their size and habit requirements and consequently, deviate in the plants they visit and fertilize. Though honey bees are vital pollinators of many crops and fruit plants, flies are also important pollinators of more than 100 cultivated plants, including economically important crops like mango, cashew, tea, cacao, apple, onions, and strawberries. Today, flies are the third largest and most diverse animal groups in the world, comprising over 160,000 named species in approximately 150 families. However, substantial concern exists over their current and future conservation status. 

The global pollination services have drastically reduced with the losses of both wild and managed populations of insect pollinators. These declines have serious economic as well as conservation implications. Anthropogenic alterations in climates and habitats have resulted in reduction in the biodiversity of many pollinator families. Different factors, a-biotic and biotic, influence these parameters in the wild: predators, competitors, parasites, pathogens, and the availability of key resources. In particular, key threats to pollinators include agricultural intensification and land- use intensification (particularly habitat loss and pesticide use), urbanization, deforestation, industrial development (climate change and environmental pollution) and the spread of alien species (intensive farming). All these factors, singly and/or in combination may alter survival, behaviour and reproduction and in turn jeopardize the delivery of pollination services to crops and wild plants. In this piquant situation, there is a critical absence of robust large-scale, species-specific estimates of distribution change for pollinating insects, in particular bees and hoverflies, which are considered some of the most important pollinators. 

 Among them, one key pressure is exposure to chemicals through contact and consumption of contaminated nectar, pollen, water and guttation fluids, or via contact during foraging or nesting (e.g. in the air with contaminated dust particles, on crops and in soil with contaminated surfaces). This includes pesticide classes routinely applied to flowering crops. The new research highlights the complex web of pesticide residues entering the internal hive environment and colony food stream bees. In agricultural fields, honey bee populations are not exposed only to a single chemical compound because farmers often use more than one insecticide individually or in mixtures in a growing season.

Researchers reported that collecting pollen from returning honey bee foragers in apiaries across the many countries during the active beekeeping season revealed widespread and prolonged pollen contamination by multiple insecticides, herbicides and fungicides under the current agricultural pesticide application practices. As a result, managed and wild pollinators even in the rural areas are routinely exposed to multiple pesticides. Presence of various insecticides/pesticides in dead honey bee samples is the clear evident of honey bee mortality. Scientists also observed that neither the most common herbicide nor the most common fungicide affected worker bee mortality on their own. But when the bees were exposed to the fungicide in combination with the neonicotinoid clothianidin, it took half as much of the chemicals to kill as many bees. Thereby it is pertinent to mention that colonies performing pollination services are subject to increased pesticide exposure compared to honey-production.

Honey bee colonies have been proposed as terrestrial biomonitor because workers from the same colony typically forage up to 6 km away (with max distances reported as 13.5 km) from the hive encompassing over 100 km2, and return with accumulated contaminants to the hive. A single colony, therefore, can act as a terrestrial sentinel, expanding radially into the surrounding environment to collect food resources and acquiring contaminants including pesticide-laced pollen that is then stored in the colony as “beebread.” Most importantly these contaminants threaten bee queens in particular. The colonies without queen will not have eggs or future bees. 

In addition to bees, moths also play a vital role as overnight pollinators of a wide range of flowers and plants and its transport networks are larger and more complex than those of daytime pollinators like bees. Over the past decade, public anxiety about the role of our pollinators has focused squarely on bees but not on moths. There is a big misconception that all moths come and eat the clothes but that is not happened at all. Some moths happen to be visiting flowers and can be an important part of the pollination process. Many moths are transporting pollen originating from 47 different plant species, including several that are rarely visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Moths complement the work of daytime pollinators and help keep plant populations diverse and abundant. They serve as a form of back-up for biodiversity, which in turn supports crop yields.But steep decline in numbers since the 1970s on account of changes in land use and the increasing use of pesticides has a knock-on effect for birds that feed on moths, such as the cuckoo. Its decline is kind of tied to moth declines. Bats will feed on moths as well, so there is ties to other creatures having declines in their own populations, because their food supply, the moths, are going down as well. 

 

In this context it is pertinent to mention that natural farming farming can facilitate the development of much-needed recommendations to mitigate problems associated with pesticide exposure, thus helping to reduce pollinator exposure risk. Many federal, state and local government agencies, non-government organizations and universities have launched extensive efforts to protect pollinators. Despite this effort , government must work closely with farmers, forest landowners and other private landowners to increase pollinator habitat in targeted areas nationwide by implementing conservation practices such as cover crops, wildflower and native plantings in buffers and areas not in production.

 

If we successfully protect pollinators, we can protect our ability to grow food. People must participate in making a change, through education, through action, through becoming a beekeeper, through gardening – all of those things are super important to this issue and really can make a difference. 



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Religious nationalism suffers notable setback in India

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People casting their votes in the recent Lok Sabha poll in India

Democratic opinion the world over could take heart from the fact that secularism is alive and well in India; the South Asian region’s most successful democracy. While it is indeed remarkable for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win a third consecutive term as head of government in India’s recent Lok Sabha election, what is of greater significance is the fact that the polls featured a resounding defeat for religious nationalism.

Consequently, India’s secular credentials remain intact. Secularism, which eschews identity politics of all kinds, including religious nationalism is, after all, a cornerstone of democracy and secularism has been a chief strength of India. The defeat of religious nationalism, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, is a triumph for not only the democratic forces of India but for their counterparts the world over.

It was plain to see that the Bharathiya Janata Party under P.M. Modi was going the extra mile to placate Hindu nationalist opinion in Uttar Pradesh and outside through the construction of an eye-catching Ram temple in the state, for example, but the vote-catching strategy has visible failed as the polls results in the state indicate. For, the number of seats won by the BJP in the state has shrunk dramatically. In fact, the BJP was resoundingly defeated in the very constituency where the temple was constructed.

Constructive criticism of religious nationalism should not be considered an indictment of the religions concerned. Hinduism is one of the world’s most profound religions and it would sustain itself and thrive regardless of whether vote-hungry political parties champion its cause or otherwise. However, the deployment of any religion in the acquiring and aggrandizement of power by political forces calls for criticism since it amounts to a gross abuse of religion. Religious nationalism is an example of such abuse and warrants decrying in democratic states.

Unfortunately, religious nationalism is rampant in South Asia and it is most alive and well in Sri Lanka. And to the degree to which religious nationalism thrives in Sri Lanka, to the same extent could Sri Lanka be considered as deviating from the cardinal principles and values of democratic governance. It is obligatory on the part of those posing as Sri Lanka’s national leaders to reject religious nationalism and take the country along the path of secularism, which essentially denotes the separation of politics and religion. Thus far, Sri Lanka’s political class has fought shy of taking up this challenge and by doing so they have exposed the country as a ‘facade democracy’.

Religion per se, though, is not to be rejected, for, all great religions preach personal and societal goodness and progress. However, when religious identities are abused by political actors and forces for the acquiring and consolidation of power, religious nationalism comes to the fore and the latter is more destructive than constructive in its impact on societies. It is for these reasons that it is best to constitutionally separate religion from politics. Accordingly, secularism emerges as essential for the practise of democracy, correctly conceived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha poll was also notable for the role economic factors played in the determining of its final results. Once again, Uttar Pradesh was instructive. It is reported that the high cost of living and unemployment, for instance, were working to the detriment of the ruling BJP. That is, ‘Bread’ or economic forces were proving decisive in voter preferences. In other words, economics was driving politics. Appeals to religion were proving futile.

Besides, it was reported that the opposition alliance hit on the shrewd strategy of projecting a bleaker future for depressed communities if the BJP ‘juggernaut’ was allowed to bulldoze its way onward without being checked. For, in the event of it being allowed to do so, the concessions and benefits of positive discrimination, for instance, being enjoyed by the weak would be rolled back in favour of the majority community. Thus, was the popular vote swung in the direction of the opposition alliance.

Accordingly, the position could be taken that economic forces are the principal shaping influences of polities. Likewise, if social stability is to be arrived at redistributive justice needs to be ushered in by governments to the extent possible. Religious nationalism and other species of identity politics could help populist political parties in particular to come to power but what would ensure any government’s staying power is re-distributive justice; that is, the even distribution of ‘Bread’ and land. In the absence of the latter factors, even populism’s influence would be short lived.

The recent Indian Lok Sabha elections could be said to have underscored India’s standing as a principal democracy. Democracy in India should be seen as having emerged stronger than ever as a result of the poll because if there were apprehensions in any quarter that BJP rule would go unchallenged indefinitely those fears have been proved to be baseless.

‘One party rule’ of any kind is most injurious to democracy and democratic forces in India and outside now have the assurance that India would continue to be a commodious and accommodative democracy that could keep democratic institutions and values ticking soundly.

Besides the above considerations, by assuring the region that it would continue with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has underscored her ‘Swing State’ status. That is, she would take on a leadership role in South Asia and endeavor to be an inspirational guide in the region, particularly in respect of democratic development.

As for Sri Lanka, she has no choice but to be on the best of terms with India. Going forward, Sri Lanka would need to take deeply into consideration India’s foreign policy sensitivities. If there is to be an ‘all weather friend’ for Sri Lanka it has to be India because besides being Sri Lanka’s closest neighour it is India that has come to Sri Lanka’s assistance most swiftly in the region in the latter’s hour of need. History also establishes that there are least conflicts and points of friction among democracies.

However, identity politics are bound to continually cast their long shadow over South Asia. For smaller states this would prove a vexatious problem. It is to the extent to which democratic development is seen by countries of the South as the best means of defusing intra-state conflicts born of identity politics that the threat of identity politics could be defused and managed best.

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AKD’s Speech on Rule of Law: Merits and Demerits?

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Anura Kumara

by Dr Laksiri Fernando

Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s (AKD) speech as the Leader of the National People’s Power (NPP) at the National Convention organised by the Retired Police Officers Collective on 9 June 2024 is quite promising in terms of establishing or reestablishing rule of law in the country. They have been talking about a ‘system change’ now for some time, and various independent critics and observers were asking the details of this promise, without merely depending on the slogan.

I was fortunate to listen to this speech online and live, through Horawa News, and one weakness or wrong that I immediately observed was its leading phrase ‘Malimawa shows its police power.’ I have no idea about who runs the Horawa but that was not what AKD was quite obviously advocating. “Power’ is not a good word to use in democracy, worst still is the ‘police power.’

State of the State

After an introduction, AKD ventured to explain the ‘state of the State,’ particularly during the last two three years, characterising it as a failed state with inability to pay back loans, to supply necessary medicine to hospitals, and failing to give children a proper education, and when they grow up, proper employment. He strongly characterised the State as in the grips of crooks and criminals (dushithayan saha aparadakaruwan), and the whole society being affected by this situation. He said, “this must be changed, and this to be changed like in all other changes. Sri Lanka should be a State based on rule of law.” Thereafter his speech focused, in detail, on the questions of rule of law. There were several principles that he enunciated.

First, equality before the law. All citizens in the country should be equal before the law. All citizens in the country should be able to go before the law against any discrimination by the implementation of law. He asked, “are we all equal before the law? No. Rich people have one law, and people who have political power have another law. At present, the Department of Police, the Attorney General’s Department and even the Judiciary have become a laughing stock. Let me ask you a question that I have asked once before. “

“Who knew best that Diana Gamage didn’t have citizenship? First, Diana. She knew that she came to the country on a tourist visa and even that visa had expired. Knowing all that, she came to Parliament. Knowing that, she also acted as a state minister. How did she do that? She knew that because of her political power that the law would not apply to her. An ordinary person even will not ride a bicycle without a license. Where is our law?”

“The second person who knew well was Ranil. But he protected her. This type of country cannot go forward. We need a state system which is entirely based on rule of law. I will give you an assurance. I personally or our movement do not have any financial fraudsters or criminals to protect. No underworld, no drug dealers, no rapists, no financial fraudsters, and no criminals to protect. If the existing powers given to the police to curtail these crimes are not enough, under our government, we will create circumstances to strengthen the police.”

Political Interference

AKD outlined some of the crimes and murders which were investigated, and the perpetrators were properly punished within the system. Those included the murder of the Manager of Noori Estate, Hokandara family killing, Killing of Sarath Ambepitiya, etc.

On the other hand, he emphasised the cases like Lasantha Wickrematunge, Eknaligoda murder, assault of journalists like Keith Noyar, Poddalla Jayantha and others that dragged on without a conclusion. Why? His correct answer was political interference. He praised the police but emphasised political interferences that hamper their tasks.

One of the aspects that he neglected was the ethnic bias in criminal investigations and other police matters. Will this be addressed by the NPP? That is my question. For example, I have known J. S. Tissanayagam as a student at Peradeniya who later became a prominent Tamil Journalist. He was abducted, beaten up and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There are so many similar cases that were neglected by AKD, and I hope he will rectify his neglect in the coming future. I also failed to identify any Tamil participation in the crowd.

AKD was correct in emphasising that the police have a major role in maintaining stability in society. “If there were no police, no one would be able to pass the Borella junction peacefully” he said. He emphasised correctly, that these premises were established after a long struggle in building up rule of law in society internationally. “These were not there in tribal societies,’ he pointed out. “The leader of the tribe (Rehe nayakeya) did all together,” he said. ‘It was through struggles that separation of powers was established between Parliament to legislate, elected Presidents to execute, and the Judiciary to rule on justice,’ he continued.

“What we can see today is a tendency to go back to tribal society. We need a civilised society. Especially the department of police, criminal investigation and the attorney genera’s department should work independently, efficiently and correctly. It is our task under an NPP government to create these civilised conditions. Today the police department is in a mess due to political interferences.” He gave examples.

“Do we have a proper procedure in recruiting and promoting police officers? No. I know that there are some officers who are constables at recruitment, and also when they retire. We will establish a proper procedure in recruitment and promotions. At present, when change of governments occur, the police officers are punished or promoted. The main task of the police officers is people’s security. However, what they are supposed to do today is patrician (prabhu) security.” He mentioned that he has been an MP since the year 2000 and never sought any police security. He emotionally mentioned the difficulties that police security undergoes with so many difficulties.

Vision for Future?

“Under our government, people’s security is the primary task of the police, and not politician or patrician security. During the last 24 years as an MP, I have never called the police for any assistance. But this is not the case with other MPs. However, I have to say that to eliminate criminals and fraudsters, we will give the police the necessary leadership and encouragement. Today, the MPs consider the police as their servants. I have heard some saying ‘my OIC’ (mage OIC). This is not our attitude. We will preserve the dignity of police officers. They are well trained and educated. They should not be the tools of politicians. Their task is to punish criminality, present and past. There are people who believe their past offenses will be forgotten. But we will not forget.” AKD related a story.

“During the election campaign in 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga accused the UNP stealing people’s money and property under their government. Vijayapala Mendis has obtained 75 acres of coconut land for two rupees per acre, altogether for Rs. 150. She promised that these crooks would be brought to the Galle Face Green and would be ‘skinned’. People rejoiced and clapped. However, within 7 years, the same Vijayapala Mendis became a Minister in Chandrika’s Cabinet. There are so many examples like that. Perhaps she had forgotten and even the people had forgotten. Ranil Wickremasinghe who accused [Gotabaya Rajapaksa] as the ‘Mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack’ also became the President based on the same Gotabaya mandate.”

There were several other points connected with the above that AKD ventured into taking about 20 more minutes. All are worth reflecting on and even in my case I have not heard them before from politicians. One of his newest arguments was to consider the rule of law, law and order, and equality before the law as the necessary basis of economic development. However, given the necessary word limitations for this article those may be discussed in a future occasion.

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Raffealla Fernando Face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta

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It’s not only her name that is famous but her face, too, and I’m referring, of course, to Raffealla Fernando – Founder and CEO at Raffealla Fernando Photography, and Fashion Designer and Stylist at Raffealla – who excels in what she does and shines bright wherever she goes.

Raffealla was in India recently and, I’m told, her face did bright up the fashion scene over there. And, guess what! Raffealla is now the face of Sri Lanka for Prerna Gupta as she expands her unique fashion label to take in Sri Lanka, as well.

Prerna Gupta couture is an award-winning Indian fashion house, from Nagpur, and she creates beautiful sustainable outfits and textiles made out of milk, aloe vera and orange peel, and what Raffealla is wearing in the photographs, on this page, are clothes made out of orange peel, aloe vera and milk.

Prerna Gupta has launched and showcased at reputed fashion shows where celebrities like Vicky Kaushal, Rani Mukherjee, Raj Kumar Arao, Evelyn Sharma, Sana Khan, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan and Bhapi Leheri have visited and adorned her label.

Says Raffealla: “I feel truly honoured and privileged to be working with a brand like this.”

Sri Lanka’s celebrity was also featured in the leading Bangladesh fashion magazine ‘Fashion People’.

“I’m super hyped because it’s the first time FELLA got featured in an international magazine.”

And FELLA is the brand name for Raffealla’s fashion designs.

Talking about her recent trip to India, she said one of the interesting and colourful fashion projects she did in Mumbai (photography and conceptualization) was connected with Kutch – a district of Gujarat state.

Raffealla went on to say that costumes of Kutch are exquisitely stylized and intricately embroidered.

Dazzling with vibrant colours, flooded with striking mirror work and stunning jewellery, it’s one of the most alluring custumes in India, she said.

“The mirror work and embroidery work forms an integral part of Kutch. Although handicrafts, irrespective of the community or ethnic group to which they belong, remain the same, the workmanship differs.

“In fact, the various communities can be identified by the pattern of handicrafts and dress, or costumes, they are in. For instance, the Garacia Jat women wear only red or black chunis, while Rabari women wear black open blouses, or cholis, with odhnis to cover their heads.

“In the rural areas, the women wear Chaniya choli the whole year, Chaniya choli’s are of many designs and fashion. A typical Kutch costume is incomplete without ‘Abha’ or ‘Kanjari’. ‘Abha’ is the name of the typical choli worn by women folk and ‘Kanjari’ is a long blouse, beautifully embroidered and with mirror work.

“Most men in Kutch wear loose trousers, a long-sleeved under-jacket, and a short coat, a plain or silk-bordered cloth. Normally men prefer white clothes except the Muslims who prefer coloured clothes.”

Raffealla is now ready, and excited, to do it for Prerna Gupta.

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