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An epic Air Ceylon charter flight in late 1940s

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Reminiscences upon turning 100:

The comprehensive and interesting article written by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena in The Island newspaper of 06 October 2020 under the title, ‘First Pilgrimage to Mecca by Air,’ described the daring flying capabilities of the Ceylonese pilots with limited navigational facilities when Civil Aviation commenced in Ceylon in 1947.

The final pilgrimage to Mecca by Air Ceylon was to take a group of pilgrims organised by Adamjee Lukmanjee family and friends not only on pilgrimage to Mecca but also on a tour to Cairo and Damascus.

The crew consisted of Capt. Peter Fernando, Co-Pilot. P.B. Mawalagedera, Co-Capt. Ken Joachim, Radio officer D. L. Sirimanne and Flight Engineer G. V. Perera.

The Ratmalana Airport was chock-a-block with well wishers, relations and friends. The pilgrims were all dressed in white. The DC3 aircraft had 21 slumber lounge seats for luxury travel. The aircraft loaded to full capacity finally took off on a beautiful clear morning and set course to Bombay on its first lap. It was a four-and-a-half-hour flight flying at 8,000 feet. Approaching the Indian air space, we were cleared to ascend to 12,000 feet to fly over the Western Ghats. Heavy cloud formations were encountered. Fasten-seat-belts warning was switched on and the aircraft got enveloped in thick clouds; the flight became extremely bumpy, rough and turbulent. Down drafts almost sucked the passengers off their seats. It lasted for about half an hour and then the plane shot out to blue skies and steady smooth flying again to the joy of the frightened passengers and landed at Bombay for refueling.

The passengers were relieved to stretch their legs and attend to toilet facilities at the airport. Lunch was served and when ready took off to Karachi, a three-and-a-half-hour flight. The weather was superb. Nearing Karachi, the evening sky became hazy turning red in the setting sun. The famous R 101 Hangar at Karachi Airport was visible from as far as 70 miles which was a useful navigational aid for homing. It was a huge aluminum roofed hangar which reflected the setting sun like a glistening star. It was built in 1929 for the R 101 Airship to fly long distance in the British Empire, but on its maiden flight from England, crashed over France killing the crew and passengers. On landing at Karachi, the BOAC agent took the passengers and crew for a night stop to their BOAC ‘Speed Bird’ transit hotel at the Karachi Airport similar to the KLM ‘Midway House.’ It had comfortable rooms with sleeping and toilet facilities and attendants at the press of a button. A sumptuous biriyani dinner was served.

Early next morning after breakfast, we left Karachi and headed over the sea to Salalah on the Arabian Coast. The five-hour flight was smooth and uneventful and we landed at Salalah for fueling. Since it was midday, the lunch packets and drinks loaded at Karachi were served on ground. Refreshed, we took off and did a five hours flight in clear weather and landed at Aden for a night stop. Aden was beastly hot and unbearable. The BOAC staff welcomed us and took the passengers and crew to a comfortable hotel in the city centre for the night.

Early in the morning, we took off, and after a three-hour flight landed in Jeddha, a busy transit airport for Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. The Adamjees thanked us and bid farewell on their journey to Mecca on a Saudi Airline as foreign aircraft were forbidden to operate to Mecca. We returned empty to Aden for a three-day stay. To our annoyance, the Aerodrome Control instructed us to park in a remote area far from the normal parking bay. Three miserable days later we left Aden and arrived in Jeddah. The pilgrims having finished their rituals at the sacred Kaaba in Mecca were gleefully waiting excitedly to tour famous Cairo and Damascus. The leader of the party had brought two large barrels of Holy Water and requested they be loaded. Capt. Fernando politely refused to take them as the aircraft was loaded to capacity and suggested they be shipped to Colombo.

The BOAC Representative informed that it was a mandatory requirement for passengers visiting Cairo from Jeddah and South Africa to spend three days quarantine in El Tor as a precaution against Yellow Fever. On the navigation chart we observed it was almost on our heading to Cairo. The four-hour flight was uneventful and we homed on El Tor NDB. We got landing instructions and the runway was an improvised airstrip marked with white painted stones and a small building at the end. We landed and taxied to a camp spread in front of the building which, we later learnt, was a base hospital with spacious tents for accommodation.

After immigration formalities, we were taken over by a Medical Officer and a batch of nurses who attended to the passengers, and the crew was taken to a separate tent with beds, enclosed toilets and shower facilities. A little later, a nurse in uniform gave each of us a test tube with a small piece of wire tipped with a swab of cotton and a small bottle for specimens of feces and urine. After a while she came back with a tray to take them. We were unable to have them ready and requested her to come in the evening. She was furious and returned with a bulky health officer who asked us to comply immediately. Otherwise, he would be compelled to take samples by force. We had to give in as we did not like anyone poking wires into our anuses and requested a little more time. Our Flight Engineer G.V. Perera said he has an inclination and retired to the toilet. He came back with his test tube full. We shared what he brought amidst peals of laughter. The nurse came and took the samples away. We all chuckled. What if G.V’s had anything infectious? All of us would have been in quarantine for a longer period!

We were made comfortable during the three days with food, drinks and listening to the blare of Egyptian music and songs on a loudspeaker broadcast for the whole establishment. The nights were cool although no trees were within sight. There was a billiard table that kept us in good spirit. Three agonizing days in the sweltering desert heat dragged by and finally were given a Clean Bill of Health to proceed to Cairo.

El Tor airport had no control tower but only a cabin. Peter asked me to get flight clearance from the Controller. The Controller said he could not do it as Cairo was in fog. After an agonising wait of more than two hours, clearance was granted. It was a tricky take off from that short sandy runway in the desert. I held my breath with prayer as we just managed to clear the end of the runway on full power; luckily there were neither trees nor high obstructions to fly over. After an hour’s flight we landed in Cairo, a huge busy international airport with modern navigational and landing facilities. The fog had dissipated, the temperature was rather cool compared to Aden and Jeddah.

The BOAC handling agents cleared formalities and took over the passengers to a hotel, and the crew to Shepherds, where international flight crews stayed. A magnificent hotel built by the British during their occupation of Egypt to accommodate royalty and other dignitaries including King Farouk of Egypt. The hotel was like an Egyptian palace with huge pillars painted red and gold and even the rooms were large with high ceiling and huge king-size beds. The ornate lobby had a palatial atmosphere and the waiters were six-foot Nubians in colorful robes. The hotel was located overlooking a broad avenue where thousands of cars roared past without sounding their horns, a continuous mushy sound indicating how busy modern Cairo was. The food was delicious and served with wine. One had to be in full dress for dinner and we went in our Gabardine ceremonial uniforms.

The following morning, we visited the famous Cairo Museum, a vast building and saw the Mummies of King Tutankhamen and Queen Nefertiti and a huge collection of ancient artifacts of ancient Egypt and then ended with a boat ride on the Nile. There were many interesting places to visit in Cairo and further south. In the afternoon, we motored to a hotel in Giza to see the Pyramids. We hired a tour guide and six camels, one each with its keeper. I was the last to follow the batch. Half way, the camel suddenly sat on its belly and wouldn’t move. I shouted to the rest of the crew to stop and help me, but they didn’t hear and I felt frightened to be left alone with the camel keeper in the desert. He tried everything possible for the camel to get up but it wouldn’t. Then the camel keeper asked me for some ‘buckshee’ (money) and in desperation I gave him a few Egyptian pounds. He tucked it into his waist and fed something to the camel. Suddenly, it rose to its feet and started trotting at speed to follow the rest. The Pyramids are made of massive blocks of stone and there were several of them in the distance. The biggest was next to the Sphinx. We got down and there was a large hole at the base of the pyramid and we climbed within, one behind the other, an unending ladder leaning at about 40 degrees. It was dark and each was given a torch and, on all fours, we reached the middle chamber of the pyramid and strangely there was a ray of sunlight. There were empty ornate royal coffins or sarcophagus, lots of statues, and other ancient relics in it. A little while later we started descending until we came out into bright sunshine, which hurt our eyes.

In the afternoon while we were in the spacious verandah of the hotel watching the rich visitors who come to the hotel, a Muslim gentleman visited us and introduced himself as Majeed, a Ceylonese businessman owning a jewellery shop opposite the hotel. He had heard some Ceylonese had arrived and are staying in the hotel. We told him that we were an Air Ceylon crew bringing a group of Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca and they are touring Cairo for a couple of days. He was delighted to meet us. We ordered tea. While chatting, Majeed said he had heard there was a high-level diplomatic conference at the hotel that afternoon and the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake were expected to arrive here on their way after attending a Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in London.

 

It was wonderful news and we waited anxiously to meet our PM. Little later Mr. Senanayake with two gentlemen arrived, and Capt. Peter Fernando went and greeted our PM with due respect and invited him to join us. Senanayake was surprised to meet Ceylonese in Cairo, and when told that we are Air Ceylon crew flying a group of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and touring Cairo and Damascus, he congratulated us. There was a commotion and Jawaharlal Nehru arrived with a large retinue. Our PM wished us goodbye and joined them.

It was the time King Farouk was forced to abdicate and Abdul Nasser had taken over the government. The British were sent out of Egypt and the Suez Canal was taken over. Our Co- Capt. Ken Joachim, a fair Burgher in Gabardine uniform looked handsome like a British military officer. He had seen a beautiful French sales girl in a perfume shop nearby and would go on the pretext of buying some perfume. The police had stopped him and questioned him as to what he was doing in Cairo. When told he is a pilot from Ceylon bringing some tourists, they let him go. Ken got scared the Egyptians would lynch him mistaking him for a Britisher, begged me to chaperon him when visiting the perfume shop. On the last day in Cairo he bought a bottle of perfume for his wife. A message was received the passengers were ready to proceed to Damascus. We took off from Cairo at noon the following day and after a three-hour flight landed in Damascus.

Damascus is the capital of Syria. Due to turmoil in the Middle East, the Damascus Airport was full or fighter planes and soldiers. The passengers and crew were cleared and taken over by a BOAC Officer to a hotel in the centre of Damascus. Something amusing happened there; a high-ranking Air Force officer at the airport with lots of medals asked Captain Peter Fernando, from which country we were from. When told from Ceylon, he was surprised for he thought Ceylon was part of India. He wanted to know how many planes Air Ceylon had. Peter without batting an eyelid lied: ‘We have six DC4s, ten DC3s and we operate to cities in India and East.’

The pleasant and amiable BOAC Officer visited us that evening and took us to dinner at a restaurant in the Damascus City Square and then to a nightclub. It looked like a dark little den, crowded with Syrians in their traditional dress and seated on cushions on floor, smoking hookah. The air was pungent with a strong tobacco smell. We were distinguished guests and being foreigners, given front row seats. A waiter wearing tiny cups around his belt would stoop down gracefully filling the cup with strong spicy coffee from the container strapped on his back and a brass tube curved over shoulder with the snout offered coffee free on request.

Loud Syrian music by a band of musicians started playing and with a rousing applause, a fair young buxom Syrian beauty appeared on the stage scantily dressed in a sequined bra and flimsy colorful veils hanging from her waist covering a sexy bottom and shapely legs she danced her belly and hips in an erotic rhythm displaying shapely thighs, and the audience applauded with delight. Most of them were bearded old men. While dancing she snatched a veil from her waist revealing a bit of her pubic region and threw it to the audience who grabbed it gleefully throwing money to the stage. One by one while dancing she removed leaving the last to cover her nudity. The crowd in ecstasy screaming wildly threw more money at her feet. The dance went on and suddenly she coyly removed her bra, revealing beautiful dancing breasts with pink nipples, and threw it to our group. The audience was in raptures. Our amiable BOAC Officer caught it quickly and threw it back to the stage with a handful of money and hastily took us out saying she expected a night out with us.

The following morning, we went on a conducted tour of Damascus. The place that interested me most was the window in the Wall of Damascus, where St. Paul escaped in the night from certain death and fled to Jerusalem. We entered the massive market called ‘Souq’ in Arabic, is a labyrinth of passages lined with shops under one vast roof where one could get lost. Bargaining was a customary ritual. It had a variety of merchandise including beautiful clothing, genuine Persian carpets, gold, jewellery, perfume etc. I bought an attractive brocade dressing gown. Peter was looking for wartime medals, especially the “German Iron Cross,’ a medal given by Hitler for bravery. He tried to take a snap of some beggars and the police snatched the camera saying photography was prohibited. Probably, they did not want the world to know that poverty prevailed in Syria.

After three days of sightseeing, the Adamjees were ready to get back home and so were we. We flew to Sharjah for refuelling and then to Karachi for a night stop. The next morning, we took off, had lunch in Bombay and reached Ratmalana in the evening where crowds were waiting to receive the pilgrims with garlands. Thus, ended a memorable and exciting adventurous flight.



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Sat Mag

Teach students animal rights for a better world

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Five years ago, I requested the Head of the Bar Council of India to get animal welfare introduced as a subject in the law colleges. He did it immediately. The result has been much more sensitive and informed lawyers, an annual moot court that is hosted by NLU Bangalore, PhDs in animal welfare (the first one was in NLU Cuttack), more people aware of animal welfare activism and far more sensitive judges. A big thank you to Shri Manan Kumar Mishra!

22 years ago, at the instance of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, who supported all new ideas, we built the National Institute for Animal Welfare in Ballabgarh. Unfortunately, the government fell when it was ready. The Congress shut it down, and now the BJP is in its seventh year without restarting it. The Minister for Environment gave it to JNU. They fooled around for 2 years and then returned it to the Ministry, who slept on it for two years and then handed it to Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, who have ignored it for three years and only now have appointed a retired vet to make a course. I have lost all hope. In 2002, I wrote out all the courses, made some textbooks, contacted Oxford, Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, for teachers, got a grant from UNEP for the library. But nothing has happened and nothing ever will. The magnificent seven-acre centre now houses ten people of the Animal Welfare Board of India and runs “awareness” courses of three days each for the student vets of The Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (LUVAS).

But there are huge job opportunities for trained animal welfare people: shelter managers, gaushala managers, laboratory managers, forest and wildlife officers, city management of animals, elephant rescue centres, city snake rescuers, poultries, slaughterhouses, to begin with and hundreds of others. I simply cannot understand why it has taken so long for even one course to begin.

A huge thank you to the Vice Chancellor of IGNOU, Prof. Nageshwar Rao, and to Professor P. V. K. Sasidhar, for starting the first-degree related course in India for animal welfare. Prof. Sasidhar has been labouring at the modules for over three years now. The first session itself has over 800 students!

It is a PG Diploma in Animal Welfare (PGDAW) and the admissions are open for the January 2021 Session. The Online Admissions ink: www.ignouadmission.samarth.edu.in/.

The PGDAW programme is meant for animal welfare volunteers and professionals across India, and for graduates / post-graduates interested in studying animal welfare. I have seen the learning module and I like it. I wish I had been able to compile the 3000+ articles I have written on every aspect of animal welfare. They could have been part of the course. But my editor has been fooling around with the 7 volume compilations for 5 years now, and I have no idea when she will be done. National Book Trust had offered to print them all, but not even the first volume is ready.

The IGNOU course has four core components: Animal welfare science and ethics, Animal welfare issues, Animal welfare laws and policies, and Animal welfare practices and standards.

Animal welfare is concerned about the welfare of all animals that are managed in some way by humans. Farm animal welfare means the care of animals grown for milk and meat, and that is where animals suffer the most. Welfare issues, pertaining to working, performing, companion, zoo, lab and street animals, need a great deal of attention as well. The PGDAW programme, in 85 modules, has covered welfare, science, ethics, issues, laws and standards, of all farm and draught animals – cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, working animals like donkeys and horses, performing animals, pets, zoo and lab animals. These modules have been developed in collaboration with The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, University of Edinburgh, UK.

It’s a one-year course, and graduates from any discipline can take it. It has two objectives: To impart science-based animal welfare education through open and distance learning. To build the capacities of stakeholders to take socially responsible decisions concerning animal welfare. The total fee of the course is Rs. 5400/-.

Who should take this course : Obviously all young people interested in animals, Employees Working in Animal Welfare Organizations/NGOs/Gaushalas, Faculty, Researchers, Technical Staff & PG/PhD Students in Universities, Research Organizations and Veterinary Colleges, Veterinarians / Para-veterinarians in State Central Government/RVC & Para-Military Forces, Members of State Animal Welfare Boards/SPCAs, Members of CPCSEA/ Institutional Animal Ethics Committees /Animal House Facilities, Civil Servants, Officials and Researchers Working in Forest Departments, Zoos and Wild Life Institutes, Faculty and Research Scholars under Zoological Survey of India and Zoology Departments, Law Professionals and Police Personnel dealing with Animal Welfare Laws and their Enforcement, Graduates Seeking Career as Animal Welfare Professionals.

Ideally, I would make it compulsory for all schools – if we want a better India.

The Programme Coordinator, Prof. P.V.K. Sasidhar, School of Extension and Development Studies, IGNOU, New Delhi (e-mail: pvksasidhar@ignou.ac.in), has great credentials himself. He has been in the Agricultural Research Service of ICAR (2003-09), a Norman Borlaug Fellow of USDA, Tuskegee University, USA (2008), USAID Fellow, Michigan State University, USA (2015), and an OIE Performance of Veterinary Services Evaluator, OIE (2018).

 If you want to join this, now is the time. Also, if you have suggestions to make it better, write to the Professor. I would recommend it for activists in Sri Lanka and Nepal as well, as the issues are the same.

( To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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Sat Mag

SUPUN JAYASINGHE’S RITES OF PASSAGE

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A tale of a boy’s courage

By Uditha Devapriya

Situated at Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, the Planetarium continues to captivate and fascinate, yet unless you strain your eyes, you can easily miss it. It’s one of those places you go to, through a prior appointment, and emerge from wishing you could go back in again. I must have been in Grade Five when I visited it on a class trip in 2004. Supun Jayasinghe was in Grade Five, too, when he went there with the rest of his class seven years later. The only exception, apart from the year of the visit, was where he came from: a 100 miles away, in Dambulla. It was the first time he had been to the city.

Intriguing and exhilarating as such a trip may have been, he had other things in his head. A few months later, he wouldbe sitting the Grade Five Scholarship Exam. How would he study for it? What marks would he score? Where would he go, if those marks turned out to be high? These questions nagged him, yet for the moment he let them off.

In any case, the ride had been exhausting: having started at four in the morning, it was about nine when the bus entered the city. It made its way to Independence Avenue, and from there towards the University of Colombo.

Between Independence Avenue and Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, the Race Course faces Royal College. Intrigued by the Arcade, then the College, Supun and his classmates turned to their teacher. Standing up, he looked at them and described what they were, laying emphasis on the school more than the complex. Having described it in detail – the oldest public school, the most popular such institution, and so on – he brought the discussion back to his audience. “You have your scholarship exams this year,” he reminded them. “Try scoring as high as you can, because if you do, you’ll get a chance to come and study there.”

The memory of those words remained in Supun for a long time. The moment he heard them, he vowed to get as high a mark as he could, to get that chance, to come here.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Scholarship Exam may be, there’s no denying that it has opened up a world of opportunity for an aspiring lower middle-class. Supun’s father, a businessman, and mother, a teacher, hailed from this middle-class. Having attended a local Montessori and a Model School, he spent the whole of 2011 studying for the exam, forfeiting what little free time he had poring over books under a tree in his front yard. Yet, while he hit the books as hard and as much as he could, he did not push himself to compete with his peers. He’d told everyone he would ace the paper, but that owed less to a desire to be the best in the class than to a yearning to enter the best school he thought there was.

In any case, he got what he wanted. The marks came home somewhere in December 2011: having aimed at 180, he had scored 186. An even better piece of news came soon afterwards: the cut-off mark for Royal in 2012 happened to be 182. This meant only one thing: he would be boarded at the College Hostel, the following month, the following year.

The decision to go to Colombo did not come easy. Supun’s mother had opposed it at first, claiming it was too far. The marks were what convinced her. Even so, going to a city he’d only heard about and seen just once, and choosing to stay there for the better part of the next seven or so years, was a challenge. How would he fit in? What would he have to adjust to? Did people act there the way they did here? Did they differ in how they studied, read books, wrote answers? How they ate, drank, walked, and talked? He had much to think about, and as the weeks drew the year to a close, not much time to think them over.

Before everything, of course, there was the question of visiting the Hostel. On January 8 a letter arrived at his home, notifying them that the new term would commence a few weeks later, and that an orientation would be held before it did, on January 20.

Excited as he was, Supun nevertheless felt uneasy. On January 19, he and his father made their way to a rented house at Mount Lavinia, where a not-so distant relative lived. The next day came slowly, excruciatingly slowly. “I couldn’t sleep, I did not want to,” he remembers it today. Somehow, the night passed, and the following morning, having consulted and checked out at an auspicious time, the two of them made their way to Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s public schools, in particular those whose origins go back to the 19th century, are distinctly British in their architecture. The historian K. M. de Silva not unjustifiably calls it bland, unremarkable, and passé, when compared with Portuguese and Dutch architecture. For all their blandness, though, the British invested these buildings with an aura of expansiveness, with corridors giving way to gardens, quadrangles, and still other corridors.

Finding their way through an endless maze of entrances and exits, Supun and his father could not locate the Hostel. When they finally did, they were ushered into an orientation. Supun remembers two things from that day: his new class (6N), and the school song. The latter awed him: he hadn’t listened to many English songs, let alone school anthems, until then.

Having returned home after the orientation, father and son were told that the new term would begin five days later, on January 25. The second time around they came to Colombo in a car. Starting the journey of more than a hundred miles at four in the morning, they arrived at their destination at one or two in the afternoon.

At the Hostel the usual procedure was followed. The seniors directed him to his room. Each room had bunker beds. Not used to sleeping on them, he chose the first compartment, sharing the bunker with three others. When the last of the parents left, he predictably felt his nerves on the edge. The old fears returned: would he be able to fit in?

As with all public schools located in the city, the history of Royal College has woven itself into the history of its surroundings. Confusing at first, its topography extends from one end to another, covering a great many sites. To socialise into and familiarise himself with such an environment physically was not, however, tough for Supun. The real challenge lay elsewhere: the all too ubiquitous presence of English, and the melange of race and religion within the classroom. In other words, language proficiency plus cultural assimilation.

Glancing through his achievements from then, it struck me how his resolve stood out in them all. Back in Dambulla he had neither let the achievements of his peers ruffle him nor allowed himself to be overtaken by a desire to do better than them. He always, for instance, came first at his first school, but not because he wanted to beat everyone else to it; he just wanted to do something, and when he put his mind to it, he tried to do it somehow, on his own.

In Colombo this remained his philosophy. Whether it was winning creative composition and literary criticism prizes, becoming Junior Prefect (2015) and Junior Steward (2018), right before winding up as Steward (2019) and Chairman or Secretary of a great many clubs and societies (to list just some: Philatelic, Science, Library Readers), he let himself into whatever he took a fancy to. He did not, however, abandon his academics; studying for his O Levels, he ended up with nine As. Needless to say, on the field and in the class, at studies and sports, he confronted, and got over, those two challenges of proficiency and assimilation.

Supun’s story, I realise when I read through it, at once reflects and deviates from the norm. Reflects, because it conforms to the general pattern (initial difficulties at getting used to life in the city being followed by assimilation into the cultural and social patterns of that city), and deviates from, because his willpower is hard to find among his peers, or at least most of them. There is a reason for that: born with congenital anomalies on his right hand and leg, he has refused to let them get in his way, having won medals at the Para Games (2018) as well as for volleyball, boxing, table tennis, hockey, baseball, scouting (with a President’s Badge in 2019 to boot). By all accounts, this is to be admired, as it should be even now.

Steven Kemper dedicates the last chapter of his book on advertising in Sri Lanka (Buying and Believing) to a Sinhala lower middle-class family, residing in the outskirts of Colombo, who manage to realise their aspirations through their second son gaining entry to Supun’s school. Kemper, ever sensitive to the vagaries of class, points out how two-pronged entering a better school can be: a “singular opportunity”, yet one that comes with the price of accommodation “in a hostel.” Boarding their son, the family later relocates to Colombo. They make that move because they have to: the son is their link to the city, and to all it represents.

This country is home to a great many families who aspire for a better life, and one way through which they seek that life is education: not merely what you study, but where you study. Supun’s case is therefore illustrative: it’s the story of every other middle-class child. What’s interesting is how their integration to the city has brought about a transformation in the country’s elite schools. In that sense Supun’s story, as with that of the family in Kemper’s book, is not only illustrative, but also instructive. A Senior Prefect today, waiting for his A Level results, he finishes the conversation with a simple personal credo: “I’ve always aimed high and big, and I think I’ve always got there.” I am inclined to agree.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

Cleaner production – an urgent need

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

If we look into the areas close to the industrial sector, production of pollutants particularly from Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) has damaged the natural environment by excess emission of wastewater, gas or other solid waste. Environmental agencies are failing miserably in controlling pollution from most of the SMEs across the country. SME contributes asignificant fraction of total environmental burden in developing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. Despite enforcement of environmental acts and regulations, the consumption of huge quantities of resources and energy, within a remarkably short period through industrial production had a far-reaching influence on natural environment. Reducing this burden needs environmental improvement at the micro level, a goal which has been stubbornly elusive in India. 

According to my observations, the major problems in SMEs, are old technologies, poor management practices, limited availability of funds, inadequately trained officials, lack of appropriate inspection and monitoring and overall sustainable gap between enforcement agencies, industries and communities because impassivity of top management in environmental sector and political will have impeded sustainable environment management.  Regulatory pressure on the SMEs could not implicate positive effect on environment to maintain sound ecosystem as observed in many areas close to SMEs such as foundry, sponge iron, electroplating industry, food processing, tannery and others. 

Environment Sustainability (ES) to maintain wholesomeness of the environment by controlling production of pollutants has been practically jeopardized. The possible reason is that several industrial complexes have been established without considering environmental and social impacts and thereby sustainability of industrial development is not gaining momentum. This dismal ES remains well hidden because social aspects (such as human rights, corruption, poverty, child mortality, land degradation, illiteracy and health problems) and their interrelation with economic and environment aspects are not considered with due emphasis by the regulatory agencies. The traditional approach of enforcing environmental acts and regulations is unable to explain and address the complex dynamic inter-relation among economics, environmental and social aspects with time. Though environmental impact assessment and environmental management system as per the Environment (Protection) Ac are mandatory to establish and to operate any project but, ES, and social benefits are always questionable. Industrial growth without ES under prevailing socio-economic condition is definitely neglected and delayed.

Survey of these industries reveals that SMEs are mainly dependent on end-of pipe(EOP) technology and their functionality are not consistent. Regulatory pressure compelled these industries to install a pollution control system for compliance with standards. But non-compliance is a common feature due to non-availability/ non-operation/ failure of pollution control system. Though regulatory agencies inspect the industries once or twice a year they are unable to ensure consistent control of pollution. Also, the regulatory authority cannot evaluate the different compliance level and thereby violation of standard to any extent is subject to the same penalties as it is marginal violation. Environmental managers can easily control the pollution level within a permissible limit during inspection by manipulating raw materials feeding and/or by operating the pollution control devices. It is not always feasible with limited trained/experienced personnel to conduct in-depth study on material and water balance in order to justify the quantity of pollutants emitted to environment based on the monitoring data. Enforcement agencies put emphasis on performance evaluation of EOP technology as per the stipulated standard without considering ecological crisis and social problems in the area closed to the industries.  As a result, owners of the industries are not serious to initiate CP despite economic benefits associated with its implementation.  On the contrary, owners of the industries are well versed on how to tackle an adverse situation temporarily and make their units in operation. Regulatory agencies  issue time to time   closure notices or directives to improve the performance of pollution control system to the non-compliant industries.  In response to these notices, owners of the industries with the help of outside experts, find out temporary solution with little financial investment just to fulfill the legal requirement and not “real” requirement. As a result, actual compliance status over time remains well hidden and thereby environmental and social problems remain unattended. One ofthe reasons may be vested interests of the concerned officers entrusted for verification of the report. Otherwise why water, air and soil are still so much polluted?

In this context it may be  mentioned that the majority of residents are poor and do not have access to higher authorities for solving their problems as well as they are not well educated to explain their sufferings to the media/press highlighting ecological crisis created by these industries. Government has already launched various projects to remove poverty, to educate the people, to provide health facility and to create environmental awareness among the people to highlight the  pollution problem,  but implementation status of these projects is not always satisfactory. This has resulted environmental and social problems reaching alarming proportion in many industrial clusters in India and simply visual inspections supplement these findings. Limitations in government’s actions to solve the problems are not disseminated via media for public awareness for various reasons. Moreover accountability of government employees for implementing the projects in terms of success and failure is not properly evaluated because knowledge and hardship required for evaluating degree of success are practically lacking. 

This problem in regulatory organization, may be attributed to top management persons because they often recruit either new scientists/engineers or retired government engineers/scientists on the basis of political connections or bribes or nepotism to look after activities related to environment management but their style of management clearly exhibit impassivity towards CP implementation because of their poor technical capability. Whereas huge potential offered by the country’s young population is far from being leveraged. Also many highly qualified young scientists/engineers refuse to take up the challenging works related to environment management in these organizations because of the lack of knowledgeable and skilled experts to guide the newly recruited personnel, hostile environment and bureaucracy. 

This is really a disturbing situation. Thereby, India needs innovative minds to meet its formidable challenges. For this, both the state and central governments should take urgent action and must appoint highly qualified, broad-minded top most officers, who will recruit qualified competent engineers/scientists and give them state-of-the-art technology based on sound scientific evidence with no external interference. Fixing our organization system will require a complete overhaul of the recruitment system, changes in environment policy and implementation of CP concept in these SMEs. According to UN Environmental Progrmme (UNEP) CP is the continuous application of an integrated, preventive environmental strategy towards processes, products and services in order to increase overall efficiency and reduce damage and risks for humans and the environment. However this will be difficult with the present disconnect between science and policy in these organizations.

My experience clearly established the economic efficiency of CP through incremental innovation based on  production process optimization and thereby the payback period of investment towards CP technology was short.   Unfortunately, in India actual level of implementation of CP in industries in particular all SMEs as found in other countries  to deliver environmental advantage is not determined. Therefore, evaluation of actual environmental and economic performance improvement is an emergent need to maintain sustainable industrial development, social welfare, social equity and sound ecosystem. In India, the manufacturing industries and the government can play a major role in this sustainable development.  However, community pressure followed by enforcement of environmental acts and regulation has slowly changed the attitude of these industries but overall success towards consistent compliance is still a distant dream. 

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