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by Goolbai Gunasekara

“Environment” is probably the most popular word in the world at the moment. Buildings are built on a ‘going green’ basis. Companies advertise the fact that their products and indeed even their new surroundings have all ‘gone green.’ New factories would not dream of being constructed without an environmentalist telling them how to set about it.

The subject forms part of school syllabuses. For example, Geography in my time used to be all about mountain ranges, national rivers, varied climates and the diversity of vegetation. No longer. I picked up an OL Geography text the other day and found it was as incomprehensible to me now as Science texts used to be in the past. The Geography syllabus is now so vast it has become a specialized subject and with good cause, for there is no doubt that our planet is heavily under siege thanks to the stupidity of man himself who has brought it to the brink of tragedy. It cannot be stressed strongly enough how urgently necessary it is to halt the destruction of the soil.

All this brings to mind the work of one man who was a well-known personality of my youth (nay even earlier for I was around five when I received my first jak seed from him). He is not even mentioned by most people today who have moved on to new heroes of Sport and Politics, and yet this man’s work, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable contributions made to the population of this country albeit in a quietly caring yet passionately concerned way.

The Dias name is a well-known one in Visakha Vidyalaya, the foremost Buddhist Government Girls’ School in Colombo. Mrs. Jeremias Dias was the philanthropist who donated the prime land on which Visakha stands today. She is revered as the school’s Founder.

Her son, Arthur Dias naturally took a great interest in this fledgling Buddhist Girl’s School that my American Mother headed for 12 years at a time when it was still a private school and the Government had not taken over most schools and forced them willy nilly into the Free Education System.

His brother, Mr. Charles Dias, took over the managership of the school after the great National leader, Sir Baron Jayatilleke was appointed Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India and could no longer act as Manager. This gave his brother, Arthur, the forum he needed to popularize his dream of having a Jak tree in every garden of Sri Lanka.

At every Visakha Prize Day Arthur Dias would be on stage alongside his brother (and my mother) with a box of specially packeted jak seeds on the Prize table. His own mother, Mrs. Jeremias Dias’s portrait, presided over all these doings on the Visakha stage and one assumes that she instilled these ideas of future staple foods for Sri Lankan populations into her sons along with her ideas of running the highly successful Dias estates in which Jak trees abounded along with plantation crops.

Every Visakha Prize winner was handed a Jak tree seedling and sometime during the evening Arthur would give a talk to the audience about the nutritional value of the Jak fruit which would serve as a standby were famine ever to hit our fruitful land. I have just planted two jak trees myself outside our garden on a vacant swamp land in the hope it will feed someone, sometime in the future. Mr. Dias would be proud of me.

The Dias Walauwe was in Panadura, and not content to popularize his vision in Visakha alone, he had his helpers standing at the bus stands in the city handing out these precious seeds to passengers.

And if all this sounds excessively obsessive, Arthus Dias went further. He petitioned the British Government of the time to pass a law that no Jak tree could be cut down without the permission of the authorities. Governments then (even British ones) were not ready to pass such requests without first ignoring them, later grudgingly reading them and finally agreeing to the excellence of the scheme.

To this day this law is still in operation and is rarely disregarded.

If Arthur Dias had this kind of influence in one school I wonder if schools of today could not popularize some aspect of the environment that would benefit the food chain of Sri Lankan. In the future we face droughts, floods and even famines.

That sturdy Jak tree has saved many a village family from hunger. What could it not have done for the Bihar famine of British times in India! Imagine a Jak tree in every home feeding the starving population of Bihar that Churchill was deliberately starving.

I have no idea if new Jak trees continue to be planted in our island. I think it an inspired idea if schools were to hand out these seeds at prize givings and other functions. Not only will the work of a far-seeing man be perpetuated but the country will surely benefit tremendously by this highly tasty addition to its food supply. Of course, more than half the recipients of these seeds will toss them in the nearest wastepaper basket but there will be that small percentage of citizens who will actually follow through and plant them.

The outlook of future world food supplies is bleak. We are told that pollution of the seas will be so great that fish will be contaminated thus putting a stop to one source of food. Animals will also be likewise polluted by the air and all sorts of poisonous gases, so meat is out.

Ergo, vegetarianism is on the cards. Let us begin getting used to it and just to make life easier for us, Sri Lankans, let us begin planting Jak trees. Arthur Dias’s dream may save us.

(Excerpted from Principal Factor first published in Lanka Market Digest)

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Overtime gravy train for public sector back



Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.

The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.

Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.

Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.

Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.

Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.

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Now, Opposition wants Finance Secy. hauled up before Privileges Committee



Prof G L Peris

Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to act speedily on the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) request to summon Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena before the parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

Addressing the media on behalf of the Freedom People’s Alliance, the former External Affairs Minister said that the Treasury Secretary had challenged the parliament by withholding funds allocated in the budget 2023 to the Election Commission thereby sabotaging the election.

Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a far worse violation of parliamentary privileges than a government official undermining Parliament.

Instead of appreciating the intervention made by the Supreme Court to facilitate the delayed Local Government polls, the ruling party had sought to challenge the apex court, Prof. Peiris said, urging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to fulfill his obligations.

Prof. Pieris said that if the government lacked funds, just one percent of USS 333 mn received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sufficient to conduct the election.

The ex-minister said that the IMF wouldn’t oppose the utilisation of a fraction of the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn loan facility provided over a period of four years to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan electorate. (SF)

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Cabinet nod for fuel distribution by three foreign companies



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera announced yesterday that the Cabinet of Ministers has granted approval for allowing China’s Sinopec, Australia’s United Petroleum and RM Parks of the USA, in collaboration with multinational Oil and Gas Company – Shell plc, to enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.

The minister said that each of the three companies would be given 150 dealer operated fuel stations, which are currently operated by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). A further 50 fuel stations at new locations will be established by each selected company, he said.

They will be granted licences to operate for 20 years to import, store, distribute and sell petroleum products in Sri Lanka, the minister tweeted.

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