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Economic benefits of Basil’s India visit

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Basil Rajapaksa meets Indian Finance Nirmala Sitharaman and Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar

By TENNEKONE RUSIRIPALA

Events become more important and focused in the context of their after effects. Criticism leveled beforehand will only be conjecture yet to become realities. Diplomatic initiatives demonstrate how a small neighbor state can successfully move towards a pro-active bilateral relationship, interacting with other countries in the neighborhood OR even in the region, within the confines of available economic space.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s move to initiate a dialogue with our Immediate neighbour India, is an extremely wise and timely move, in keeping with the important components of governance and principles of diplomacy. This is so, considering the essential need for re-affirming the mutual trust between the two states, and how a nation could act with a drive to become relevant, influential and acceptable in its bilateral relations with another big country, specially when the latter is playing a significant role in quickly transforming itself into a fast growing nation in the global scenario. It appears that the move and the conclusions reached awaiting finalization, is a disposition of trust and confidence vital for the mutual national interests of both countries.

The growing economic strain we are experiencing right now is compelling us to look for immediate relief measures, to seek remedies which do not affect our core interests due to interactions with powerful players. The choice of non-controversial scopes is also an important factor being mindful of the credibility issues, and long term effects while addressing short term relief as a priority in such accords. Let us now examine the areas of concern and the basis of understanding to be reached, as already announced in a media release about the Finance Ministers proposals from our side. It also has to be acknowledged that this early release of the relevant information will dispel any skepticisms and avoid misrepresentations and distortions.

I. Food and health security package on an urgent basis that would envisage the extension of a line of credit to cover the import of food , medicines and other essential items from India to Sri Lanka.

It needs no emphasis to explain the essential nature of food imports from India to our day- to- day food requirements. India has been a main source for several items of a staple nature over a long period, and any disturbance to this line of supply will be critical to the daily routines of our people. Sri Lanka’s Trade Share with India alone is approx.. 2.5 Billion US $ per year. Food items and medical supplies largely account for our imports from India. Funding imports is a problem due to the prevailing depleted balances in our foreign exchange resources. Hence, the negotiation of a facility on extended payment terms for the (imported) supply of these items becomes extremely important, to prevent any shortfall or disruption in the supply of essential drugs and consumer food items.

ii .Energy Security Package that would include a line of credit to cover import of fuel from India , and an early modernization of Trincomalee tank farm Fuel and Energy are so vital to our day to day lives. We do not have any access to Crude Oil supplies or refined Oil, other than importing them. Our annual Fuel Import Bill is averaging between US$ 3800 to 4000 million.

A day’s black out in the supply of Electricity in the country, which we experienced very recently, indicated how essential it is to have a smooth supply of uninterrupted electricity supply. Besides, the denial of the luxuries of air-conditioning , instant lighting, lift-systems, building escalators; we saw the water supply too getting affected in certain areas raising alarm signals. Hospitals, operation theaters and even traffic light signals were disturbed. While the public cannot condone any action upsetting their daily routines, the power failure signaled a severe warning to all about the need to run it as an essential Public Service. Fuel is a predominant factor playing an important part in the energy supply equation.

In a situation where our Reserve balance has gone below 1.4 Billion US$, we have to take adequate safeguards in maintaining the supply position, considering it as a national priority.

The Finance Minister’s choice of approaching India becomes appropriate due to many reasons, particularly to address our fuel issue with Indian support. The two countries already have an ongoing business relationship in the field of fuel supply in the country. India is very advanced in the Oil Refinery industry and it is interesting to examine their involvement in the Fuel Industry.

Petroleum refining

With a total refining capacity of 69.2 million tons per year, the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation was the largest refiner in the country by capacity. Indian Oil’s refineries processed 69.001 MMT of crude oil in 2017–18.

In September 2021 the total installed capacity of the Oil Refinery Industry stood at 246.9 million metric tons and their Crude Oil production was 32.2MMT in addition to their importing volume of 4.54 Million barrels.

India aims to commercialize 50% of its strategic petroleum reserves to raise funds and build additional storage tanks to offset high oil prices. This gives a clear picture of the Oil Industry of our neighboring country. There is a big potential arising out of the need to increase their Crude Oil storage facilities.

And this provides an ideal opportunity to put into best use of our Gold valley in the form of a dormant Oil Tank Farm, located in a unique strategic geographical positioning in Trincomalee.

There is a strong possibility for a highly win-win situation for both countries to gain advantages from a suitable agreement.

Sri Lanka should use all its bargaining skills to enter into an agreement, where the price fluctuations of Oil Products is given due consideration, for both countries to share the benefits in a fair manner, with due weightage given to our sovereign ownership of the golden property.

At this moment I recall the Rubber /Rice agreement we reached many years ago and the basic concepts and principles underlying that agreement, such as the consideration of a discounted price for the rice on account of the exclusive supply arrangement we tied ourselves into. In a similar gesture, our Oil tanks could be the pivotal focus for a special price for our domestic consumption requirements of fuel.

iii. Offer of a Currency Swap to help Sri lanka address the current balance of payments issues;

India has given us such support and help several times, and with the economic package that is in the center of the negotiations it will not be difficult for the Reserve Bank to consider this in our favor.

iv. Facilitating Indian Investments in different sectors in Sri Lanka that would contribute to Growth and expand employment.

This will build on recent trends in that respect.

We have to recognize the technological advancement India has made both in the fields of Industry and Agriculture, helping them to a high position of placement in the order of GDP growth rates, occupying the highest place in Asia. Their experience, progressing technical advancement, closeness of our Geographic locations, in addition to our traditional, historic and cultural relations will be to the mutual advantage of both countries, to be taken into seriously in reaching an accord. There are several areas of harnessing the resourcefulness of both countries to share the values in offering unique services in many fields hitherto unexploited.

All these will no doubt pave the way for a rational settlement of any minor prickly issues that we may have had between the two countries due to geo-political alienations. Nevertheless, we have continued our relationship with India all these years with a history of sacrifices, and commitment each country has extended on many controversial issues. Sri Lanka’s involvement during the period of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to intervene in the Indo-China conflict, our accords with India on the Migrant Indian labour, and Kachchativu island matter are memorable milestones in this regard.

We look forward to a successful conclusion of the MOU reached following the visit of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and hope for its best outcome to the mutual satisfaction of both countries.



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Opinion

Are We Patriotic As A Nation?

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Extracts from book “G R A T I T U D E”
By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

I served as the First Secretary/ Defence Advisor at the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, from November 2001 to April 2004. I served under two High Commissioners, namely late Professor Senake Bandaranaike and the late Mangala Moonesinghe. The Late Lakshman Kadirgamar and the The late Tyronne Fernando were the Foreign Ministers during my tenure.

I was occupying a residence inside the High Commission complex at Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri, in the diplomatic enclave of New Delhi. Our chief gardener was Perry Ram. He was a very experienced gardener who had served in the High Commission for 30 years. He was a very dedicated person who worked tirelessly to maintain the High Commission premises with beautiful flower beds and pots.

Our High Commission garden looked very beautiful during thanks to Ram and his assistants. He had received education only up to the fifth grade. Our High Commission garden won the “Best Garden in New Delhi” award three times in the 1990s. Now he is old and the award has been awarded to the garden of the Indian Chief of Air Staff (Indian Air Force Commanders’) residence.

I had a CD which contained Indian patriotic songs presented to me by the then Indian Chief of Naval Staff (Indian Navy Commander). I used to play these songs loud at my residence. They were beautiful and could be heard even from my garden.

I noticed something unusual when the song Aye Mere Wathan Ke Logo sung by Great Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar was played. Ram, who was working in the garden would stop his work and come into attention until the song was over. It’s not the Indian National Anthem! Then why does Perry Ram come into attention? I asked an Indian Naval officer why Ram was doing that. He said “Ravi, this song was sung by Lataji in honour of the Indian Armed forces personnel who died in the Sino-Indian War in 1962. So, everyone comes to attention when it is sung in honour of those brave service personnel who paid the supreme sacrifice.” The gardener showed me what gratitude was and how to honour the War Heroes.

Aye Mere Watanke Logo (available in YouTube – please listen) song was written by Kavi Pradeep (refer Wikipedia) saddened by the large loss of Indian Army officers and men in the Sino-Indian War in 1962. Stories about the bravery of the Indian forces to stop the Chinese advance were heard throughout India.

During his morning walks at Mahim beach in Mumbai, the writer of the song, Kavi Pradeep had some ideas for a new song to be dedicated to these gallant men. He immediately borrowed a pen from a fellow walker and wrote a few verses of this new song on a cigarette packet.

Later, the song was composed by C Ramachandra. The initial plan wasn to have the song sung as a duet by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. However, the composer Kavi Pradeepopposed to the idea and it was sung only by Latha.

The song was first sung at the National Stadium of New Delhi on 27th January 1963 during the Indian Republic Day celebrations by Lata Mangeshkar in front of S. Radhakrishnan, the Indian President and Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister (PM) of India. The stadium was packed its capacity and it was only a few months after the conclusion of the Sino-Indian War. The song became an immediate hit. The story says that Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears. Later, when it was inquired by a reporter, the PM said,

“Those who aren’t inspired by the Aye Mere Wathan Ke Logo song, don’t deserve to be called Hindustani.”

Artistes/technical staff and Lataji agreed that the income from the song should be sent to Indian Army welfare fund for the benefit of the families of the Indian Army personnel killed in action.

Even today, when it is sung, everyone gets u. At the end of the song, it says “Jaya Hindi Ke Sena” (Long live Indian Army!) Please enjoy the song:

Lata Mangeshkar

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon (Original Version | Patriotic songs)

I wish we also have a song dedicated to our war heroes

O people of my
Country Let us shout
the slogan This
auspicious day Belong
to all of us

Hoist our beloved
flag and let us not
forget Our brave
warriors
Who left their lives on the border

Give a thought to them Let us also
remember Those who did not return
home O people of my Country

Fill your eyes with tears
Remember the sacrifice
of those who became martyrs
And lets you forget
them Listen to this story

When the Himalayas were
attacked and our freedom was
threatened they fought right to
the end

Then they laid down their
bodies with their faces on their
bayonets

The immortal martyrs went to
sleep when the country
celebrated Diwali They sacrificed
themselves
in the fire of holi.

When we were sitting safe in our
homes. They confronted the deadly
bullets blessed were they those
young men blessed was their youth
those who attained

Martyrdom Remember their great sacrifice
Sikhs, Jaat and Marathas
Gurkhas and Madrasis

All those who died at the front
every dead warrior at the front everyone
Belongs to India The bloodshed on
The Himalayas
That blood was India
their bodies’ drenched
blood they picked up their
guns and each killed ten men,
then they fell
unconscious and when
the end came

They said “We are dying
now “Be happy, beloved
countrymen
“We are going our journey”
How wonderful were those
warriors How great were those
people

Long live India
long live the Indian
army long live India
Long live India

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvr8sX5-T_8

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Opinion

Ailing rubber sector?

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Rubber production in Sri Lanka commenced in 1876, with the planting of nearly 2,000 rubber seedlings at the Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens in Gampaha. The total extent under rubber in 1890 was around 50 ha and in the early 1900s it increased to around 10,000 ha. By 1982 the total extent under rubber was around 180,000 ha. However, the total extent under rubber declined subsequently and at present it is around 130,000 ha.

If the present financial situation of the country is given serious consideration, it is obvious that the income from our export needs to be increased. Rubber is one of the important export crop. It contributes about 0.6% of the total GDP.

Based on Central Bank annual reports the total rubber production in 2013 was 130.4 .1 million Kg and by 2021 it has plummeted to 76.9 million kg. The corresponding average yields are 1247 kg/ha and 679 kg/ ha respectively. These figures indicate that the Sri Lankan rubber sector is ailing in spite of several institutions/projects such as Rubber Development Dep, Rubber Research Institute and STAR project.

According to Statistical Data of the Ministry of Plantation Crops, 130,349 ha are under rubber. 89,246 ha are in the small holder (SH) rubber sector and 41,103 ha are managed by Regional Plantation Companies (RPC). The productivity (kg/ha) of the SH sector in 2013 was 1247 and has decreased to 679 by 2021 a drop of 45%. These values indicate that the productivity of the SH sector has decreased substantially during 2013-2021.

Those in the SH sector gets relevant skills and knowledge through the extension officers who work at grass root level. Thus, extension officers have an important role to play in the proper management of the rubber plantations and increasing rubber yields of the SH sector. It is because of the importance of management practices in the rubber sector, in early 1980 the Advisory Services Dept. was established with the involvement of the Smallholder Rubber Rehabilitation project (SRRP) to make the SH aware of the practices which have an important bearing on the rubber yields. At that time there were nearly 150 rubber extension officers, working for the Advisory Services Department of the Rubber Research Board to assist the SH in the eight districts, to grow, process and market rubber. However, at present there are only around 20 extension staff in the Rubber Research Board and as a result the rubber extension programme appears to be very weak which may have contributed to the decrease (45% ) in the productivity of the SH rubber sector. Extension service has a vital role to play in motivating farmers to cultivate rubber and increase its productivity. Hence, if the government is keen to increase the productivity of this sector, which plays an important role in increasing export earnings, it is essential that the Ministry of Plantation Industries provides an effective extension service and has a Rubber Advisory Department. Perhaps, the Ministry may amalgamate the Rubber Development Department and the Extension Department of RRI as was in the past. It is not necessary for the government to incur additional expenses to implement such changes.

Dr. L.M.K.Tilakaratna, former Director of RRI, writing to THE ISLAND some time ago very correctly has indicated that communication gap between the RRI scientists and those in the SH is one of the reasons for the decrease in productivity. The rubber training centre located in Matugama which played a very important role in providing knowledge and skills to the SH sectors is not functioning. It is the responsibility of the Chairman of Rubber Research Board (RRB) to see that these activities which have an important bearing on the productivity of the rubber sector are carried out without any interruption. But, the Chairmen of RRB during the last few years appears to have not taken appropriate effective action on these issues. Perhaps it may be because they did not have adequate knowledge on the rubber industry.

Around 70% of the rubber holdings belong to the smallholder sector. There are nearly 100,000 rubber small holders (SH) who need to be provided with technical know- how of the activities involved from land preparation to processing, so that the rubber production is increased qualitatively and quantitatively. In this regard the extension activities are important. It is essential that a better extension service by a trained staff is provided to the rubber smallholders if the government is keen to increase the productivity of this sector.

Dr. C.S. Weeraratna, csweera@sltnet.lk

Former Director, Advisory Services Department, Rubber Research Board.

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Opinion

‘Sethusamudram stupid project’: BJP TNA Chief Annamalai points out ‘multiple’ objections: Response

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ANI has, in a news item under the above caption in The Sunday Island has said the BJP Tamil Nadu K. Annamalai has reiterated his claim that the Sethusamudram waterway project fails on multiple fronts, one of which being the potential damage to the ‘Ram Sethu’ [bridge] which according to the epic ‘Ramayana’ was created to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana’. What a frivolous objection based on myth or legend at the expense of a development project. However, it is said that the Indian government intends to explore an alternative alignment so that no damage will be done to the Rama Sethu, which means that the Indian government is actively pursuing action on a request from Tamil Nadu to undertake the project by citing the benefits in international navigation through Palk Straits due to the shortening of distance and time.

It is recorded that this project was conceived as far back as in 1860 by Alfred Dunas Taylor during British rule and since then several feasibility studies had been done taking into consideration the objection of religious groups, fisheries, environmental and economic aspects. It is more likely, India may seriously concede to the request by Tamil Nadu and in which case, how will Sri Lanka be affected is a matter to be thought of and action taken to present our views. If this project is undertaken, ships will by-pass our main ports in the South, Colombo and Hambantota and load and unload cargo either at Kankesanthurai or Trincomalee. Our exports and imports will then have to be transported to Kankesanthurai or Trincomalee by rail, road or by ship. Thus, the importance of our main two ports on which we have invested to improve by large scale borrowing will be lost. On the other hand, if objections are raised by Sri Lanka, India may consider further improvements to Kankesanthurai and Trinco harbours as is seen India taking interest in undertaking projects to improve North in relaying the railway track destroyed by the LTTE, roads and also constructing houses including those of Tamil origin settled in estates and also the proposal to connect electricity supply, a vital utility for development of any country, from Tamil Nadu. With Jaffna having an International Airport and improved harbour facilities, Jaffna will be the main business hub, replacing Colombo. Added to all developments done to the North, now comes the news of proposals to implement the 13th Amendment, which will give wide powers for Northerners to transact business and self-rule, so to say, which would be advantages to India as our Tamil leaders look up to India. The keen interest India has taken to resolve the economic crisis by assuring IMF of its support is indicative of India’s interest in the affairs of our country, and maintaining peace in the South Asian region by thwarting attempts of China.

These are random thoughts of mine to be considered by authorities and wish to conclude posing a question – are we to be a colony of India, as we had been in the past with Portuguese, Dutch and the British?

G. A. D Sirimal

BORALESGAMUWA

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