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Exploring Gal Oya National Park and Yala after expansion

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by Dianthi S.U. Wijeratne

The following morning we left for Gal Oya from Arugam Bay through Siyambalanduwa. While traveling we saw Govinda Hela, a mountain which the British called Westminster Abbey. Further away was another mountain, known as Vadinagala, which was seen even from the campsite in Gal Oya National Park.

After a drive through scenic country, we arrived at Inginiyagala in the Gal Oya valley. Here we stopped to have a look at Senanayake Samudra. The meaning of Samudra is “sea”. It most probably would have looked like a sea had it been full of water. Unfortunately the water level was well below average due to the drought that was prevailing at the time. Most of the rocks at the bottom of the tank too were exposed.

I have seen pictures of myself as a small child going with my parents and brother in a launch on Senanayake Samudra. I have my doubts that this facility is still available considering the security factor. This has been the first reservoir to be built after independence by D.S.Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of the country.

The vegetation within the park was quite green unlike that in Yala, Udawalawe and Kumana. One reason for this greenery may be the availability of water in Senanayake Samudra, which is in the centre of the park. The place was quite damp and cool.

In all probability there was only one motorable road within the park and there were no bungalows. After a drive of about two miles, we reached the campsite. While we were relaxing at the campsite I spotted two elephants with two babies in the far distance. After a short while we proceeded to Ampara. The heat was unbearable as it was 38 degrees C. On the way to Akkaraipattu we visited Deegavapiya Chaitya, which is said to have been built by King Saddhatissa 400 years after Lord Buddha’s demise.

In Sri Lanka there are supposed to be six medicinal troughs (beheth oruwa). A cavity in the shape of a human being is carved out of one piece of solid rock. In ancient times this cavity was filled with medicinal fluids, such as oils, milk and herbal mixtures, and the patient was immersed in it. One of the oldest medicinal troughs had been found in Deegavapiya.

My father was very keen on seeing it, but what we saw was something we never expected. It was lying as a heap of broken stone fragments in a corner of the temple. According to the chief monk, this trough was located about a quarter mile from the temple, and he had decided to relocate it in the museum at the temple premises. He had been in the process of getting ready to have it transported, when this historical piece of artwork had been blasted into several pieces with the use of explosives by some persons, whose identity was known to him.

We came back to Arugam Bay via Akkaraipattu, and on the way we passed through Sinharamuthuvaran, where a very attractive cadjan-roofed resthouse once stood, as well as Komari of Kavantissa fame. We returned to Colombo the next day.

Yala Block two

Block two of the Ruhuna National Park, which was seen across Kumbukkan Oya at Kumana, could be entered from Yala. I remember travelling this way in May 1992. When our Land Rover was being taken across Menik Ganga at Nana Thotupola, the vehicle stalled in the middle of the river due to its wheels getting stuck in the sand. Every effort was made to pull it out the vehicle with the help of the accompanying four-wheel drive pick-up,’ as well as that of about 25 men who were bathing in the river at the time, but to no avail.

Finally success was achieved with the help of the Land Rover’s winch, which was hooked on to the back of the stationary pick-up. Having thus entered Block two, we then proceeded a short distance till we came to Katupila Ara, which too had to be forded. I remember my brother-in-law wading across to check the path the vehicles should take.

Having safely crossed over, we came across a small water-hole where we saw a remarkable sight which was never before witnessed by any of us present. Though there were people in the party who were highly experienced in the ways of the jungle, this sight was unique to them too. There were over a hundred crocodiles of all sizes sun bathing all round the water-hole. They all crawled hurriedly into the water on the approach of the vehicle, and there was not even a ripple on the surface of the water to show that there were so many crocodiles in that small water-hole.

If a small animal, such as a deer, ventured there for a sip of water it would no doubt have been an easy prey. Having witnessed this scene, we realized that my brother-in-law had faced much danger from crocodiles in wading across Katupila Ara.

Further on, we came to Pottana where we saw a fresh water well built with masonry. It was an unusual sight in a jungle without human habitation. My father told us that it was a well that was built for the use of pilgrims on their way to Kataragama from Potuvil. This has been the path where a man-eating leopard had been lying in wait many years ago to attack sick and decrepit pilgrims.

In 2002 we repeated the trip. The water level in Menik Ganga was quite low and it was smooth sailing for the three pick-ups to cross over to the other side. On this occasion no one dared to test Katupila Ara before the vehicles crossed. The water was almost up to the bonnets and the windscreens did get washed in the process. We saw a huge bull elephant and a lot of buffalo grazing not too far from us. The road to Pottana was really bad. At a certain point I thought that each vehicle would topple on to its side.

Pottana Pitiya was a vast dry plain with thin vegetation. Beyond this was the lagoon and then the sea. We met a couple of visitors with a tracker cooking their lunch near the sea. They were kind enough to offer us some fried prawns as a snack. Unlike on the previous occasion we did not come across the small water-holes or the well of fresh water. Most probably we would have taken a parallel route.

On our return journey, we found that the water level in Katupila Ara was higher than in the morning. We crossed it with difficulty, the engine just escaping being flooded by the depth of water. On the other side of the Ara, we found a jeep which had been immobilized by water getting into the engine.

They had brought a mechanic from Tissamaharama to repair it. It was quite late in the evening and there was no sign of getting the engine started. Later we heard that the jeep had been towed the next morning for a major repair.

It was late in the evening when we reached Menik Ganga. We were so glad to see Block two after a lapse of 10 years.

In February 2004, while camping at Yala, we once again entered Block two. Proceeding northwards, we forded Katupila Ara, Pottana Ara and finally the broad Kumbukkan Oya, to reach Kumana. After visiting Kumana villu, we returned to Yala the same evening. It was a memorable journey, having passed through perhaps the most extensive plains I have seen.

Yala Blocks three, four and five

The North Intermediate Zone was absorbed into the Ruhuna National Park. This step was taken when the government in 1964 banned the issue of licenses to shoot animals, thereby making the presence of Intermediate Zones where shooting was allowed, meaningless. This annexure was divided into Blocks three, four and five. The Department of Wildlife Conservation built a bungalow in Dambakotte in Block four, which was reached by travelling along the Buttala – Kataragama highway.

We left Colombo on December 21, 1996 and reached Dambakotte bungalow, where we were to stay three nights. The bungalow, which was about a kilometre from the road, was surrounded by tall jungle trees, while underneath them was a carpet of beautiful grass which was of a special green. About a kilometre further into the jungle was a tank, which we visited several times during our stay, but failed to see any significant wildlife except several varieties of water birds.

This area was said to be rich in bear population though we did not see any. However, we heard the loud mating call of a bear quite close to the bungalow at about 11 o’clock in the night. The noise faded away into the distance in a few minutes.

Block 3

We traveled to Galge, which was about five km from Dambakotte. About 200 yards away from the quarters and offices of the Department of Wildlife Conservation was an extensive slab of rock where there was a large natural water-hole or kema, which probably never ran dry during the drought. The employees used to draw their regular supply of water from this water-hole. On our way to this water-hole, a large wild boar accompanied us, and we thought it was a pet of the men working there. Little did we realize the danger we were in till we were told that it had attacked a police inspector a few days earlier and he was still being treated in hospital at the time.

The water-hole had caved into the rock sideways to form a very large cavity, while the opening into the exterior remained comparatively small. By these means only a small area of water was exposed to the sun, thereby reducing the amount of water that would evaporate. This contrivance probably accounted for the failure of the drought to dry the water-hole.

The impressive Ireson tower stood on a rock some distance from the water-hole. We reached it by shuffling along the narrow stony ledge of the water-hole with difficulty. This tower was an outstanding memorial to J P Ireson, who died of diarrhoea in 1922 at Monaragala, where he was planting. He was president of the Wildlife Society at the time, and it built this memorial to him at Galge, which could only be reached on foot or horseback at the time.

Ireson was an inveterate hunter, who used to come down frequently from Monaragala to hunt around Galge, which therefore was selected as the site for the memorial. However, on questioning the average man there, the answer would invariably be that it was a monument to an Englishman killed by an elephant at that spot.

From Galge we went through thick jungle, along the only available jeep track in Block three. In view of the many obstacles that greeted us, this track had not been used for a long time. We reached a large rock known as Paskema (five water-holes). Its surface had several water-holes of different sizes, some with beautiful lotus flowers, but it probably received its name from the fact that there were five significant water-holes in it. On climbing the rock we could see the jungle far and wide, the trees being festooned with flowers, young leaves turning crimson and woody creepers hanging heavily on branches.

Malwarikema

Continuing the journey, we came to Malwariweva which was a tank that had been renovated a short time earlier. We walked along the bund and saw pits on it which were produced by elephants whose feet had sunken into the earth as they descended into the water.

Further on, we came to Malwarikema that had, as its name implied, a water-hole which appeared beautiful with blossoming lotus. This was apparently an old monastic site. An unusual finding on it was the presence of two cone-shaped pits, several yards apart from each other. Each measured about eight inches in diameter and six inches in depth, and they were exactly circular and the walls perfectly smooth. The tracker who accompanied us explained that they were pits in which treasures were hidden in the olden days, and that treasure hunters had raided them and removed the contents.

It was difficult to believe this story. The pits were not large enough to hide such treasures, and it was unlikely that rainwater would be prevented from seeping in. It is a moot point how treasure hunters would have located them once the contents had been sealed off by the owners centuries ago.

Block five

The Buttala – Kataragama highway does not exactly follow the old jeep track, as it deviated about a hundred yards at certain points. The jungle that lies between this highway and the Menik Ganga is Block five. We had a bath in the river at a place at which two tributaries joined to form the main river. This was the point at which the elephants from Handapangala crossed the river when they were driven into Block four by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. The wisdom of this man oeuvre is open to question, for several elephants died subsequently.

Indikolaweva was a tank in Block five which had been recently renovated. On the bund was an elongated piece of dung, which the tracker identified as that of a crocodile. He mentioned that it was rather poisonous to the skin, for blisters may form when trod on. On the other side of the long bund, we saw an elephant, while a tall tree nearby was crowded with hornbills. We did not see any other animals of significance, and this was true of all these Blocks. One reason for this scarcity of animals was probably the presence of tall jungle trees in the areas we visited.

(concluded)

(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)



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Features

Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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