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Midweek Review

How Premadasa paved the way for first Parama Weera Vibushanaya, posthumously

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The Army unveiled a special war hero memorial opposite the new TV transmission tower at Kokavil after the conclusion of the war. It was put up in honour of those who made the supreme sacrifice at Kokavil in June 1990

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Army Commander Gen. Daya Ratnayake (2013-2015) recently joined a special event on Zoom in honour of those who made the supreme sacrifice at Kokavil, 31 years ago. Prof. Raj Somadeva and writer Charith Kiriella delivered special lectures on the occasion. Those who defended the isolated Kokavil base – Officer Commanding, Kokavil transmission complex, Saliya Aladeniya, an old Trinitian who was posthumously promoted Captain of 3 Battalion, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (3 SLSR), and his men, perished in the battle. The LTTE didn’t hand over their bodies.

 Aladeniya, the first recipient of the country’s highest gallantry award, Parama Weera Vibushanaya, sacrificed his young life, serving on underprepared and poorly equipped Army. Opportunistic politics of the day made matters worse. 

Against the backdrop of renewed interest in Kokavil, in the wake of the recent commemorative event, and Derana ‘Big Focus’ featuring Gen. Ratnayaka , the writer felt the need to examine the then security-political environment. Let me stress that the June-July 1990 Kokavil battle was nothing but a debacle that caused a humiliating setback. Kokavil remained in the hands of the LTTE till 2009.

 A comment on the recent print media reportage of Kokavil heroism by academic Michael Roberts, too, underscored the pivotal importance of a better understanding of the then situation. Author Roberts didn’t mince his words when pointing out the inadequacies in the coverage, though he appreciated the effort.

 What went wrong at Kokavil? Why did the Army abandon the isolated detachment? Who created an environment conducive for the LTTE? And how the Kokavil debacle/tragedy transformed the entire Vanni landscape overnight to the LTTE advantage?

 Having won the Dec 19, 1988 presidential election, UNP strongman Ranasinghe Premadasa (RP polled 2,569,199/50.43%. Sirimavo Bandaranaike polled 2,289,860/44.95%) then led the party to victory at Feb 15, 1989 parliamentary election. The UNP secured 125 seats whereas the main Opposition SLFP managed 67. It would be pertinent to mention that the UNP earlier, by way of a fraudulent referendum, conducted on Dec 22, 1982, extended the life of Parliament by six years. It was the only referendum held in Sri Lanka so far. The referendum resulted in the UNP continuing till 1989, after having won the 1977 general election, with a 4/5 landslide.

 As requested by President Premadasa, rather bluntly, India brought its high profile military mission, in the North and East, to an end, in March 1990. India deployed troops, in July 1987, in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord, forced on President JRJ. The writer was among a small group of journalists taken to Trincomalee harbour to see the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) quit Sri Lanka, following a 32-month deployment here (The IPKF is off – The Island, March 25, 1990). At the time India completed the withdrawal, the LTTE had been engaged in negotiations with a gullible Premadasa for over a year. The LTTE exploited direct negotiations with President Premadasa, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. By the time the IPKF ended its mission here, the LTTE was ready to resume hostilities. However, the LTTE delayed the resumption of hostilities, till the second week of June, 1990.

 The then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe hadn’t been prepared to fight the battle hardened LTTE. Having inflicted heavy losses on the IPKF, and gained valuable battlefield experience, the LTTE was ready to strike the Army. Having literally crushed the second JVP insurrection, by early 1990 by wiping out its entire leadership, barring Somawansa Amerasinghe, who managed to escape to India in the nick of time, before security forces could get at him, the Army, too, was cocky and probably didn’t anticipate a large scale LTTE offensive, in less than three months, after the IPKF pullout, because of the ostensible honeymoon with President Premadasa, who even gifted it arms and other wherewithal.

The Kokavil debacle should be quite rightly examined against the backdrop of Premadasa’s folly. Then State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, Army Chief Gen. Wanasinghe, the then advisor to the President, Gen. (retd.) Cyril Ranatunga, and IGP Ernest Perera, couldn’t absolve themselves of the catastrophe caused by political-military miscalculations. All of them were made to look like utter fools. Premadasa made some ludicrous attempts to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table. The President’s utter failure to comprehend the LTTE strategy is still a mystery. The top brass remained silent. Obviously, no one had the courage to advice the President, whose Chief Negotiator Minister A.C.S. Hameed’s desperate last minute attempt to keep the talks with the LTTE going led to him nearly paying with his life. Premadasa’s idiocy was such that he had no qualms in sacrificing the lives of several hundred police officers and men who were ordered to surrender to terrorists in an attempt to mollify the LTTE.

 

LTTE seizes A9 north of Vavuniya

 The attack on the Kokavil detachment took place in the wake of the massacre of police officers. Gen. Wanasinghe’s Army lacked the wherewithal to meet the threat. The Army could have made an attempt to neutralise the impending LTTE threat by reinforcing isolated detachments along the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, north of Vavuniya. Unfortunately, the Army lacked the wherewithal to meet the LTTE threat in the Eastern theatre, Vanni and the Jaffna peninsula, simultaneously. Even if the Army had realised the rapidly growing danger, on multiple fronts, the top brass feared to warn Premadasa. Actually, Premadasa never believed in consensus on security matters. Premadasa simply threw caution to the winds. 

The Army was under pressure in the northern theatre, with the Jaffna Fort under attack. Kokavil was almost forgotten as it came under intensified attack, following the massacre of nearly 600 policemen in the East. In the North, the Army found it difficult even to evacuate the wounded. The Jaffna Fort, too, was under siege.

 Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was placed in charge of the Northern region on July 11, 1991, exactly a month after the eruption of hostilities. Army Chief Wanasinghe never explained why Kobbekaduwa hadn’t been brought into the scene until it was too late. Did Gen. Wanasinghe fail to convince Premadasa of the urgent need to change the Northern Command? By the time Kobbekaduwa received command, the situation had deteriorated to such an extent, his appearance didn’t make any difference. Just two days after, Kobbekaduwa received the Northern Command, the LTTE overran Kokavil held by two platoons. It was the first major setback on the A9. The Kokavil debacle highlighted the absence of a strategy either to reinforce isolated detachments or evacuate them. The SLAF lacked required strike capability. The SLAF struggled to cope up with increasingly heavy commitment with just the Italian built Sia Marchettis (propeller driven light ground attack aircraft hardly sufficient even for counter-insurgency operations). Volunteers deployed at isolated Kokavil detachment never had a chance against strong LTTE units. Sinha volunteers turned down an earlier directive to abandon the base, leaving behind seriously wounded men. The LTTE executed those captured during the battle for Kokavil. Two men who crawled through the LTTE cordon managed to reach Mankulam detachment situated north of Kokavil.

 Let me stress that those killed defending detachments along the A9 North of Vavuniya, had to be buried there as the Army lacked the wherewithal to take back the dead and the wounded overland. Isolated detachments could be supplied by air and within a month after resumption of hostilities, following the 14-month Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon, the A9 aka Main Supply Route (MSR) north up to strategic Elephant Pass, was lost. The SLAF carried out risky missions to supply isolated bases and evacuate the wounded.

 Four years after the combined security forces brought the war to a successful end, the then Brigadier Maithri Dias, recounted how the Army planned to evacuate Kilinochchi, even before the resumption of hostilities. Having vacated both Valvettithurai and Point Pedro detachments on the LTTE’s request, the President wouldn’t have minded the Army giving up more camps. The planned evacuation of the Kilinochchi detachment obviously is a case in point. What was really shocking was the Army seeking the assistance of a Catholic priest, based in Kilinochchi, to evacuate the personnel along with arms, ammunition and equipment.

 

Who wanted Kilinochchi evacuated?

 The then Capt. Maithri Dias, of the 6th Battalion of the Sinha Regiment (6SR), arrived in Kilinochchi several days before the LTTE resumed hostilities, on June 11, 1990, with the massacre of hundreds of policemen in the Eastern Province. Dias was responding to a directive from Lt. Colonel H. R. Stephen, the then Coordinating Officer, based in Kilinochchi (Lt. Col. Stephen was killed on the morning of Aug.8, 1992, at Araly point, Kayts. He was one of the officers killed along with war veterans, Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne. The dead included Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, Lt Colonel G.H. Ariyarathne, Lt Colonel Y.N. Palipana, Commander Asanga Lankathilaka, Lt Colonel Nalin de Alwis, Lt Commander C.B. Wijepura and Private W J Wickremasinghe). Only one survived the blast.

 Dias, the then General Officer Commanding 54 Division, got in touch with the writer immediately having read ‘Eelam War II: LTTE takes upper hand at the onset – The Island Feb 22, 2013).

 Brigadier Dias recounted the situation in Kilinochchi, leading to the Army headquarters directive to vacate the town in the last week of July 1990. Dias said: “I was tasked to function as a staff officer in Kilinochchi under Lt. Colonel Stephen. The deployment therein comprised one platoon of 6 SR, another platoon of 3 SR (Volunteer) as well as support personnel (3 SR volunteers were based at Kokavil, south of Mankulam) There were altogether about 90 personnel at Kilinochchi. As the then government was having talks with the LTTE, we never expected any serious trouble. Along the A9 road, north of Vavuniya, we had several camps. North of Kilinochchi, troops were positioned at Elephant Pass, Jaffna Fort and Palaly. South of Kilinochchi, troops held Mankulam and Kokavil. Immediately after arriving in Kilinochchi, I was told by Lt. Col. Stephen to prepare to evacuate the troops. On the instructions of the Coordinating Officer, I met a Catholic priest in Kilinochchi to discuss transport arrangements for my men. Lt. Col. Stephen was away in Palaly. He was to go on leave following a conference in Palaly. Following the conference I received further instructions from Lt. Col. Stephen regarding the planned withdrawal. I was told to prepare a plan for an immediate withdrawal. As earlier discussed, I went out to meet the Catholic priest, who promised to help us move men and material from Kilinochchi to Elephant Pass. The sudden disappearance of the priest made me uneasy. The following day (June 11, 1990), the LTTE started attacking the police and the Army in the Eastern Province.”

 Dias retired in 2016 after serving as the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of 53 Division after having been promoted to the rank of Maj. Gen in 2014.

  It was evident that the then government had decided to abandon Kilinochchi, even before the outbreak of hostilities in the second week of June 1990. At that time Maj. Gen. Jaliya Nanmunai had served as Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.

 

Saving Kilinochchi troops

 In spite of the much deteriorated situation at Kokavil, troops at Mankulam couldn’t intervene. The entire Army had been under tremendous pressure as the LTTE advanced on bases in the Vanni theatre.  Brig. Dias recalled the crises the Army faced: “We heard heavy gunfire from the direction of Kokavil, where troops were fighting a desperate battle. The Kokavil debacle had a devastating impact on the Army. A section of troops based, at Kilinochchi, declared their intention to vacate the camp, regardless of the consequences. Having calmed them, I took measures to further strengthen the defences until a large force could intervene to facilitate our withdrawal, northwards. Pushing towards Kokavil seemed unrealistic and suicidal.” 

However, those deployed at Kilinochchi had been extremely lucky as the Jaffna Command managed to muster sufficient troops to reach the beleaguered base in the last week of July. The 6th Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (6 GR) and the 5th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch (5 GW) advanced from Elephant Pass to Kilinochchi to save those trapped at the Kilinochchi camp.

 During the rescue mission, troops at Kilinochchi had almost lost communications with those coming to their rescue. Brig. Dias said: “We ran out of fuel needed to maintain communications. Luckily, the two Land Cruisers, which we removed from the Kilinochchi police station at the onset of trouble, had fuel in their tanks and it was adequate to meet our immediate requirement.”

 Interestingly, Brig. Dias is the first GOC of the re-established 54 Division. Army headquarters restored the Division on Sept 10, 2010. The LTTE literally wiped out the 54 Division headquartered at Elephant Pass in late April 2000. Heavy losses suffered by the Division compelled Army headquarters to disband the formation. It was the worst battlefield defeat experienced by the Army during the entire conflict.

 In September, 1990, the Army vacated isolated bases at Jaffna Fort and Mandaitivu. In the third week of Nov, the LTTE overran the Mankulam detachment on the A9. Premadasa’s security advisor, retired Gen. Cyril Ranatunga remained mum. Ranatunga played it safe. Just within four weeks after the eruption of Eelam War II, on June 11, 1990, the Army lost Kokavil and Kilinochchi. Mankulam was abandoned in the third week of Nov, 1990, thereby giving the LTTE unhindered access across Kandy-Jaffna A9, between Vavuniya and Elephant Pass. 

The Army abandoned Mankulam under heavy fire just weeks after carrying out a heli-borne mission to consolidate the base. In the absence of an overall contingency plan, the Army responded to LTTE operations over a wide area. 

Premadasa lacked even basic interest in security matters thereby allowing unpardonable deterioration of the security situation. Perhaps, the threat the President faced within the UNP, with a powerful section more or less discarded by him, working with the SLFP to impeach him, unsettled Premadasa. Premadasa remained immobilised in the wake of the LTTE directive in late Oct/Nov 1990 for the Northern Province Muslims to vacate the region. The government actually did nothing to avert the unprecedented crisis. The courageous efforts made by troops, under Captain Aladeniya’s command, underscored the Army’s failure. Even though the Army discussed the possibility of mounting a heli-borne mission to break the siege on Kokavil detachment in June it never materialised. Troops called in to carry out that mission were eventually deployed for the rescue of those who had been trapped at Mankulam. But, the Army subsequently withdrew a section of the troops, including commandos sent to Mankulam. Overnight, Mankulam became vulnerable and eventually the LTTE overran it in Nov 1990. Within eight months after the IPKF withdrawal, Premadasa lost the entire Vanni region with troops confined to few coastal areas. In the Jaffna peninsula, the Army had been confined to Palaly, Kankesanthurai and Elephant Pass where troops received supplies from air and sea. The Navy struggled to move supplies required by the Army to the North from the eastern port city of Trincomalee whereas the SLAF, too, operated flights to Palaly under difficult circumstances. However, in the absence of missile threat, during the Eelam War II, facilitated supply missions to the North. But, overall supplying troops based in the Jaffna peninsula had been a tremendous challenge faced by the military.

Strategic Elephant Pass base was almost overrun in mid-1991. If not for the successful sea borne assault by troops of Operation Balavegaya led by Gen Denzil Kobekaduwa and Brig. Wimalaratne, Elephant Pass too would have been overrun.

 Premadasa caused an unprecedented catastrophe by pursuing an utterly foolish political agenda at the expense of national security. His failure as well as that of Gen. Wanasinghe to prepare for any eventuality following the IPKF withdrawal allowed the LTTE to take the upper hand in the Vanni region. By the time the LTTE assassinated Premadasa on May Day 1993, the LTTE achieved superiority in the North with all bases under pressure and the situation was rapidly deteriorating. The LTTE gradually pressed the Army in the North with Palaly under siege at the time of 1994 parliamentary elections followed by presidential polls in Nov 1994.

 

 



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Midweek Review

Crossmatch: A moral mirror

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by Santhushya Fernando

Blossoming somewhere between a Chinaman and a Jam Fruit Tree is a Lotus. An unusual place to bloom, but there it is, anyway, Crossmatch. Crossmatch is Carmel Miranda’s debut novel that won the Gratiaen Prize 2020. Here’s what isn’t there in Crossmatch: steamy sex, profanity, harsh political commentary, preaching, flowery similes, structured ‘tools of literary writing’, boring descriptions. Probably uninfected by formal literary training, Miranda writes a provocative story with the acumen of a skillful doctor documenting on a patient’s bedhead ticket with some hardcore suspense thrown in. Crossmatch, for its entire 261 pages is captivating in its heart race potential.

Is she for real?

About 20 pages into Crossmatch, I phoned a senior friend who has spent the better part of his life at the Faculty of Medicine and the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL). “Seriously, you had a colleague called Dr Carmel Miranda? She writes like a hawk observing it all- is this a real name?” He’s was entertained, and replied “Carmel Miranda is for real. She spoke very little, did very much. Never spoke an unnecessary word: serious, committed, all about the patient, precise, not attention seeking, you know, the kind of person you miss when they are not there”. Oh, so I figure. Like Lotus. In Crossmatch.

The plot

Lotus, the protagonist is a third year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. She’s requested to pay a social visit to a hospitalised patient by her aunt, as all aunts of all medical students do. Like all medical students up to their eyes in real or imaginary stress, Lotus, grudgingly obliges visiting Anil Kumara only to find him dead. Events take Lotus to Lionel, the NHSL mortuary attendant with one glass eye, who convinces her to safe keep the dead boy’s mobile phone wrapped in a newspaper. Something about the numbers in the phone that includes the namesake Lotus Hospital, the NHSL ENT unit number and the contents of the newspaper drives Lotus to dig in deep. She uncovers, quite accidentally, the dangerous underbelly of organ trafficking mafia, poverty, inequality and the heart wrenching plight of the poor in our so called free healthcare system. Was it an accident that killed Anil? If not, who then is the killer? Finally Lotus finds answers and also confronts a devastating personal truth about her umbilical linkage to the Lotus Hospital. Even at the helm of her shatter, Lotus retains her characteristic objectivity and dignity. Throughout Crossmatch Miranda displays a true gift at maintaining the fidelity to her characterisation in personality, lingo, and mannerism.

The moral mirror

If you have read the captivating Gratiaen winner Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka, you would know that one need not be a cricket fan to fall in love with that book. Miranda shows similar skill and humility in telling a “medical story” without medical jargon interfering with storytelling. She has labored well to tell a story about the holes of a medical system in effortless lay language. Never does she matronizingly “explain” medical terms down to the reader, weaving it all in, silkily.

Miranda holds a moral mirror on to our conscience with Crossmatch. It’s a grand mirror with one in center in front of which the reader is stands. That mirror is hinged with two mirrors on the side: the moral mirror of medical education and the moral mirror of medical practice. Both the hinged mirrors reflect unto the main mirror creating an ‘n’ number of reflections.

The moral mirror of medical education in Crossmatch touch on teaching via humiliation, linguism, unjust hierarchies, lack of cohesion in medical education, doctors past their medical fitness ‘expiry date’ continuing to practice medicine. But the beauty of Miranda’s moral mirror is that it does not discuss this in a malicious spirit. All is written with astounding tenderness and sensitivity towards human fallibility. It’s a mirror that every teacher must consider standing before.

The more serious moral mirror in Crossmatch is the territory that few would dare to tread: the kidney mafia, organ trafficking, bending the law, exploitation of the poor in kidney transplantation, lack of a transparent registry for organ donation, the legal and moral dilemma of compensation for organ donation. Importantly, this moral mirror in Crossmatch shines blindingly in our eye asking us questions: do you know what it means to be poor? The desolation beneath the label of poor? How many times do the rich donate kidneys to the poor? Is there ever a free lunch at a private hospital?

Our collective crime: poverty

Miranda reflects the moral mirrors on us for the sole purpose of telling her story. Her tender observations about how people live, talk, move, rationalize, love and sacrifice are all for the purpose of storytelling. Her power of observation is consistent across the slums of Wanathamulla to the bungalows down Rosmead place. After reading Crossmatch you cannot afford to be Sri Lankan and be divorced from the collective social crime called poverty that we all contribute to, by commission or omission. For poverty is the one crime that has the direct or indirect consent of society. The crisp humorful language, sharp precise observation, humane narration without judgment- all these make it a good read. Noteworthy is Miranda’s security as a writer who doesn’t feel the need to climb on top of her story.

Perhaps the only anti-climax of Crossmatch is its epilogue. In an uncharacteristic bout of a need to tie up too many ends, Miranda writes an epilogue reminiscent of last minute commentary over movie credits in a Hollywood or Bollywood movie stating how each character ended up happily. The last line of the main novel (prior to epilogue) “But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming “is disappointing and reminiscent more of a line out of a Hallmark card. Miranda could have written a killer last line. The epilogue takes her matter of fact story telling a bit too far and negotiates a mediocre “happily ever after” to a thought provoking , disturbing story meant to induce a bit of reader- insomnia.

Yes, Crossmatch makes us stand in front of a difficult moral mirror.

To Carmel Miranda I say: “You. Go. Girl!!!!”

(Dr Santhushya Fernando is a senior lecturer in Medical Humanities at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo)

 

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Midweek Review

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits

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by Dr L M K Tillekeratne
Former Director of the RRI and UNIDO consultant in Rubber Processing

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent address to the nation made an emphatic reference to the establishment of a Plantation University by amalgamating all major crop research institutes, such as Tea Research Institute (TRI), the Rubber Research Institute (RRI), Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI). Of these four research institutes, two were established by British rulers over a century ago. The core mandate of the research institutes was to develop the respective agricultural crops, as the plantation crops generated the highest amount of foreign exchange for almost four decades.

With the advent of the free market economy in late 1970s, though the remittances from migrant workers and revenue from the garment industry surpassed the foreign exchange earnings of the plantation sector, the plantation industry continues to play a dominant role in terms of foreign exchange and employment.

Hence, the President’s thinking that the creation of a national university exclusive for the plantation sector is a far-reaching vision that could transform the plantation sector by increasing land productivity and by developing the value-added products manufacture particularly in the case of rubber that the country desperately needed at this juncture. In this context, that the article written by J. A. A. S. Ranasinghe, Productivity Specialist and Management Consultant in a leading English newspaper was a comprehensive analysis of the justification of the creation of a national university for the plantation sector. Such an incisive analysis should have come from a scientist initially.

Dearth of Scientists in the Research Institutes

I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Ranasinghe on his assertion that research institutes are functioning today in isolation without trained staff to carry out research projects. As he has very correctly identified the dearth of scientists of all the research institutes has hampered the research programmes, and that in turn has led to the deterioration of the productivity of all the sectors during the last two decades. Thus, bringing all the scientists and resources under one umbrella is the need of the hour and that could be accomplished relatively at a short time by establishing an exclusive university for the plantation sector.

The President’s far-reaching vision will be a turning point in producing scientists to run the plantation industry. At a time when most of the other countries in Asia and Africa are increasing their productivity levels of the plantation crops, it is unfortunate that Sri Lanka is far behind in terms of research during last two decades, though its Tea and Rubber research institutes are internationally known.

Downfall of the Rubber Industry

It is sad that in Sri Lanka, the first country in the world to have a rubber plantation established outside Brazil and distributed planting material to other countries mainly in Asia to grow rubber, rubber production has plummeted significantly for the last 25 years. The countries that learnt rubber planting technology from the scientists of Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, have already been able to overtake us both in terms of production and land productivity over the past two decades pushing Sri Lanka down to the 12th place as a NR producer at present. I strongly believe that the situation regarding tea is either the same or even worse.

As Ranasinghe has correctly pointed out in his article, our productivity has fallen to 50% of what we produced a decade ago while countries like Myanmar and Cambodia have been able to double their annual production during this period.

Dearth of Plantation Technologists

It is true that we have agricultural universities producing agriculture graduates. But they do not specifically focus on crops like Tea and Rubber, and cannot undertake the task of increasing productivity by means of applying new technology introduced regularly to overcome issues related to agronomy and tapping. Fresh Agriculture and Science graduates who joined the plantation sector lack the skills and knowledge the plantation industry demands and this mismatch has resulted in a shortage of plantation technologists with required competency levels.

Distinctive Advantages of Plantation University

The agricultural graduates of Sri Lankan universities, however, would be in a very authoritative position in that they can cover a wide variety of other crops better than the graduates getting their agricultural degrees overseas. Agriculture and science graduates should necessarily possess the required field exposure and experience to find gainful employment in plantation sector. Hence, fresh graduates who join the plantation sector will have to work for at least 10 years to be an expert who can identify problems and sort them out on them individually. The industry can ill-afford to wait for such a long period to produce talented plantation expert or qualified scientists, given the dearth of scientists in the country. As Ranasinghe has correctly mentioned, there is a severe shortage of scientists virtually in all departments of research institutes to tackle problems in the industry, which will badly affect the research institutes, if the present system is allowed to continue. More than 50% of the raw rubber and latex end products industry is imported at competitive prices. The coconut production is sufficient for the local consumption and there is no surplus for export in the form of oil or DC.

Exodus of Research Scientists to join Universities

Most of the scientists trained for special mandates in the research institutes have already joined the national universities purely due to better salaries and perks. However, according to the situation existed in early 1960s, those who joined research institutes for developing the agriculture sector were paid higher salaries than those who joined universities, considering their contribution to the development of the economy and the difficult conditions under which they work in remote areas.

Hence, the science graduates’ first choice was research institutions. Today, it is the other way around, and only those who cannot find employment in universities and with low merits join research institutes to get post graduate training utilising the limited number of foreign training scholarships offered to research institutes and get qualified to join universities. Empirical studies have shown that trained researchers with special skills to tackle problems in the plantations have become misfits as academics.

Ad hoc recruitment criteria

The situation that existed prior to the late 1980s was totally different even with regard to recruitment criteria. It is due to the shortage of graduates produced by local universities due to closure of the university education for almost three years, due to the insurrection. There was a severe shortage of special degree holders and hence a decision was taken by the government to allow general degree holders in places where previously only special degree graduates with a class were recruited as research assistants in research institutes. Since then the quality of research produced by the research institutes has suffered.

The distinctive benefit in the President’s proposal is that in the future we might be able to produce graduates capable of tackling problems in the plantation sector with their adequate field exposure and hands on experience during their undergraduate studies.

In addition, there will be a good opportunity for institutions like TRI and RRI with international reputation to attract foreign students for training in Sri lanka thereby earning additional revenue to the country as the UK, India and Malaysia do even without having such recognition. If the proposed national plantation university is properly run, it will be quite possible for them to sustain adequate revenue from foreign students without depending purely on annual Treasury grant. Even now trainees from countries like Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Ethiopia and even from Malaysia have got their research assistants trained at these two crop institutes under international grants.

Contribution to the national economy by way of enhanced production

On a hypothetical basis, if the production of rubber in the country is increased to 135,000 Mt, which was the amount produced years ago, purely by increasing the land productivity, without even increasing the planted area, the country can reap maximum benefits from the fast-increasing rubber prices in the world market. Rubber was selling at around Rs 100 to 150 per kg during the last half a decade. Surprisingly, it has gone up to almost Rs 450 per kg now and the situation is expected to increase further with time to come owing to the demand for NR on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If the production is increased to 135,000 Mt, additional revenue the country can enjoy would be (Rs 450 x 50000 x1000) Rs 22.5 billion annually.

We should not lose sight of the fact that due to the shortfall in the supply of rubber, a considerable amount of NR and latex is imported by our rubber products manufacturers for value added products manufacture at a cost of over Rs 30 billion.

If this extra production is used to produce goods such as surgical/examination gloves for which the demand is fast increasing due to Covid-19 spread, the additional revenue country can gain is over 200%. It will be possible to create more employment opportunities as well.

Arduous task for the new Minister

The task before Economic Development Minister is to consider how best to improve the economy in bad state. This objective can be achieved in less than a year by getting the neglected rubber farms into tapping and by using techniques like lightly stimulated low frequency tapping and by utilising proven new techniques like rain guards to minimise crop losses due to rain. The additional cost involvement for these developments is insignificant and the time taken is less than a year.

New planting and replanting are two other ways of increasing the crop; they are costly and take nearly a decade to give a reasonable crop increase. Further, there is no guarantee that the improved rubber prices will remain high until then. However, replanting, and new planting should be continued according to the RDD targets.

Another factor that caused a drop in the rubber production was the removal of the extension services from the research wing and its attachment to the subsidiary function of the Rubber Development Department owing to an illogical decision taken by the then government almost 25 years ago. Today, the RDD is functioning in isolation ignoring the recommendations of the RRI. This has been the main cause for the drop in productivity of rubber farms in Sri Lanka. For example, the population of low yielding clones like PB 86 are still distributed and the clone population in the country is an utter mess.

Undoubtedly, everyone looks forward to the establishment of the plantation university.

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Midweek Review

“Madam” and her Wards

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By Lynn Ockersz

Six anxious, awkward teenage girls,

Are following their “Madam” close at heel,

To the rundown Spa hardly seen in the busy street,

But sought by restless men when darkness sets in,

But in the Isle fabled for its charity,

No one looks askance at this sight,

No one dare asks questions that matter;

Nor is accountability exacted from office holders;

But posers like the following may be asked,

By those who choose to care for the ‘nation’,

Now that Ishalini too has brought things into focus:

Isn’t this an induction into prostitution?

What lured the girls away from school,

And made them walk footloose on the streets?

Would the “Madam” be ever taken to task?

Or would she be allowed to go, with no questions asked,

When a swoop by the uniformed gentry,

Thrusts the girls into a police lockup,

And makes them wilt there sadly,

Though into primal youth they are about to bloom.

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