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‘Integrity, professionalism and empathy, the ethos of officering’



(The seventh death anniversary of Deshamanya Gen. Dennis Perera fell on 11 August. This is the Dennis Perera memorial oration 2016 delivered by Air Chief Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, Mphil, Msc, FIM(SL)ndc, psc, Former Commander of the Air Force and Ambassador to Afghanistan)

The former US President and Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces in WW 2, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower states:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable INTEGRITY.

Without it, no real success is possible;

No matter whether it is on a section, gang, a football field,

In an army or in an office!”

Reflecting on the illustrious career of the late Deshamanya Gen. Dennis Perera, one sees an outstanding leader whose lifetime principle was integrity of the highest order personifying exemplary moral courage to do what is needed and what is right, while being an officer and gentleman, par-excellence.

The young Master Dennis Perera was educated at St. Peter’s College, Colombo, and excelled as a multifaceted student both in academics and sport. In 1949, at the age of 19, he answered the call to the profession of arms to join the then young Ceylon Army.

Young Master Dennis Perera’s mother’s dream was for her son to a join the order and become a Priest, due to her strong faith in religion. However, an uncle of Master Perera, who was in the Ceylon Police, saw him more as soldier material and convinced his parents to let him join the Ceylon Army.

General Perera received his initial military training at Mons Officer Cadet School, UK, and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was also a graduate of the British Army’s Staff College, Camberley. In 1977, at the age of 46, he was bestowed the twin honours of being the first Engineer officer and also the youngest officer ever to be made the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. Further the late Gen Perera was an alumni of the prestigious National Defence Collage of India.

On retirement, Gen. Perera continued to serve the nation and the corporate sector, first as the High Commissioner to Australia, and later as Chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission, and as Chairman of Ceylon Tobacco Company, and two other high performing Companies. In the year 2000, acknowledging his meritorious service to the nation he was bestowed the title, ‘Deshamanya’. He was next elevated to a Four Star General, in the year 2000.

Gen. Perera possessed a unique character and was known for his compassion and inspiration towards the people around him. He was well known to be a shrewd strategist and a sound leader who always lived up to the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, ‘Serve to Lead’. Gen Perera maintained the highest level of integrity as an Officer and remains a role model for officering in the armed forces of Sri Lanka. As an officer, and a statesman, he made an everlasting impression for the military fraternity and the nation.

In 2010, I had an interesting experience when I flew with Gen. Perera and his gracious Lady to attend the golden Jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College, New Delhi. Though he had hung up his uniform, some time back, I felt the he remained a hard core General, the way he expressed his thoughts on military traditions. Every conversation, I had with Gen. Perera, made me feel proud as a military officer. It was very apparent that he was most upright and proud of the profession of arms. He professed that a military officer should never lean against any one or be a shadow to any one, and must stand up firm for what is right.

I am very confident that this august audience needs no elaboration on Gen. Perera‘s role in establishing the KDU. Gen. Perera pioneered and triggered the conversion of the ‘Kandawala Estate’ into the esteemed Military University it is today.

It was indeed fitting that Gen. Perera himself was appointed the first Chancellor after it became a University. Gen. Dennis Perera’s visionary leadership and foresight provided our Army with the Commandos and the Women’s Corps as integral units, in corporate parlance two timely investments that have brought rich dividends.

The Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers (ARFRO), which has brought us together this evening, was another successful effort of Gen Dennis Perera. This is the professional institution of the profession of arms in Sri Lanka. It is a member of the esteemed Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka and is affiliation to the World Consultative Association of Retired Generals, Admirals & Air Marshals. A truly worthy outfit to be in, for military veteran of Flag rank after a retirement.

Ladies and gentlemen, Gen. Dennis Perera, was a passionate leader, a visionary and a professional, whose life is worthy of celebration at the highest level of esteem and appreciation.

Considering the epitome of military officering in Sri Lanka whom this oration is dedicated to, I chose as my discourse the obvious attributes practiced by him.

General Collin Powell, the former US Secretary of State said:

“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.”

Ladies and gentlemen, from the very beginning of civilization, when mankind engaged in war fighting, the officer was the nucleus and the pivot around which the rank and file rallied for guidance, direction and leadership. Thus, an officer with firm, coherent decisional ability and robust leadership becomes important for the structural integrity of any military unit.

The contemporary armed forces are ramping up their efforts to groom a capable breed of officers to lead and confront the asymmetric threats encountered by nations in battle spaces which are not clearly defined. It is the need of the day that this effort should persist from the moment an officer joins, as it is only knowledge and its continuous application that will make one perfect.

In this context I would like to quote from Aristotle

“We are what we repeatedly do; Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit“.

For any military officer, Integrity is the primary attribute which strengthens his moral fiber to control emotions, both in times of adversity and success. Integrity is a leadership attribute discussed at length in our profession.

Integrity is defined as, ‘The quality of truthfulness, honesty and maintaining of moral standard’.

Integrity then should not be considered a mere attribute, but a virtue to live by for any officer.

The world today discusses and studiously studies “Ethics” in all spheres public, corporate, national and international. Similarly the military today has been rediscovered around an ethical compass, thus military leaders need to be aware of the dramatic lift in the bar of standards in accountability, honesty, and trust.

An officer is entrusted with; state secrets relating integrity of a nation and the lives of the public and the men he leads. If an officer is found to be dishonest or disloyal, it means that his character has two sides and one will manifest to suit the circumstance, to meet his personal liking and not the common goal.

The officers as leaders must demonstrate the moral fiber to be selfless to address the needs of their subordinates before their own, and possess the integrity to seek wholesome solutions.

Our great nation expects complete honesty and integrity from us; upon which it has entrusted its security and integrity and given us all which have said we needed to do the job. Anything less, if delivered will ultimately put our nation at risk by sabotaging its future, and its strategy to compete in the world. Therefore General Eisenhower’s’ edict that “Integrity is the supreme quality of leadership” is underscored with no doubt.

Even though midway, I need to make a disclaimer that I will generalize in relation to gender and refer to military personnel as HE or HIM, only to make life easier for me in this discourse and in no way lessen the immense contribution of the ladies in our profession. Professionalism is the next attribute of officering that I endeavor to relate to.

General Charles De Gaulle (Galle), the decorated French Soldier and President describes the men of our profession as:

“Men who adopt the profession of arms submit to their own free will to a law of perpetual constraint of their own accord.

If they drop in their tracks, if their ashes are scattered in the four winds that is all part and parcel of their job.”

The contemporary military culture is far distanced from the traditional forms of war fighting, as cyber space, smart equipment and proactive tactics have encroached at a rapid pace.

However, technology cannot and will not replace the concept of professional officering. Thus the military needs a corps of highly skilled technology savvy officers to command them in tomorrow’s uncertain environment.

On the other hand, the knowledge of common affairs and skill that is expected from an officer cannot be obtained only by referring to a stack of books and manuals only. It is cumulative, and gained through hard experiences learnt through failures and the continuous attempts to succeed.

The men, the officer of today is called upon to command, are technology savvy, well educated, well socialized and have grown up in a free thinking environment. To be able command their respect and followership one needs to prove professional ability beyond doubt.

The opponents of peace the officer of today will be called upon to confront, are shrewd exponents of asymmetric warfare and are capable of exceptional cruelty and violence as well as, well strategized operations. They have learned and trained to exploit technology and the human mind, with much precision and process to achieve their sick ideological objectives.

Their standard modus operandi is to attack the social fabric at the same time from many directions.

In this context it is imperative for the officer who leads from the front to develop knowledge and all round capacity that includes ‘outside ones lane’ knowledge.

Ladies and gentlemen, at the end of the day, the most important and cardinal characteristic a professional needs to have is the knowledge and competence in one’s own field.

The legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, of the Indian army has once said:

“….. you cannot be born with professional knowledge and professional competence even if you are a child of Prime Minister, or the son of an industrialist or the progeny of a Field Marshal. Professional knowledge and professional competence have to be acquired by hard work and constant study.”

In addition to the explicit and tacit knowledge an officer is armed with, he also needs to have an inner thirst and passion for knowledge for things unknown and things outside the zone of comfort. For this the officer needs to be enthusiastic in the never ending process of developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge.

Due to the uncertainty, the high stress levels, and the continuously evolving threats to the society he serves, an officer’s professional competence must be at the highest level at all times.

For this it is necessary, that the appropriate candidates only be selected to hold the commission, and the aspects of their selection, training, assigning and evaluation, given the highest precedence of priority by the authorities concerned. Incompetent and unprofessional officers, who are unsuitable to lead men and incapable of rational decision-making, should not be tolerated in any military institution.

The popular edict goes on to say that “there are no bad soldiers but only bad officers”

Professionalism for an officer is not only knowing the job, but it also relates to the discipline and decorum that he and his men maintain while engaged on the task, whatever the circumstances may be. This goes beyond an officer inspecting haircuts, and turn out and bearing but reaches out to greater depth of intervening into unprofessional conduct, such as human rights abuses, or even fraternization. Both these occur due to the lack of self-control and the moral fiber to control ones emotions and is a failure that should be purged from the professional officer corps at the first hint of existence.

In this context, it is the conduct of the officer that the men will follow, and this will then decide, the esteem of the unit in the social domain it operates.

As per the Sri Lanka Air Force Ethos, Core Values and Standards adopted from the Royal Air Force, it applies the following test to determine the code of social conduct.

‘Have the actions or behaviour of an individual adversely impacted, or are they likely to impact, on the efficiency or operational effectiveness of the Sri Lanka Air Force?’

This test applies to all individuals of the SLAF, on or off duty, in order to undermine unprofessional behaviour without hesitation. As far as the social fabric surrounding the Sri Lankan military is concerned.

I strongly believe that this ‘self-query’ can be applied to any service institution. In the Sri Lankan post conflict environment, where we experience numerous cynical and false expressions, relating to our past and present conduct, it is the leadership that must emerge with professionalism. For this the cornerstone of professionalism must be invented upon good order, discipline, decorum, and exemplary conduct. If our profession loses the trust and confidence of the societal domain, due to unprofessional conduct, it becomes increasingly difficult to acquire the much needed popular support for the conduct of our core competency. Therefore, we must bear in mind that we as officers are responsible for the public’s perception of our institutions.

From professionalism I now delve into Empathy, the softer and lesser discussed attribute in an officer’s repertoire.

General Omar Bradley better known as the soldiers general during WW2 in one of his papers on Leadership states;

“A leader should possess human understanding and consideration for others. Men are not robots and should not be treated as though they were machines. I do not by any means suggest coddling. But men are highly intelligent, complicated beings who will respond favourably to human understanding and consideration. By this means, their leader will get maximum effort from each of them.”

Knowing your men and to possess the ability to understand and share their feelings are essential empathetic traits of a leader. It is important to develop a memory for names and faces of the people under ones command. The saying goes, ‘a man’s name is to him the most important word in his language’. Our subordinates endure great pains emotionally, psychologically, physically and socially during war and during peace.

For an officer to mitigate the emotional pain, the officer needs to be able to empathize and make the man feel that his pain is felt even though not necessarily shared or the issue resolved. The approach to resolving subordinates emotional issues is often confounding as only the manifestation is seen.

Human and social issues faced by our subordinates cannot be resolved by the mere application of military law or generous distribution of welfare items to families of subordinates. The genuine caring nature and the ability to feel subordinates pain and see their point of view even though not necessarily accepted are the qualities of an empathetic leader.

Thus, empathy, is an integral part of officering as our subordinates, are constantly exposed to multifarious and intense stressors.

If we carefully review history we see the empathetic side of leaders who were ruthless in the execution of war.

Field Marshall Erwin Rommell the legendry ‘Dessert Fox’ of the Africa Korps, is known to have been greatly loved by his men and respected by the enemy; he is said to have looked after his men well and grieved at their loss, It is also said that he ignored orders from Nazi leadership to summarily execute prisoners of war.

When an officer is aware of the emotional state of his men, it creates an unspoken bond of trust between them and the officer. Without empathy and compassion ones subordinates will always keep their ‘guards up’ and be cautious and will have less camaraderie towards their leader.

General George S. Patton, better known by men as “ole blood an guts” is quoted in the book “War as I knew it”

“Officers are responsible, not only for the conduct of their men in battle, but also for their health and contentment when not fighting. An officer must be the last man to take shelter from fire, and the first to move forward.

Throughout my discourse I have elaborated on three core attributes that are the Ethos of Officering, Integrity, Professionalism, and Empathy. The thresholds of these three attributes converge in most instances supporting one and other.

These three attributes taken in broader sense encompass all values that we would like a leader of our choice to possess. It is not rationally possible for a single human being to possess all three values in their entirety, but we as seniors need to emphasize the importance of these attributes to our younger generations.

As I said, our younger generations have grown up in a “free thinking environment” and tend to refer to the words realism and pragmatism instead of values. It is in this sense that we need to create awareness of the importance of “means as well as the successful achievement of the end” It is here that the Ethos of officering comes into bearing.

In the SLAF we have recently introduced the booklet “ETHOS & CORE VALUES” in this we have translated our values into a broad statement.Through this statement our intention is to give the officer an identity based on value and say ‘this is who I am’. At this point I must acknowledge that this book is based on an inheritance from The Royal Air Force but has been remodeled to suit our needs, our culture, and our own values.

The art of officering has evolved in many ways to suit the trends of change, but there are many unwritten laws, traditions, customs, and a value based system of officering handed down by our forefathers of this profession that our generation will now hand over to the next. Men and technology will come and retire but these value based traditions cannot be changed nor should review be attempted, as they stem from valuable lessons learnt from engagement in painful conflict.

Integrity, professionalism and empathy are the attributes that serve as the pillars of genuine officering, they need to be taught, nurtured, developed and appreciated when practiced. This will ensure that the respect and esteem of our sacred profession will remain intact.

May the Late Deshamanya Gen. Dennis Perera be remembered by the future generation for his excellence in soldiering!


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Sat Mag

Teach students animal rights for a better world



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( To join the animal welfare movement contact,

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Sat Mag




A tale of a boy’s courage

By Uditha Devapriya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be reached at

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Sat Mag

Cleaner production – an urgent need



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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