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Is the Rubber Industry on verge of extinction?

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According to Mr. J.S. Ranasingha, in his article in The Island of 28th Sept the Rubber Industry is on the verge of extinction, with the annual rubber production on a decline for the last eight years. According to Central Bank reports, the annual production of rubber in the country has declined from 153 million kg in 2010 to 74.8 million kg in 2019, the lowest annual rubber output in the country. The average yield too has decreased from 1561 kg/ha in 2010 to 66.5 kg/ha in 2019. At present, around 138,000 ha is under rubber and about 65 % of rubber lands are cultivated by small holders.

Various projects were implemented during the last few decades to improve rubber production in the country. The Smallholder Rubber Rehabilitation Project 1 (SRRP 1) funded by the World Bank was implemented in the late 1980s. This project emphasized replanting of mature rubber areas, providing improved extension services, and the establishment of group processing Centres (GPC). With regard to extension, a separate Dept. identified as Advisory Service Dept. (ASD) was established, which was responsible for the communication of research findings to smallholders, and to medium size estates. ASD officers also assisted in the operation of GOSL’s replanting scheme, by inspecting rubber for registration purposes and authorizing replanting payments. A Processing Advisory Division (PAD) was established within ASD to provide technical and managerial advice to both private rubber processors and GPCs.

A major change in the rubber sector was the amalgamation of the Rubber Control Dept. and Rubber Advisory Services Dept. and the establishment of Rubber Development Dept. (RDD) in 1994. The extension activities hitherto carried out by the Advisory Services Dept. was entrusted to RDD. According to Mr. J.A.A.S. Ranasingha, a Productivity Specialist and former CEO of ASD, in his piece “Is rubber sector in the doldrums” published in The Island a few months ago, this amalgamation has neither brought any tangible benefit to the country/industry nor to the rubber smallholders that constitute 65% in the rubber sector.

The Ministry of Plantation Industries, a few years ago came out with the Sri Lanka Rubber Industry Master Plan 2017 – 2026, A National Agenda for Rubber Industry Development of Sri Lanka. The Rubber Master Plan (RMP), has 10 programmes and 25 projects costing Rs. 75 billion and is expected to last in the year 2045. Who developed the RMP and what happened to it remains unknown to the public.

Rubber plays a very important role in the economy of the country. In the year 2019, this sector earned nearly Rs. 4 billion in foreign exchange. In view of the current economic situation the country is facing, it is a sine qua non that action is taken to revive the rubber industry. Deterioration of the rubber sector will exacerbate the financial and social problems we are facing. The annual trade deficit stands at around 10 billion US $ and unemployment among the rural plantation community is increasing. In view of these critical issues faced by the country, it is necessary that the relevant authorities led by the Ministry of Plantation Industries develop a holistic national plan to resurrect the rubber industry.

A number of factors can be attributed to the current decline in the rubber sector. Among these are aging rubber crops , soil degradation due to erosion, nutrition depletion, loss of biodiversity, etc. A realistic plan to increase rubber production needs to include strategies to increase the average yield, which could be achieved by an increased supply of quality budded plants, increased rate of replanting, implementing effective management activities including better fertilizer and pest management practices, reducing soil degradation and providing better extension services by a qualified trained staff. Around 65% of the rubber holdings belong to the smallholder sector. There are nearly 100,000 rubber smallholders (RSH) who need to be provided with technical know-how of the activities involved from land preparation to processing,  so that the rubber production is increased qualitatively and quantitatively.  

In this regard the extension activities are important. It is essential that a better extension service by a trained staff is provided to the RSH. In the 1980s there were nearly 150 rubber extension officers, working for the Advisory Service Department of the Rubber Research Board to assist the Rubber Smallholders in the eight districts,  to grow, process and market rubber.  However, at present there are only around 20 extension staff  in the Rubber Research Board and as a result the rubber extension programme appears to be very weak .

Dr. C. S. WEERARATNA

Former Director, Advisory Services Department

csweera@sltnet.lk



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Opinion

Right to travel

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A.G. Noorani

VERY few would dispute that travel broadens the mind. But in the developing nations of this world, the state asserts that it can determine whether its citizen has the right to go abroad or not. The supreme court may take its own time to decide whether or not a citizen — even if he or she lives in a country that claims itself to be a democracy — has the right to possess a passport. Even if that is allowed as an essential travel document, the authorities might decide who can use it or who cannot. The government of India, regardless of which party is in power, seems to have assumed the right to decide whether or not to let a chief minister travel abroad.

The victim is the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who was to speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. But the BJP-ruled government, headed by Narendra Modi, felt that he could not go and did not give him clearance. Its approach was nonsensical.

By now, most of the countries of the Third World have ratified the United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is an international treaty in law while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is, in law, just a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Article 12(2) of the covenant provides that “Everyone shall be free to leave any county including his own” — in other words, there should be no restrictions on travelling abroad.

The covenant sets up a human rights committee of distinguished persons who are not representatives of the government but are individuals of note who have “high moral character” and are elected by the states, who have ratified the covenant.Parties to the covenant have to file reports to the committee on their observance of the stipulations contained within. States send mostly their attorney general to defend their reports. Members of the committee grill representative of the states. They do not publicise much of the report within their own countries or the contents of their reports. Both err on the side of exaggeration.

Unfortunately, civil liberties movements in the Third World are generally not articulate nor well-equipped. The exception that stands out is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan based in Lahore whose prominent chairperson, the late Mr I.A. Rehman, never failed to stand up for civil rights.

In India, following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the election in 1977, a liberal government came to power which ratified the UN covenant in March 1979. They ratified it only with certain conditions but these did not concern Article 21 of the constitution of India that says very clearly that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

The Indian supreme court has ruled that fundamental rights can be exercised outside the country. In 1978, the apex court had to deal with Maneka Gandhi’s case concerning the impounding of her passport. The supreme court held:

“…[F]reedom to go abroad is one of such rights, for the nature of man as a free agent necessarily involves free movement on his part. There can be no doubt that if the purpose and the sense of state is to protect personality and its development, as indeed it should be of any liberal democratic state, freedom to go abroad must be given its due place amongst the basic rights.

“This right is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. It is a right which gives intellectual and creative workers in particular the opportunity of extending their spiritual and intellectual horizon through study at foreign universities, through contact with foreign colleagues and through participation in discussions and conferences.

“The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right.

“Moreover, this freedom would be a highly valuable right where man finds himself obliged to flee: (a) because he is unable to serve his God as he wished at the previous place of residence, (b) because his personal freedom is threatened for reasons which do not constitute a crime in the usual meaning of the word and many were such cases during the emergency, or (c) because his life is threatened either for religious or political reasons or through the threat to the maintenance of minimum standard of living compatible with human dignity.” This ruling has stood the test of time.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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Opinion

If visitors pay USD at airport, no fuel queues for them

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The above statement was made by Manusha Nanayakkara our Labour & Foreign Employment Minister. How the Minister is going to do it is not known.I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister for his consideration to implement his proposal. Tourists, migrant workers and the dual citizens were the people whom the Minister referred to in his proposal. Many expat Sri Lankans of whom some could be dual citizens visit home once a year to spend their holidays with their families. Since Covid this might have slowed down.

With the Covid jabs even though one could catch Covid people have started to travel. Travelling to Colombo again will slow down due to the pathetic situation that exist with a shortage of everything, particularly fuel, gas and medicines. The Minister’s statement is some encouragement, but he must place his plan for the consideration of the prospective travellers and shoe by action.

The Bank Of Ceylon Branch at the Airport can sell a Dollar debit card to expats, migrant workers and tourists or in other words those who arrive with a return ticket. The minimum value can be USD 500 with provision to put more dollars attending any BOC Branch. When selling the card, a separate certificate in a little booklet format can be given with the Passport details of the traveller entered. The registration details of the vehicle the traveller intends to use can be entered in the booklet by any BOC branch after the traveller finds the vehicle, that is hired or owned by a relation. If the traveller changes the vehicle the new vehicle details can be entered only after 3 days of the first registration. This will help to prevent misusing the debit card.

The traveller must be able to purchase fuel and other rare commodities on production of the certificate to pay by the debit card referred to in the certificate.

Expats and the tourists visit to travel, and fuel must be available at petrol stations, at least one station ear marked in every town with stock always available for this category. Purchase of fuel can be restricted to at least 15 litres per day that will be good to run about 150kms approximately.

I have suggested the above as a base for the Minster to work out a reasonable plan. Once it is made and implemented whether it works smoothly or with hiccups will be known to prospective travellers through the newspapers. If the system works well, the travellers will have confidence in visiting Sri Lanka and there will be many wanting to visit in the near future.

Hemal Perera

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Opinion

‘CEB restructure must be apolitical says CEBEU’ – a reply

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The above captioned news item appearing in your Sunday issue quotes CEBEU mentions that Cabinet approval has been granted to commence restructuring of Ceylon Electricity Board [C EB] and a committee has been appointed to submit its recommendations within a month; a very important and urgent action indeed seeing and learning the mismanagement and conflicting views and action taken to serve two masters viz, the Ministry for Power and Energy and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL] and also political interferences as correctly stated by CEB engineers –”The engineers stressed that political non-interferences is of paramount importance”. The interference of the Minister to award a tender for the construction pf 350 Mw LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya to a Chinese construction Company as against the recommendation of the Tender Board, causing a delay of over four years, and the cabinet approval for a wind farm in the north by an Indian company without consulting CEB are a couple worthy of mentioning. It should be emphatically stated, CEB has knowledgeable expert electrical engineers and I believe there are none outside, other than those retired CEB engineers who have set up lucrative consultancy firms, internationally recognized. During my time serving this sector for nearly two decades, with directives by the Ministry, in electrical engineering, administrative and financial matters, the CEB ran to the satisfaction of consumers and also invested elsewhere which made the Treasury to compel CEB to invest on Treasury Bills. The interferences in the administration and matters were directly settled by CEB and also directives of the Ministry have now to obtain the approval of PUCSL.

I remember that the PUCSL called for tenders to remove electric poles, a minor job done by area engineers. There was an instance where the PUCSL sought legal action against CEB for not consulting the PUCSL on a certain matter. Recently, the PUCSL has reduced the tariff worked out by expert proposed by the CEB. What does this mean, the CEB will have to cut down or cancel certain items which it had, to accommodate PUCSL reduction. For efficient running of the CEB, the committee should recommend an end to PUCSL interference with CEB. Do not forget consumers of electricity, commuters etc., could directly place their grievances to the authorities or through organizations, associations concerned and Trade Union, to get redress. The interference I mentioned is not my not my view alone. This was a request made by former Ministry for Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; it was approved but overruled by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mahinda Rajapaksa. For reasons perhaps ut ab ordine – chaos from order.

It is hoped the Committee appointed will look into what is stated above and make recommendations accordingly.

G. A. D.S irimal
BORALESGAMUWA
Former Assistant Secretary, SLAS, Ministry P&E.

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