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‘Maha season ruined, Yala will be a disaster’

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No agro-chemical imports yet, only fraction of liquid fertilizer received

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government lifted the ban on agro-chemical imports, well over a month ago, but the country is yet to receive much-needed fertiliser supplies.

The President’s Office on Nov. 22 announced the ending of the ban on agro-chemicals imports introduced on April 22, 2021.

However, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne claims that though Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage assured the Parliament agro chemicals would be imported, so far the private sector hasn’t been given the approval.

Addressing a gathering at Rattota over the weekend, the former UNPer said that the farming community had been deprived of fertiliser as well as agro-chemicals.

Lawmaker Kaviratne alleged that Minister Aluthgamage sabotaged the move to resume agro-chemical imports by removing the Registrar of Pesticide Dr. J. A. Sumith. MP Kaviratne emphasized that the government owed an explanation over the top official’s removal. When contacted yesterday afternoon, Sumith declined to comment.

Minister Aluthgmage couldn’t be contacted because he was at a meeting. Earlier, Aluthgamae declared that the Registrar of Pesticide was removed in the wake of him lifting the ban on five pesticides, including glyphosate imposed seven years ago.

Lawmaker Kaviratne said that unless urgent measures were taken to import fertilizer and agro-chemicals, farmers wouldn’t be able to engage in cultivation in the early part of this year. The agriculture ministry seemed to be even unaware of the two cultivation seasons namely, Maha (September-March) and Yala (May-August), lawmaker Kaviratne said.

Responding to The Island queries, the lawmaker pointed out that the controversy over the rejected consignment of Chinese carbonic fertilizer and the subsequent decision to pay the supplier USD 6.7 mn distracted public attention from the real issue. MP Kaviratne emphasized that the issue at hand was the failure of the government to deliver the promised carbonic fertiliser needed for Maha thereby deprived them of both fertiliser of any kind and agro-chemicals as well. On the other hand, of 1.2 million  litres of liquid nano fertilizer ordered from India, a relatively small quantity had been received so far, the MP said, alleging that the Agriculture Ministry ruined the agro sector. About one mn litres of liquid fertiliser were yet to be delivered, well informed sources revealed.

The MP said that the Agriculture Ministry within one year had achieved the unthinkable. Asked to explain, she said that even during the war the farming community served the country at the risk of their lives. Regardless of sporadic terrorist attacks on paddy growing districts, the LTTE couldn’t dishearten them, the Matale District MP said. But the current dispensation had compelled the farmers to give up cultivation by depriving them of the basic necessities, the outspoken MP said.

The SJB spokesperson said that the Agriculture Department recently acknowledged that the yield in the major paddy growing districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa would be approximately 50 percent of the normal output whereas in the East only 1/3 of paddy land had been cultivated. The total output could be as low as half of previous years, MP Kaviratne said, urging the government to take stock of the situation, at least now.

With the country experiencing an unprecedented debt servicing problem, a sharp drop in paddy, vegetable and maize production could further aggravate the US Dollar crisis, the MP warned, warning the government to stop acting the goat.

MP Kaviratne said that the foolish SLPP administration had caused immeasurable damage to the national economy. The Opposition would raise the issue in Parliament once the new session commenced on January 18, she said.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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