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Million trees to reduce pollution on highways



One million moodilla saplings would be planted on either side of roads to minimize carbon footprint and to manage emissions, Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said last Friday.

Speaking to journalists after launching the sapling planting project along the Marine Drive from Wellawatte to the Dehiwela section under the one million trees green project of the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme, the Minister said that the tree planting project in addition to helping minimise the carbon footprint, would provide shade and shelter to pedestrians. “Out target is to plant one million saplings along the roadside. Around 300,000 saplings are already ready in nurseries belonging to the Road Development Authority. Our development projects have been designed to ensure the protection of the environment so that they would be in line with the visions of sustainable development goals. The Opposition has been clamouring during recent times accusing our government of engaging in a countrywide tree felling spree. We are not worried about their false propaganda. We continue with our development process so that within a couple more months people will see the results. Within 24 hours of the President assuming duties of office after his winning of the election, he commenced a project of cleaning the environs and he set up an environmental police unit. Within a couple of days of the victory at the presidential election, all waste and garbage that had not been cleared were cleaned up. People may recall how the Yahapalana regime could not even clean the garbage and waste during the last half of their government. Now it is they who come and give us instructions on how to run the economy,” the Minister said.

Minister Fernando said that the project to plant one million saplings along the roads was being carried out with the assistance of private sector institutions. The sapling planting project along Marine Drive is assisted by the NDB Bank.

Responding to a query by journalists on the speculations related to Basil Rajapaksa being sworn in as an MP soon, the Minister said: “The story of Basil Rajapaksa becoming an MP started from the day the last general election was won by the SLPP. Yet he did not come to Parliament. That is why this question is being raised repeatedly. Everybody is waiting to see if he becomes an MP.”

Asked to comment on the presidential pardon given to Duminda Silva, the Minister said: “It is my personal opinion that justice has been done. We all know that not only Duminda Silva but many other persons had been incarcerated during the Yahapalana misrule just because they were from our party. We all have heard the leaked audio tapes on how Shani Abeyesekera and others had manufactured evidence and manipulated the court process to put Duminda Silva behind bars. In addition, there was a Presidential Commission of Inquiry on political victimization where evidence came out on how selective justice had been dispensed against our party members and supporters. Justice had been suppressed by the political powers during the time of the former government. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has rectified an injustice. There are many more still languishing behind bars.  Public sector officials, members of the Maha Sangha, members of tri-forces and police intelligence units, artistes, etc., had been victimized politically during the times of the last government. We hope that justice would be done to them too. It is because of that conduct of the Yahapalana government that the people of this country voted us in and gave us two-thirds of the power. The President did the right thing and we stand by with him.”

Responding to a question on fuel price hikes, the Minister said: There are various statements by various parties. Let’s see what will happen in the coming days. Anyone is free to express his or her opinions. Even parties within our government are making different statements. But you have to remember that we are moving to a specific target. The government has not yet made a statement saying that the fuel prices will go down. A government cannot make such statements in advance because it would result in unfavourable consequences in the market. The businessmen may hoard supplies or fleece the consumers.”

Among those present were Secretary to the Ministry of Highways Ranjith Pemasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure Ranjith Dissanayake, Director and Group Executive Officer of the NDB, Dimantha Senaratne, Director Assets Management and Revenue Rasangani Paranagama and other officials.

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Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools



By ifham Nizam

Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.

The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.

Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.

The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.

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AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot 



DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL  


By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15. 

A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to. 

The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. 

DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive. 

In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive. 

Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand. 

Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose. 

The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.” 

Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.  

Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation. 

Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.  

Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose. 

Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.

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North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong (pic courtesy PMD)

China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).

In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.

President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.

The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.

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