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MONLAR accuses govt. of allowing India to play bigger role in country’s agriculture



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The government has allowed India to play a bigger role in Sri Lankan agriculture due to its recent actions regarding agrochemicals, moderator of Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR,) Chinthaka Rajapakshe alleged yesterday.

Rajapaksa told The Island that the government had banned agrochemicals to break the existing cartel that controlled fertiliser imports and thereby help its business associates.

Rajapakshe said that the actions of successive governments had greatly undermined the country’s food security and sovereignty.

“The government’s impotence was shown during the rice issue. It put out a number of gazette notifications to control the price of rice and the mill owners ignored these gazettes and created a shortage. The government finally allowed mill owners to determine prices. This shows that the government does not understand the ground realities, i. e. that it can’t influence the market because all the tools it has at its disposal are ineffective, and it has no plan.”

Rajapakshe said that since banning the import of agrochemicals, the government had not held any discussions with stakeholders involved in organic agriculture in the country.

“It is now obvious that the government has no intention of going green. All it wants is to ensure that its associates will control the agrochemical market in the future. However, the government is bungling that up, too,” he claimed.

Rajapakshe added that if the government held discussions with those already involved with organic farming, it would have learnt that the first thing to do was to restore the microbes in the soil biodiversity. A healthy soil had a variety of living organisms.

“Plant roots can also be considered as soil organisms in view of their symbiotic relationships and interactions with other soil components. These diverse organisms interact with one another and with the various plants and animals in the ecosystem, forming a complex web of biological activity. Because we have been overusing agrochemicals for decades, most of our soil is dead. While supplying compost is a component of this, it is not everything that we can do. There are so many other things we could have done.”

The government was compelled to ban the import of fertilizers because it faced a dollar shortage, Rajapakshe said. If the government was serious about reducing the cost of importing fertiliser it could have worked with farmers and introduced easy compost making methods, he said. “Instead, the government tried to give their associates an opportunity to mass produce compost and when that failed it resorted to importing organic fertiliser,” he said.

“This has also allowed India to come into our agriculture. Adani is already working in Sri Lanka and he plays a major role in Indian agriculture. I don’t think he is here only for the West Container Terminal,” he said.

MONLAR worked with a large number of farmers and most of them were ready to switch to organic farming if a transparent and feasible path was made available, he said. The ground reality was that the government’s actions were increasingly driving out small scale farmers and those lands were being taken over by large companies.

“This has been happening for a while and farmers are highly suspicious. The government keeps on transferring land owned by small farmers to large companies. These companies are export oriented. During the first phase of shifting to organic agriculture, there has been a drop in the yield. We must take that into account and increase the area of farmlands but we are doing quite the opposite,” he said.

On the other hand, the government had done nothing to educate the farmers on how to engage in organic farming. Those who planted tea used compost the way they used agrochemicals, which is not an effective way of using compost, he said. MONLAR had introduced certain practices used in Andhra Pradesh, India, to some Sri Lankan farmers on recovering lost soil diversity. Those practices have been embraced by farmers with great enthusiasm, he said.

“There are ways of boosting soil biodiversity within days. They have not been explored. Having TV programmes on organic agriculture is not enough, the government has to go to the farmers,” he said.

Moreover, compost is only one component of organic agriculture. There are a number of specialised equipment and machinery needed to successfully engage in organic agriculture. We also need things, like cutters and crushers, to make compost on a large scale. There are a number of Sri Lankan companies that produce these machines, but they have not been given the necessary support to expand production, he said.

Rajapakshe said that Sri Lanka also needed to gear its waste management system towards compost making. Although a large quantity of biodegradable waste was collected daily, most of it was thrown into dump sites. Compost could be created with the biodegradable waste and systems should be introduced to prevent heavy metal contamination.

“Heavy metals can come from things like batteries, bulbs and e-waste. We need to establish protocols to prevent such items from mixing with biodegradable waste,” Rajapakshe added.

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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence



Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks



Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty



Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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