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MONLAR blames private rice mafia for annual exploitation of farmers and consumers

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

From 2015 onwards the state had purchased only around 2% of the total paddy produced in the country and thus the government had no power to control rice prices in the market, Chinthaka Rajapakshe of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island that it was the reason for the government’s failure to regulate the price of rice although it had issued four gazettes on the matter from December 2019.

“The latest gazette was published on November 04, but we know that it is impossible to buy rice at the maximum retail price set by the government. This is an indication that the Sri Lankan state has no control over the collection, storing, distribution and the sale of paddy.”

During the Maha Season around 3.2 million metric tonnes of paddy came into the market and the government only had 307 warehouses that could store around 310,000 metric tonnes, Rajapakshe said.

“We did some calculations and it is clear that the private sector buys about 90% of the paddy produced annually, and the government about 2%; the farmers keep the rest.

The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wanted to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages and high prices experienced by the people, Rajapakshe said.

He said that the impotence of the state had been exposed a few months back during a televised meeting with large scale rice mill owners and public officials. The mill owner insisted that they had purchased paddy from farmers at Rs. 55 and that it was impossible for them to sell at the stipulated price imposed by the government.

“The government officials then asked the mill owners to take release rice to the market or they would be compelled to import rice. They also warned that they would release stocks purchased by the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB). Unfortunately, the stocks purchased by the PMB were only sufficient to meet three days’ demand. So, the government will be either compelled to pay massive sums to large rice mill owners or import. None of these are sustainable solutions.”

Rajapakshe said that the government should not accept the narrative of large mill owners that they had purchased paddy from farmers at Rs. 55 a kilo. Although the government had imposed a minimum purchase price for paddy at Rs. 55, large scale mill owners purchased paddy at between Rs. 30 and Rs. 45 a kilo. They surely can give rice at the controlled prices but they know that they can just hoard paddy and sell at higher prices. That’s why the government must empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners to purchase paddy at a reasonable prices and distribute rice to consumers at affordable prices.”



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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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