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MONLAR: Govt. does not care to ensure food security

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‘Forest lands given to big businesses’

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The government had not introduced mechanisms to ensure a stable and adequate food supply although almost a year has passed since Sri Lanka became affected by Covid-19, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), Chinthaka Rajapakshe told The Island yesterday, commenting on soaring food prices.

Rajapakshe said that if the government had worked according to a strategy, it could have increased the production of food and come up with better distribution networks last year.

“The government has shown its incompetence by not straightening up the distribution network and introducing price control mechanisms. One year is more than enough to produce 90% of the food the country needs. We also have the resources, experience and knowledge to achieve this goal. The only thing lacking is proper government planning.”

The government continued to hand over some forest land and the lands used by small farmers to large agro businesses, Rajapakshe said, adding that the government had earmarked 800,000 acres of land to be given to corporations; those lands mainly consisted of forests, chenas and pastures. “The President is facilitating this process through his Gama Samaga Pilisandara programme, which is an attempt to mislead the people by giving them false promises and some relief. Gotabaya tells people it is all right to cultivate forest land under the Forest Conservation Department and instructs officials not to punish people who send their cattle into forests. People walk away feeling good but a few months later big corporations would take over those lands.”

The MONLAR Moderator said that they had conducted a survey on the lands given to corporations by the incumbent government last year. Most of the lands are those used by cattle herders and chena cultivators.

“These big companies cultivate crops like corn and their produce does not help ensure the country’s food security. Moreover, the government cannot exert any influence over these big businesses. For example, it issued several gazettes last year stipulating prices on some varieties of rice but big millers did not heed them. We simply don’t have the power to influence the market. The government has tried to replace public servants with retired Army officers in a bid to convince the people that it has got tough with big businessmen.

The MONLAR Moderator added that early last year the government had encouraged home gardening during lockdowns. However since the government had no plan or policy to make it sustainable, the home gardening project fell through.



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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