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On a day like this 35 years ago INTAKE 20 was Commissioned



by Nilakshan Perera

On a day like this on Jan 18, 1985, some 35 years ago, there was a call for brave patriotic youth to come forward to lead soldiers to safeguard the Nation. A total of 1,039 applicants responded. After six interviews, young blood from leading schools who excelled in sports and extracurricular activities among others both at school and national level were selected. It was a unique achievement and indeed a tremendous honour for the selected 35 to gather at Army Headquarters.

After saying goodbye to our families, and knowing we had taken our first steps to embark on our chosen career, we knew that the future was not going to be a bed of roses but we were ready to take on this challenge. All 35 selected were turning their backs on cushy, white collar jobs in air-conditioned offices. They had answered the call from their hearts.

These cadets, promising future officers, were seated in an Army bus while their baggage in trunks was loaded into an Army 1210 Tata truck. We left Army HQ by 1730 hrs heading for Diyatalawa. It was around 0110 hrs next day when our journey came to an end near the Polo Grounds at Diyatalawa. This is the only natural playground in Sri Lanka used for rugby, soccer, and athletics with an adjoining golf course. It is also used as a small airfield for light aircraft. We were told the engine of the bus had overheated and the radiator was boiling and ordered by Staff Sgt Dharmasena of the Artillery Regiment and Sgt Piyasdasa of Gemunu Watch to debus as it would go no further.

To our surprise neither the bus nor the truck could be started. We assumed that this may have been due to continuous driving without a break for over six hours. Even though we were dressed in suits as we got off the bus, the temperature of 6-7o C virtually froze us in our tracks. No sooner we alighted from the bus we were asked to run to a place called Pandama, (Torch) which was the unique symbol of the Military Academy – a burning torch fixed atop a lamp-post. This eternal flame symbolizes life, dedication, and regenerative power.

By this time all of us were shivering as we doubled past the main gate of the Sri Lanka Military Academy. We had fleeting glimpses of the parade ground that was shining with frosty dew. Beyond the ground we saw a huge Makara Thorana (Dragon Arch) past which newly commissioned young officers would march. Just as we reached the ‘Pandama’, the bus and the truck which were supposedly stalled, arrived miraculously! It was only when we were asked to unload our baggage that we realized that there was nothing wrong with the vehicles. They had only wanted us to enter the Military Academy on the double – a long-established tradition.

The full moon was shining brightly in a clear sky as it was a Poya day. We could see the surrounding area more clearly now. We were taken to a place called Beast Billet, which was to be our new “home” where our sleeping accommodation was located. There was a smart Warrant Officer (WO) who showed us the green bush and grass covered area adjoining the billet. He ordered us in a commanding tone to clean and have it neat and tidy next day (a Poya holiday) as he didn’t want to see any reptiles on the ground. He then asked us to go to sleep.

The next morning after breakfast we were asked to get into our PT kit. Sgt Piyadasa took us to Q (Quartermaster’s) stores and drew us tools such as mammoties, knives, grass cutters etc. to tidy the green area. Later in the evening the same Warrant Officer ordered us to be ready in full suit next morning as he was going to take us on our ‘camp tour’ .

This Warrant Officer 1 was Chandra Abeykoon, who had just returned from a Drill Instructor’s Training course at the Guards Depot at Pirbright in UK. His boots were polished to a mirror shine and his uniform was impeccable.

Next morning, we were dressed in full suit again and taken to Army QM stores. We were issued various items, such as mess tin, water bottle, cup and plate, ground sheet, boots, canvas shoes, blankets, beret, etc. We were asked to pack all these items into a duffle bag called ‘Ali Kakula’, as it resembled the leg of an elephant. We were then taken on the double on our ‘camp tour’ by WO1 Abeykoon, Staff Sgt Dharmasena, Sgt Piyadasa, Sgt Wijeratne and PTI Cpl Mendis. We were shown the boundaries of the Military Academy and the out of bounds areas, recreational grounds, cinema hall, polo grounds, Halangoda Lake, White Gate (a small white gate leading to the officers’ mess of the Gemunu Watch at the top of a hill above the polo grounds. The whole tour was done on the double, and that was how we moved for the next six months – no walking. We had to be alert and keen. Everywhere we went we had to go on the double, sometimes doing forward rolls (a rolling mode of moving) too.

Our Chief Instructor was Maj Nihal Marambe of the Armoured Corps and our first Course Commander was Major Gamini Balasuriya, also of the Armoured Corps, and later Capt Rohan Induruwa from Sinha Regiment,

Our billet was called Beast Billet. As the name implies, we were fondly taken for beasts. There was no relaxing and we were always on the move from one task to another. Our only consolation was to receive an occasional letter from home. From the Beast Billet we could clearly see three railway stations on mist free nights. These were Idalgasshinna, Haputale and Diyatalawa. We often imagined that we were seated in the train and going home on vacation and a few of us sometimes became emotional. We waited to hear the train approaching through the hills of Idalgasshinna. Early in the morning when we getting ready for PT, we could see it moving slowly like several boxes of matches coupled together and we knew that letters for us would be by delivered by afternoon. The same way our letters home would be carried in the night mail train leaving Diyatalawa every evening at 1940 hrs.

It was a part of the Duty Orderly Cadet’s tasks to collect the daily mail from the office and to hand over any mail that was to be posted. All of us were delighted to receive a letter or two from home. While those of us who got mail were rejuvenated, the few who didn’t were dejected. Getting letters was one of the few joys of life we enjoyed at that time.

We were taken for physical training, drill and weapon training, map reading, field craft, and tactics during morning sessions. In the afternoon we were taught leadership, military law, current affairs and English. We were taught Tamil by a civilian teacher from Bandarawela, our only civilian teacher, and we were very relaxed and enjoyed his lessons. We had plenty of recreational facilities and games in the evening.

During the next few weeks, we were transformed from raw young men into tough military personnel and made ready to face the future. We never dreamed of a good, cozy night’s sleep in the cool of Diyatalawa because we never knew what would come next. No two nights were the same. Soon we were well prepared for whatever came, sometimes even being mocked at or ostracized.

At the end of six months we had passed our Drill and PT tests. These included several changing parades in front of Senior Intake 18A and later Intake 19, before we could go out. They checked our attire – blazer, slacks, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, and socks to ensure they matched. We were properly shaved and generally well groomed. We flocked to Bandarawela Town like homing pigeons. Some of us were at restaurants, some went to tailor shops and few went to Cyril Studio to have their photos taken. And then all of us made a beeline to the Bandarawela Post Office to make telephone calls home and to friends. There were no pay phones then in the Academy, Mobile phones, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. were not even in the lexicon. Wherever we went we had to walk in step and in pairs. We never knew who would report wrongdoings to SLMA. The whole town knew we were cadets from the Academy.

To our great delight we soon got to share rooms with a batch mate. We had our first seven-day vacation after passing the drill and PT test. However, during this vacation each of us had to research material for our Leadership Presentations of famous political, military, and historical figures. We were expected to be ready with view files, photographs, scripts, slides, and booklets. We had to soldier through endless pages to gather the necessary information. There was no Google those days and it was a nightmare to prepare and make presentations to the instructor officers in a series of repeated sessions lasting till midnight. But the knowledge gained and efforts made were invaluable later in our lives.

Intake 19 passed out in November 1985 and we now became the Senior Intake. We were assigned individual rooms. There was Lady Intake 3, SSC (Short Service Commission) Intake 5,6,7,8 with Intake 22 & 23. There were seven Service Cadets from KDA who after completing their three and half year University degree cum military training joined us for their final term.

By this time Intake 20 was under the watchful eyes of new Course Commander Capt Jayavi Fernando from Gajaba Regiment, an amazing military man who had achieved many firsts in his career. History records he always placed his boundless talents at the service of the Army whenever duty called. He never dodged a responsibility, never refused to take on a hard task if it had to be done. What he believed, he believed with heart and soul. In brief, he was a patriotic and distinguished military officer, a natural leader, and an affectionate brother to all servicemen. He was loved and admired by all his superiors, colleagues and subordinates. His premature retirement as Colonel on Oct 31, 1998 was a great blow to the Army.

We were taken for firing practice including night firing to the Firing Range on various occasions as it was a part and parcel of our training. During our moves by truck to the firing range and at the Cadets’ Mess after dinner we used to sing popular Sinhala songs songs like Ae NeelaWara Peerala by Dhanapala Udawatte & ThilineLesin by Three Sisters and Asoka Mal by MS Fernando.

We went on field exercises to the landmark Foxhill area for Exercises Seetha Sulang and Grave Digger at Gurutalawa and to Ambewela for Frozen Trout living in trenches on the last exercise for six days with leeches for company and misty continuous drizzling and unpredictably cold weather. We then had Exercise Wanabambara in the dense jungles off Wellawaya for 14 days. Then Exercise God King in Kataragama. During Exercise Scorpion we practiced enforcing curfews in Welimada/Keppettipola area and searching for and detecting mock insurgents.

Our parents were invited on Parents’ Day in February for a full day program to observe their sons’ progress and development in their budding military careers.

With lot of endurance and enthusiasm we ran nine miles three times with our rifle, full water bottle (from which we could not take even a sip) and 20 kgs kit in our battle order packs along the Bandarawela/Welimada Road crossing the bridge and passing Bandarawela town, Kahagolla, and the Ceylon Volunteer Force camp to the Academy Gym.

The Intake 20 boxing meet was held on April 11, 1986, at the gymnasium. We were matched according to our weights and boxed each other with gusto. It is no friendly Charlie Charlie game; we were told to draw blood from our opponent. All Officer Instructors of SLMA, Capt Rohan Jayasinghe, Capt Jagath Rambukpotha, Capt Aruna Wijenayake, and Lt Mahesh Senanayake acted as judges. Commandant Col Rohan de S Daluwatte was the Chief Guest.

On Vesak Poya night, after dinner some trainee teachers from Bandarawela performed Bhakthi Gee for us at the Cadets’ Mess. Soon after they left a few of us sought permission from the Course Officer to go out to see the Vesak decorations. We didn’t get that permission but the whole Intake was made to circle the Cadet’s Mess singing Bhakthi Gee, This went on non-stop for three or four hours. No one ever after requested permission to go out to see Vesak illuminations!

In May we were taken on Unit visits. We were all stationed at Kotelawala Defence Academy for eight days during which we visited all unit HQs in Colombo and Panagoda. On our return, we were given motorcycle riding lessons at Polo grounds in the mornings as we prepared for the Commissioning Parade on May 31.

Four years after Intake 16 we were greatly honoured to have an Under Officer appointed from our batch. That was Wipula Seneviratne, as he came first in the order of merit. For our Commissioning Parade Gen Denis Perera, the first Commandant of Army Training Center and former Army Commander, took the salute.

After Commissioning as 2nd Lieutenants, we were taken to Maduru Oya for further Infantry training and then went on to our respective Units.

2/Lt Wipula Seneviratne and 2/Lt Prasanna Perera, the first two in our intake were selected to go to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in UK for further training. It was another unique achievement for Intake 20 as these two were the first to go to Sandhurst after a lapse of several years.

During this time, all our batch mates were in the thick of military operations in the North or the East. With deep sorrow and highest gratitude, we recall the names of our beloved batch mates who made the supreme sacrifice in defending Mother Lanka for future generations.

They were Lt Sanath Samarakoon GW (27/08/1986 Nillaweli), Lt Ananda De Silva SLA (07/10/1987-Mannar), Capt Wipula Seneviratne SLA (15/04/1988 Athurugiriya), Maj Prasanna Liyanagoda VIR (30/07/1990 – Mannar), Maj Devamiththa Dissanayake GW (01/05/1991 -Trincomalee), Lt Col B C K L Silva SLLI (13/09/1995 – Plane Crash/Kandana), Lt Col Shantha Jayaweera SLLI (17/11/1995 Jaffna) Maj Srinath Wickramasinghe SLLI (26/12/2007 Tsunami/Thelwatte), — Maj Ravi Dissanayake SLASC (20/07/2018 – Military Hospital.

When we look back, we could say with humility and pride that we served as soldiers and fought for our country with utmost dedication and commitment, in the jungles, plains, hills and valleys. We had seen our comrades lay down their lives, suffered setbacks and finally achieved victory under extremely challenging conditions.

As Intake 20 celebrated their 35th anniversary on 31 May as Commissioned Officers, let me salute all our dear batchmates who have laid down their lives for our future generations. May your journey in Samsara be short, May you all finally attain Supreme bliss of Nibbana and Rest in Peace eternal.

And best wishes to all my batch mates in their future endeavors


The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people



By Sivamohan Sumathy

The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.

Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation

The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.

While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (

Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. ( If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.

The Democracy Call

From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.

Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!


Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya

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Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget



Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.

Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.

(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)


Never forget crimes committed

This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.

Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.

Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.

When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.

Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.


Notes on news items

Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.

An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!

Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.

Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.


Enough is absolutely enough

Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in

Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.

It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.

Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?

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Organic fertiliser



Doing the right thing the wrong way

By Jayasri Priyalal

Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.

Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.

This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.

The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.

The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.

Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.

At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.

I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.

Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.



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