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Plantation expert slams ‘politicisation of science’ by two administrations



By Sanath Nanayakkare

Science was a major casualty in two key agricultural policy decisions made by the previous Yahapalana and the current governments, which on both occasions brought disastrous consequences to the agriculture sector, says Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, Managing Director of the Plantation Sector of Hayleys PLC which comprise Kelani Valley Plantations, Talawakelle Tea Estates and Horana Plantations recently.

Issuing a press statement, he slammed the previous Yahapalana government’s suspension of glyphosate imports and the current government’s decision to ban the import and the use of synthetic fertilisers with a sudden passion for transforming Sri Lanka into a nation with 100% organic agriculture.

Citing the fate of Prof. Buddhi Marambe, he said: “The nation’s best agricultural experts are being ignored or sidelined and silenced because Marambe had simply stated scientific facts regarding the current agro-chemical ban. Marambe had been consistent in doing so when the occasion demanded; he had previously spoken up against the Yahapalana government’s disastrous decision to suspend glyphosate imports.”

“Suspension on glyphosate imports was a policy decision, which resulted in the rejection of Sri Lankan tea exports as a result of issues with Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), and caused the permanent loss of extremely high value markets in Japan, and it proved costly: all without a single shred of scientific evidence being considered to assess the lasting damage it would have caused. As a result, the government of the day was compelled to back-pedal its decision, but not without irreversible damage being done,” he claimed.

Referring to the chemical fertiliser ban imposed by the current government, he said “Without any prior planning or notice, our entire sector has been coerced into blindly participating in the most unscientific experiment ever attempted in Sri Lanka’s history. Now we are all left to anticipate what the implications of an immediate, nation-wide halt to all established and essential best practices relating to plant nutrition, pest, fungus and weeds would be.”

“Almost seven months from the current government’s initial decision to ban the import and use of synthetic fertilizers and as at today, Sri Lanka’s entire agriculture and plantation economy is still frantically in search of any viable option to mitigate the threat of declining yields.” he said.

“We are told that arrangements are being made to import organic fertiliser from various, untested sources, and agreements are minted to produce organic fertiliser locally, much akin to attempting to fix the engine troubles on an airplane while it is in flight. Nevertheless, the inconvenient truth is at present, all supplies of ‘organic’ and inorganic fertiliser are in short supply.”

“Stocks which are available, have increased in price owing to supply-demand imbalances, disrupted supply chains and unprecedented increases in landed costs. Such escalating payments are making Sri Lankan tea’s already high cost of production (COP) even higher, which is placing Sri Lankan plantations under further stress. This is happening just a few months after an increase in worker wages was thrust through the Wages Board.”

” With the end of the year approaching, and the window for fertilising crops closing, it appears that the industry will be locked into at least one – if not more – growth cycles without basic nutrients of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus, and with no ability to control pests and weeds. Without immediate solutions, the broad consensus among those with expertise is that we could see exponentially worse crop losses starting from the end of 2021, hitting approximately 40% by next year.”

“If RPCs had disregarded agronomic practices and norms in such a manner on their own volition, it would have been called ‘criminal mismanagement’. With agricultural best practices now being roundly ignored in favour of a largely undefined and unplanned strategy for transforming Sri Lanka into a nation with “100% organic agriculture”, this historic, and intentionally misinformed self-sabotage is being repackaged as visionary and progressive. Regardless of short-term political expediency, reality has a way of asserting itself,” he said.

Referring to the negative impact on employment, he said, “Spread across 14 districts, the tea industry alone provides direct employment to over 600,000 people engaged in cultivation and processing and indirect employment to a further 200,000 involved in the supply chain. The sector provides complete livelihood support for a resident population of one million in Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and 450,000 tea smallholders with one million dependents, hence supporting a total population of nearly 2.5 million.”

“When considering both employment and livelihood generation, it is estimated that the industry sustains more than 10% of our national population and its net foreign exchange earnings are only second to the garment industry.”

“Even if “organic” fertilliser is made available, there are still serious concerns as to whether it can provide sufficient nutrients. Hence, it appears that the writing is on the wall. With insufficient nutrients as a result of the unplanned push for organic, we anticipate a series of cascading failures stemming from a collapse in productivity. No amount of rhetoric will be able to turn back the tide of negative repercussions of such developments.”

“The only measure that could at least temporarily mitigate this dynamic is the implementation of productivity linked wages. This is a model which has the support of all RPCs, and which has been widely practiced with tremendous success by tea smallholders.”

“If there’s any resistance to it, that’s not from workers who have experience with productivity linked wages, but from Trade Unions who would lose their relevance if such models were implemented. Under the proposals made by RPCs workers could earn between Rs. 37,000 and Rs 62,000 and the model would enable workers to choose flexi-hours. Given the labour shortages prevalent across the entire tea industry, such a move would at long last incentivize workers effectively, and reward them for achieving their full individual potential, thereby significantly optimising labour productivity.

“However, without a scientific resolution to the fertiliser crisis, wage reforms can only serve as a stop gap measure. As land productivity drops, RPCs, state plantations and smallholders alike will be forced to reduce the amount of work offered, leading to a continuous decrease in worker earnings,” he said.

Dr. Roshan Rajadurai was also a former chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon with 36 years of experience in the plantation sector.

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MPs urged to defeat move to conduct Law College exams only in English medium



Ali Sabry responds to accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (19) alleged that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was going ahead with a project launched by former Justice Minister Ali Sabry with the backing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to conduct Law College examinations only in the English medium, much to the disadvantage of Sinhala and Tamil students.

Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya at Thunmulla, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama urged all political parties, regardless of whatever differences, to vote against extraordinary gazette notification of 2020 Dec 30 No 22018/13 to be submitted to Parliament by Sabry’s successor, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, tomorrow (21).

The SLPP National List MP said that those who represented the interests of the South, the North as well as the Upcountry could reach a consensus on the issue at hand quite easily.

Responding to The Island query, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, consisting of a section of rebel SLPP MPs, backed the campaign to protect the language rights of Sinhala and Tamil communities. The first-time entrant to Parliament said that MPs with a conscience couldn’t back this move, under any circumstances, whichever the party they represented.

At the onset of the media briefing, MP Cumaratunga said that the denial of language rights of current and future students was a grave violation of the Constitution-Article 12 and Article 18. In terms of Article 12, no one should be discriminated against on the basis of language whereas Article 18 recognized Sinhala and Tamil as National Languages with English being the linking language.

Alleging that the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa goverenment planned to implement the controversial law even without securing parliamentary approval, lawmaker Cumaratunga appreciated Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s decision to place it before parliament.

The civil society activist said that this despicable move should be examined against the backdrop of growing external interventions as the country struggled to cope up with the developing political-economic-social crisis. The passage of the new law could cause further deterioration of parliament, MP Cumaratunga said, adding that the House faced a serious credibility issue.

“How could elected MPs whichever party they represented back a move that directly affected the concerned communities,”? Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked.

Referring to a recent call by the Justice Minister to discuss the issue at hand, MP Cumaratunga said that among those present on the occasion were Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, and Dr. Athula Pathinayake, Principal of Law College. “Those who opposed this move asked Dr. Athula Pathinayake what he really intended to achieve by conducting Law College examinations in English, only. However, the Law College Principal failed to provide a plausible response,” the MP said.

Responding to strong criticism of their stand, MP Cumaratunga stressed that the importance of English as a language couldn’t be underestimated. But, ongoing efforts to promote English shouldn’t be at the expense of Sinhala and Tamil, MP Cumaratunga said, questioning lawmakers’ right to deprive Sinhala and Tamil communities of basic rights.

Ratnapura District SLPP MP Gamini Waleboda said that an influential section of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) was behind this move. In a note dated March 17, addressed to all members of parliament urged them to defeat the contemptible move.

Lawmaker Waleboda said that there was no prohibition for those who wanted to sit law examinations in English. There was absolutely no issue over that but the bid to deny the language rights of those who wanted to sit examinations in Sinhala and Tamil was not acceptable under any circumstances. According to him, the BASL hadn’t consulted its membership regarding this move.

MP Cumaratunga also questioned the failure on the part of the apex court to make available to Parliament its interpretations in Sinhala. The Supreme Court continues to provide such clarifications in English only.

Responding to MP Cumaratunga’s allegation that he with the backing of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resorted to action to make English compulsory for those studying at the Law College, incumbent Foreign Minister Sabry said: “That’s not correct. It is the council of legal education which formulates regulations.  The council consists of CJ, two senior SC judges, AG, SG, Secretary Justice and six senior lawyers of vast knowledge and experience.

 In terms of the constitution all higher education institutions can decide the language of studies and education. That’s how medical faculty, engineering faculty, IT faculty and management faculty conduct studies in English. Already Peradeniya and Jaffna universities do legal studies in English. It is good to do it, that’s how they become competitive. Even in India all legal faculties are in English. “

The President’s Counsel alleged that the kith and kin of certain people articulating this position received their education in English. The minister questioned why politicians get involved in this issue if the council of legal education made the relevant suggestion.

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No power cuts due to N’cholai unit failure – Minister



By Ifham Nizam

The breakdown of the Unit Three of the First Coal Fired Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai 270 MW intake of the 300MW will cost an additional Rs. 20 a unit due to thermal power generation, says the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).  “It will cost the CEB Rs. 96 million extra a day while the Norochcholai machine is out of order,” a senior Electrical Engineer told The Island.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday said Unit 3 of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant had failed. He said the CEB had informed him of the breakdown, but he said there would be no power cuts.

“The Unit 3 was due to undergo major overhaul maintenance in April. To ensure an uninterrupted power supply, the CEB-owned Diesel and Fuel Oil Power plants will be used,” the minister said.

The Norochcholai Power Plant has experienced breakdowns several times on previous occasions as well.The first generator at the power plant was shut down on December 23, last year to manage the coal stocks and for maintenance purposes.

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CBSL chief expresses optimism



Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe told the media, on Sunday, that the country’s dollar crisis could be managed as the IMF was set to approve a 2.9 billion-dollar bailout package on Monday. He said that Sri Lanka now had adequate foreign reserves for imports for essential sectors.

Dr. Weerasinghe added that the IMF package would boost investor confidence and enhance the country’s access to more foreign funds and investments.

The IMF package would include budgetary support, which was a new element in IMF lending, he said. Sri Lanka started negotiations with the IMF, in 2022, following the onset of the current economic crisis.

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