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POLICE PROMOTION MANIPULATION: VIOLATION OF THE LINE OF SENIORITY

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Root cause of the decline of the force

(Excerpted from Merril Gunaratne’s ‘Perils of a Profession’ )

In a disciplined service, rank is sacrosanct. An officer has necessarily to aspire to higher rank through performance. If his work had been of exceptional merit and distinction, he may even be considered for a special promotion. A promotion can also be posthumous where the deceased officer had been exemplary in performance and achievement. An officer will therefore naturally like to safeguard his position in the line of seniority. He will be unhappy if a junior officer is placed over him merely because the latter wields influence. It is natural for an officer in a disciplined service to jealously protect his place in the line of seniority against encroachment.

Two matters of concern had emerged in the wake of the exacerbation of ‘interference’ that had plagued the police since 1977. Those who looked for undue favours from the police by baiting officers with assurances of recognition and promotion outside the line of seniority, had often found pliant policemen ready to do their bidding. Many have thus prospered without satisfying the required criteria for key posts and promotions. The pattern, so monotonous since 1977, had seriously demoralized the service. Some have been adept not only in the ” long jump,” but also in “hop, step, and jump”, by the acquisition of more than one rank promotion outside the ” eligibility criteria”.

The second matter for concern had been the ineptitude of IGPs to counter this pattern. The fundamental premise in leadership is the undiluted authority of the leader to reward the good and punish the errant. This foundation was uprooted in 1977 mostly because those at the helm of affairs in the police abdicated or surrendered to political demands without resistance to interference. If a united front was presented based on a cohesive policy, the political establishment may have found it formidable.

The inadequacies of those in the highest echelons to stand up and protest at the onset, enabled the entrenchment of a pernicious system. The good were often overlooked, whilst some of those with chequered careers but were favourites of patrons, found recognition. The IGP became a figurehead who watched passively. Attempts to resist such pressure and insist on the right course would have been costly. Cyril Herath alone stood up to such a demand and quit his position of IGP, rejecting a compensatory sop of a diplomatic assignment. Such honorable conduct was a noble alternative to taking the easy road, a lesson to the establishment, and an inspiration to the service.

A few instances of the violation of the line of security.

Following the sweeping victory of Chandrika Kumaratunga as the president in 1994, six police officers, after being away from the force for some time, were reinstated in the service in the rank of senior DIG. They were thereby restored to positions they enjoyed in the seniority line at the time they left the service. Of these six officers, Messrs Rajaguru, Wickramasuriya and Iddamalgoda were victims of persecution as extensions of service was denied them without valid reasons. The others did not fall into such a category, with two of them quitting on their own, while the third had been served notice of vacation of post. Those who were dislodged from their positions in the seniority line by such reinstatement had served without interruption in the most taxing and testing times. Somewhere in 2018 or 2019, three DIGs who had retired long time ago, decided to appeal for promotion to senior DIG rank. The ‘Yahapalanaya’ government promoted them through a political victimization committee. This was incredible.

Inflation of the DIG cadre when D B Wijetunga was president.

Shortly after DB Wijetunga became president, the government suddenly took a decision to introduce a radical increase in the DIG cadre. The directive came from the president, and his proposals should have been examined in depth, before being implemented. The DIG cadre increased from 19 to 30 overnight. An SSP was able to secure a DIG rank from the ninth or 10th place in the line of seniority when the number of DIGs was raised to 11. The coincidence of the enlargement of the DIG cadre and the simultaneous accommodation of this officer close to the president at the tail end of the expanded number of 11 DIGs gave rise to considerable speculation. I had dealt with this controversy in my book “Cop in the Crossfire”.

In fact if a cohesive policy with fixed quotas based on cogent reasoning was firmly in place, there may have been space and scope to explain why such a sudden increase in the DIG cadre would have been difficult to accommodate. Anyway, the president’s suggestion required a careful study to assess whether it was possible to accede to the request. I was then third or fourth in line of seniority from the IGP down but my views were not solicited. I think a study in regard to the request of the president should have included “inter alia”, the following: Did the service face additional responsibilities to warrant an expansion? Above all, did numbers in subordinate ranks – SSPs, SPs, ASPs, inspectorate, sergeants and constables, justify a sudden increase in the DIG cadre? Would the radical increase have disturbed ratios, proportions and balance? In actual fact, even if we assume that the request was to increase the cadre by one or two more, a rational decision had to depend on a proper study.

President Wijetunga was generous in interfering with, or fragmenting police ranges to placate officers. Two weeks before my promotion to the rank of senior DIG, T.V. Sumanasekara was appointed as DIG of Mt Lavinia and Kalutara divisions which actually were within my range. I promptly telephoned the president and requested him to carve out the new range after my promotion, so that I would not be embarrassed. The president agreed, and as a result, the dismemberment of my range was suspended till my promotion. Such was the level of interference at that time.

Even the cadre of senior DIGs which stood at three when president Wijetunga assumed duties, rose to five in the same manner as the increase in the cadre of DIGs. A DIG secured a promotion to the rank of SDIG shortly before retirement. The officer concerned was in a post which had, before such promotion and even after, been assigned only to a DIG. Therefore this promotion was secured despite there being no vacancies in the cadre. The cadre of senior DIGs then became five since the officer lying ahead of the officer who thus secured a promotion, rushed to the president and argued that he would lose his position in the line of seniority unless he was also promoted. The largesse of president Wijetunga bestowing promotions disregarding standards, rules and procedures of a service knew no limits.

POSTSCRIPT (this is not part of the book)

Responding to a perceptive review of the book, “Perils of a Profession” by Shamindra Ferdinando in the daily “Island” paper, veteran retired Senior DIG HMGB Kotakadeniya had pointed out in the issue of Jan. 20, 2021 that when DB Wijetunga was president, the DIG cadre was increased from 19 to over 40, and not 30, as stated in my book. He had also pointed out that such an increase in the cadre was possibly done to elevate Senior Superintendent of Police Mahinda Balasuriya who was lying 44th in the line of seniority, to the rank of DIG.

Never in the history of the police had the cadre of DIGs been increased in such a manner. This political decision was shocking. It also shed light on how a self seeking officer can abuse and bend standards at will and acquire benefits when two factors are in place: first, when enjoying a post close to the head of state/government; second, when the head of the service fails to preserve the required balance between the interests of the service and those of officers.

The usual tactic of those who aspire to steal others’ places in the line of seniority and become DIG is to overtake a few officers through the influence of patrons. Balasuriya could not adopt this ruse because he was very junior, being 44th in the line of seniority, with 25 SSPs/SPs ahead of him. Climbing over such large numbers would have earned the ire of a large number of officers facing displacement. He therefore appears to have used his position to persuade the president to enlarge the DIG cadre from 19 to 44 to reach him.

But before doing so in such a sweeping manner, President Wijetunga had first invited the views of Senior DIG Kotakadeniya whom he knew, and who was serving in a key position in police headquarters, whether DIGs could be posted to police ranges as “Welfare” DIGs. SDIG Kotakadeniya had said in all sincerity that such an arrangement would have been superfluous and therefore absurd. Had he agreed to the proposal, the president may have justified the inflation on the score that the service required a large number of DIGs to supervise welfare arrangements.

Having failed in this subtle bid, the order for the enlargement of the DIG cadre far out of proportion to necessity to accommodate Balasuriya appears to have been brazenly imposed on the police service by President Wijetunga. The most reasonable inference that could be drawn was that there was not only clear collusion between the President and Balasuriya, but that Snr DIG Kotakadeniya had apparently been victimized by being shifted out of his key post for his dissent. An honest, professional opinion had resulted in persecution. Frank de Silva was IGP when the massive inflation of the DIG cadre occurred, resulting in Balasuriya being the beneficiary. I am thankful to the retired Senior DIG for providing the backdrop to the subtle plan. They was truly “scenes behind the scenes”.

The organisation of any institution, particularly the police, has to resemble a pyramidal structure. It has to be narrow at the top, as the IGP and his deputies (DIGs) would be numerically few, being vested with the task of coordinating large bodies of men and large areas or territory than SPs and ASPs relatively junior in rank. The higher the rank, the role of coordination of work would entail far greater territory and oversight. The responsibility to determine numbers in senior ranks rests with the IGP and his deputies, and should be underscored by specific criteria and standards. As a result of what Balasuriya unjustly acquired, the cadre of DIGs enlarged to a point disproportionate to the strength of the numbers in ranks below them.

Consequently, many DIGs’ had to perform “coordination functions” of SSPs and SPs overlooking police divisions. To have called such a unit in the range of a DIG would have been a misnomer. The excess committed by Balasuriya was analogous to a bottle where the mouth was wider in diameter than the girth at it’s center. Such a distorted shape cannot be ideal to hold water or anything else. As a result of there being far too many DIGs than necessary, vacancies for promotion were also galore, and some SSPs reached DIG rank and DIGs, Senior DIG rank, without being adequately tried and tested in their previous ranks. Could this be one reason why the IGP, senior DIGS and DIGs had failed to react with responsibility and maturity in the face of intelligence received from India about plans by the NTJ to commit terror strikes on Easter Sunday in 2019? Many of those who acquired benefits also displayed greater loyalties to their patrons rather than to the service.

The sudden expansion in the DIG and Senior DIG cadre between 1989 and 1995 out of proportion to necessity may have been one of the major contributory factors toward the gradual decline of police standards. In fact the staggering increase of DIGs on a political diktat, saw implementation without even a discussion in police headquarters with officers in the highest echelons. The cornerstones or fundamental prerequisites which help any institution to prosper are first the organization’s vision, concepts and goals; second, the identification of the ideal administrative structure to run it and third, the posting of competent persons to the senior slots in the structure.

Once the structure loses shape, and corresponding postings lose meaning or purpose, the “out of shape” organization becomes far less effective. If the excess or surfeit of DIGs had an adverse impact on performance, the remedy would obviously have been a drastic reduction in the DIG cadre. But this was not possible because once promoted, an officer cannot be reduced or demoted, unless for disciplinary reasons. The harm caused to the service had therefore been irreversible. Knowing the capricious nature of humans, an institution such as the police should hold the balance between self seeking officers one the one hand, and the interests and well being of the service on the other. The interests of the service should always predominate or prevail over devious designs of self-seekers.

This balance has to be maintained by the IGP. His abdication of this responsibility would allow self-seekers to abuse standards at will. The submission and surrender by police heads to demands from the politicl establishment for arbitrary cadre increases and backdoor promotions contrasted sharply with what prevails int he the armed services. Their chiefs always held the policy in regard to senior cadre and promotions as their exclusive preserve.

The undesirable process had it’s roots in the days of IGP Ernest Perera in 1987 when the Ministry of Defence commenced holding interviews among senior superintendents to select DIGs. It was a move to wrest the authority previously enjoyed by the IGP to nominate SSPs to fill the vacancies in the DIG Cadre. Submission without a murmur to this arrangement paved the way for greater encroachment.



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Arms race accelerating to new heights in Asia

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The arms race is being accelerated to unprecedented heights in the Asian region through the introduction by some major powers of what is being described as the hypersonic missile. China was the latest nuclear-capable state to test fire this missile which could be equipped with nuclear warheads and is, therefore, invested with a mass destruction potential. However, India is making it clear that it would not be outdone by China in this competition for superior weapons technology by developing a hypersonic missile of its own.

A recent news report said, among other things, of the Chinese experiment that, “China recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which circled the globe before missing its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.” It is the missile’s advanced space capability that is among its most notable characteristics. In this respect it is a clear upgrade over the inter-continental ballistic missile that has a very much lower strike range.

As specialists have pointed out, the ICBM has a parabolic movement and hits its target at an ascertainable distance on the same geographical plane from the launch site but it does not possess the capability of travelling around the globe. The hypersonic missile, in contrast, has this globe-encircling capability and ought to be more worrying in respect of its destructive capability. However, it is the weapon that has come to be prized by the major powers. Besides the US, China and Russia, some other states that are said to be in the running for developing hypersonic weapons technology are; Australia, France, Germany and Japan, besides India. That is, almost the entirety of the world’s regions is caught up in the race for developing hypersonic missiles, with, of course, grave implications for the security of the human race.

Considering that China and India are in an unrelenting arms race and also taking cognizance of the possibility of other regional powers, such as Pakistan, not standing idly by as this competition continuously hots-up, it could be said that South Asia’s development prospects in particular stand the risk of being progressively blighted. Needless to say, South Asia’s poverty would be greatly aggravated when defense budgets of the region’s key states acquire greater precedence over their social welfare budgets. Besides, issues such as climate change would come to be overlooked by these states, resulting in the region’s development prospects being further undermined.

Ideally, SAARC needs to take a collective policy position over climate change issues that would be surfacing at the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow but with the region’s foremost powers hardly talking to each other and arms taking precedence over ‘Bread ‘, climate change questions are unlikely to acquire the importance due to them at Glasgow and other prime climate-linked international parleys. As a result, social welfare in South Asia would be steadily imperiled in the days ahead.

Focusing on the numerous dangers faced by the SAARC region as a result of climate change questions coming to be overlooked by the relevant governments, the ADB warned some time back: “…the collective economy of six countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – could shrink by up to 1.8 per cent every year by 2050 and 8.8 per cent by 2100, on average.”

However, it is not only the poor of South Asia who would be badly affected by the current global arms race. It would be correct to say that in degree to the proportion to which the arms race speeds-up worldwide, to the same extent would the poor everywhere be further impoverished and rendered vulnerable. This is on account of welfare budgets the world over suffering shrinkage in the wake of stepped-up arms spending. But the segment to suffer most acutely will be the poor of South Asia.

The continuing tensions between China and India on their disputed border areas would only aggravate the arms race between the Asian giants in the days to come. There are veritable eye-ball-to-eye-ball stand-offs between the armies of the two countries in the areas in contention. These tensions are currently focusing on the border India’s Arunachal Pradesh has with China. A few months back China-India tensions centred on the Ladakh region. Talks between the countries to sort out these disputes are ongoing but increasing insecurities would only stress the importance of armaments over development.

As this is being written, US President Joe Biden is heading for talks with the G20 grouping, which comprises the world’s most powerful countries. Biden would subsequently head for the climate change parley in Glasgow. Hopefully, the big powers would focus strongly on the current accelerating arms race and its consequences for the world. Put simply, they would need to discuss the ways and means of containing the arms race before it grows out of control. They would also need to understand, very crucially, that the major powers cannot credibly speak in terms of nuclear arms control and disarmament before they opt to systematically do away with the lethal, mass destruction arms which they already possess.

India and Pakistan possess a nuclear capability but they are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). From the viewpoint of these regional powers, this refusal to formally endorse the NPT is understandable because although some of the foremost powers of the Western hemisphere have signed the NPT, they are yet to say a clear “Yes” to nuclear disarmament. As long as the foremost global powers, such as the US, China and Russia, hold on to their nuclear weapons they cannot expect the prime powers of the South, such as India and Pakistan, to desist from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, the foremost powers could no longer gloss over arm control issues and pursue the relevant talks mechanically without connecting them to questions, such as, development, climate change and increasing worldwide insecurity. There is a logical link between insecurity, arms spending, underdevelopment and climate questions. The securing of sophisticated nuclear weapons is seen as a means to their security by powerful states, but they only create insecurities in their neighbours and the wider international community, who are in turn prompted to arm themselves with the same weapons. Thus is the arms race accelerated at the cost of human development and the environment. Slowing down the arms race is, therefore, imperative.

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Ending the Dispossession of Northern Fishers by Indian Trawlers

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Prof. Oscar Amarasinghe and Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

(Chancellor of the Ocean University and Senior Lecturer, Jaffna University, they are also, President and Executive Committee member respectively, of the Sri Lanka Forum for Small Scale Fisheries – SLFSSF)

From the beginning of the early 1980s, trawlers, from Tamil Nadu, have been crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and illegally fishing in the Palk Bay waters of northern Sri Lanka, damaging the ecosystem by bottom trawling, smuggling fisheries resources, belonging to the northern Sri Lankan fishers, damaging their fishing equipment, and undermining their livelihoods. Diverse types of interventions, by the two governments, dialogues between the fishers of the two countries, involvement of civil society actors, and others, have done little to prevent human suffering, economic losses and the volatile political situation disturbing the relations between two friendly countries that have emerged from this 40-year long story of resource piracy. The northern Sri Lankan fishers, who suffered 30 years of civil war have had enough and there is an urgent need to end this crisis.

Extracting and devastating resources

Both Sri Lankan and Indian fishers used to share the Palk Bay waters (historic waters) in the past, which they did in harmony. However, post-war developments saw radical changes in the structure and organisation in fisheries, the expansion of the market and the establishment of borders separating the Palk Bay region, all of which had tremendous influence on fisheries, especially on the type of technology employed (craft-gear combinations), target species, fishing pressure and area of operation. In this process of change, a tremendous increase in Indian trawlers was observed, which finally resulted in a serious decline of fisheries resources on the Indian side of the Palk Bay and crossing of the IMBL by the Indian trawl fleet to fish in Sri Lankan waters.

In northern Sri Lanka, over 37,000 fishers operate more than 11,650 boats, the majority of which are 18 feet FRP boats propelled by outboard engines of 8 to 25hp. Including post-harvest sector employment and dependents, about 200,000 people in the Northern Province are dependent on the sector. They don’t stand a chance against the 2500 odd 30-60 feet trawlers from Tamil Nadu propelled by 70-190hp outboard engines. Indian trawl boats are crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (which was established in 1974 and 1976) to fish on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay. These boats are poaching in Sri Lankan waters in large numbers as well as extracting and devastating the resources belonging to Sri Lankan fishers. Although the process of poaching commenced in a situation where Sri Lankan fishers in the North had limited fishing opportunities due to the civil war. Today the issue has become one of the most important economic and political issues in the country, because with the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishers in the North has commenced fishing.

The Palk Bay Pirates

Trawlers come at night, three days a week, smuggle colossal amounts of fisheries resources, and damage Sri Lankan fishers’ nets, causing enormous financial losses. To avoid the trawlers, Sri Lankan fishers often stay at home instead of going out to sea, thus loosing valuable fishing time. They are forced to adopt less-profitable, near shore operations and/or resort to destructive fishing practices (trawling, wing nets, purse seining, dynamiting, etc.). The social institutions of the fishing communities, particularly fisheries co-operatives present in every village, have been weakened due to the long decline of fishing incomes, where a fraction of such incomes are normally contributed to run the co-operatives. Thus, participatory management and coastal support for fishing communities have been undermined. The long disruption of fisheries after the war has made it difficult for fishing communities to plan for the next season, and many are slowly moving out of the fishing sector to other forms of day wage labour.

In the early years, arrests of Indian trawlers for poaching were made for security reasons, because the Sri Lanka Navy, which was fighting a war, was less interested in fisheries issues. But since the cessation of the war, the Navy arrested the intruders for illegal entry into Sri Lankan territory. The arrests were made under the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations Act No. 59 of 1979, Immigration Act of Sri Lanka and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The impact of the arrests in preventing Indian trawl intrusion was neutralised by the arrests of Sri Lankan multiday fishers for poaching in Indian Territory, and detained in Indian prisons. Often, through the intervention of the embassies of the two countries, the Indian trawler fishers arrested and detained in Sri Lankan prisons were released in exchange for Sri Lankan fishers detained in India.

Early Interventions

In trying to deal with this escalating crisis, the two governments drew up an MOU in 2005, which made provision for the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG), which among other things, would deal with issues of poaching and arrests. Although several rounds of discussions were held since 2008, no significant developments were reported, other than agreeing that fishers in both countries should be able to pursue fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner. However, some progress was achieved in the front of fisher-fisher dialogues. Several such dialogues have taken place in the past, initially organised by ARIF (Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen) and later with the active involvement of the two governments. The most important of such dialogues took place in August 2010, where the Indians agreed to stop mechanised trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within a period of one year, during which time, only 70 days of trawling were to be allowed. Unfortunately, the governments failed to back up these decisions, and the promises were not kept. Further dialogues took place under state patronage in March 2011 and January 2014, which did not produce any fruitful results.

Post-2015 developments

In April 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena convened a meeting with the various arms of the state and the northern fisher leaders on the request of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This high level meeting and continued engagement gave the fisher folk the confidence that their plight was a matter of serious concern to the Government, and initiated bipartisan engagement on the issue, leading to significant progress. The Parliamentary debate in October 2015 on the ecological and socio-economic damage by Indian trawlers, growing awareness through media coverage and the greater involvement of actors in Colombo, raised the fisheries conflict to the level of a national issue, rather than a problem confined to the North. Fisher leaders also took their issue to court and actively sought legal recourse towards prolonged confiscation of trawlers, and a ban of trawling in Sri Lanka. An Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act banning bottom trawling in Sri Lanka was passed by Parliament in July 2017.

On another front, the Indian Government, in 2015, made unambiguous statements that Tamil Nadu trawlers should stop cross-border fishing. Furthermore, the increased media attention on the devastation caused to Northern Fishers exposed Tamil Nadu’s hypocrisy. The Tamil Nadu Government called for INR 1,520 crore (USD 225 million) package to convert the trawler fleet to deep sea vessels under the ‘Blue Revolution Scheme’., of which INR 450 crore (USD 66 million) was approved by the Government in Delhi, and the rest was to come from bank loans. By September 2019, close to 590 trawlers have applied for this facility. Although concerns were raised about whether such a conversion to deep sea fishing and buy back is realistic and sustainable, the engagement from Tamil Nadu pointed to an acknowledgement of the unsustainability of trawling and poaching.

An important development was the setting up of a Joint Working Group in November 2016 during ministerial talks held between India and Sri Lanka (revitalising what was formed in 2005), which would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months.

The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group (JWG) included: i. expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, ii. working out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen, and iii. ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling. Both Governments agreed on setting up a hotline between the two Coast Guards. Agreement was also reached on the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries. They agreed to encourage the Fishermen Associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue. Yet, many of the decisions taken at the bilateral Ministerial talks were not followed through towards a permanent solution.

As a result of campaigns of small scale fishers from the North, the work of researchers and activists and engagement with the governments of the two countries, and more importantly, the enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations (amendment) Act, a significant reduction in the incidence of Indian trawlers illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters was noticed by 2018. Yet, the Northern fishers did not even have a breathing space for a new beginning, because the country was hit by the Covid Pandemic in early 2020. Very little action was paid against the poachers and there has been a resurgence of the incidence of Indian trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters, drastically affecting fishing livelihoods, which were already being threatened by the pandemic. The aggravated current situation, continues to dispossess the small scale fishers of the North; they were devastated by the war until 2009, crippled by the Indian trawlers in the decade after the war and impoverished by market disruptions with the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020.

Moving forward

The decision to arrest and retain trawlers that are crossing over the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Sri Lanka Navy, particularly since 2013, places significant pressure on the Tamil Nadu establishment. Yet, the lower levels of arrests over the last two years (71 vessels were arrested in 2017 while only nine were arrested in 2020) is in part due to fears of the Covid-19 virus spreading through arrests. Evidently, expanding deterrence is of paramount importance in dealing with the present crises, which needs strict enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boats Regulations (Amendment) Act, No. 01 of 2018 to arrest foreign vessels in Sri Lankan EEZ which has provisions for imposing heavy fines on trawl owners ranging from Rs. 4 – 15 million. The Trawl Ban Act. No. 11 of 2017 should also be implemented. Given that Indo-Sri Lankan relations are currently of great importance, where the priorities for both governments are in furthering trade, investment and defence ties between the two countries, deterrence is to be employed carefully. There is the need for a broader strategy that asserts pressure at different levels to ensure that Tamil Nadu addresses the issue of poaching by their trawlers; particularly given that fisheries is a devolved subject in India. Pushing for joint patrolling operations by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navy could be strategic. The Indian side needs to be convinced to install vessel monitoring devices on their trawlers to track their location. However, these efforts will prove futile unless the incidence of Sri Lankan multiday boats violating Indian maritime boundaries is brought under control.

Raising the issue both by the Sri Lankan Government towards the Indian Government and the TNA and Tamil political actors towards Tamil Nadu would be strategic, given the political realities. Strong emphasis should be made on the devastating impact of resource smuggling on the livelihoods of Northern fishing populations of Sri Lanka. Strategies to work with the newly elected Government in Tamil Nadu in relation to the fishing conflict will be necessary. Engagement by the Tamil fishing community and community leaders from the North will prove important for challenging a change of stance by Tamil Nadu Government and its leaders.

Thousands of nets worth millions of Rupees have been lost in the past decade, with no single fisherman ever being compensated and with no insurance being available. Fishers now deserve financial reparations for their lost assets and for lost fishing days. Financial reparations can also be asked from the Tamil Nadu fishers, the Tamil Nadu government or the Indian government. If such demands, however, are not met in the short term, the Sri Lankan government itself may need to find the required funds. A campaign for reparations for northern Sri Lankan fishers will help consolidate the demand for a permanent solution to the fishing conflict.

The larger aim of interventions in the Palk Bay should be to establish a sustainable, comprehensive, and socially just fisheries. Current data on the state of fish stocks in this region are highly deficient. Similarly, very little scientific knowledge on the damage caused to the environment by trawling is currently available. There is an urgent need for NARA to intensify research in the Palk Bay. This can provide the foundation for developing a rational and legitimate framework for fisheries governance. Such research will also continue to weigh on the need for a permanent solution that ends bottom trawling in the Palk Bay.

While the fisher-to-fisher negotiations conducted in Chennai in 2010 were initially widely acknowledged as promising, the follow-up was poor. Similarly, the Ministerial level talks in November 2016 were significant and even led to considerable changes, however, again follow up was poor. There is a need to build on the tremendous gains of those talks, regardless of the change of Government.

At the current moment there should be a clear plan recognising the realities in Sri Lanka and India, including the political changes in Tamil Nadu and the Covid-19 pandemic to work through a process of consensus building, but with firm resolve to end bottom trawling. There should be no setback on issues agreed at the Ministerial level talks in November 2016, and calls for licensing cross border fishing should be rejected outright.

Concluding remarks

The measures suggested above will be important steps towards resolving the Palk Bay fisheries conflict. Such measures along with the recent national attention on fisheries can also lay the foundation to ensure sustainable governance and management of the natural resource base and the people who depend on it. The establishment of effective interactive platforms (e.g., strengthening fisher community organizations, co-management platforms) and clearly laid down rights and responsibilities of participating actors, along with consultation, collaboration and coordination of all concerned actors can lead to effective and sustainable policies. Indeed, sustaining small scale fisheries in addition to solving the Palk Bay fishing conflict will encompass dialogue among relevant actors, capacity development, law enforcement and empowerment of coastal communities.

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Sri Lanka at EXPO 2020

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….a huge disappointment 

Rajitha Seneviratne’s description of the country’s pavilion, at EXPO 2020, in Dubai, has been endorsed by quite a few Sri Lankans who had the opportunity of checking out the Pavilion, themselves.

Briefly, this is what Rajitha had to say (The Island of October 12th):

“When I saw the pavilions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan (this country has no official exhibit but a private collector’s items), the SL pavilion is a huge disappointment, indeed. An EXPO is held to show the world where we are heading, more leaning on futuristic hope…not on showcasing only what we have/had….EXPO happens once in five years (Olympics is held every four years) and it’s a once in a decade opportunity. Where is the “WOW” factor in our pavilion? It is NOT about money but I got to know we have spent USD150 million – by any means quite a sum – and created a “pavilion” good enough to be a regular ‘stall’, at a local show, at the BMICH, in Colombo.”

And corroborating his statement are the following:

* Kumudu Abeyawardane:

I’m not someone who ever runs SL down. As messed up as we maybe, it is still the country that is home and I am one of those who chose not to leave, even when the opportunity existed.

“I was at EXPO 2020, in Dubai. I didn’t visit everything, but I visited almost all of Africa, and Asia, and, of course, Sri Lanka. What I saw was sad…as you entered there was a counter from the Ceylon Tea Board, with two very friendly girls who talked to everyone, who stopped to have a cup of tea, and did a brilliant explanation of Ceylon tea. Hats off to them! But, the experience ended there.

“The rest of the staff, except for one other lady, who was welcoming everyone, was sitting in corners, ignoring everyone….The SL brochure was only in Arabic. Someone forgot that this is an International exhibition.

“There were a few masks…a few photos that did nothing to bring out the magnificent beaches, or the heritage, or the wildlife we possess. Nothing about the development, or anything about the opportunities for investment!

SL was a sad contrast to even countries like Bhutan, or Congo, who were so eager to explain about their heritage.

“The US, and many other pavilions, were manned by student ambassadors – young and energetic, eager to talk, and happy to talk to people. Proud of where they come from.

“Let’s hope the authorities concerned will see this. EXPO 2020 is on till March 2022. We have five months to change things because we need both Tourism and Investments.”

* Akram Abbas:

“Totally agree with Rajitha Seneviratne’s article. We are living in Dubai and it was so disappointing to see the standard of our pavilion. The Afghanistan Pavilion is better than ours.”

* NM:

“I visited. Can’t explain how disappointed I am.”

In the meanwhile, it’s reported that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, at EXPO 2020 Dubai, received 23,000 visitors in one day, bringing the total number of visits to over 200,000…at the time this article was written. Probably, it would have doubled by now!

The Saudi pavilion provides visitors with diversified content, based on four main pillars: nature, heritage, bio-community, and the economic opportunities that the country offers to the world.

And, what is our Pavilion, at EXPO 2020, offering the world!

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