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Political rhetoric, or sounding death knell for Sri Lanka’s agriculture?

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By Chandre Dharmawardana

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ‘vowed’ to ban the import of fertilisers. Politicians are famous for vowing to bring rice from the moon. But they brought the consumer iti haal and ‘American flour’. Australia has worked hard on its organic agricultural content for three decades, but without knee-jerk bans. Hopefully, the government and its ‘VIYATH’ will restrain their ‘VIYARU’ individuals and be cautious as regards the country’s food production.

You do not cut your supplies without alternatives available. The proposed alternative, ‘organic manure’ is in extreme short supply. A hectare of paddy yielding even a mere five tonnes of grain needs 75-100 kg of nitrogen (N), depending on the soil. If you use more manure, it is a waste and a pollutant as plants absorb only a certain amount. Even a hungry man cannot eat beyond his fill. A plant denied of any fertiliser uses whatever nitrogen found naturally in the soil, giving a very low harvest until the soil becomes totally infertile in a few years. But it may last till the next election, and that is good enough for the politicians.

Organic manure, say good cow manure, may contain 1-2 kg of N per tonne. So, to get 100 kg of N per hectare we need 50-100 TONNES of organic fertiliser. People have used more optimistic estimates, but most organic fertilisers are very varied in the amount of N present, and we use a very conservative value. The mineral fertiliser that you bring on your tractor now needs 50 lorry loads in a 2-ton truck. Once in the farm, 100 tonnes (100,000 kg) of manure must be distributed. So, the cost of labour for organic farming is orders of magnitude MORE than for normal farming, to get less of a harvest. Such large mounds of humus-based fertiliser get washed away and add to asphyxiation of aquatic life in waterways, as always occur near organic farms.

Sir Lanka has imported about 300,000 metric tons/year of urea, and this amounts to about 120,000 tonnes of N. So we need some 120 MILLION tonnes of organic manure once the ban is in place. This is close to the TOTAL GLOBAL OUTPUT of organic manure!

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has proposed to ‘implement organic farming instead of toxic agriculture which has led to an increase in the number of kidney and cancer patients here’. He has said, “All the rivers, streams, wells and ponds in Sri Lanka are polluted due to use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. No matter how much water there is, we cannot consume it without fear.” Minister Amaraweera has mentioned pesticides. Perhaps, the ban includes pesticides like glyphosate, again!

Since Sri Lanka’s water is unsafe, will the government import bottled water, perhaps from a European source like Perrier or Vittel? It may be cheaper to import water from the Holy Ganges, even with those floating cadavers with its supposedly healing power imbibed by the Gods!

But the scientists of the University of Tokyo, working with the Kandy Hospital scientists failed to find any of these toxins in the rivers, streams and ponds of Sri Lanka in their 2014 study? Nanayakkara et al reported the work in 2014, in the Journal of Occupational Health 56:28–38, (2014). There were six Sri Lankan scientists and nine Japanese scientists who diligently researched the matter. This must be Patta-Pal-Boru Western Science!

There was a study led by SJP scientists and US scientists from North Carolina in 2016 (Levine et al., Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 2016). There were seven Sri Lankan scientists and six US scientists collaborating in the study. Another report came in 2020 by roughly the same team of researchers. These scientists have not found the dire situation claimed by the Minster.

A hardly publicised study was the investigation of the water from rivers and other sources that go into reverse osmosis (RO) plants, conducted by Dr. Padmakumara Jayasinghe under the aegis of COSTI. This was an all Lankan team that revealed the embarrassing fact that this water did NOT NEED any RO to make the water drinkable – it was very safe. Interestingly, the study was shelved and never published. It would have upset many who made money by promoting RO plants, claiming that rivers, streams and ponds are polluted!

Although the Jayasinghe-COSTI study was not published, a Japanese study by Professor Takizawa, jointly with Dr. Oguma and Dr. Imbulana studied the water that are input to these expensive RO plants. They compared areas with chronic Kidney disease (CKD), and healthy areas. They found specific evidence to establish that the water was NOT contaminated by agrochemicals. Instead, the water in the CKD areas was rich in fluoride and magnesium of geological origin. This research appeared in the prestigious journal “Science of the Total Environment” in 2020 under the title “Evaluation of groundwater quality and reverse osmosis water treatment plants in the endemic areas of CKDu in Sri Lanka”.

There are many other crucial studies, e. g., from Dr. Wasana et al from the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Peradeniya, and from Dr. Rohana Chadrajith and other in the Dept. of geology. The interdisciplinary group known as CERTKID, led by the Kidney specialists of the Kandy Hospital and the University have, by their research, clarified the origins of the Kidney disease which is no longer of unknown aeteology’. It has no established correlation with agrochemicals. Furthermore, the trace amounts of toxic agrochemicals found in Lankan waters are well below the thresholds set by even the most strict environmental authorities in the world.

Agrochemicals contain micro-quantities of toxic materials like Cd, As, and also large (macro) quantities of phosphates and nitrates that are needed by plants. What HAS been found in Sri Lankan waters is the presence of runoff phosphates and nitrates from excessive use of fertilisers, a problem caused by deregulation introduced since 1977 under the “open economy Mudalali” politics.

The market dismantled the scientific control on fertilisers, and transferred it to the merchant. If a government cannot even impose controls on the USE of fertilisers, how can it successfully impose a ban? The country will be awash with smuggled substandard fertilisers, at a higher price, as we know not only from the ill-conceived ban on glyphosate, but even from turmeric or cigarettes.

So, although excess phosphates in the water can cause algal bloom and environmental damage, they should not be confused with “heavy-metal toxins” that the self-styled “environmental warriors” talk about. They should instead note that organic manure contains significant amounts of heavy metal toxins because plants accumulate them from the soil during growth. Straw may contain 200 times more cadmium than the soil it is grown on. It transfers to manure when composted. An ostrich policy of not analysing the organic manure before use is followed by most “organic’ farmers.

But then, the Parisara NGOs and politically active monks and others hold views diametrically opposite to the Scientists? They, like the ant-vaccine movements in the West, have infused the public with fear and won the publicity battle against evidence-based science condemned as “Patta-Pal-Boru”. Government scientists (e.g., of the Agriculture Dept) have been side-lined and muzzled, as only a ministry spokesman can speak on behalf of them.

Recently, stocks of fertiliser were held back on the grounds that it exceeded the “safe” threshold for cadmium set by Lankan standards. This standard incredibly requires the fertiliser to have less than five parts per million of Cadmium. So, due to the dire need of fertilisers, the President approved it on a “one-time basis”. This may have prompted the President to vow to ban any future import of fertilisers.

Amazingly, the scientists at the Sri Lankan Standards Institute, or its Director did even not ask how such absurdly impossible low thresholds for Cadmium had been instituted in Lanka when most countries, e.g., Canada, allows up to 900 mg/kg of cadmium in its fertilizers as being perfectly safe? (See 9 April, The Island: https://island.lk/absurd-standardss-on-cadmium-and-lead-in-fertilizers/). The lentils grown in Canada with such fertilisers is exported to the whole world including India and Sri Lanka.

Unless saner counsel prevails, Lanka’s cash crops and its food supply will collapse under the ban. By then, the present rulers would have retired with their pensions and perks, and a new set of would be saviours may still “vow” to implement organic agriculture, even if they have to get the organic fertiliser from the moon!

 

 



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TNGlive relieving boredom

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Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.

Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.

However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.

And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.

Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.

She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.

What an awesome performance.

Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.

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Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution

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The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.

Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).

 

Applicable constitutional provisions

Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.

 

Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum

Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.

The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.

The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”

A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.

When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”

In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.

Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.

However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.

 

The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils

The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.

In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.

It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.

The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.

A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.

 

 

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‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi

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There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.

Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.

Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’

In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.

“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.

“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”

Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.

“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”

A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.

In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!

In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.

Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).

“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’

Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.

“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”

In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,

She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.

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