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Proposed wage-increase for tea plantation workers:

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How it affects the small holders

by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

The Cabinet of Ministers, at its meeting held on 26.01.2021, has decided to amend the Wages Board Regulations (WBR) by making it mandatory for tea plantation workers be paid a minimum of Rs. 1,000.00 a day. This is a follow up to the proposal made by the Finance Minister in his Budget Speech that “I also propose to increase the daily wage of plantation workers to Rs. 1,000 from January 2021”.

 

DEMAND BY THE PLANTATION WORKERS FOR A WAGE INCREASE

Since about 2016, tea plantation trade unions have been demanding that a daily wage of Rs. 1,000 be paid to their workers. However, the regional plantation companies (RPC) were resisting their demands, despite intervention by ministers from time to time. In order to ensure votes from the plantation workers, prior to the election, a pledge was given by those who are in office now, that the plantation worker salaries will be increased. The proposal in the budget speech, as well as the recent amendment to the WBR, were outcomes of this pledge.

Tea is grown in Sri Lanka by two groups, the large plantations managed by the Regional Plantation Companies including other public sector institutes, and the small holders of extent below 10 Acres each. According to the 2015 Annual Report of the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority (TSHDA), the small holders produced about 240 million kg of made tea in 2015, while the large estates produced 87 million kg, which are 73% and 27% of the total production, respectively. According to the TSHDA Report, the number of small holdings below 0.5 ha extent comprise 88% which are mostly managed by family members. The rest up to 10 Acres or 4 ha employ paid workers and they are subject to WBR.

The demand for wage increase came from plantation company workers where salaries paid to workers are decided by the collective agreement between the RPCs and worker trade unions negotiated once in two years. During the last agreement, RPCs have offered an increase of the basic to Rs. 600 a day and increases in some allowances making the total daily wage to Rs. 940.00 subject to good attendance (Daily FT, 26.10.2018). But this was not acceptable to the worker unions.

The RPCs have called for a new wage structure focusing on a revenue share model that could have sweeping productivity-focused reforms in the entire industry. An option favoured by the trade unions is the out-grower model where the workers are allocated small plots of land to grow their own tea to sell to the factories (Daily FT of 19.02.2019). In view of this deadlock, the COM decided to incorporate the LKR 1000 as minimum daily wage payable to tea industry workers which is applicable to both estate and small holding workers.

Despite this Cabinet decision, tea plantation workers across the up-country have launched a token strike demanding immediate payment of the agreed pay hike to them, as some RPCs were hesitant to implement the Government decision. With an annual export earning of LKR 240 billion in 2019, a single day production outage means a loss of over LKR 600 million a day to the country.

 

PRESENT EARNINGS OF PLANTATION WORKERS

Currently, WBR specifies that the tea plantation workers should be paid a minimum of LKR 680.00 a day, subject to satisfactory attendance during the month. In addition, they are paid EPF at 12% of basic salary of Rs. 545.00 and 3% for ETF, making the total wages Rs. 761.75. It should be remembered that plantation workers generally work only for about 6 hours from 0730 h to 1330 h including 30 min for a tea break. They have to stop plucking early so that the day’s collection could be handed over after weighing to the lorry which comes around 1400 h. A plucker works for a maximum of 22 days a month because it takes about a week for a new shoot to develop to be plucked again.

But, on an average, a plucker may work only for about 16-18 days and after deducting his own EFP contribution, may have a take-home pay of about Rs. 12,200 – 13,700 a month. If they pluck above the minimum quota, they may be paid extra at rates varying from employer to employer from Rs./kg 25 to 30, they can earn extra, provided the bushes in the worker’s lot have shoots. Both during dry months (no moisture) and wet months (no radiation), the shoot growth declines and the average yield drops and much extra revenue cannot be expected during these months.

Being daily paid workers, they are not entitled for any paid casual or sick leave unlike monthly paid workers elsewhere. No work means no pay. Unlike other workers in the mercantile sector, tea workers are not entitled for mercantile holidays, neither they have any annual leave. Whereas, in the case of all public sector and mercantile sector workers, the EPF contribution is computed based on the total salary received, in the case of plantation workers, it is computed based on the basic salary only.

The writer believes that this is a violation of the EPF Act. Though workers employed by RPCs may get free housing and free medical facilities, such benefits are not available to the large number of workers employed in the small-holder sector. Hence, there is a need to increase the wages paid to these workers to compensate for the loss of all these benefits.

In announcing the proposed wage hike for plantation workers, both the Government and the RPCs are deceiving them by adding the employers’ contribution to EPF and ETF as a part of the daily wage of Rs. 1,000. This is not done anywhere else either in the public or in the mercantile sector. When they announce a salary scale, only the basic salary along with allowances are shown, but not the EPF and ETF contributions. The workers themselves may not have understood the difference, but their unions should have seen the unfairness of this computation.

 

IMPACT OF THE WAGE INCREASE ON THE SMALL HOLDER SECTOR

Small holders get paid for the green leaf supplied to factories at a rate determined by the auction price paid to factories the previous month. Currently, the rate is about Rs. 90 per kilo after deducting for transport and sack weight. In the writer’s experience, a small holding of four acres with an average yield of 1,500 kg of green leaf a month, brings a monthly revenue of Rs. 135,000. The salary bill for four pluckers and a Kankanama will come to an average of Rs. 80,000 a month. This comprises Rs. 30,000 paid to the Kankanama and LKR 12,500 paid to each plucker on an average, including their EPF and ETF contributions. This works out to Rs. 781 a month per plucker, a little over Rs. 762, the minimum specified in the WBR.

The cost of weeding which is done manually, maintenance of drains and retaining walls on an average comes to about Rs. 25,000 a month. The cost of fertilizers and dolomite and their application costs another Rs. 6,000 a month on an average. In addition, there are other costs of infilling, pruning and replanting of unproductive sections which works out to about Rs. 14,000 a month. This leaves only Rs. 10,000 a month as income from the small holding, which is even less than what a worker earnes a month.

Once the WBR is amended to increase the daily wages to Rs. 1000, the Labour Officers will spare no time in visiting the small holdings and insisting the new wages be implemented. If this is done, it will be an added financial burden of Rs. 15,360 a month. This exceeds the amount left in hand after attending to its management properly. Since the small holdings depend entirely on the money paid by the factories, the obvious solution is to increase this amount at least by Rs. 20 a kilo which leaves behind a decent balance in hand. It is obvious that the COM was not concerned about the small holdings when it decided to amend the WBR, but had only the concerns about the RPC workers in mind.

 

INCREASING THE PAYMENT TO SMALL HOLDINGS BY FACTORIES

Tea samples offered at the auctions are purchased mostly by exporters for supplying to overseas buyers. About 3% is purchased for sale locally. According to the Tea Board Directory, there are about 325 exporters. Originally, only the dedicated companies exported tea but lately the factories as well as RPCs have got involved in export of tea considering the high profit margin. According to the Central Bank 2019 Annual Report, the average auction price of tea was Rs./kg 546.67, while the average export price was LKR/kg 822.25, leaving a margin of Rs./kg 275.58. The total tea (made tea) production in 2019 was 300.13 Mkg, while the quantity exported was 292.65 Mkg. Thus, the exporters had made a gross profit of Rs. 80.65 Billion in 2019.

Export of tea is subject to a CESS levied at Rs./kg 10, which works out to LKR. 2.9 Billion. Further, Rs.one billion is collected as Tea Promotion Levy by SLTB from the exporters. Another 1% or Rs. 2.4 Billion has to be paid to Brokers for conducting the auctions and carrying out quality control checks and certifying on samples received. These brokers comprising 8 companies deserve it because they ensure that quality tea is exported. After paying these taxes, the exporters are still left with a profit margin of about Rs. 65 Billion annually after paying Rs. 10 billion as income tax (assumed).

The export companies presently enjoy the benefit of this revenue shared among its staff. Assuming each company has 50 staff members, the total staff strength is about 16,250, and each of them could earn a salary of about Rs. 400,000 monthly. This is while a plucker earns below 1/25 th of this amount after trudging up and down the hills carrying kilos of leaf on their back in sun and rain. It would be in the interest of the exporters to share their profits among the plantation workers also, because if the industry collapses, there is nothing for them to export.

 

SHARING OF EXPORT PROFITS AMONG WORKERS

The number of workers employed in tea plantations are estimated to be about 174,000 in 2017 (ILO Publication on Tea Small Holdings, 2018). If each of them is to be paid an additional Rs. 238 monthly for raising the daily rate from Rs. 762 to LKR 1,000, the annual burden will be Rs. 414 Million. The total production in the small holdings in 2019 was 240 Mkg of made tea according to TSHDA, which is equivalent to 960 Mkg of Greenleaf. If the small holder is to be paid Rs./kg 20 more for Greenleaf, the added burden will be Rs. 19.2 Billion.

Thus, for increasing the daily wage to workers in both the estates and small holdings, the total added financial burden will be about Rs. 20 Billion annually. If the tea exporters could part this amount from their profits of Rs. 65 billion, the problem could be solved. The Government may do away with the CESS levy on tea exports to assist this process. Concurrently, an effort should be made by the tea industry to increase the revenue from tea exports.

 

INCREASING THE REVENUE FROM

TEA EXPORTS

The writer published an article in The Island of 11th and 13th of November, 2015 describing the strategies to be adopted to increase the export revenue, and also to increase the wage increase. Though it was written more than five years ago and the data little outdated, the reasonings are still valid. The article which appeared in two parts may be accessed via the following links:

http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=135105

http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=135203

One strategy is to move away from the manufacture of traditional orthodox tea to CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl) tea which is in high demand in the western countries like the USA and the UK. Both Kenya and India have overtaken Sri Lanka as major exporters because they supply CTC tea while Sri Lanka sticks to orthodox tea. According to Tea Exporters Association data, Sri Lanka has produced in 2019, out of a total of 300 kt of tea, 274 kt (91.3%) of orthodox tea, 23.6 kt (7.9%) of CTC tea and 2.6 kt (0.8%) of green tea. According to World Exporters Site http://www.worldstopexports.com/tea-imports-by-country/, Sri Lanka in 2019 has occupied only 10% of the tea market in the USA while only 4.1% in the UK. The major importers were Kenya, India and China. Today, most Western countries consume tea in the form of tea bags for which CTC tea is necessary. But to cater to these markets, Sri Lanka will have to increase the CTC output.

World’s highest tea importer is Pakistan, but most of the teas consumed in Pakistan are imported from Kenya, India, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Currently Sri Lanka’s market share in Pakistan is only 2-3% of total tea imports. A publication by Sri Lanka’s Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Karachi released in December, 2016 has recommended that “While capitalizing on the taste factor, Sri Lankan tea companies should produce quality strong black CTC teas comparable to East African countries focusing on leaf and liquor in large quantities and offer straight lines such as Garden Originals. Pakistan consumers are very particular about the appearance of tea and prefer to drink thick gold color tea”, if Sri Lanka wishes to increase its market share in Pakistan.

The other strategy is to move into producing more high value tea such as green tea and instant tea. According to Central Bank 2019 Annual Report, Sri Lanka has exported 285 Mkg of black tea at an average price of Rs./kg 797.00, 4.75 kt of green tea at an average price of Rs./kg 1,987.00 and 3.07 kt of instant tea at a price of Rs./kg 1.357.00. Hence, the logical step to increase the export revenue from tea is to offer high value tea instead of traditional black tea. But, instead of doing that the Sri Lanka Tea Board was spending billions of rupees on promoting black tea in existing markets. In 2014, the COM approved a budget of LKR 2.3 billion for promotional activities but the Tea Board could not finalize the project for several years because of disputes it ran into in selecting a suitable advertising company.

 

IMPLICATIONS OF WAGE INCREASE IN THE SMALL HOLDING SECTOR

If the proposed wage increase applies to the small tea holdings without any corresponding increase in the payments made for green leaf supplied to factories, the only option available to the small holder is to give up the tea plantation and consider other options. Among these are shifting to another crop such as cinnamon or pepper along with gliricidea or partition the land into several segments and hand over them to existing workers or others to manage them on their own with no liability to pay any wages to the workers by the land owner.

Gliricidea stems are in demand as a biofuel for use as a source of thermal energy in industries. With the Government giving high priority for renewable energy, industries will have to turn to biofuels as a substitute for oil or gas to generate thermal energy. One barrier they face is the lack of a proper supply chain ensuring continuous supply of biofuels. Already a project supported by UNDP and FAO is assisting the Government to set up fuelwood collecting centres across the country as part of the supply chain improvement. Hence, converting the tea plantation into a gliricidea plantation will help in this venture and provide a source of revenue possibly higher than what the tea plantation provides without any WBR controls.

 

CONCLUSION

In order to meet the demand made by tea plantation workers, the Government has decided to incorporate the proposed increase to the WBR rather than limiting it to the Collective Agreement between RPCs and Trade Unions. This affects the small holders as well who depend on payments made by factories for green leaf supplied to them. Unless there is a corresponding increase in this payment rate, the small holders have no option other than to give up planting tea.

It is also proposed that the Government should intervene to get the enormous profits earned by exporters to share their profits with the workers enabling the RPCs and small holders to implement the proposed wage rise. Concurrently, the factories should endeavour to produce high-value tea products to increase the export revenue.

 

 



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Ranjan loses the People’s Crown

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Last week it was Avurudu Thel Keliya. Now we have come to Ranjan Keliya. 

SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake has been removed from Parliament, in what is said to be in keeping with the decision of the Court of Appeal, to reject his application against the Supreme Court order sentencing him to four years of imprisonment for Contempt of court.

A parliament, of which Ranjan was a most active and spoken member, has shown its overall failure to deal with an issue that affects the rights of all citizens. The mockery of it all is to have a parliament where a person found guilty of murder and imprisoned by a court order is allowed to be a member of the House, but a person guilty of contempt of Court, who has not injured or killed anyone, is removed from it.

With all due respect and honour to the judiciary, one must begin to look at the entire thinking and process of charging people for and punishing them for contempt of Court. 

In the present parliamentary situation, with all the power that the President and the government have with a two-thirds plus majority, the future Independence of the Judiciary is certainly in question.

If Ramanayake has committed contempt of Court, he is now the player in calling for a change of our legislation on Contempt of Court. Is it truly wrong to criticise a member/or members of the judiciary; are they above the law; what is the practice and trend on this in other democracies?

It is time our Members of Parliament, the Bar Association and organizations of Civil Society made deep study of this entire issue, and moved to prevent the right of free speech being incorrectly restricted. We must look at how Contempt of Court is considered legally in the UK, from where we got this.

How is Contempt of court handled by the Courts of India, our closest neighbour and next to us in years of democracy? How is this issue handled in other democracies too such as France and Germany, and even the US? 

The Ranjan  Keliya  has certainly brought us to realising the Contempt for Democracy that prevails, and is being expanded in Sri Lanka. This contempt is the reality of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and the prevailing show of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Saubhagye Dekma”.    Changing our laws on Contempt of Court to make them modern and democratic will be the real crowning of Ramanayake.

 

Beauty Queen crowns

We have now come to the Ru Rajina Otunu Keliya too. The story of the crown being grabbed from the new Mrs Sri Lanka has spread in the international media. 

There was a lovely piece of social media, where Queen Elizabeth II of the UK is showing her joy at getting rid of Sri Lanka from the royalty domain as far back as 1948, as otherwise there would have been moves to grab her crown, too.

Mrs Sri Lanka or Mr. World is certainly not of much interest to us who are facing much bigger problems than the ownership of beauty crowns. Yet, the issue of a Mrs Sri Lanka or Mrs World having to be married does raise many issues today. Are the organizers of the global event thinking of temporary or shaky marriages, or those that last through decades and more, with a commitment to each other?

Can a person, who is undergoing the process of a divorce in a court of law, one who wants to leave a marriage through the law, be one who is really married? The very concept of marriage has undergone many changes in recent decades. Should these realities not be accepted by the organisers of these events? 

Why not have a rule that a contestant for Mrs (Country) or Mrs World, should be married several times – as is fast becoming a reality in the west, and countries that are following such traditions.

We will certainly have candidates seeking the crown if a few or many marriages are a condition. It will also show a genuine interest in the promotion of marriages, without confining it to just a single marriage, even with a pending divorce.   

We can then have a Mrs World, with a show of strength to those with achievements of more than one, or several marriages. 

The “Vivahaka Ru Rajina” will then be a “Boho Vivahaka Ru Rajina”.

The current Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, who was the key crown remover in this show of crooked farce, and a model who helped her, are now facing action in the courts.

Marriage or not is certainly an issue for Miss or Mrs Sri Lanka. A winner of the very early Mrs Sri Lanka events had earlier contested a Miss Sri Lanka, while being married. If she had not lost the contest, we would have seen loud calls for her crown to be removed. The senior ladies who played a big role in this Mrs. Sri Lanka event, certainly reminded us of such past records.

Let the crown be with the people, whether married or not. The rising call is for the Janatha Kirula, against a Pol Thel or Seeni Vancha Kirula of the Abhagye  Dekma.

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Bio-Piracy:

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A Pervasive Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security

By Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
Continued from yesterday

According to Prof. Wijesundara, in 1994, a multinational company, W.R. Grace and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were granted a patent by the European Patent Office (EPO) “Covering a (special) method for controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil” that is diluted with a certain percentage of water was withdrawn in 2000. Lot of concern after 10-year battle, some patents on neem were squashed some still prevail. There are 65 patents so far only for neem. According to Prof. Kotagama, a US company wanted to produce insecticide from neem. They came with Azadariktin as a product. They obtain the patenting required to use and own neem. There is a law that if you are contesting patenting right it has to be in the country it is registered at. So the neem battle has to be fought in the US. With lot of money and help from the NGOs and help along with the Indian government they fought against this patenting. The company contested that they did not bring neem from Asia or India, they brought it from Africa because it grows in Africa. But it was identified that the seeds that had gone to Kenya had been coming from Sri Lanka according to the Registers of the forest department records from Sri Lank. Based on that evidence the patent was revoked. The neem campaign was consisting of a group of NGOs and individuals was initiated in 1993 in India. This was done to mobilize worldwide support to protect indigenous knowledge systems and resources of the Third World from piracy by the west particularly in light of emerging threats from intellectual property rights regimes under WTO and TRIPS. Neem patent became the first case to challenge European and US patents on the grounds of biopiracy.

Basmati Rice patent case is another instance bio-piracy was reversed. Prof. Kotagama remarked that it is known as the India – US Basmati Rice Dispute (Case number 493, Case Menemonic – Basmati; Patent number – US 5663484A, publication). A US company registered a new hybrid variety of Basmati. India and Pakistan got together and they fought using media, using negative advertisement and they squashed American variety of Basmati) proving ‘Texmati’ was not Basmati.

According to Prof. Sarath Kotagama, an Indian Ecologist, Vandana Shiva has said ‘bio-piracy deprives us in three ways: It creates a false claim to novelty and invention, even though the knowledge has evolved since ancient times as part of the collective and intellectual heritage of India”. Secondly “it divests scarce biological resources to monopoly control of corporations thus depriving local communities the benefits of its use” and thirdly “it creates market monopolies and excludes the original innovators (farmers) from their rightful share to local, national and global markets”. She fought a lot for the biodiversity conservation in India and a well-respected ecologist in India who also had to do much with the fight against Neem, Basmati and Turmeric.

There are similar cases where patents were revoked: Kava Kava from Fiji and Vanuatu; Quinoa from Andes; Banaba and other medical plantys from Philippines; Bitter gourd from Sri Lanka and Thailan; Ilang-Ilang from Philippines and Periwinkle from Madagascar, highlighted Prof. Wijesundara.

In 1989 bioprospecting started with the Institute of Biology established in Costa Rica purely for this purpose. It was the idea to do research on rainforests, animals and plants in Costa Rica and give the ownership to the country if something was discovered. However, this institute was dissolved in 2015 in Costa Rica. According to Prof. Kotagama, the institute still exists with the idea surveys on the resources of rainforests and commercialization of the products will be done for the benefit of Costs Rica. Prof. Kotagama highlighted why bio-piracy needs to be also understood in legal jargon. In the research paper “Bio piracy and its impact on Biodiversity: A Special review on Sri Lankan context” (Kusal Kavinda Amarasinghe), it has mentioned that 34 plants and animals have been taken out of Sri Lanka and Indian subcontinent and patent obtained for biological constituents already. According to Prof. Kotagama, Naja naja naja (Cobra) is an endemic spices in Sri Lanka and still it has lost the control from the country and others are using the species to derive benefits. Prof. Kotagama also highlighted that while there is so much indifference, there is so much consorted efforts to prevent bio-piracy and bio-theft in the countries like the Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal who have strengthen the situation and have increased regulations and continue strict border control measures.

Illegal Trafficking and Bio-Piracy

According to Prof. Siril Wijesundara, illegal trafficking is also directly linked to bio-piracy and theft. One of the ways that can prevent bio-piracy is through detecting illegal trafficking of various types of endemic and endangered plants and animals. Most common plant species affected by illegal trafficking in Sri Lanka at present are Gyrinops Walla Walla patta, Salacia reticulate Kothala Himbutiand Santalum album naturalized sandhun. Sri Lanka Customs have detected many instances of illegal trafficking. Target destination varies from India, Dubai, Pakistan, Australia, and China. The most popular destination for Kothala Himbotu today is China.

Another classic example of trafficking of plants is by misleading the authorities. Prof. Wijesundara highlighted that a plant called Kekatiya (Aponogeton crispus) were exported in large quantities under the name Aponogeton ulvaceus, a plant native to Madagascar. However, Prof. Siril Wijesuriya mentioned that during his tenure at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, he managed to test this plant and discovered it is a different plant from the one in Madagascar. After this discovery, this Sri Lankan variety of the plant (Kekatiya) was prohibited from being exported and necessary action were taken to a point where the company went out of business.

 

Importance of Utilizing the Chemical Compounds in the Medicinal Plants

Prof. Veranja Karunarathne highlighted the popularity among the people now for medicinal plants. That is because the Medicinal properties and compounds that are useful found in the medicinal plants. Natural products are made out of these compounds. According to him, the use of medicinal plants go over for 5000 years ago. Probably we have used medicinal plants since existence.

According to Prof. Veranja Karunarathne, the medicinal plants are being used in traditional medicinal systems popular in Sri Lanka such as Ayurveda, Deishiya Chikithsa, Siddha and Unani. Siddha and Unani don’t use much of the plants necessarily and have much to do with involving plants. In different medicinal systems, over 2500 plants are being used in Sri Lanka. These are being used for disease curing and ailments in traditional medicine practices. In the Western medicine sense, it is one compound for one disease. In Ayurveda and indigenous system, it is many compounds for one disease many compounds curing one disease. Pollypahrmachology is accepted in the indigenous system. These aspects of pollypahrmachology in traditional medicine are becoming valuable. If we take asprin that cures heart disease, it is isolated from Villon plant. Quinine that is used in Malaria prevention is isolated from cinchona plant. That is the practice of the Western medicine. Prof. Veranja Karunarathne says that if we look at plant evolution, it is evident that the plants didn’t intend to cure diseases. This evolution of the plants happened by co-evolving with the insects. It never intended to cure diseases for humans. In 1915, the Western medicine avoided using plants due to various issues including intellectual property matters and since plants are very difficult thing to manage. However, they have come back discovering medicine from plants. That is why co-evolution is important. Diversity of functional group of plants is important. Diversity of use of plants cannot be matched with the evolution of the plants.

From Kothala Himbotu, an endemic plant in Sri Lanka, water soluble anti diabetic compounds were found by Japanese scientist. There are over 50 patents for Kothala Himbotu plant. Sri Lanka has only one patent which was a discovery of a Sri Lankan team. As a Chemist who worked on the kothala himbotu plant and tried to find the chemical compounds, Prof. Karunarathne felt humiliated when Japanese scientists found that water based compound in the kothala himbotu plant. He used a Sri Lankan source and worked on a zeroing from Sri Lankan lichen, patented at the US patent office the, lichen called ziorine that can be used on cancer patients. Sri Lankan government dealing legally with bio-piracy is when they intervened to stop exporting Kothala Himbotu plant in bulk that is being used for anti-diabetic drug. For anti-diabetic drug creation some sections of the plant are still being exported, but in small quantities.

In the meantime, there is also bogus bio-piracy. An undergraduate student of University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka found out that Clarins skin care product in France is using Hortinia floribanda that is endemic to Sri Lanka.

In their website it was mentioned that this plant is being used to improve the skin tone. When studied their website, closely, they found that they are using plants found in amazon and plant found in Europe during winter. After finding the endemic Sri Lankan plant do not contribute to any skin tone improvement and when the research was published in National Science Foundation journal, the skin care production company removed the name of the plant from their website. This is an instance where bogus bio-piracy is being taken place and that it too needs to fight and that even an average Chemist can make a difference, said Prof. Varanja Karunarathne.

According to Prof. Varanja Karunarathne, there are about 3000 odd plants endemic to Sri Lanka, out of the total flowering plants, 2000 are endemic. Because of this density and diversity, UNESCO named Sri Lanka as a biodiversity hotspot. 1300 of these plants are in the Red book of endangered plants of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the value of the plant is only the timber value. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka value plants in Sri Lanka only for its timber value which is a drawback. The government needs to fund for projects that study the chemistry of these plants, government never have done such in that greater scale. The chemists would want be able to study the chemistry inside the plant, the knowledge inside the plant. It is important to lobby to find the chemicals of these plants that are endangered to Sri Lanka. This means conserving the knowledge inside the plant is much more than just evaluating its value for timber. There is a far greater use of the plant than just the timber value.

During the discussion, Mr. Lakshman Gunasekara highlighted the importance of getting media involved along with the Scientists to intervene in promoting knowledge, education and awareness about bio-piracy and possible ways of counter-fighting it. He said that unlike in the past, mass communication can bring this issue to a different level. In this regard the scientific community needs to intervene in order for the media community to get activated. However, Prof. Siril Wijesundara made a remark that media is always working with political agendas, but Scientists are not and they cannot do so. Therefore, it is important, media step aside from political agendas and look at this issue apolitically.

Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri highlighted the colonial dimension of bio-piracy. With the involvement of government in bio-piracy and the inclusion of concept of government and empire –building bio-politics came into being. In empire building, establishing the political centre outside the location of the centre was important. Same is true to colonialism which was more than traditional Empire building exercise. It was new kind of administration, where there was capturing a grip on the land and space, fauna and flora. It was rather “governmentalization” which has multiple dimension. According to him, in that sense, colonialism is a multidimensional phenomenon. It is not more colonialism now; it is a new process. This is very much part of the enlightenment project at the time. It was governed by knowledge. Accumulation of information of social and natural environment became a new kind of project. The new political challenge is also this.

Prof. Nalani Hennayake highlighted the fact that how in terms of conservation and information sharing India came out with digital library registered with patent offices in the inventories library in the United States, while Sri Lanka has our own Red Book of inventory. She further highlighted the fact that countries like Sri Lanka having enough laws that needs immediate activation. Monopolizing the ownership needs to end and commercializing our plants needs to happen according to the Fauna and Flora Act in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said no to digital register of plants in 1994 and we need to rethink such decisions mentioned the discussants.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Veranja Karunarathne said that at present, other people are working on synthetic biology, combination of chemistry, biology and genomics, creating biosynthetic pathway of genes. Genes are mass produced in genomic mass factories which is controlled exploitation of bio wealth. That is where the world is heading and he says Sri Lanka needs to value the conserved knowledge inside the plant and explore the immense possibilities that the plants are presenting. Concluded

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Acknowledged (only?) Statesman speaks out; so do a few others

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The editor of The Sunday Island (April 4), mentions in his succinctly titled editorial – Down the pallang with no end in sight – this statesman. He speaks of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha’s successful manouevre to curtail the power of the Rajapaksas and President Mahinda R’s attempt to go in for a third term of his presidency in 2014. Thus, the editor writes: “It is in this context that the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) that Ven Sobitha founded now led by respected elder statesman Karu Jayasuariya ….” The organisation is seeking to push the rulers on to a correction course. It seeks to project an apolitical stance and denies subversive interest. “The 20th Amendment that abolished the 19th has thrown the baby with the bathwater….” Cassandra adds – and we are drowning in the waters; floundering in fear and surrounded by sharks of the sugar and oil scams; also those who are still destroying our natural resources.

 

Karu wise plus experienced and apolitical

The same paper published on page 3 excerpts of what the Chairman NMSJ – Karu Jayasurirya – said at a press conference at Janaki Hotel Colombo, on April 2. His considered warning was ‘Don’t fiddle like Nero as the country plunges into a precipice.’ A due warning of rather mixed metaphors. Cass would have preferred … ‘as the country burns’, but plunging into a precipice is really more catastrophic and that, says many, is what is happening to this wonderful land of ours. We should all read and reread what Karu J had to say; we should analyse and see whether he was correct and then in our own small way try to obtain a change of course. The principle consideration is that Karu Jayasuriya speaks apolitically here as an elder statesman who has been both in politics and the private sector and knows full well what he is speaking about. If you want definite credentials on his ability and sincerity, recollect how he acted as Speaker of Parliament when the then Prez, Maitripala Sirisena stole the government from its elected members of Parliament and handed it over to his dire enemy of yesteryear, now befriended buddy – Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coyotes to govern the land. PM Ranil W with loyalists holed themselves at Temple Trees and bided their time. Karu J faced a battery of assaults: vulgarly vocal, totally injurious thrown bound volumes and deadly chilli powder mixed with water. He braved it all; took his rightful seat and gave judgment that restored order from utter chaos.

He is one politician whom Cass and so many others rooted for. Now he is out of party politics but fighting for the very survival of the nation of free Sri Lanka.

 

Voices should be listened to

At the recent meeting of people to solve their problems and bring succour to them, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa somewhat belittled protestors attempting to save our forest cover. Cass heard him on TV news on Saturday April 3 speaking about people accusing a previous government of running white vans, threatening journalists etc and now it is environmental groups that are out against the new government and him. No, they and we are against those who cut trees, deforest the land, sand mine ruthlessly and of course make money on horrible scams and seem to get away scot free, not even paying to government coffers billions garnered illegally.

He, government Ministers and MPs, and relevant administrators should all listen to the call of even a single concerned person, and know they are calling out completely altruistically with no political biases. One such is Padmini Nanayakkara of Colombo 3 who cries out (we imagine in horror) Reservoirs in Sinharaja? in the Sunday Island of April 4. She starts her letter to the editor with this: “Have we an enemy within or has a foreign force taken over Sri Lanka? I can’t imagine any Lankan contributing to an idea as bizarre as building reservoirs in Sinharaja.”

The editor referring to the pronouncement made loud and clear by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa about building two reservoirs in Sinharaja as if it were a foregone construction plan; writes thus: “A minister from the ruling family outrageously declares that two reservoirs will be built in the Sinharaja reserve to provide water for their pocket borough, He promises to plant 150 acres elsewhere to compensate saying that rubber will be planted to give people an income”. The editor dubs it a “madcap project” (cheers!!). Plenty water could be tapped downstream of rivers flowing near Hambantota; and this for people and not to keep watered vanity projects like cricket stadiums.

 

Semicentennial of a terrible uprising

I speak here of the JVP uprising of 1971 which has been written about with Jayantha Somasunderam from Canberra detailing it meticulously with copious references. Cass has been typically Sri Lankan in that she had forgotten about those days of fifty years ago which she refuses to term either jubilee or never golden anniversary. The Editor/The Island introduced a new word – quinquagenary – a tongue twister but pins down the number five. Whatever its now earned name, it was a brutal and absolutely purposeless shedding of young blood: blood of youth by the government and killing of police and causing utter chaos by the newly marshaled JVP under Rohana Wijeweera. They were disciplined and dedicated to a cause then. Incidentally, his grown son was shown on TV news a few days ago. A misunderstood message to attack police stations, conveyed via radio annonced obituary notices, saved the country because the attack was so deadly, power over the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike could have been gained. The second JVP uprising was deadlier as it was minus principles and all restraint. Again the rivers flowed with young Sinhala blood. The 1971 insurrection was short lived and we who cowered, emerged to usual routines fairly soon. Not the 1ate 1980s uprising. It created widespread fear psychoses; complete mayhem from hospitals, schools and offices to thé kadés. Universities were closed for two years and thus a considerable exodus of young students to universities overseas. We lost many of our teenaged children and the country – brains and ability.

May such never happen again is our earnest prayer. The young seem to have imbibed or decided to work through principles. Consider the recent protests against environmental degradation, particularly denudation of forests. They were all peaceful and intelligently carried out, and acknowledged as such, and the message they carried should certainly have been given an ear to by the President, PM and Ministers in charge of relevant subject areas. Perhaps it was peaceful marches and speeches and placards because the aim was altruistic – benefit for the entire country and not for self.

 

Beauty gone batty?

The public fracas of excessively groomed and dressed up beauties at the recent Mrs Sri Lanka finals was shockingly disgraceful. It confirmed to Cass that even the slightest mix-up or argument in this land of ours very soon escalates to a debacle, often accompanied by violence. But in this incident, there wasn’t even a whimper of argument. We witnessed how last year’s Mrs S L – Her Mightiness Caroline Jurie – crowned, de-crowned and re-crowned Pushpika de Silva. The latter’s hair was pulled, since the crown was rudely pulled off her by Her Mightiness and another, but unless it had long sharp spikes it could not have injured the stunned winner’s head. And all because of a heard rumour at the moment of crowning. Cass spits out: How dare Caroline Jurie take judgment to her tearing hands when a panel had discussed, gone into details and decided on the winner; the panel including herself! Cass comments the glass slipper gifted to Cinderella Caroline a year ago seems to be a misfit now; her feet swollen to match her head.

Back to the ordinary: Cassandra wishes all her readers a family oriented Aluth Avuruddha, with safety precautions vigilantly observed against infection given first priority. Much should be sacrificed to prevent the deadly third wave of Covid 19.

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