By Shamindra Ferdinando
Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Dr. Rajitha Senaratne early this week revealed that a civil society outfit had prepared the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 2015.
Dr. Senaratne said that the government had accepted the document handed over by the civil society, the former minister said. The then government readily endorsed the proposals as it didn’t find any fault with them, Dr. Senaratne said.
The revelation was made at a special meeting called by the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) at Hotel Janaki, Colombo 05. Turning towards NMSJ Chief Karu Jayasuriya, who had served as the Speaker at the time Parliament overwhelmingly approved the 19th Amendment; Dr. Senaratne sought the latter’s consent to the contentious statement. Karu Jayasuriya nodded his agreement.
Addressing the gathering after Jayasuriya and SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara vowed to scuttle the 20th Amendment, Dr. Senaratne declared that the 19th Amendment produced by the civil society was the best piece of legislation. The former minister declared that the 17th and then19th Amendment had been enacted for the benefit of the people whereas all other pieces of legislation were meant to strengthen the government or rulers.
The 54-member SJB parliamentary group in parliament is the main Opposition.
Comparing the 17th Amendment enacted in 2001 with the 19th, Dr. Senaratne paid a glowing tribute to the late Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, the then Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan and journalist Waruna Karunatilleke for their role in promoting the 17th Amendment.
Dr. Senaratne also appreciated the role played by the then JVPer Wimal Weerawansa in pushing for the 19th Amendment. Dr. Senaratne attacked the stand taken by the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) as regards the 19th Amendment. Referring to statements attributed to Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, Dr. Wasantha Bandara and attorney-at-law Kalnananda Thiranagama, Dr. Senaratne questioned their efforts to portray the 19th Amendment as a piece of legislation inimical to the Sri Lankan State or against the Rajapaksas.
Dr. Senaratne lambasted them for following an agenda detrimental to the well-being of the country, in the guise of protecting and promoting so called patriotic interests.
Former Speaker Jayasuriya, in his speech declared that the draft Constitution prepared in 2000 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency was the best solution ever agreed by those who represented parliament at that time. Recalling his role as a senior representative of the UNP delegation for talks with Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance, Jayasuriya said the country wouldn’t have been in a current mess if consensus could be reached on the implementation of the year 2000 proposals.
Jayasuriya said that Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva, R. Sampathan, V. Anandasangaree, Dew Gunasekera and Prof. Tissa Vitharana represented respective political parties. Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris coordinated the overall project. However, the process collapsed at the last moment as a result of the PA proposal that the proposed new Constitution would come into effect only after the end of Kumaratunga’s tenure. Recalling the UNP setting fire to the draft Constitution in parliament, Jayasuriya said on the following day he received a call from Kumaratunga who claimed she hadn’t been aware of the controversial clause. The one-time UNP Deputy Leader quoted Kumaratunga as having told him she wasn’t aware who included that line.
Kumaratunga wanted the process to continue, Jayasuriya said, though their efforts failed. Speaking to The Island following the event, Jayasuriya said that UNP and PA subsequently held several rounds of talks at a neutral venue though agreement couldn’t be reached. Responding to a query, Jayasuriya said that two factors primarily contributed to the eventual failure of deliberations. Jayasuriya said that the PA’s demand that in case of Kumaratunga being indisposed, premier Wickremanayake should succeed her and Wickremasinghe’s insistence that the appointment of the cabinet should be his prerogative caused the breakdown.
Jayasuriya said that the government project suffered a setback. The Attorney General, on behalf of the government submitting to the Supreme Court a set of amendments to the 20th Amendment, was a victory for those opposed to the dictatorial move. The AG’s move proved that there hadn’t been proper consultations at least among the government parliamentary group before the draft was sent to the Government Printer.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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