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REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LAKSHMAN KADIRGAMAR ON THE 16TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH

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by Tissa Jayatilaka

From the time I was old enough to cultivate an interest in politics, I have familiarized myself with the life and times of those political personalities I took a liking to. The late Dudley Senanayake (who incidentally died in 1973 a day after Lakshman Kadirgamar’s 41st birthday) was the first I took to and I consider it my loss that I did not have the opportunity to get to know him personally. Of the several politicians that I have subsequently taken note of, there were two I got particularly close to and they were both, coincidentally enough, Oxonians who happened also to be presidents of the Oxford Union in their time. I refer to Lalith Athulathmudali and Lakshman Kadirgarmar. Athulathmudali did not attend a local university prior to going up to Oxford, as did Kadirgamar. The former’s cake, (to borrow a metaphor from Kadirgamar himself) was not baked at home, unlike that of the latter for whom Oxford was only the icing on his superlative, home-produced, academic confection.

Although Lakshman Kadirgamar and I belonged to two different generations, we shared certain commonalities. Though not of Kandy, we both had our early education in that city (he at Trinity, I at Kingswood) and we were both products of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. If memory serves, he was a resident of Arunachalam Hall, which was also where I resided during my undergraduate years. He maintained that he was a ‘citizen of the world’, a Sri Lankan and a Tamil. Likewise I, too, prefer to transcend narrow boundaries and take pride in being in that order, a member of the human race, a Sri Lankan, and then a Sinhalese.

I liked Kadirgamar’s academic bent of mind. If he and I were given to clichés, I would have called him ‘a voracious reader’. I should, instead, describe him as a man of books. And many were the times when we compared notes on books we both had read and enjoyed. Not infrequently he telephoned me to double check on a quotation from a Shakespearean play that he wished to include in a lecture or a speech he was writing up. He publicly denounced bribery and corruption in public office, a particular aversion of mine, which is not a safe or fashionable public stance for a politician to take and I admired him for his courageous stand. Furthermore he was unpretentious, charming, mellow-toned and possessed of a fine if often ironic sense of humour.

And there was something else he was proud to be– an outstanding sportsman. The last attribute meant, by definition, that he was by instinct and training, fair-minded. Could one possibly ask for more? My one regret is that I did not get to know Lakshman Kadirgamar as intimately earlier than I actually did. I console myself with the thought that quality ever trumps quantity when it comes to most good things of life. Ranil Wickremesinghe noted in the course of his posthumous tribute to Lakshman Kadirgamar in Parliament that a meal with the late minister offered food for the body as well as the mind. On most occasions, a mere chat over a drink with him provided such nourishment for the soul.

Apart from our regular meetings to talk of issues of the day, there were two key projects dear to his heart that brought us together and helped cement our friendship. Given the rich heritage we Sri Lankans are heirs to, Lakshman Kadirgamar was of the view that we should give to the world, as he so aptly put it, ‘something more than just tea, tourism and terrorism’. He thus had a long-term plan to enable Sri Lanka to continue to contribute to the world of culture and the arts as also to the further refinement of international relations and diplomacy.

It was his desire to have a book published on a Sri Lankan artist that would be ‘an ideal brand label for Sri Lanka, an image which may be projected all over the world as the face of Sri Lanka in all of its many forms’. The result of his endeavours in this regard is the monumental and exquisite The World of Stanley Kirinde (2005) authored by Sinharajah Tammita-Delgoda. Having initiated the book project, he next set his sights on the production of an academic journal for the study of politics and diplomacy via the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) of which he was now chairman. He invited me to serve as editor and together we put in many hours to get International Relations in a Globalizing World (IRGW) off the ground.

Lakshman Kadirgamar’s last public act on the evening of that fateful August 12, 2005, was to preside over the ceremony to mark the release of the inaugural issue of IRGW. It was Kadirgamar’s expectation, through the regular publication of IRGW, to raise the level of Sri Lanka’s contribution to international politics and diplomacy. All these best-laid plans and goals were shattered on that dreadful August night in 2005. Unfortunately Lakshman Kadirgamar did not live to see (though he saw the finished product and admiringly flipped through its pages) the release of The World of Stanley Kirinde scheduled for August 18, 2005.

This 16th year after his death is as good a time as any, to assess dispassionately the late foreign minister’s contribution to Sri Lanka and the world, and to imagine the kind of role he might have played had he lived beyond his 73rd year. I consider Lakshman Kadirgamar to be one of the finest twentieth century Sri Lankans and far and away the best foreign minister Sri Lanka has had to- date. He was, as noted above, widely read, intelligent and, at the same time, hard-working and disciplined. He had the courage of his convictions and the inner strength to hold fast to his ideals from his entry into the fickle world of politics in 1994 until his tragic end in 2005.

I tend to view Lakshman Kadirgamar’s performance on the domestic political front less enthusiastically than that of his on the international stage. It is entirely possible that my lukewarm view has less to do with any inadequacy of Kadirgamar’s and more to do with my aversion to realpolitik, especially to its Sri Lankan variety. As I have asserted in an earlier tribute to him (2005), Lakshman Kadirgamar was the quintessential Sri Lankan. Almost a year before his death, in September 2004, he made a profound statement on Japanese National Television (NHK) that encapsulated his credo:

I am first and foremost a citizen of Sri Lanka. I do not carry labels of race or religion or any other label. I would say quite simply that I have grown up with the philosophy that I am a citizen of the world. I do not subscribe to any particular philosophy; I have no fanaticism; I have no communalism. I believe there should be a united Sri Lanka. I believe that all our peoples can live together, they did live together. I think they must in the future learn to live together after this trauma is over. We have four major religions in the country: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. All these religions exist very peacefully. They get on very well. I see no reason why the major races in the country, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, cannot again build a relationship of confidence and trust. That is my belief.

It is this fervent belief in the essential goodness of his country and fellow citizens that form the cornerstone of his diplomatic labours. It was also the driving force behind his spellbinding performance as our foreign minister. I relished in particular the manner in which he finessed the challenge of LTTE terrorism. To say it was primarily Lakshman Kadirgamar’s powers of persuasion and skillful handling of domestic issues and their international ramifications that redeemed Sri Lanka’s sullied image is surely no exaggeration. Needless to say, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga , the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickemesinghe and several dedicated, experienced and effective Sri Lankan Foreign Service personnel played their part in this restoration process, but the helmsman was clearly Lakshman Kadirgamar.

In their measured tributes to a book published in honour of Lakshman Kadirgamar (Roberts: 2012), three seasoned American diplomats I know intimately, Karl (Rick) Inderfurth, Peter Burleigh and Shaun Donnelly who interacted closely with Kadirgamar have testified to the latter’s major successes on the international stage, during his lifetime and even posthumously. Chris Patten, the British politician, reinforces this fact when he notes in the same publication that:

Lakshman Kadirgamar spent much of his diplomatic energy and his formidable eloquence in attempting to persuade foreign governments to proscribe the LTTE in their own countries and stop the raising of funds for terrorism in Sri Lanka. He scorned the ‘Nelsonian’ attitude to terrorism of some countries. He was particularly active in supporting the drafting of the 1997 UN Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. The respect he enjoyed internationally meant that his assassination nudged some foreign governments into taking a tougher line in prohibiting active support for the LTTE in their own countries.

Peter Burleigh in a recent personal communication reiterated this crucially important aspect of Kadirgamar’s achievement when he noted:

I personally believe that his efforts to get important governments like Australia, the UK and the US to ban money transfers to the LTTE was a key contribution to the long-term effort to defeat the group. And his personal efforts, and effectiveness, in that regard were essential to that success.

Although I recognize that politics may well be the art of the possible, my limited experience of it as a practitioner and deeper awareness of it as student, make me conclude that politics is a murky and dismal business. I have often wondered why men of the sensitivity of Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lakshman Kadirgamar ever took to politics. In a statement over national television in 1994, Lakshman Kadirgamar spelt out his reasons for doing so. I quote below the operative paragraph of that statement:

I have had a privileged life by birth, by education, by access to opportunities, and I have always felt that a time must come when you must give something back to the society in which you have grown up and from which you have taken so much. So-called educated people must not shirk responsibilities in public life. I have reached that stage in life when, without being heroic about it, I feel I should participate more fully in public life.

Whilst not taking anything away from his invaluable and splendid contribution as foreign minister, I remain convinced that he could have given more back to the society from which, by his own admission, he had taken so much by opting for a different if less glamorous public role than that of a high visibility politician. As with similarly gifted men as S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, N.M Perera, Pieter Keuneman, Colvin R. de Silva, Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Lalith Athulathmudali before him, I am left with the nagging feeling that his stint in politics somehow diminished Lakshman Kadirgamar in the end. Such diminution as occurred may well have been due to the corrosive nature of politics and not due to any inherent flaw in Kadirgamar’s character. Perhaps he permitted his colleagues and his party to exploit his standing in society and his professional stature when he decided ‘without being heroic about it. . . [to] participate fully in public life’.

Be this as it may, I remain disappointed by the narrow political role he played in the difficult and often acrimonious days of Sri Lanka’s French-style co-habitation government. This was the period between December 2001 and April 2004, when Kadirgamar’s party leader, Chandrika Kumaratunga, despite her party being out of power, was yet the constitutional head of government whilst Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister was in effective control of Parliament. Kadirgamar now was assigned the role of advisor to the president on international affairs, with Tyronne Fernando occupying the portfolio of foreign affairs.

On becoming prime minister in February 2002, Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The CFA was brokered by the Norwegians, who were at the time involved in Sri Lanka’s peace process, and Wickremesinghe presented his cabinet and his president with a fait accompli. Although initially Kadirgamar’s statement in Parliament in 2002 in response to that of the prime minister reflected a refreshing degree of constructive cooperation, a little over a year later in a speech in Parliament on May 8, 2003, doubtless on the authority of President Kumaratunga and the Parliamentary Group of the People’s Alliance, Kadirgamar attacked the CFA arguing that it was ‘a structurally flawed document’.

Clearly Kadirgamar was here being sucked into petty politics as borne out by a subsequent observation of General Satish Nambiar, the well-known Indian strategic expert whose advice Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmsinghe had sought informally. In a communication in January 2010 dealing with that fraught situation of 2003, Nambiar refers to a one-on-one lengthy meeting he had with Kadirgamar. This was during his last visit to Sri Lanka in 2003. In the course of that meeting Nambiar had told Kadirgamar that he was hurt by the suggestions made by some of Kadirgamar’s party members that he [Nambiar] was manipulating his report. Nambiar notes that:

[Kadirgamar’s] disarming response was typical of him: that I should allow for the politics of the situation where the parties will use any means to put the ruling dispensation on the defensive. [Roberts: p. 204]

When one reads Kadirgamar’s May 8, 2003 speech in hindsight, one clearly recognizes that his arguments against the CFA are not without merit. But the key point that needs emphasis here is that by being a willing party to political manipulation of something as highly sensitive as the CFA, Kadirgamar had begun to slip somewhat from the lofty pedestal of statesmanship he had been on hitherto. In the process, Kadirgamar and his political companions failed to give any credit whatsoever or even the benefit of the doubt to Wickremesinghe. We now know, though, that through the CFA the LTTE were led into a corner and to peace negotiations, with some even referring to it as ‘a peace trap’. Wickremesinghe’s CFA, for all of its ‘structural flaws’, was as much a ploy as was the Kumaratunga government’s 1998 decision to use the Norwegians as ‘facilitators’ in the unofficial conversations between the then government and the LTTE. And, yet, Kumaratunga and her party were now opposing, seemingly for the sake of opposition, the Norwegians (their ‘facilitators’) and Wickremesinghe, for the signing of the CFA with Kadirgamar lending his forensic debating skills for the cause in Parliament. A similar but less nationally harmful political misjudgement was Kadirgamar’s decision, despite sincere and pragmatic advice against the move from close associates, to contest the incumbent Secretary- General of the Commonwealth in 2003. He was roundly defeated by 40 to 11.

On balance, Kadirgamar’s overall achievement as politician and foreign minister, despite blemishes referred to above, is substantial. Unlike the average gifted person who tends to rest on his laurels, Kadirgamar was exceedingly hard-working from beginning to end. Like a good lawyer, he always studied his brief well and, like a good sportsman, he was ever thorough in his preparation. It is this careful preparation in combination with his ability and flair that made Kadirgamar who he was. He was consistent and relentless in his opposition to political violence which he saw as a threat ‘to the stability within and between states throughout the world’. Well before the cataclysmic ‘9/11’, he warned western governments of the dangers of terrorism and called for joint action to deal with the scourge.

Among his several notable speeches on the problems of terrorism, perhaps the most influential was that he made at Chatham House, London, on April 15, 1998 at a meeting held under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the International Foundation of Sri Lankans. ‘[A] terrorist act,’ Kadirgamar asserted at Chatham House, ‘is seen as an attack on society as a whole, on democratic institutions, on the democratic way of life. A terrorist attack is an act of war against society’. In similar vein was his lecture delivered on September 13, 2010 at The Potomac Institute of Policy Studies in Washington D.C., approximately a year before ‘9/11’. Kadirgamar was thus resolute in his principled opposition to the use of violence as a means of seeking political gain, both at home and abroad. At the same time, he recognized our need to address the underlying causes that lead communities to acts of violence. Hence much as he decried the political violence of the LTTE, he did recognize the need for social and political justice to those marginalized citizens in our midst. In this context, the following remarks he made during an interview he gave to Business Today (Colombo, March 1997, p.20) are most salutary:

[T]he ultimate, permanent, durable solution to this problem will not come from force of arms alone. It will not come from conquest or our vanquishing the LTTE. It has to come by acceptance of the people in their entirety, by the Sinhala and the Tamil people. That is a political settlement. And, a political settlement that is perceived by the communities, by the majority and the minorities, to be fair and just. It must be a settlement that is enshrined in law, and it must be enshrined in the hearts of the people.

Thus Kadirgamar’s opposition to violence was both principled and pragmatic. However, he did not allow his justifiable antipathy to violence to ensnare Sri Lanka’s collective future. In pursuing a solution to the crisis of nation-building in Sri Lanka, he did not take a partisan stance. He was Sri Lankan to the core.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was among those who had come to realize that achieving peace with the Tamil Tigers was almost impossible. At the same time, he wanted the inevitable struggle against them waged within the laws of war so as to ensure that international opinion did not turn against Sri Lanka. Had he lived to see the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, I am confident that he would have worked tirelessly to achieve an enduring political settlement in which the rights of all Sri Lankans were respected.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was ‘a scholar-statesman who was both a realist and idealist’. Despite the deleterious impact of politics on him, his years in our national legislature served to raise the level of political discourse, both at home and abroad, several notches higher. Sri Lanka could not at the time of his death by assassination, and cannot today afford to lose sons of his calibre. But, then, it is the tall trees that catch the wind. One hopes that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for.

Tissa Jayatilaka



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Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?

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Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.

In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.

Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.

In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.

There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.

However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.

Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.

Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.

However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.

As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.

For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.

All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.

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Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.

Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.

The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.

There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?

Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.

Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.

Way forward

Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.

In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.

Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.

There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)

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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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