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Resumption of burials a high risk the country cannot afford to take – MP Muzammil

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‘We shouldn’t seek exclusive rights during a grave crisis’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) National List MP Mohammed Muzammil yesterday strongly urged the government not to resume burial of Muslim corona victims under any circumstances, though a section of the Muslim community is demanding that Muslim covid-19 victims be allowed to be buried.

Muzammil, who represents the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent of the SLPP, said that the country was struggling to cope with the corona pandemic and no one should be allowed to play politics at a time of national health emergency.

The NFF has five elected MPs and one National List MP in the 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

In a brief interview with The Island over the phone, the former JVP MP emphasised that whatever the religious dictates and sentiments, the Sri Lankan Muslim community should adhere to specific instructions issued by the government as regards the cremation of corona victims.

Pointing out that the ongoing corona second wave could lead to a an unprecedented catastrophe, Muzammil said the Muslim community had no option but to follow government guidelines. The national economy was already in tatters, as in many other countries, with all major revenue sources such as tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances badly affected, and, therefore any further deterioration of health situation could be disastrous, the MP said.

The government would have to take decisions for the benefit of all people, the MP said, adding that the burial of corona victims was against the health guidelines now in place. Commenting on other Muslim members of parliament pushing for the burial of Muslims dying of COVID-19, Muzammil said that they should be free to express their views. “There is nothing wrong in them taking a stand on this sensitive issue,” the MP said, emphasizing the responsibility on the part of the government to do the right thing.

Muzammil said that he deeply regretted the issue caused by the demand for Muslim burial rights. Responding to another query, the MP pointed out that the Catholic community accepted the government dictates in that regard without causing unnecessary issues.

The MP warned of dire consequences if decision-makers allowed burials at the expense of, what he called the overall health of the country. “Let me explain how burial of bodies could cause a catastrophe. Unlike Catholics, we do not cover a hole dug in the ground to receive the body with sand. Instead, we place some planks and then cover them with sand. This can pose quite a health hazard. Therefore burials shouldn’t be permitted under any circumstances,” Muzammil said.

The MP pointed out how the community could be affected if bodies were released to the families. There could be corona outbreaks all over the place, lawmaker Muzammil said, pointing out how the situation could go out of control.

Responding to another query, Muzammil said that he might earn the wrath of a section of the community for taking a stand contrary to that of their other members of parliament. The lawmaker said that he felt it was his duty to educate the Muslims of the need to follow the government guidelines and also strengthen the government initiatives to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

The MP urged that no one should play politics with the issue at the expense of the country. The country should be told in no uncertain terms that decisions were taken by the government, in consultation with the health authorities, and the military, and it would be the responsibility of all communities to follow specific instructions.

All communities, including the Muslims, should be prepared to give up traditions, and practices, until experts had finalized studies, he said.

“We are still in control of the situation. But, we are certainly not in a position to take a chance. Decisions must be followed to the letter. I also believe Muslims have to be buried. I support that position. But the extraordinary situation on the ground makes my personal stand, on this matter, irrelevant,” MP Muzammil said.

Whatever the politicians say, the vast majority of Lankans realized that the country should follow what was best for all, the NFF representative said.

Muzammil warned that burial of COVID-19 victims could, overnight, cause the rapid deterioration of the situation. Urging the government to be firm on the matter, the MP said: “Please don’t let a few illogical men jeopardize the health of all.”

Muslim burials were done in accordance with Arabian customs which the Sri Lankan Muslim community would have to give up or face the consequences. “We shouldn’t be part of the problem,” the lawmaker said.

Lawmaker Muzammil said that though he wanted to oppose resumption of burials and generally dealt with the issue, he couldn’t get an opportunity to address the parliament when the Corona threat was debated on Oct 23. “The government parliamentary group was allocated 162 minutes. There were 31 speakers, I wasn’t among them.”

Muzammil said that the Muslim community should speak in one voice on this matter.



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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce 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.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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