Connect with us

Features

Rice Genetic Improvement Odyssey of Past Centuries

Published

on

by M. P. Dhanapala

Former Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, Batalagoda

Email: maddumadhanapala@yahoo.com

History is important. It keeps you away from reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes already committed in the past. In history, there should not be hidden expressions to read between lines as “the ten giants of King Dutugamunu were fed with traditional rice,”concealing the details of what the others were eating and why they were not giants or that “we have been exporting rice during the past in such and such era” without disclosing the quantities and the recipient countries. For that matter if you go through the export details, we do export rice even now.

The green revolution was criticized as the contributing factor for the so called unidentified Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu) which was reported primarily from the North Central Province. Whatever the causal factor of CKDu is, Norman Borlaug or his green revolution has nothing to do with the kidney disease or rice in Sri Lanka. It is true that his innovative ideology in wheat breeding induced the rice breeders worldwide to develop a physiologically efficient rice plant type by changing the plant stature and canopy characteristics. The Sri Lankan rice varieties were developed within the country, by the Sri Lankan scientists. It was an extension of the breeding process initiated by the British scientists during the colonial era. The progress of rice breeding from its inception by different generations will be unfolded in this write-up to judge the calculated decisions taken by the ancestral breeders to improve rice productivity in the country.

I would like to lay the baseline from a report published by Edward Elliott, a British Civil Servant in 1913. (Tropical Agriculturist, Vol. XLI, No. 6, Dec. 1913). He states that the forced labor (Rajakariya) that existed then was abolished in 1832. Subsequently, the communal cooperation system (Atththam) also ceased to exist gradually. These two incidents were cited as the major reasons for the neglect of irrigation structures and subsequent decline of rice production in the mid 19th Century. The annual rice production estimated for the period of 10 years ending in 1856 was 5.5 million bushels, the lowest in the recorded history.

Enacting the Paddy Ordinance in 1857 allowed voluntary restoration of old irrigation structures which eventually led to the gradual increase in the cultivated extent and the annual rice production. Estimated rice production data during this era and at the turn of the century are summarized in Table 1. The original data were in acres and bushels. The data were transformed into hectares and kilograms and tonnes assuming 20 kg as the bushel weight. The transformed data in Table 1 appear within parentheses.

See table 1.

Annual rice production statistics from the latter half of the 19th and early 20th Century (Elliot, 1913)

The rice production data above are estimates based on returns from paddy, probably grain tax, in the Government Blue Books. You may realize that these estimates are sometimes too high when actual data appear towards 1940s. However, at the turn of the 19th Century, the rice varieties were exclusively traditional types maintained by farmers and the Department of Agriculture was not established.

Many critics maintain that we had innumerable different varieties of rice in the past. The earliest recorded in the history was a collection of 300 rice varieties displayed by Nugawela Dissawe for the agri-horticultural exhibition held in 1902 (Molegoda, 1924) (Trop. Agric. XLII (4): 218-224.). This probably represented almost all the cultivars in the field during this period. This was the largest collection of rice varieties in the recorded history in Ceylon, leaving out the recent collections performed in the latter half of the 20th century. Molegoda explains very comprehensively the status of rice varieties and the procedure followed in naming them.

The rice cultivation at the beginning of 20th century was entirely organic manure dependent. The farmers then were apparently more competent in traditional methods of rice cultivation. The most striking feature during this era was that the average yields were below one ton/ha (<20 bu/ac) even in the best productive year, 1903 (Table 1).

In 1914, an encouraging note on Extension of Paddy Cultivation by A. W. Beven (Trop. Agric. XLIII (6): 421-424.) appears with the suggestion of seed selection to improve rice yields. He states that in the year 1913 the yield estimate of 9,622,320 bushels was too high a target, i.e.14.2 bu/ac (0.71 t/ha), for the cultivated extent of 671,711ac (271,827ha), but suggests that with seed selection accompanied by proper land preparation, manuring and transplanting, the yields could be increased up to 25 bu/ac (1.25t/ha). This suggestion was at the inception of the Department of Agriculture which was established in 1912.

The earliest record on rice varietal improvement dates back to seed selection in 1914 by Dr. Lock at Peradeniya. This was done more or less parallel with the establishment of Johannsen’s pure line theory (1903). In the literature, Dr. Lock’s improved Hatial (a seven month variety) appears from time to time as a standard variety in yield tests.

The next most important step was the pure-line selection. Initially, three Economic Botanists, F. Summers (1921), R.O. Iliffe (1922), L. Lord (1927) and at latter stages Paddy Officer G.V. Wickremasekera were involved in the selection of pure- lines (Trop. Agric. LVIII (2): 67-70; Trop. Agric. LXVIII (5): 309-318). Pure-line selection exploited heterogeneity within the farmer maintained traditional rice cultivars. Each cultivar composed of different types within it. As a result, individual plant selection within cultivars produced progenies with better genetic potential, but resembling the mother plant selected; they bred true to type as rice is an obligate inbreeder. This was the essence of pure-line theory established by Johannsen (1903).

Pure-line selection was initiated with a representative collection of traditional varieties. The most popular varieties were included in the process. Pure-line selection was done at two major locations, Mahailluppallama and Peradeniya. Subsequently, selection was regionalized to accommodate regionally adapted varieties in the process. The best isolated progenies were tested at 19 test locations in different agro-ecological regions for adaptability, prior to recommendation. The best adapted pure-lines (21 lines – Table 2) were identified for purity maintenance at four different paddy stations – Ambalantota (nine lines), Mahailluppallama (eight lines), Madampe (two lines) and Batalagoda (two lines). Further multiplication of seeds was done in government farms under the supervision of Agricultural Officers and distributed as seed paddy for cultivation (Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.).

See table 2.

Pure-line varieties identified for cultivation (Extract from Amended Departmental Circular No. 156 – Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.)

While the pure-line selection process was on, Joachim (1927) (Trop. Agric. LXIX 137) warned that the sustenance of increased yields by cultivation of high yielding pure-lines has to be met with liberal manuring. However, despite of all these attempts during the two decades from 1920s, the paddy yields were not substantially increased (Table 3). Rice yield data presented in Table 3 shows lower values compared to yield estimates from Government Blue Books presented in Table 1. The data in Table 3 being more reliable, the Table 1 data could be overestimates.

However, the majority of the harvested rice crop in the 1940s could be from potentially better pure-line selections, but the yields were much below the anticipated levels. The total production was around 15 million bushels (0.3 m tons) and yields stagnated at around 14 bu/ac (0.7 t/ha).

The Draft Scheme for Development of the Paddy Industry in Ceylon drawn in 1945 (Trop. Agric. CI (3) 191-195) begins with the statement that only a third of the annual requirement is met by the local rice production.

The balance was imported; the population was less than seven million during that period and the paddy cultivation was done organically with the best adapted pure-lines of traditional cultivars, though it failed to deliver what was intended.

The importance of inorganic (chemical) fertilizer was felt during this period as the only option to improve paddy yields further. Use of sodium nitrate (Na NO3) as the source of nitrogen (N) was attempted in rice prior to 1905 based on American experience in soybean cultivation, but nitrite (NO2) toxicity under reduced conditions in submerged paddy soils prohibited its use. Superiority of NH4 form of N was demonstrated by Nagaoka (1905) and Daikuhara and Imaseki (1907). However, the application of N promoted vegetative growth in pure-lines derived from traditional rice varieties causing premature lodging. Furthermore, two fungal diseases, blast and brown spot, became prominent. Around this period some introduced varieties were tested without much success. Among them, Ptb 16 from Pathambi, India, popularly called Riyan wee, with long panicles and slender grains (Buriyani rice) became popular, but self sufficiency in rice appeared to be far away.

Transition to another phase in rice breeding began as the rice breeders over the world employed cross-bred populations to create genetic variability to bring together desirable characteristics of different rice cultivars to develop better varieties. Rice hybridization techniques were developed around early 1920s and a major break through in changing the plant-type was accomplished in Japan with the use of Jikkoku, a dwarf natural mutant of Japonica rice. The performance of Japonica varieties exhibited substantial improvement with this transition. Influenced by the Japanese experience, the Food and Agriculture Organization sponsored a cross breeding program of Japonica with Indica rices in Cuttak, India to change the Indica plant type too in this direction, but without success due to incompatibility between the two groups (Japonica and Indica) leading to grain sterility in subsequent generations.

In Sri Lanka, the first paper on rice hybridization techniques was published in 1951 by J.J. Niles, an assistant in Economic Botany, guided by Prof. M. F. Chandraratne, the Economic Botanist (Trop. Agric. CVII (1):25-29.). Prof. Chandraratne was instrumental in initiation of rice hybridization. Simultaneously rice hybridization work began at the Dry Zone Agricultural Research Station at Mahailluppallama under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Abeyratne. The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda was established in 1952 and Dr. H. Weeraratne was transferred from Mahailluppallama to Batalagoda as the rice breeder with the hybrid populations already developed at Mahailluppallama.

Dr. Weeraratne, influenced by his superiors, Prof. Chandraratne and Dr. Abeyratne, continued rice hybridization to create genetic variability for selection. The hybridization techniques adopted by him were published in 1954 (Trop. Agric. CX (2) 93-97). Apparently, the labor intensive pedigree method was employed by Dr. Weeraratne to identify and fix desirable genotypes from segregating populations. And this was the beginning of the “H” series of varieties that revolutionized the rice sector in Sri Lanka. The letter “H” was used to imply that the varieties were of hybrid origin and were different from traditional varieties or pure-lines, but not to imply that they are hybrids.

Fig. 1,

The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Department of Agriculture

The first of the series, H4 (4.5 month, red bold), released in 1957, reached its peak popularity after a five year lapse of time and covered over 60% of the cultivated extent in Maha season, 62/63. The others in the series were H7 (3.5 month, white bold), H8 (4.5 month, white samba), H9 (5-6 month, white bold), H10 (3 month, red bold). Release of H varieties (1) minimized crop losses due to blast disease, (2) changed rice cropping pattern from single to double cropping, (3) use of N fertilizer increased by 350% due to their moderate response to fertilizer, (4) increased national yield level up to 3.5 t/ha (Senadhira et. al., Rice Symposium, Department of Agriculture, 1980). This effort, though appreciated widely, fell short of self sufficiency again.

The most controversial phase for the critics in rice breeding was initiated in mid 1960s, while “H” varieties were replacing the pure-lines and the traditional varieties from paddy fields. The International Rice Research Institute was established in 1960 and the plant physiologists conceptualized the plant type structure of rice to make it physiologically efficient. The development of “H” varieties (Old Improved Varieties) abruptly ended with these new innovations.

The breeders responsible for developing this new plant type in Sri Lanka, specifically the Bg varieties, were Dr. H. Weeraratne, Dr. N. Vignarajah, Dr. D. Senadhira and Mr. C.A. Sandanayake. None of them are among us any more. I joined the team in the late 1960s, at the tail end of H varieties and continued the process till the country reached the brim of self reliance in rice.

The Bg and other modern varieties are physiologically efficient. They are devoid of unproductive plant tissues and ineffective tillers. The plant structure is designed to reduce mutual shading of leaves and trap solar radiation effectively by every leaf in the canopy thus reducing the respiratory losses and promoting the net assimilation rate. They out yield traditional and H varieties at any level of soil fertility and show positive grain yield response to added fertilizer. They are lodging resistant and incorporated with resistance/tolerance to major pests and diseases prevalent in the country. More preciously, we have reversed the source-sink relationship of the rice plant to translocate photosynthates to produce more grains and less straw. The potential yield of improved varieties exceeds 6t/ha. All these traits listed above have been tested in controlled experiments in the field to confirm the superiority of new improved varieties. We reap around 4.5 tons/ha as our national average yield at present; the country is self sufficient in rice, the dream every political leader had since independence.

This in a nut shell is what the rice breeders have accomplished and for which they were given the title “Kumbandayas” in an article written apparently by a medical professional. The local rice scientists embark only on innovations backed by scientific facts. They do not have to exaggerate or lie. They know little more than those who seek cheap popularity by being critical about the accomplishments of rice scientists. This country needs people dedicated and confined to their respective professions allowing other professionals to play their own role. At any time rice breeders can take the country back to the traditional rice era if you want to begin all over again from the beginning. The traditional accessions are in long-term storage at the Plant Genetic Resource Center (PGRC), Gannoruwa, Department of Agriculture, and can be taken out for multiplication at any time as the seed samples are viable.

Now I repent why we produced rice with more grains and less straw. There appears to be unsatisfied demand for straw. I like to conclude this disclosure with a statement made by Dr. N. M. Perera at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in the mid 1960s. “Comrade, I can give you facts and figures, but I am sorry; I am unable to implant a brain in you”.

(The writer holds a Ph D, Genetics and Plant Breeding, North Dakota University, USA, 1990, M Sc., Plant Breeding, Saga University, Japan, 1978 and B sc. Agric. University of Ceylon, Sri-Lanka, 1968. He has served as Research Officer, Rice Breeding (1969 – 1995) Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, (1996 – 2000), Batalagoda, Affiliate Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (2000 – 2003), Philippines and Technical Advisor, JICA,, Tsukuba International Center, (2004 – 2012), Japan)



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Impressive Indian scene…

Published

on

Some of the live streaming events, on social media, have brought into the limelight quite a few impressive performers, hailing from India.

Just recently, I checked out the live performance of Stephanie Sutari, and her sister Desiree, and found the duo very entertaining, and so the spotlight this week is focused on the singing sisters.

Stephanie says it’s her very supportive parents who encouraged her to go for piano/music classes, at a young age of eight, as a hobby. Later, she joined the church choir and participated at various singing competitions.

Before long, Stephanie was lending her voice for voiceovers and jingles for advertisements.

Ssys Stephanie: “I only considered it as a career option, in my late teens. So I completed my post-graduation, in Media, but decided to follow my heart and take up singing, full time.”

However, coming from a non-musical background, it was a challenge for Stephanie to make her way into the industry, but, she says, she was determined and extremely driven.

“They say, the universe falls in love with a stubborn heart, so, initially, I stayed in my comfort zone and started singing, professionally, in English only…but living in Mumbai – the heart of Bollywood, I decided to utilise my resources and get out of my comfort zone; you may call it fate (I believe it’s my grandparents blessings), I was offered a break with one of the best entertainment bands in India – Rodney and the Band, at the age of 22. Yes, I became a full time Bollywood singer and started touring with them, all over the world.”

Talented Stephanie branched out, from singing only English songs, to enhance her repertoire by including songs in over 10 languages – Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Konkani, Marathi, Hindi (Indian languages), Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and a few African languages, like Zulu, Duala.

She has performed for over 1000 shows, all over the world, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Bahrain, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Lagos, and Indonesia.

“I love to travel and if I’m not travelling on work (which is extremely rare), I travel on vacation….My most favourite travel destination is Europe, with Switzerland and Paris being right on top.”

Stephanie goes on to say that the best part of her family gatherings was the sing-along sessions and she then realised how music had the power to uplift people’s mood.

“So, when the pandemic hit, I started an official Stephanie S page, on Facebook, to help people go through the tough times, with a little hope, and went I live, once a week, to bring people, and their love for music, together. The response was overwhelming ‘cos I reached out to so many people, from all over the world, from the comfort of my home. The interesting fact is, I got my best friend Mathew Varghese, on board, who controls the entire audio and video technicalities, sitting in another country, Kuwait, online.

“My little sister, Desiree, who has a magical voice, and moves that drove my viewers crazy, soon became an integral part of my live performances, as well, and today she’s more in demand for her charisma and melodious singing. She has just started her musical journey but has a promising future in music ahead of her.”

Referring to her future plans, Stephanie said it’s to make a mark in the global music industry, by showcasing her talent.

And, her message to the next generation: “It’s important to follow your dreams, but it’s also important to complete your education first. Knowledge is Power,”

Winding up our chit-chat, Stephanie said she has never been to Sri Lanka but is eagerly looking forward to spending a vacation in the ‘Wonder of Asia’ as soon as time permits.

Continue Reading

Features

Dissemination of ‘real time’ meteorological information to domestic aviation community

Published

on

On July 3, 1971, during the first JVP insurgency, while I was working with the then Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), based at China Bay, in Trincomalee, I reported to the squadron early morning and was told by our Officer Commanding the No. 3 Maritime Squadron, Flt Lt Denzil Fernando, that I was assigned to fly as ‘Second Dickie’ to Sergeant-Pilot Tony (Tuan Mohamed Zachariah) Dole in a de Havilland Dove with serial (registration) CS 406. We were to go to Vavuniya to pick up the then Government Agent (GA), Neville Jayaweera, and take him to Ratmalana (RMA).

Our trip to Vavuniya was uneventful, except that the runway, unused for many years, had been cleared and secured by the Army, with soldiers standing at regular intervals along the full length of the runway. After the GA boarded the plane we got airborne and set course for Ratmalana. It was a bit cloudy when we started. Soon the clouds got heavier, and we had to fly through the clouds to maintain our course. Not long afterwards, the weather became worse, and turbulence in the clouds caused our eight-seater D.H. 104 Dove to shake like a leaf in the wind.

The twin-engine transport plane didn’t have Airborne Weather Radar (AWR) to avoid rain clouds. AWR works on the principle that the more turbulent a cloud, the greater the mass of water it will support. This will ‘bounce’ off radar signals emitted by the aircraft, and will be proportional to the cloud thickness, thereby providing an image of the turbulence, within the cloud mass, as indicated on a screen in the cockpit of the aircraft.

Without AWR, our only option was to reduce speed to make the ride as comfortable as possible for the GA (and us), not unlike when driving on a bumpy road, and then ‘eyeballing’ the weather and hoping for the best by avoiding the more intense rain clouds. The only weather forecast reports available to us were for China Bay and Ratmalana airports, but no information whatsoever on observed weather en route.

By now, flying in cloud, we had lost sight of the ground and were unsure of our position. We were avoiding clouds to the best of our ability. The vertical development of some of the clouds were in excess of 10,000 ft at some places. So we decided to go below the cloud base, which was fortunately higher than existing terrain, so we could maintain sight of ground or water to pinpoint our position. In aviation parlance, this is known as a ‘visual fix’ of position.

We also flew further west towards the coast to reduce the chances of rising terrain (hills). Soon we spotted, through the rain, the unmistakable coastline, of Kalpitiya and Puttalam, enabling us to positively establish our position. We then continued to follow the coastline at low leve,l to RMA, flying under the jet aircraft approach path at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake, and towards Colombo.

The air traffic control towers at Katunayake and Ratmalana were also reporting heavy rain showers. We found a patch clear of cloud, south of the Ratmalana airport, over Bolgoda Lake, and began circling there. But Sgt. Dole had an ace up his sleeve. He told me that showers present under cloud cells usually come in waves that transit the airport, and the best bet was to wait and land between the showers that we could see well from our vantage point in the south.

Sure enough, as soon as one rain shower passed the airport, we were well positioned to turn in and land in relatively clear weather with only a slight drizzle, before the next downpour hit.

This was exactly 50 years ago. We didn’t have radio navigational aid, except the Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) at China Bay, BIA and Ratmalana that operated on low to medium frequency and were affected by bad weather (thunderstorms) and thus rendered useless in our circumstances described here. In fact, the signals emitted by Radio Ceylon were sometimes stronger! In addition, there were two Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni Radio Range stations (VORs) at BIA and RMA, but our aircraft was not equipped with a receiver that could be used in conjunction with the VORs. They were meant for the ‘big aircraft’. Other countries had Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) associated with the VOR, but not Ceylon.

Therefore, pilots had to navigate by a process called ‘Dead Reckoning’, which involved estimated ground speed and time over known ground features (cities, rivers, roads, railway lines and buildings for example). ‘If you reckoned wrong you were dead!’ To add insult to injury, we didn’t have ‘real-time’ observed meteorological information available to us in terms of cloud base and intensity of rain to help us make informed decisions as to what route to follow.

Today, technology has improved worldwide in leaps and bounds. We have ‘smart’ cellular phones and tablets with Global Positioning Systems (GPS). We have capabilities of providing better facilities to domestic air traffic, consisting of landplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. For many years we have had a radar station positioned on Pidurutalagala, the highest point in the island. In fact, we can even monitor certain areas of South India.

Unfortunately, real-time meteorological information is still not available as Sri Lanka has not invested in a communications system capable of providing such information. More than 15 years ago, Singapore installed a radar system at Changi Airport that was capable of giving information to pilots on the intensity of rainfall relative to their airports. We are told that Sri Lanka’s Meteorological Department invested Rs.200 million, in 2013, on a Doppler radar system which, in their so-called ‘wisdom’, they wanted to site at Deniyaya. But it was never installed, and the equipment is now in storage in damaged condition after it went ‘down the pallang’ while being transported there!

Today, there are many free websites which provide highly accurate satellite-based weather forecast information at a click of a button. It is also available on ground to flight dispatchers. It is therefore sad to note that the weather forecasts, produced by our Meteorological Department (who should be playing a key role) are not used by the aviation community, almost certainly due to a lack of confidence on the part of pilots and aviation operations officers. It should also be noted that in Sri Lankan domestic aviation, along with the satellite weather forecasts, the actual observed weather, must go hand in hand. Even this is still not provided by the Met’ Department. I believe that this is a major lapse.

The following incident illustrates the stark reality of what the current situation is for domestic operators. A few days ago, a commercially important passenger (CIP) was flown to Anuradhapura by a domestic air charter company to attend celebrations commemorating the two-year anniversary in office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The outbound flight to Anuradhapura was uneventful. For the return flight to RMA, the flight dispatcher based at Ratmalana had to plan the flight. While the general weather forecast was rain, standard practice relied on the observed actual en route weather by police stations on the way: at Galgamuwa, Nikaweratiya, Kuliyapitiya, Divulapitiya, Palavi, Chilaw, Wenappuwa and Negombo.

All these observers are local police personnel, not qualified aviation or meteorological professionals. Consequently, their very subjective ‘met reports’ are along the lines of “the sky is dark”, “it is about to rain”, “it is now drizzling” or “heavy showers”, from which the flight dispatcher has to form a mental picture of what the en route weather is. One wonders what the insurance implications would be if an accident occurs.

To continue, the hapless pilot at Anuradhapura, who was in touch with his dispatcher on his cellular phone before departure, had to evaluate the risks and make an informed decision. Like Sgt. Dole and I did 50 years ago, he had to get airborne and ‘play it by ear’, so to speak. So, having reached the western coastline, he followed it all the way to Ratmalana. As a matter of interest, I was able to follow the progress of this single-engine light aircraft through one of the free apps on my smartphone, via satellite. That is what prompted this article.

I regard it as an absolute shame that in the last 50 years the Colombo Met’ Department has been unable to provide useful ‘real-time’ meteorological observations to domestic air operations. Yet to satisfy the international aviation community in the gathering of weather data, they have observation stations at all of Sri Lanka’s international airports. But it is a case of thus far and no further. Scrutinising the Meteorological Department’s website will reveal that they have weather observation stations in Kankesanturai (KKS), Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Mahailluppallama, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kurunegala, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya, Badulla, Diyatalawa, Pottuvil, Ratnapura, Katunayake, Ratmalana, Galle and Hambantota. These stations are connected to the World Weather Watch (WWW) through a Global Telecommunication Network (GTS). I do not know whether they are automatic as in other parts of the world, or require a qualified human observer.

The sad part is that this real-time information is not available to domestic aviation operators (of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters) who have to rely on amateurish police station observations and information. If the observed real-time weather is brought online with a good communications network comprising more observation stations established at all the other domestic airports, weather updates will enhance and synergize air safety in real-time.

I do not know who is responsible for this unacceptable state of affairs, but certainly the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL), the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), and the ‘keepers’ of some of the domestic airports should coordinate with the Met’ Office and have real-time weather reports available for all domestic flights.

More recently it has been reported, in the local media that the Colombo Met’ Office and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have signed an agreement for two more weather radar stations, to be sited at Puttalam and Pottuvil, to replace the one that never ‘got off the ground’ at Deniyaya. Will JICA be able to help in establishing automatic observation stations accessible to domestic aviators, to determine and report on such vital meteorological data as cloud base, intensity of rain, wind direction and speed, and temperature, as a fundamental component of good communication?

It is sad that the ‘end users’ are never consulted in important matters such as these.

Continue Reading

Features

The ‘Summit for Democracy’ and its welcome stress on governance quality

Published

on

A ‘Summit for Democracy’ conceptualized and organized by the US is expected to be conducted on December 9th and 10th in virtual mode and some major world powers, such as China and Russia, have not been invited to it. Such developments ought not to prompt any sections that matter in this connection to look askance at the US over its choice of invitees in consideration of the fact that politics are very much at the heart of such decision-making. It could not be otherwise, since politics are the ‘stuff and substance’ of international relations.

It should not come as a surprise too if the aim of the US in calling this forum is to project its power and influence globally. This should be expected of a super power. The forum could have the effect of accentuating international political cleavages and this too must be expected. Realpolitik is what we are up against in this summit to a considerable degree and it could not be otherwise.

However, the hope of progressives the world over is likely to be that the essentials of democracy would come to be discussed and stressed, despite these serious constraints posed by politics. It is also hoped that the quality of democracy would receive adequate scrutiny and ways worked out as to how accountable governance could be advanced. In the absence of these inputs the summit would come to nought.

Democratic opinion the world over considers democracy to be chief among the US’ soft power assets. If the US political leadership thinks so too, the opportunity has come its way through the summit in question to prove to the world that this is really so. For example, the US cannot shy away from the need to make its territory safe and welcoming for all its ethnic communities, particularly minority groups.

The US should ideally be guided by the principle that every form of life within its boundaries ‘matters’. Such questions are at the heart of democratic advancement. The resolution of issues of this kind by any purported democracy has a close bearing on the quality of democracy manifested in it.

Reverence for life is at the centre of democracy. In this connection it is discouraging to note that students and teachers are continuing to be gunned-down in some US High Schools. In one such recent incident, two students and a teacher had been reportedly killed in a High School in Michigan, while scores of others had been injured. As a self-professed advanced democracy, the US is obliged to re-examine its Gun Laws and explore the possibility of doing away with them, so as to protecting life and nurturing a pro-peace culture within its borders. However, the US’ obligations by way of advancing the quality of its democracy do not end here. Much more needs to be done in a range of issue areas, but Gun Laws ought to be prime among its concerns.

India and Pakistan are two key states in South Asia that have been invited to the summit and this ought to be a high moment for them. Since South Asia’s advancement in a number of areas depends crucially on these regional heavyweights the hope of progressives is likely to be that the people of South Asia would gain eventually through the engagement of India and Pakistan in these deliberations on democracy.

The fact that Sri Lanka has been left out of the summit ought to be worrying for it. Fire-breathing nationalist opinion in Sri Lanka is likely to be of the view that this counts for nothing and that the US is in no position to sit in judgement over other countries on issues relating to democratic development. These nationalists are also likely to vociferate that Sri Lanka could depend on its ‘all-weather friends’ in Asia for support in a number of areas and that Western support is not of much consequence for its sustenance.

But such positions fly in the face of hard political and economic realities. To begin with, no major power in Asia would come to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the cost of its own political and economic links with the West. These powers’ economic wellbeing is integral to their having cordial ties with the US, for instance. China cannot afford to neglect its trade and investment ties with the US and vice versa. China would not risk too much for Sri Lanka’s sake.

Besides, there is the case of Uganda to consider. It has scarred itself badly by mortgaging some of its real estate to outside powers. Today, the latter are reportedly staking a claim to what they seem to have lost by forcibly occupying the territories concerned in Uganda. Small countries, such as Sri Lanka, have no choice but to relate cordially with all the major powers.

Of the subjects that are expected to come up for discussion at the summit, ‘Advancing respect for human rights’, ought to be of prime importance. This is at the heart of democratic development and it ought to be clear that countries that do not respect fundamental human rights could not be part of any discussion on democracy. Accordingly, authoritarian states cannot sit at conference tables of this kind. It ought to be equally plain that ‘one man rule’ or one-party rule could not figure in these talks since such dispensations are antithetical to basic human rights.

Currently, even in the West, the suitability of the US to head the summit in focus is being vigorously questioned and there are acceptable grounds for this. While it could be argued that the US is a flawed democracy, it needs to be remembered that the foremost democracies are growing, evolving and dynamic systems and are not static and stagnant in nature in those cultural environments that favour their adoption. Accordingly, democracy cannot be rigorously defined. Essentially, it could be defined only in terms of what it is not. For example, political systems that do not nurture individual rights cannot pass muster as democracies.

Thus, the summit offers opportunities for a fruitful discussion on what must be done to keep democracy ticking. Ideally, major democracies in Asia too need to conduct such parleys on ways of benchmarking democratic advancement. India, for one, could take on this responsibility, being one of the most advanced democracies in our region.

Continue Reading

Trending