(Al Jazeera) When social media was inundated with rumours that Sri Lanka’s holiest tree was being harmed by 5G mobile signals, Colombo’s cash-strapped government pulled out all the stops.President Ranil Wickremesinghe dispatched a high-powered team of experts to the 2,300-year-old Sri Maha Bodhi tree in the sacred city of Anuradhapura.
The team included the head of the telecom regulator, his technical chief and the director of the National Botanical Gardens, along with university professors and district administrators.Several visits were made, surveys were carried out, and the centuries-old tree was examined and monitored before a conclusion was reached: there were no 5G signals in the area in the first place.
The episode highlighted the speed with which fake news travels in Sri Lanka – but even more so, it illustrated the reverence in which the country holds the Sri Maha Bodhi.
The tree is believed to have been grown from a cutting of the bodhi tree in India that sheltered the Buddha when he attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.It is both an object of worship and a symbol of national sovereignty on the majority Buddhist island of 22 million people.
The first claims it was under threat appeared on a local website: 5G radiation from towers near the tree was supposedly turning its leaves black, and it was at “great risk” of eventually shedding them all and dying.Memes were shared widely on Facebook and WhatsApp groups, and a television presenter repeated the theories on his YouTube channel.
The chief monk of the Bomaluwa Temple that houses the tree in Anuradhapura, 200km (125 miles) north of Colombo, was accused of taking bribes from phone operators to let them set up 5G base stations nearby.
“I am not a scientist, nor a botanist, so I raised the issue with the president in February,” monk Pallegama Hemarathana, 68, said. “He immediately appointed a panel of experts.”
“The government and the Buddhists will do whatever it takes to protect the Sri Maha Bodhi.”
There are four older base stations within 500 metres (1,640 feet) of the tree, but Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director General Helasiri Ranatunga said there was “no 5G coverage in the sacred area as rumoured”.
Radiation in the area was well below World Health Organization thresholds, he said, and botanical experts had ruled there was no threat from existing 2G, 3G or 4G coverage.
The panel did, however, recommend banning mobile phone use to preserve the temple’s tranquility, he added.
While there are already signs in place to that effect, they are widely ignored by the hordes of visitors to the site.
At the moment, fresh heart-shaped, purple-green leaves are sprouting on the tree.Botanically a “ficus religiosa” – also known as a “bo” – the tree is worshipped by thousands of Buddhists daily as a symbol of the “living Buddha”.
Comparatively small despite its long history, it is propped up by 10 gold-plated iron supports and dwarfed by another bodhi a short distance away.First-time visitor G Kusumalatha travelled 400km from Walasmulla with more than 60 other pilgrims to pay homage to the sacred tree.
“I feel ecstatic to be so close to the Sri Maha Bodhi,” she said, thanking the “good karma” that had given her the opportunity.
But no one is allowed within an arm’s length.The original tree in India is said to have died centuries ago.Its Sri Lankan descendant was the scene of an attack in March 1985 by separatist Tamil Tigers, who killed more than 120 people.
Since then, the tree has been provided with airport-style security, with visitors going through metal detectors and pat-downs. It is surrounded by two gold-plated fences and protected round the clock by monks, police and armed troops.Several men are also deployed to clap their hands and chase away squirrels, birds and monkeys that could threaten the tree.Sashika Neranjan, 39, visited the site recently with his extended family.
Report on child protection delivered to President
The Committee appointed to Study and Make Recommendations for the Protection of Children handed over their comprehensive report to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday (03) evening.
This committee was established on April 19, 2023, to study and provide recommendations for the protection, care and overall welfare of children who have been subjected to various forms of violence within Sri Lanka.
Over the course of nearly five months, the committee conducted 21 meetings to gain an in-depth understanding of the existing issues and to formulate practical recommendations. The committee comprised a diverse group of members, including representatives from institutions such as Children Homes, Remand Homes, Certified Homes, Child Development Centres, Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Chambers of Commerce, Trade Unions & Associations, Principals of Schools, Civil Society Organizations, Telecommunication and Digital Service Providers, Telecommunication Regulators, Digital Crime Security Experts, Lions Club, Rotaract Club, representatives from the U.S. Embassy, Colleges of Medicine, Solicitors General from the Attorney General’s Department, National Child Protection Authority, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol, Family Health Bureau, Foreign Employment Bureau, Sri Lanka Women’s’ Bureau and officials from the Ministries in charge of Women & Children and Education.
The report, which was completed and submitted to the President yesterday, addresses a wide range of issues concerning child protection, including issues related to institutionalized environments, lack of parental care, family separation, digital media exposure, child labour and more. The committee also evaluated the adequacy of existing institutional, administrative and legal safeguards for child protection, aiming to meet the demands of modern society.
Furthermore, the report explores strategies to enhance the physical and mental health of children who have experienced various forms of violence, abuse and neglect. It also delves into the concerning trend of children engaging in violent acts and seeks innovative approaches for community participation in child care initiatives
Landslide Early Warnings Issued to Colombo, Galle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Matara and Ratnapura Districts extended
The landslide early warnings issued by the landslide early warning center of the National Building Research Organisation to the districts of Colombo, Galle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Matara and Ratnapura Districts have been extended untill 1630 hrs today.
Level II landslid early warnings have been issued to the Divisional Secretaries Divisions and surrounding areas of Neluwa in the Galle district, Ingiriya in the Kalutara district, Pasbage Korale in the Kandy district, Kotapola and Pitabeddara in the Matara district, Ayagama, Kuruwita, Pelmadulla, Nivithigala, Kiriella, Ratnapura, Elapatha, Eheliyagoda and Kalawana in the Ratnapura district.
Level I landslide early warnings have been issued to the Divisional Secretaries Divisions and surrounding areas of Seethawaka in the Colombo district, Elpitiya in the Galle district, Walasmulla in the Hambanthota district, Mathugama, Buathsinhala, Aggalawaththa and Walallawita in the Kalutara district, Yatiyanthota, Kegalle and Dehiowita in the Kegalle district, Athureliya and Mulatiyana in the Matara district and Imbulpe and Kolonna in the Ratnapura district
Opposition: Judge’s resignation has tarnished Lanka’s image
He should have taken action against those who threatened him – govt.
By Saman Indrajith
Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that there were serious questions and concerns about the independence of the judiciary following the resignation of Mullaitivu District Judge T. Saravanarajah, citing threats and harassment.
“This is a serious issue and the government should conduct an independent inquiry into this matter immediately,” Premadasa said.
Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said the judge’s resignation, citing threats and harassment following his ruling on the Kurundimalai temple, had led to concerns about the independence of the judiciary. He said that the Mullaitivu Magistrate had been pressured to change his judgment.
Justice Minister,Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Sri Lankan judges had power to issue summons and take appropriate action against individuals who attempted to exert influence over them. He asked why the judge concerned had not used his powers.
Minister Rajapakshe said that the Opposition could file a contempt of court case if anyone had pressured the Mullaitivu Magistrate to reverse his judgment as claimed, without levelling allegations against the government.
The Minister said the government had no powers to investigate the matter involving the Magistrate and that the JSC was the relevant body to handle the matter and requested if anyone had any issue, they could complain to the Judicial Service Commission.
TNA MP Sumanthiran said that the whole world knew that there was pressure on the Judge. “The Minister cannot claim that there was no pressure on the judge.”
Minister Rajapakshe said that if there was anyone in the House who had exerted pressure on the judiciary it was MP Sumanthiran. He said MP Sumanthiran had on 20 October, 2022 told Parliament that the judges of the Supreme Court should be sent home. “You said in this House that people had no faith in the Supreme Court.”
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