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“Selling the Family Silver” and India-SL bilateral relations

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by Dr Sarala Fernando

A remark attributed to the US Congress that “Sri Lanka is a valuable piece of real estate” had made the news here hinting at the strategic value of our island location while some had connected the remark to the MCC, an economic project integral to the US pivot to the Indo Pacific.

This sudden interest in Sri Lanka’s land assets made the headlines after Harvard economists in 2016 advised on the incorporation of a land project under the MCC to address constraints to national growth by a re-survey, re-valuation and deed grants on lands around the country. Local experts argued that such a programme would lead to pressure on smallholders to sell land to more powerful entities for commercial exploitation increasing rural poverty, environmental and wild life destruction and water scarcity.

The Harvard economists and the MCC have come and gone. However, it seems the spirit of their view of land as a commodity is still alive judging by recent government decision to release nearly 1.5 million acres of other state forests to be repurposed for development work. This has become a hot topic of discussion and environmentalists have filed court cases to revert to the previous protection provided to unrecognized forest covers.

The silent constituents, the trees and the animals have felt the brunt of this decision with the increased deforestation and destruction of mangroves, the killing of large mammals like elephants and even our prized leopards and most recently hundreds of birds found dead, probably poisoned, off Wilpattu. Are there criminal gangs behind the sudden spate of shooting of tuskers and snaring of leopards, questions still not answered by the authorities? The government focus on land has extended to the urban areas where long standing wholesale markets, social and sports clubs have been taken over by the UDA with scant explanation of the reasons behind the seizures and plans for redevelopment of these valuable lands (urban housing/recreation for the public?). Selling lands, the equivalent of the proverbial “family silver” is to be expected in these extraordinary times where Sri Lanka has heavy foreign debt obligations.

However since the government land acquisition strategy remains opaque, without consultation or explanation of any business plan, public protests are now spreading even to non-agricultural foreign investment proposals ranging from allocating the ECT terminal in Colombo port and the KKS port to India, to mining of titanium from sands in Mannar – a water scarce area – to an Australian company . Land issues came to the fore early when the Tourism authorities set up a one-stop shop for new hotel construction despite the crisis in the hotel industry with the Covid epidemic and drying up of tourist flows. In other countries, empty hotels are being taken over by the government and converted to new uses like urban housing; however our authorities seem more concerned about allocating land in water shortage areas like Kalpitiya and Mirissa for 600 room hotels, so called “foreign” investments promoted by local barons.

In Yala, a new foreign managed hotel has suddenly emerged and is said to be destined for those “high spending” East European tourists irrespective that Yala is suffering from over-tourism and the animals are more in need of food and water. Added to the confusion, in parliament it was announced that the source of the second wave of Covid infection had been traced to a Ukrainian pilot and now the public is in a panic over the pilot project to bring in hundreds of Ukrainian tourists.

Public protests are spreading in agriculture areas with the Mahaweli authorities demarcating lands for large scale foreign investment taking from forest reservations and commons, dislocating animal feeding grounds and overriding even the demands of the local villagers for protection of their rights to customary land and forest use.

A recent news item featured the Agriculture Ministry offering Rs 700 million to local farmers to grow fruit for a foreign multinational company which will provide the plants and drip technology and presumably buy the fruit cheap and retain the export earnings for its own profit! What will be the value addition for the government if they have also provided tax concessions for the foreign investor? Even more serious, what will be the negative impact of these tasteless new hybrids on our heritage varieties of delicious local pineapple and bananas? Once the valuable land is allocated, the promised foreign money transfer may not even take place, the foreign investor’s preference usually being to bring in little foreign exchange and to borrow from local banks. Thus, when there is trouble, the “footloose” foreign investor gets away leaving local banks and insurances saddled with non-performing loans.

From the time of the Greek civilization, people have been lamenting over the vagaries of weather and other threats invariably faced by agriculture, which makes large scale operations a risky business. The problem is that tax concessions are being offered today to promote large- scale agriculture without the safeguards to prevent expensive failures. Even local large plantation companies are finding it difficult to operate today with all their experience, given the issues of soil depletion, non use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer and rising labour costs. Yet it seems an intrepid developer with more experience in seafaring than agriculture had demanded 40,000 acres to grow maize – (mind you he may not have heard about the fallworm crisis). Fortunately those in charge of the Mahaweli lands had allocated only 5,000 acres for a trial project but still this is hardly a good example of due diligence which should look for experience in agriculture rather than the usage of prison labour, as announced by the entrepreneur.

Before it is too late, we should learn from the experience of our neighbour India. I recall a lecture by the eminent Dr M. S. Swaminathan many years ago at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (then Sri Lanka Institute of International Relations) where he prophesied that the intensive agriculture “green revolution” would eventually render barren productive areas of their country due to heavy chemical applications degrading the soil. In India today, they are returning to traditional farming practices to revive the soil, re-foresting and trying to connect the farmer to the markets.

Instead of cattle grazing on open land, sheds are being constructed within the village and herders encouraged to bring feed to the cattle. Should we not even now look to small, smart and more sustainable practices to make small farmers more independent? Talking with farmers growing organic high value rice varieties on their lands in Wellawaya with support from Jetwing, it seems they still have faith in traditional practices, calling the mechanical harvester “boothaya” and preferring to bring down buffaloes from Bandarawela to the tractor! Bangladesh is tapping the Indian experience in elephant conservation which is a new area of their bilateral cooperation. Private sector investors in India have recently set up a hospital for treatment of sick domesticated elephants with ultra modern equipment.

Here in Sri Lanka, despite the interest of private philanthropists, the government appears unwilling to give land for an elephant sanctuary or “soft” release area for translocated bull elephants. A central question is why, as a Buddhist nation, Sri Lankans have not included into the Constitution, the protection of animals and living creatures as illustrated in every step of the Gautama Buddha’s life journey and his preachings? Even today, many proposals to strengthen the environmental safeguards and ethical treatment for animals have been sent to the Committee to prepare a new Constitution, but no one has even received an acknowledgement! By contrast, the Indian Constitution is way ahead of us, Article 51-A (g) which deals with Fundamental Duties of the citizens states: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”

Our land endowment also includes the small islands, over 100 around the mainland, enabling extension over expanses of territorial seas. Instead of pushing only commercial fisheries, should the government not think about declaring a marine sanctuary zone all around our island, a domestic security Zone of Peace with proper management safeguards for national land and maritime resources? Sri Lanka received too many multi-day boats after the tsunami, several of which have been converted to nefarious purposes like illicit immigration and smuggling.

Furthermore, why prioritize investment in commercial fisheries at a time when global attention is being called to clean

ing the oceans, replenishing fish stocks, restoring coral reefs and mangroves affected by rising sea waters and ocean temperature rise? Protecting our seas and coastline should be given high priority since our island is in the vicinity of some of the busiest sea lanes in the world and vulnerable to disasters such as New Diamond oil tanker which caught fire off the East Coast.

Cooperation with India has been vital in this regard throughout the years as they have access to both expertise and stocks of fire fighting foam which can be quickly deployed.

While enhancing cooperation with India in addressing marine disasters and security issues such as smuggling, illicit immigration and terrorism/criminal related activities of mutual concern, as a small state with no pretensions for offensive power projection, we should feel free to disagree with India on the imperatives of high defence spending and partnering with the US on security manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean with their latest weaponry.

The recent Malabar naval exercises by the Quad in the Bay of Bengal and naval sonars are believed to have impacted the unprecedented beaching of some 100 pilot whales in Kalutara around the same time, rescued after a marathon effort by our navy and volunteers.

(Sarala Fernando, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. Her Ph.D was on India-Sri Lanka relations and she writes now on foreign policy, diplomacy and protection of heritage).

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Life style

TSUNAMI

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by Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

Gifts from Japan

My fascination about the seas, oceans and waves commenced at age five, when my father returned from home from Japan. Among a few items my dad brought home with him after his official trips to Japan, were kimonos, my first Judogi for practicing martial arts. All of which were nice, and my favourite Japanese item was a numbered copy of the painting, ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (神奈川沖浪裏) or the Wave by Katsushika Hokusai.

Nostalgia

Growing up in Bambalapitiya Flats, Colombo, Ceylon, every morning I would watch the real waves of the Indian Ocean from my bedroom windows and from our balcony, as well as Hokusai’s semi-abstract dramatic waves that was hung in our living room. At that time, I always wondered if the rows of ugly rocks placed by the city to prevent sea erosion, were really needed. Adding the years, I worked and lived-in seaside resorts and hotels, I have been fortunate to spend over 30 years, listening to, or looking at waves, every day. A few years ago, my father gifted me a copy of this great Japanese painting, which now hangs in my office in Canada. Nostalgia continues…

Wave

The drawing of the Wave is a deification of the sea made by Hokusai who lived with the religious terror of the overwhelming ocean completely surrounding his volcanic country. He was impressed by the sudden fury of the ocean’s leap toward the sky, by the deep blue of the inner side of the curve, by the splash of its claw-like crest as it sprays forth droplets. The Wave, completed around 1830, is Hokusai’s most famous work and is often considered the most recognizable work of Japanese art, in the world.

2004

I never fully understood the eerie message Hokusai was communicating with the world, through his timeless masterpiece for 174 years, until the year 2004. The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 is one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Some waves that hit Indonesia were 100 feet tall, and Sri Lanka recorded 33 feet waves. This Tsunami resulted in 228,000 estimated deaths (35,000 in Sri Lanka) in 14 countries, and displaced over 1.7 million people (half a million in Sri Lanka). Mercilessness of the angry nature truly defies imagination.

Inspiration

Two weeks ago, my youngest son, Ché Rana asked me if I could give him a special present for his 18th birthday. He wanted me to do a large (4 feet X 4 feet) abstract painting for his bedroom, as his birthday present. He requested me to create the painting based on the theme he gave me (Tsunami) and his preferred colours. I wasn’t given much of artistic freedom, but he inspired me to produce a new large painting. While creating this painting in my basement studio, my creative mood inspired me to pen a new poem – ‘Tsunamic Moods’ as a tribute to Hokusai.

Tsunamic Moods

 

A cool morning and a calm ocean

Greeted by gentle breeze as we sail

Everyone happy in a relaxing holiday mood

Life seems peaceful when all is plain sailing

 

Suddenly the dark sky invades, the sunshine flees

Change of course, birds disappearing abruptly

Seagull screams drowned by some fearsome noise

A provoked nature, ocean exploded in thunderous fury

 

Swells coming small at first, then large and violent

We are helpless in the midst of giant monstrous waves

Dreams plunge to nightmares, crushing my hopes

Can we survive a ruthless life tsunami?

 

 

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Diminishing Dumbara patterns call for revival

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The Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is home to a striking repertoire of Dumbara designs. The collection which is open to the public only through temporary exhibitions, urges the revival of this fast diminishing traditional form of Lankan art which is described as a kind of ‘artistic meditation.’

by Randima Attygalle

The staff of the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum treats me to a feast of painstakingly designed exotic dumbara mats, tapestries, cushion covers, purses and much more. I marvel at the skill of the traditional Lankan artisan which is often taken for granted, bargained over, driven to substitute with other means of income today.

Once the staple of the picturesque Dumbara valley (valley of the mist) or Dumbara mitiyawatha, the craft was even sought by royalty. Some of the descendants of the master weavers who enthralled Kandyan monarchs with their art, still labour to keep their family tradition alive in villages of the Dumbara valley such as Thalagune and Menikhinna. They work against many odds. The base for the craft is the hemp leaf (niyanda hana) botanically termed Sansevieria zeylanica which is hard to source today. This drives the weavers to find substitutes such as cotton.

“The difficulty in sourcing traditional inputs and the poor market price for this time consuming craft force many weavers to abandon it. In the olden days, low pit looms were used to weave hemp. Today these are replaced by cotton and standing looms. The natural dyes are today replaced with synthetics,” notes the Director General, Department of National Museums, Sanuja Kasthuriarchchi.

One of the chief keepers of the tangible history of ours, Kasthuriarachchi with her special interest in traditional local arts, moots public-private collaborations to revive this one-of-a-kind Sri Lankan craft. Unless the weavers are offered incentives and assisted to find markets, their art would soon be confined only to museums, she laments. “This environmental-friendly form of art deserves pride of place in homes, offices and hotels and a national boost is necessary.”

The Colombo National Museum’s collection of dumbara designs are a mix of donations and purchases. The entire collection, however, is not meant for public viewing, given the restrictions in exhibiting space. “We do our best to enable public access through our temporary exhibitions from time to time,” says the DG. The collection also facilitates research. They are important for the study of the use of colours, the distinct patterns of fauna and flora and other inherent weaving skills of master weavers.

An intense research on Dumbara craft by the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is underway. The community-based research in the traditional weaving villages of Dumbara which was to commence last year was suspended due to the pandemic. Museum officials hope to recommence the project once normalcy returns.

“Today the craft has been diversified and has added handbags, file covers, pencil holders etc. to its portfolio. Yet, unless the craftspeople are given a sense of security including assured markets locally and globally, this craft will not last up to the next generation,” remarks Manoj Hettiarachchi. The Museum’s anthropology curator. Museum officials encourage the public to add to their Dumbara collection.

‘An investment in the national interest, such donated exhibits from private collections will be conserved for posterity. They are treated against possible insect attacksand other hazards.’

The dumbara patterns were perfected by men and women of the kinnaraya caste, notes Ananda Coomaraswamy in his work,
Mediaeval Sinhalase Art. The historian also mentions ballads known as kinnara kavi sung by ancient dumbara weavers.

The labour-intensive fibre-production process is described by Coomaraswamy in his book. The rounded green leaves of the hana plant are gathered and scraped against a log known as the niyanda poruwa with a wooden tool (ge-valla) shaped like a spoke shave. ‘This scraping removes the fleshy part of the leaf, leaving the white fibre, which is oiled and brushed and then ready for use almost immediately. Part of the material is left white, the rest dyed red, yellow or black.’

As Coomsraswamy describes: ‘the red colour is obtained by boiling the fibre with patangi wood, korakaha leaves and gingelly oil or seeds; the yellow from a decoction of venivel; the black with the help of gall nuts, aralu and bulu.’ Added to these three traditionally used natural colours mentioned by Coomaraswamy are an assortment of others including green and blue sourced by artificial dyes.

The loom is described as a ‘low horizontal contrivance’ and the weaver squats on the mat itself, supported by a few flat logs between it and the ground. The pattern is picked up with the weaver’s lathe (vema); this lathe, having an eye at one end, serves as a bodkin called heda liya with which to draw the weft threads through the warp.’

Perfectly plain mats are called pannam kalala, Coomaraswamy documents. These are usually decorated with birds, as is usually are kurullu kalala. Those with a variety of patterns are veda kalala or veda peduru. Among the notable dumbara patterns are toran-petta, tarava,tani-vel iruwa, depota lanuwa, taraka petta, pannam petta, tunpota lanuwa, del geta lanuva and mal gaha. Animal patterns of birds, deer, cobra and elephants were also popular.

Pic credit: Department of National Museums

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When I met Imran Khan, cricketer

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by Zanita Careem

I recall meeting Imran Khan, the former cricketer after his victory of the World Cup during his visit to Sri Lanka, a few years ago. I met him whilst he was here on an invitation extended by the Chairman of Sifani Jevellers Shaabdeen The young cricketer at that time appeared so much more reserved. circumspect and formal. Handsome indeed, Imran Khan was the cynosure of all eyes among the women at that function.

Last week he was in Sri Lanka as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on an official visit on the invitation extended by the PM Mahinda Rajapakse and President of Sri Lanka Gothabaya Rajapakse..

During the interview, at that time he spoke with disarming candour about the many twists and turns of his life journey as a cricketer . Even at that time, he was adored by millions of fans,His charismatic personality was admired by many in the cricketing field where he was famous for his blistering bowling. He also spoke about his greatest success as a fund-raiser, establishing the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and research centre in 1996 and a college in 2008 with funds raised.

He was recognised as a great ,cricketer, a compassionate philanthropist, his charismatic personality is recognised, well beyond the borders of Pakistan. Meeting the former Captain of the Pakistan cricket team who defeated England in 1992 at the World Cup final is still etched in my memory.

Imran’s was raised in an upper middle class family with an engineer father and home maker mother. He did not pursue politics as a career until his late 40s. Before politics his passion was international cricket. An iconic cricketer. Khan dominated the cricketing World in the 1980s and 1990s. Oxford educated. he spent most of his time overseas. He was well liked figure in Pakistan, due to his boyish charm and sportsmanship. To millions of Pakistanis, Khan was their leader who led the nation to victory.

Today Imran’s journey to the corridors of Parliament was very interesting. He is articule, and used his voice for people’s issues. He increasingly asserted that his decision to enter politics was for the people not for fame, money or power. The huge fan following that Imran amassed were the urban younger citizens. His fiery speeches, his leadership skills for dealing with some of the contentions issues are remarkable. He saw a political vacuum in the theoretical state of Pakistan and made all efforts to make it a better alternative to the existing system after he took over power as the Prime Minister.

He arrived in Sri Lanka for a two day official visit, this Colombo trip was only Imran’s second foray since becoming PM.Imran Khan is the first head of state since the pandemic to visit Sri Lanka. During his two day stay he had many fruitful bilateral meetings with the higher officials in Sri Lanka.

The attention and the warmth showered on Imran Khan marks a definite turn in the relationship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan

The exuberant welcome Imran recieved in Sri Lanka reflects the love, the people and the cricket fans had for him. Billboards and flags ffluttered along the routes and within the city of Colombo focussed the cordial welcome.

In Sri Lanka ,his speeches reflected the oratorical skiis. His ability to entice enthuiastic and spontaneous responses that sesulted in standing ovation at the few meetings he chaired. His eloquent language of English with a Britist aacent, well known and admired by many.

His ability to project to thousands of people , without effacing their differenes make him not only a rare and articulate politician, but an outstanding Prime Minister. Meanwhile a press release from .Sthe embassy of Pakistan stated

The charismatic captain led Pakistan to its World Cup victory in 1992. Mr Khan, struggled for years to turn popular support into electoral gains. He launched his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996. His party won the General Election 2018 and he became Prime Minister of Pakistan after a political struggle of 22 years.

Imran Khan’s economic vision for Pakistan is alluring. Khan is working hard to improve the lives of the poor. He promised a “new Pakistan” in the 2018 General Election. Imran made pledges with the nation for a uniform education system, launching of a health card scheme, elimination of corruption, improving the tax culture, self-sustainability of Pakistan, generating employment opportunities, strengthening of the federation, bringing reforms in police, boosting investment and tourism, strengthening agriculture sector by imposing an agriculture emergency, and protecting women population. He is on right track to fulfill his promises with the nation.

The Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has handled the economic impact of pandemic with effective strategies and emerged successful during tough times. Year 2020 has known to be a tale of challenges globally, but for Pakistan, under the leadership of PM Imran Khan, it has proved as a “story of success and development” even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Year 2020 narrates a journey of stable economy, numerous development and welfare projects, and remarkable achievements at foreign policy front. Khan’s government has significant achieved major milestones during 2020 along with a set of the Prime Minister’s New Year resolutions for year 2021.

Khan is not only achieving at domestic front but also fighting for the betterment of globe. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 75th session, highlighted global issues including climate change, money laundering, pandemic, Islamophobia and human rights violations. He called upon the UN to play its role to combat racism and ensure implementation of its own resolution for global peace and stability.

Imran khan is a philanthropist. He is gifted with natural leadership and the capacity to accumulate great wealth. He has great talent for management in all walks of life, especially in business and financial matters, where he contributes the greater vision, purpose, and long-range goals. He understands the material world, and intuitively knows what makes virtually any enterprise work. Business, finance, real estate, law, science, publishing, and the management of large institutions are among the vocational fields that suit Imran best. He is naturally attracted to positions of influence and leadership, politics, social work, and teaching are among the many other areas where his abilities are shining.

PM Imran Khan’s political struggle of twenty two years can be compared with a thrilling test cricket match, full of twists and turns. After a long struggle, he succeeded in the 2018 General Election. PM Imran Khan’s Government has managed to perform well in the foreign affairs arena as well. Critical in this regard has been Khan’s personal charisma on the international stage and close coordination with the country’s all institutions.

During the 1990s, Khan also served as UNICEF’s Special Representative for Sports and promoted health and immunization programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. While in London, he also works with the Lord’s Taverners, a cricket charity. After retirement from cricket and before joining politics Khan focused his efforts solely on social work. By early nineties, he had founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, a charity organisation bearing the name of his mother, Mrs. Shaukat Khanum. As the Trust’s maiden endeavour, Khan established Pakistan’s first and only cancer hospital, constructed using donations and funds exceeding $25 million, raised by Khan from all over the world.

Khan also established a technical college in the Mianwali District during April 2018 called Namal College. It was built by the Mianwali Development Trust (MDT), and is an associate college of the University of Bradford. Imran Khan Foundation is another welfare work, which aims to assist needy people all over Pakistan. It has provided help to flood victims in Pakistan.

President Rajapaksa is familiar with Pakistan where he attended number of military courses in Pakistan military training institutions. While Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has also deep association with Pakistan. Imran khan has visited Sri Lanka on number of occasions and has a great fan following in the Island Country. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Khan will be a great opportunity for leaders of both countries to make bilateral relations meaningful and beneficial for people of Sri Lanka and Pakistan which would further strengthen the relations between the two friendly nations.

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