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SLFP – What fate awaits it

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By Gunadasa Amarasekera

The reason for the SLFP leaders to celebrate its 70th birth Anniversary, I believe was promoted by a desire to make a comeback out of the depths to which it has sunk in recent times. Despite the desire to come back, has it the vitality, the elan left to do so? This is a question to be asked not only by the SLFPers themselves, but by the vast majority that happens to be the children of ’56 and also by all those who are interested in the well- being of the country-the nation. To answer this question, one needs at least a brief analysis of its genesis, its history and its past performance.

The biggest misfortune the SLFP has faced and is facing even today is its inability to identify itself, understand why it came into being. Except for a discerning few, most of the present generation including our so- called intellectuals and even those who have undertaken to lead the Party, lack this understanding.

For many, even today, it is a quirk of fate; for some elitist groups it’s the result of a demagogy spawned by a disgruntled few. Very few have addressed their minds to find an answer. GC Mendis was one among the few who sought to delve deep to seek an answer. He saw it as a lapse on the part of the main civilised political stream which allowed the barbaric tide languishing at the periphery to overtake it!

However, the die- hard SLFPers see it as nothing but the creation of its great leader-SWRD Bandaranaike – Bandaranaike with his slogan of ‘Sinhala in 24 hours’ was able to sway the masses, achieve victory and create history. Little do they realise that it is not the leaders that create history; instead it is history that creates leaders. Bandaranaike did not create a new party as such; he only delivered what was created by history, and played the role of the midwife or the obstetrician. This historical perspective has eluded those devotees of Bandaranaike.

The SLFP is a party that is different from all other parties that have emerged after Independence. The UNP was founded on the liberal ideology of the West, the Socialist parties were founded on Marxism, which once again was a product of the West. The SLFP, on the contrary, has its origins in the soil; it is rooted in the Sinhala Buddhist civilisation, which has nourished this nation over the centuries. This can be ascertained from the historical background that gave birth to this party.

After the Uva-Wellassa rebellion, the national liberation movement gave up the armed struggle and opted for a non-violent path. By then the renaissance movement initiated by Asarana Sarana Saranankara, during the Dutch period, had permeated to the rest of the country, especially to Ruhuna. It produced the intelligentsia, the educated Sangha community who were to spearhead the movement. Two great seats of learning – Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara were established by the pupils of Sarankara.it was this background that made Anagarika Dharmapala emerge by the end of the 19th century. It was he who took the message to the masses with a number of cultural movements. In his travels across the country, he realised that those villagers, the peasants, though living in poverty, had retained a civilisational consciousness inherited from a past; he also realised that this civilisational consciousness which lay dormant could be awakened in his fight against imperialist forces. By the beginning of the twentieth century the British ruler realised the threat imposed by Anagarika. The IGP said there was a likelihood of Anagarika surrounding Colombo one morning with ‘his barbaric hordes’. The rulers with the help of the comprador class and the deracinated members of the National Congress groomed by them were determined to take Anagarika off the stage, silence him and destroy his movement. They succeeded in doing so, but failed to destroy the seeds sown by him in the minds of the vast masses. Those seeds took root and flourished unnoticed with the passage of time, the nourishment needed was produced by the indigenous intelligentsia, the writers, novelists and poets of the time – sanga-veda-guru – the forces of ’56, came out of that milieu.

Except the young Bandaranaike, who had returned from UK, no other leader was aware of the silent revolution initiated by Anagarika. It was that awareness that made Bandaranaike establish the Sinhala Maha Sabha in 1934.The Sinhala Maha Sabha produced the blue print needed for the formation of the SLFP in 1951. The Sinhala Maha Sabha has suffered great injustice being labelled a chauvinistic Sinhala caucus. The truth is far from it. The SMS envisaged a political organisation that would not only look after the economic needs but also the cultural aspirations of the people who had suffered at the hands of the colonials. It addressed its mind to the unity of different communities and as a prerequisite to that unity it emphasised the need to unite the Sinhalese who were divided by political affiliations, by religion, caste and creed. It maintained that; it is only then, that other groups could be brought in as stake holders, participating in a common civilisation. This is possible when there is a non- antagonistic symbiotic relationship between these cultures and civilisations. (I think this a point that Huntington missed when he considered /assumed culture and civilization as one and the same.) This, I believe was the state of affairs in this country prior to the advent of the foreigner. This is so, even today at the village peasantry level, and this is what prompted President DB Wijetunge, a great villager himself, to make that most misunderstood statement -comparing the Sinhala nation to a tree around which the other ethnic groups should wind themselves for their survival. I believe this vision of the Sinhala Maha Sabha is more relevant today when the so -called reconciliation at the expense of the major community has failed miserably. It was a mistake on the part of Bandaranaike to have dissolved the Sinhala Maha Sabha when he joined the UNP; ironically what made Bandaranaike form the SLFP was the rejection of the proposals of the Sinhala Maha Sabha at the Madampe sessions by the UNP.

The great victory achieved by the SLFP in ’56 was not one that was anticipated by many. I don’t think that even Bandaranaike anticipated it; his close friend and founder member of the Party, Bernard Aluwihare left the party on the eve of the elections saying that he was not prepared to carry the coffin. There is a story I have heard from a reliable source that is symbolic of the situation and the quandary faced by the great leader and the nation. Bandaranaike, after a hectic election campaign had retired early to bed, the night, the election results were to be announced. He had told the family members, not to put him up; the family members though overjoyed by the results, had remained silent till the following morning. When they heard his footsteps coming down the stairs they rushed to announce the victory- Bandaranaike had stopped coming down and sat on the steps, silent, wrapped in deep thought for a long period.

I think this premature victory had its ill-effects on the party; it had the vision, but lacked the political structures, institutions, and the economic policies that were needed to translate the vision into praxis. Though it spoke of a nebulous middle path, a socialism of its own, there were no concrete plans to achieve those ends. I believe Bandaranaike had the vision, the intellect, to translate that vision. His death––a result of a conspiracy still unraveled––denied him that opportunity.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was able to implement some of the policies that were envisaged by her husband. But she had no holistic agenda. The Marxists who were with her, were partly responsible for it; they were interested not in a nationalist plan but a Marxist agenda. Some of the results were horrendous, such as taking away the lands of the locals; indiscriminate nationalisation followed by corruption, discouraging local entrepreneurship, austere measures –hal polu. miris polu and bread queues that made life impossible for the middle class, and the poor.

The situation was seized by the old fox JR to present the coalition as an adharmista evil force. What was ironical is that he was able to use the same lingo, the same terms dharmista which formed the core moral and ethical values of the SLFP. But this debacle suffered by the SLFP was temporary, it was no threat to its survival.

However, it was Chandrika Kumaratunga who assumed the leadership of the Party who was capable of thwarting) its survival.

It was Chandrika Kumaratunga who was able to destroy for the first time, the Sinhala Buddhist cultural foundation on which the SLFP was built. It was no longer the Party of the Sinhala majority-the backbone of the SLFP. It was turned into a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multireligious, multi-cultural party. Having transformed it, she was prepared to hand over North and East to Mr Prabhakaran for 10 years; invited the Norwegians to divide the country in the name of reconciliation, and was ready to execute the P-Toms together with Prabhakaran. She confessed later that the decision she made to dissolve Parliament was a mistake, which action was what allowed the war to be continued.

In all these, Chandrika Kumaratunga was ably supported by Mangala Samaraweera, with his thavalam and sudu nelum campaigns. I do not wish to believe that she extended her blessings to Samaraweera to co-sponsor the traitorous resolution by the US against our country.

The greatest harm inflicted on the SLFP was the derailing and destroying the economic policies followed by it from its inception. Though they may have not been clearly defined, they were always anti-imperialist, pro nationalist and pro socialist. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was always guided by her civilisational consciousness, she never allowed imperialist powers to exploit this country, she was fearless and bold enough to nationalise the American oil companies in spite of the threats of that super power. Her government cleared all the debts we had accumulated, JR Jayewardene reversed all this with his open economy -a euphuism for neo colonialism.

Chandrika never tried to get back to the economic policies of the SLFP, she was happy with the neo liberal policies of JRJ. Under the pretext of giving a human face, she embraced them gladly. However, what is most disappointing and damaging was that Mahinda Rajapakse who followed her als o continued with the same policies when he had the opportunity to change them.

The result of these contradictory, harmful trends, was the loss of vision, direction and loss of ideology, resulting ultimately in the loss of confidence of the people. The SLFP became a headless body-a kawandaya. No attempt was made to recover the lost head; what was attempted was to graft the heads of liberal donkeys and heads of Marxist horses, adding insult to injury. ( In my address at the Bandaranaike Commemoration I pointed this out.)

It was left to President Sirisena to complete the task and finish off the Party. He did so by doing the very opposite of what the founder of the Party did 70 years ago, by making the SLFP an appendage of the UNP, and taking it back to the folds of the UNP. The last supper (of hoppers) at the Temple Trees was followed by the crucification of the kawandaya.

This was the fate of the SLFP; the fate that awaits it today, cannot be much different.

What is really worrying is not so much the demise of the kawandaya, but its repercussions. Ranil Wickremasinghe may have thought that it was a superb strategy on his part to embrace Sirisena. He would have thought embracing Sirisena means destroying his opponent the SLFP for good. Little did he realize that it was the embrace of death, that it would kill his party as well as himself. He had ultimately secured a dishonorable grave for his grand old party after 75 years. In spite of all these repercussions, one would say that not everything is lost. The two main parties in their death throes have thrown up two saplings; the Pohottuwa and the Telephone which would carry on their mission. It would be extremely naive to believe in such a fantasy. The Pohottuwa will wither away before it blossoms, and the telephone will be dead before it answers the call.

Ultimately, we are left with a political dessert, a wasteland with no hope and nothing in sight as visualised by the poet – “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this this stony rubbish,”. All signs are there, that we are fast approaching that stage. (On the other hand the poet may be wrong where this resplendent isle of ours is concerned… that stony rubbish can produce heroes out of clowns and comedians as well as politicians to lead us.)

However, let me not end what I have to say only with this dismal picture to the children of ‘56, who had pinned their faith on this party and now feel betrayed and let down. There is no need to lose faith. The SLFP as a party may be dead, but not the ideology that gave it birth, it’s alive. It’s that ideology that made 6,900,000 of you to vote Gotabaya to power. That ideology founded on our centuries old civilisation as old as the Chinese civilisation will die only with the death of our civilisation. That it has not suffered such an untimely death is proved beyond all doubt by the victory of Gotabaya.

In 1959, three years after ’56, I wrote an article to that prestigious- now obsolete -journal Sanskrithi; I made the observation — that you the children of ’56 are the ones who would come to power and redeem this country. As you know that has not come to pass, it has remained a dream. The blame lies with you. You, living through dark times, especially after ’77, did not realise that what is needed is an enlightened dialogue, an intellectual engagement to prepare you for such a task. As a matter of fact, there had not been such a dialogue since Independence for you to get ‘connected to it’. What was there, was the despicable politics of power-hungry politicians to which you too became a prey. You thought the answer was in the barrel of the gun which wiped out a whole generation of you -that should have been a lesson to you.

I hope this present discussion on ‘the role of the children of ‘56’ would open your eyes to the need for such an intellectual engagement and an enlightened dialogue based on the civilisational ideology and the civilisational consciousness that it has generated, which you have not lost. It is only then, and then only that you can claim to seek power.

(Based on the contribution made on zoom seminar ‘On the role of the Children of 56.)



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Arms race accelerating to new heights in Asia

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The arms race is being accelerated to unprecedented heights in the Asian region through the introduction by some major powers of what is being described as the hypersonic missile. China was the latest nuclear-capable state to test fire this missile which could be equipped with nuclear warheads and is, therefore, invested with a mass destruction potential. However, India is making it clear that it would not be outdone by China in this competition for superior weapons technology by developing a hypersonic missile of its own.

A recent news report said, among other things, of the Chinese experiment that, “China recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which circled the globe before missing its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.” It is the missile’s advanced space capability that is among its most notable characteristics. In this respect it is a clear upgrade over the inter-continental ballistic missile that has a very much lower strike range.

As specialists have pointed out, the ICBM has a parabolic movement and hits its target at an ascertainable distance on the same geographical plane from the launch site but it does not possess the capability of travelling around the globe. The hypersonic missile, in contrast, has this globe-encircling capability and ought to be more worrying in respect of its destructive capability. However, it is the weapon that has come to be prized by the major powers. Besides the US, China and Russia, some other states that are said to be in the running for developing hypersonic weapons technology are; Australia, France, Germany and Japan, besides India. That is, almost the entirety of the world’s regions is caught up in the race for developing hypersonic missiles, with, of course, grave implications for the security of the human race.

Considering that China and India are in an unrelenting arms race and also taking cognizance of the possibility of other regional powers, such as Pakistan, not standing idly by as this competition continuously hots-up, it could be said that South Asia’s development prospects in particular stand the risk of being progressively blighted. Needless to say, South Asia’s poverty would be greatly aggravated when defense budgets of the region’s key states acquire greater precedence over their social welfare budgets. Besides, issues such as climate change would come to be overlooked by these states, resulting in the region’s development prospects being further undermined.

Ideally, SAARC needs to take a collective policy position over climate change issues that would be surfacing at the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow but with the region’s foremost powers hardly talking to each other and arms taking precedence over ‘Bread ‘, climate change questions are unlikely to acquire the importance due to them at Glasgow and other prime climate-linked international parleys. As a result, social welfare in South Asia would be steadily imperiled in the days ahead.

Focusing on the numerous dangers faced by the SAARC region as a result of climate change questions coming to be overlooked by the relevant governments, the ADB warned some time back: “…the collective economy of six countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – could shrink by up to 1.8 per cent every year by 2050 and 8.8 per cent by 2100, on average.”

However, it is not only the poor of South Asia who would be badly affected by the current global arms race. It would be correct to say that in degree to the proportion to which the arms race speeds-up worldwide, to the same extent would the poor everywhere be further impoverished and rendered vulnerable. This is on account of welfare budgets the world over suffering shrinkage in the wake of stepped-up arms spending. But the segment to suffer most acutely will be the poor of South Asia.

The continuing tensions between China and India on their disputed border areas would only aggravate the arms race between the Asian giants in the days to come. There are veritable eye-ball-to-eye-ball stand-offs between the armies of the two countries in the areas in contention. These tensions are currently focusing on the border India’s Arunachal Pradesh has with China. A few months back China-India tensions centred on the Ladakh region. Talks between the countries to sort out these disputes are ongoing but increasing insecurities would only stress the importance of armaments over development.

As this is being written, US President Joe Biden is heading for talks with the G20 grouping, which comprises the world’s most powerful countries. Biden would subsequently head for the climate change parley in Glasgow. Hopefully, the big powers would focus strongly on the current accelerating arms race and its consequences for the world. Put simply, they would need to discuss the ways and means of containing the arms race before it grows out of control. They would also need to understand, very crucially, that the major powers cannot credibly speak in terms of nuclear arms control and disarmament before they opt to systematically do away with the lethal, mass destruction arms which they already possess.

India and Pakistan possess a nuclear capability but they are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). From the viewpoint of these regional powers, this refusal to formally endorse the NPT is understandable because although some of the foremost powers of the Western hemisphere have signed the NPT, they are yet to say a clear “Yes” to nuclear disarmament. As long as the foremost global powers, such as the US, China and Russia, hold on to their nuclear weapons they cannot expect the prime powers of the South, such as India and Pakistan, to desist from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, the foremost powers could no longer gloss over arm control issues and pursue the relevant talks mechanically without connecting them to questions, such as, development, climate change and increasing worldwide insecurity. There is a logical link between insecurity, arms spending, underdevelopment and climate questions. The securing of sophisticated nuclear weapons is seen as a means to their security by powerful states, but they only create insecurities in their neighbours and the wider international community, who are in turn prompted to arm themselves with the same weapons. Thus is the arms race accelerated at the cost of human development and the environment. Slowing down the arms race is, therefore, imperative.

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Ending the Dispossession of Northern Fishers by Indian Trawlers

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Prof. Oscar Amarasinghe and Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

(Chancellor of the Ocean University and Senior Lecturer, Jaffna University, they are also, President and Executive Committee member respectively, of the Sri Lanka Forum for Small Scale Fisheries – SLFSSF)

From the beginning of the early 1980s, trawlers, from Tamil Nadu, have been crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and illegally fishing in the Palk Bay waters of northern Sri Lanka, damaging the ecosystem by bottom trawling, smuggling fisheries resources, belonging to the northern Sri Lankan fishers, damaging their fishing equipment, and undermining their livelihoods. Diverse types of interventions, by the two governments, dialogues between the fishers of the two countries, involvement of civil society actors, and others, have done little to prevent human suffering, economic losses and the volatile political situation disturbing the relations between two friendly countries that have emerged from this 40-year long story of resource piracy. The northern Sri Lankan fishers, who suffered 30 years of civil war have had enough and there is an urgent need to end this crisis.

Extracting and devastating resources

Both Sri Lankan and Indian fishers used to share the Palk Bay waters (historic waters) in the past, which they did in harmony. However, post-war developments saw radical changes in the structure and organisation in fisheries, the expansion of the market and the establishment of borders separating the Palk Bay region, all of which had tremendous influence on fisheries, especially on the type of technology employed (craft-gear combinations), target species, fishing pressure and area of operation. In this process of change, a tremendous increase in Indian trawlers was observed, which finally resulted in a serious decline of fisheries resources on the Indian side of the Palk Bay and crossing of the IMBL by the Indian trawl fleet to fish in Sri Lankan waters.

In northern Sri Lanka, over 37,000 fishers operate more than 11,650 boats, the majority of which are 18 feet FRP boats propelled by outboard engines of 8 to 25hp. Including post-harvest sector employment and dependents, about 200,000 people in the Northern Province are dependent on the sector. They don’t stand a chance against the 2500 odd 30-60 feet trawlers from Tamil Nadu propelled by 70-190hp outboard engines. Indian trawl boats are crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (which was established in 1974 and 1976) to fish on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay. These boats are poaching in Sri Lankan waters in large numbers as well as extracting and devastating the resources belonging to Sri Lankan fishers. Although the process of poaching commenced in a situation where Sri Lankan fishers in the North had limited fishing opportunities due to the civil war. Today the issue has become one of the most important economic and political issues in the country, because with the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishers in the North has commenced fishing.

The Palk Bay Pirates

Trawlers come at night, three days a week, smuggle colossal amounts of fisheries resources, and damage Sri Lankan fishers’ nets, causing enormous financial losses. To avoid the trawlers, Sri Lankan fishers often stay at home instead of going out to sea, thus loosing valuable fishing time. They are forced to adopt less-profitable, near shore operations and/or resort to destructive fishing practices (trawling, wing nets, purse seining, dynamiting, etc.). The social institutions of the fishing communities, particularly fisheries co-operatives present in every village, have been weakened due to the long decline of fishing incomes, where a fraction of such incomes are normally contributed to run the co-operatives. Thus, participatory management and coastal support for fishing communities have been undermined. The long disruption of fisheries after the war has made it difficult for fishing communities to plan for the next season, and many are slowly moving out of the fishing sector to other forms of day wage labour.

In the early years, arrests of Indian trawlers for poaching were made for security reasons, because the Sri Lanka Navy, which was fighting a war, was less interested in fisheries issues. But since the cessation of the war, the Navy arrested the intruders for illegal entry into Sri Lankan territory. The arrests were made under the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations Act No. 59 of 1979, Immigration Act of Sri Lanka and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The impact of the arrests in preventing Indian trawl intrusion was neutralised by the arrests of Sri Lankan multiday fishers for poaching in Indian Territory, and detained in Indian prisons. Often, through the intervention of the embassies of the two countries, the Indian trawler fishers arrested and detained in Sri Lankan prisons were released in exchange for Sri Lankan fishers detained in India.

Early Interventions

In trying to deal with this escalating crisis, the two governments drew up an MOU in 2005, which made provision for the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG), which among other things, would deal with issues of poaching and arrests. Although several rounds of discussions were held since 2008, no significant developments were reported, other than agreeing that fishers in both countries should be able to pursue fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner. However, some progress was achieved in the front of fisher-fisher dialogues. Several such dialogues have taken place in the past, initially organised by ARIF (Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen) and later with the active involvement of the two governments. The most important of such dialogues took place in August 2010, where the Indians agreed to stop mechanised trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within a period of one year, during which time, only 70 days of trawling were to be allowed. Unfortunately, the governments failed to back up these decisions, and the promises were not kept. Further dialogues took place under state patronage in March 2011 and January 2014, which did not produce any fruitful results.

Post-2015 developments

In April 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena convened a meeting with the various arms of the state and the northern fisher leaders on the request of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This high level meeting and continued engagement gave the fisher folk the confidence that their plight was a matter of serious concern to the Government, and initiated bipartisan engagement on the issue, leading to significant progress. The Parliamentary debate in October 2015 on the ecological and socio-economic damage by Indian trawlers, growing awareness through media coverage and the greater involvement of actors in Colombo, raised the fisheries conflict to the level of a national issue, rather than a problem confined to the North. Fisher leaders also took their issue to court and actively sought legal recourse towards prolonged confiscation of trawlers, and a ban of trawling in Sri Lanka. An Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act banning bottom trawling in Sri Lanka was passed by Parliament in July 2017.

On another front, the Indian Government, in 2015, made unambiguous statements that Tamil Nadu trawlers should stop cross-border fishing. Furthermore, the increased media attention on the devastation caused to Northern Fishers exposed Tamil Nadu’s hypocrisy. The Tamil Nadu Government called for INR 1,520 crore (USD 225 million) package to convert the trawler fleet to deep sea vessels under the ‘Blue Revolution Scheme’., of which INR 450 crore (USD 66 million) was approved by the Government in Delhi, and the rest was to come from bank loans. By September 2019, close to 590 trawlers have applied for this facility. Although concerns were raised about whether such a conversion to deep sea fishing and buy back is realistic and sustainable, the engagement from Tamil Nadu pointed to an acknowledgement of the unsustainability of trawling and poaching.

An important development was the setting up of a Joint Working Group in November 2016 during ministerial talks held between India and Sri Lanka (revitalising what was formed in 2005), which would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months.

The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group (JWG) included: i. expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, ii. working out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen, and iii. ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling. Both Governments agreed on setting up a hotline between the two Coast Guards. Agreement was also reached on the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries. They agreed to encourage the Fishermen Associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue. Yet, many of the decisions taken at the bilateral Ministerial talks were not followed through towards a permanent solution.

As a result of campaigns of small scale fishers from the North, the work of researchers and activists and engagement with the governments of the two countries, and more importantly, the enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations (amendment) Act, a significant reduction in the incidence of Indian trawlers illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters was noticed by 2018. Yet, the Northern fishers did not even have a breathing space for a new beginning, because the country was hit by the Covid Pandemic in early 2020. Very little action was paid against the poachers and there has been a resurgence of the incidence of Indian trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters, drastically affecting fishing livelihoods, which were already being threatened by the pandemic. The aggravated current situation, continues to dispossess the small scale fishers of the North; they were devastated by the war until 2009, crippled by the Indian trawlers in the decade after the war and impoverished by market disruptions with the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020.

Moving forward

The decision to arrest and retain trawlers that are crossing over the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Sri Lanka Navy, particularly since 2013, places significant pressure on the Tamil Nadu establishment. Yet, the lower levels of arrests over the last two years (71 vessels were arrested in 2017 while only nine were arrested in 2020) is in part due to fears of the Covid-19 virus spreading through arrests. Evidently, expanding deterrence is of paramount importance in dealing with the present crises, which needs strict enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boats Regulations (Amendment) Act, No. 01 of 2018 to arrest foreign vessels in Sri Lankan EEZ which has provisions for imposing heavy fines on trawl owners ranging from Rs. 4 – 15 million. The Trawl Ban Act. No. 11 of 2017 should also be implemented. Given that Indo-Sri Lankan relations are currently of great importance, where the priorities for both governments are in furthering trade, investment and defence ties between the two countries, deterrence is to be employed carefully. There is the need for a broader strategy that asserts pressure at different levels to ensure that Tamil Nadu addresses the issue of poaching by their trawlers; particularly given that fisheries is a devolved subject in India. Pushing for joint patrolling operations by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navy could be strategic. The Indian side needs to be convinced to install vessel monitoring devices on their trawlers to track their location. However, these efforts will prove futile unless the incidence of Sri Lankan multiday boats violating Indian maritime boundaries is brought under control.

Raising the issue both by the Sri Lankan Government towards the Indian Government and the TNA and Tamil political actors towards Tamil Nadu would be strategic, given the political realities. Strong emphasis should be made on the devastating impact of resource smuggling on the livelihoods of Northern fishing populations of Sri Lanka. Strategies to work with the newly elected Government in Tamil Nadu in relation to the fishing conflict will be necessary. Engagement by the Tamil fishing community and community leaders from the North will prove important for challenging a change of stance by Tamil Nadu Government and its leaders.

Thousands of nets worth millions of Rupees have been lost in the past decade, with no single fisherman ever being compensated and with no insurance being available. Fishers now deserve financial reparations for their lost assets and for lost fishing days. Financial reparations can also be asked from the Tamil Nadu fishers, the Tamil Nadu government or the Indian government. If such demands, however, are not met in the short term, the Sri Lankan government itself may need to find the required funds. A campaign for reparations for northern Sri Lankan fishers will help consolidate the demand for a permanent solution to the fishing conflict.

The larger aim of interventions in the Palk Bay should be to establish a sustainable, comprehensive, and socially just fisheries. Current data on the state of fish stocks in this region are highly deficient. Similarly, very little scientific knowledge on the damage caused to the environment by trawling is currently available. There is an urgent need for NARA to intensify research in the Palk Bay. This can provide the foundation for developing a rational and legitimate framework for fisheries governance. Such research will also continue to weigh on the need for a permanent solution that ends bottom trawling in the Palk Bay.

While the fisher-to-fisher negotiations conducted in Chennai in 2010 were initially widely acknowledged as promising, the follow-up was poor. Similarly, the Ministerial level talks in November 2016 were significant and even led to considerable changes, however, again follow up was poor. There is a need to build on the tremendous gains of those talks, regardless of the change of Government.

At the current moment there should be a clear plan recognising the realities in Sri Lanka and India, including the political changes in Tamil Nadu and the Covid-19 pandemic to work through a process of consensus building, but with firm resolve to end bottom trawling. There should be no setback on issues agreed at the Ministerial level talks in November 2016, and calls for licensing cross border fishing should be rejected outright.

Concluding remarks

The measures suggested above will be important steps towards resolving the Palk Bay fisheries conflict. Such measures along with the recent national attention on fisheries can also lay the foundation to ensure sustainable governance and management of the natural resource base and the people who depend on it. The establishment of effective interactive platforms (e.g., strengthening fisher community organizations, co-management platforms) and clearly laid down rights and responsibilities of participating actors, along with consultation, collaboration and coordination of all concerned actors can lead to effective and sustainable policies. Indeed, sustaining small scale fisheries in addition to solving the Palk Bay fishing conflict will encompass dialogue among relevant actors, capacity development, law enforcement and empowerment of coastal communities.

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Sri Lanka at EXPO 2020

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….a huge disappointment 

Rajitha Seneviratne’s description of the country’s pavilion, at EXPO 2020, in Dubai, has been endorsed by quite a few Sri Lankans who had the opportunity of checking out the Pavilion, themselves.

Briefly, this is what Rajitha had to say (The Island of October 12th):

“When I saw the pavilions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan (this country has no official exhibit but a private collector’s items), the SL pavilion is a huge disappointment, indeed. An EXPO is held to show the world where we are heading, more leaning on futuristic hope…not on showcasing only what we have/had….EXPO happens once in five years (Olympics is held every four years) and it’s a once in a decade opportunity. Where is the “WOW” factor in our pavilion? It is NOT about money but I got to know we have spent USD150 million – by any means quite a sum – and created a “pavilion” good enough to be a regular ‘stall’, at a local show, at the BMICH, in Colombo.”

And corroborating his statement are the following:

* Kumudu Abeyawardane:

I’m not someone who ever runs SL down. As messed up as we maybe, it is still the country that is home and I am one of those who chose not to leave, even when the opportunity existed.

“I was at EXPO 2020, in Dubai. I didn’t visit everything, but I visited almost all of Africa, and Asia, and, of course, Sri Lanka. What I saw was sad…as you entered there was a counter from the Ceylon Tea Board, with two very friendly girls who talked to everyone, who stopped to have a cup of tea, and did a brilliant explanation of Ceylon tea. Hats off to them! But, the experience ended there.

“The rest of the staff, except for one other lady, who was welcoming everyone, was sitting in corners, ignoring everyone….The SL brochure was only in Arabic. Someone forgot that this is an International exhibition.

“There were a few masks…a few photos that did nothing to bring out the magnificent beaches, or the heritage, or the wildlife we possess. Nothing about the development, or anything about the opportunities for investment!

SL was a sad contrast to even countries like Bhutan, or Congo, who were so eager to explain about their heritage.

“The US, and many other pavilions, were manned by student ambassadors – young and energetic, eager to talk, and happy to talk to people. Proud of where they come from.

“Let’s hope the authorities concerned will see this. EXPO 2020 is on till March 2022. We have five months to change things because we need both Tourism and Investments.”

* Akram Abbas:

“Totally agree with Rajitha Seneviratne’s article. We are living in Dubai and it was so disappointing to see the standard of our pavilion. The Afghanistan Pavilion is better than ours.”

* NM:

“I visited. Can’t explain how disappointed I am.”

In the meanwhile, it’s reported that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, at EXPO 2020 Dubai, received 23,000 visitors in one day, bringing the total number of visits to over 200,000…at the time this article was written. Probably, it would have doubled by now!

The Saudi pavilion provides visitors with diversified content, based on four main pillars: nature, heritage, bio-community, and the economic opportunities that the country offers to the world.

And, what is our Pavilion, at EXPO 2020, offering the world!

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