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Standing up to politicos in Kurunegala in 1978-79



Excerpted from Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne’s “Perils of a profession”

I rode into storms and tempests in Kurunegala from mid-1978. What happened in Kelaniya paled into insignificance when compared with encounters with politicians in Kurunegala. The ugly pattern of constant interference with some politicians interfering at will, helped by a compliant police, had taken firm root. Kurunegala division consisted of 14 electorates. I had no difficulty interacting with D. B Welagedera of Kurunegala, S.B Herath of Hiriyala, Sirisena of Bingiriya, Alawathuwala, Wanninayake, and Jayawickrama Perera of Pannala.

MPs Ratnayake of Panduwasnuwara, M Premachandra of Mawathagama, Abeyratne of Yapahuwa, D. M Jayathilake of Kuliyapitiya and Sunil Ranjan Jayakody of Polgahawela were difficultas for they expected the police to dance to their tunes. My SP’s were Dudley Von Hagt and Boyagoda in Kurunegala, ASP Buckley Silva in Kuliyapitiya and ASP H. A Wickramaratne who later became IGP in Maho district.


Meeting President Jayewardene in Kurunegala in 1978

Not long after assuming duties, President J R Jayewardene visited Kurunegala to view a drama produced by MP Sirisena of Bingiriya at the Town Hall. He arrived at the residence of MP for Kurunegala, D. B Welagedara, to await the time to leave for the Town Hall. I remained within the residence, but out of the view of the president. His security officer, ASP Camillus Abeygoonewardene told me that on the drive to Kurunegala, the president inquired about my background and the accusation that I had been politically partisan in the conduct of my duties at Kelaniya and Kurunegala.

I was reassured that the ASP had denied the accusation saying I was merely performing my duties correctly. A short while later, D. B Welagedara left for the Town Hall to await the arrival of the president. Thereafter, a servant of the household informed me that the president wished to speak to me. I entered and found only the president seated inside the drawing room. He asked me to take a seat, on my greeting him with a salute.

Without wasting time, the president asked, “Is there political interference?” I replied, “Yes, Your Excellency”. He then asked me for details, and I bared all my conflicts with some MPs. The president appeared impressed, and said, “don’t let them interfere; report them to me if they do so again”. I found his sincerity encouraging. It was this experience with the president which later emboldened me to report the Yapahuwa MP Abeyratne to him through the IGP which culminated in the MP apologizing to the entire staff of Maho police station.


Confrontation with MP Panduwasnuwara

Not long after taking charge of the division, I ran into difficulties with MP Ratnayake of Panduwasnuwara. My predecessor, T. B Talwatte, who retired from Kurunegala had agreed to recommend to police headquarters a request by the MP that the entire Panduwasnuwara electorate be brought under the autority of the Hettipola police station. When the file came to me, I studied it intensely and considered that it was not possible to recommend the proposal since on the basis of the MP’s thinking there could be only 160 police stations in the island for 160 electorates. The Panduwasnuwara polling division at the time was covered by four police stations. It would have been impossible for one police station to cover such a vast area. In fact on an objective basis, even four police stations would have been inadequate to provide effective policing for the entire Panduwasnuwara polling district. I therefore reported to DIG R. Sundaralingam in police headquarters that it would not be possible to agree with the proposal. He approved my recommendation and returned papers.

The MP had on his own found out that his proposal had not found favour. Therefore, when I telephoned him to break the news, he spoke to me rudely; but I did not agree to help him with regard to his proposal. I served in Kurunegala for exactly one year before being transferred out, and during that period, the MP’s relations with me were extremely cold. On conducting discreet inquiries about the obsession with his proposal, I gathered that OIC Hettipola was a pliant type, and that the MP wanted him to control the entire Panduwasnuwara polling district so that he could be used to make life uncomfortable for all his political rivals within the district.


Confrontation with MP Abeyratne of Yapahuwa.

Not long afterwards, I encountered difficulties with MP Abeyratne of Yapahuwa. His usual habit was to call up police officers including the ASP and abuse them in public. Some officers in order to lessen their mental pain, had made entries at police stations about such instances. I called for extracts of entries made by police officers who had suffered insults in public leveled at them by the MP and made a report to IGP Ana Seneviratne revealing details of his excessive conduct. I also requested that the report be forwarded to the president.

MP Abeyratne had found out through his own sources that I had despatched a report to the IGP to be forwarded to the president. Not long afterwards, the IGP telephoned me one morning and requested me to meet him in his office in Colombo. He further said that the MP would be present and he was prepared to apologize to the police if he had hurt them. I immediately left for police headquarters, and on entering the office of the IGP, found that the MP had already arrived there. I explained to the IGP that I was not prepared to allow my officers to be bullied in such a manner. The MP then said that he was prepared to apologize to the police officers of Maho police station and that he would not harass them in future.

The IGP requested me to accept the MP’s terms. I promised to pick up the MP at his residence the next morning at 8.00 am, and directed ASP Wickramaratne to assemble all police officers of Maho police station, over 50 in number, to enable the MP to address them. I collected the MP the following morning and we arrived together at the police station. I first addressed the officers and said that while standing firm on matters of discipline, I will protect them against insults hurled at them. I further said that the MP had arrived to say “sorry” for what had transpired, and to accept the apology in good grace.

The MP then rose from his seat and said, “Niladhariwaruni, mage athin waradak wuna nam mama avankawa, nihathamaniwa, samawa illanawa” (“officers, I honestly and sincerely request you to forgive me if I have done some wrong to you”). The police officers clapped, and one of them rose from his seat and thanked the MP for his apology. I then took the MP away and dropped him at his residence. The officers of Maho were so relieved that they adjourned to the Rest House and enjoyed themselves. The MP obviously did an ‘about turn’ because he did not wish my report to reach the president. From that day until I left on transfer, the MP left police officers alone. But when the opportunity came his way to take revenge from me in mid-1979, he in concert with a few other MPs worked to secure my transfer out of Kurunegala.


Confrontation with MP Sunil Ranjan Jayakody of Polgahawala

Sunil Ranjan Jayakody had been a private in the army serving as a despatch rider before entering politics. He rode to victory in 1977 on the huge wave that brought the UNP to power. I had ample reports as I took over the Kurunegala division that he desired unbridled power and expected the police to bend to his will at all times. Somewhere in late May 1979 on a Sunday morning, I was reading the newspapers at my residence when I received an anonymous telephone call on my landline. Mobile phones were unknown then. The caller said that there was tension of an unusual nature in Polgahawela where a Buddha statue had been placed at the gate of a kovil on the road leading to MP Jayakody’s residence. I was also told that the police were partisan, and that Sinhalese people, offended about a possible desecration of the statue, had gathered outside the kovil. I realized that communal violence may occur.

I made efforts to contact Dudley Von Hagt, ASP Kurunegala, and was informed that he had left for Polgahawela. OIC Polgahawela, Inspector Henry Dissanayake too had left for the residence of the MP, according to officers of Polgahawela police station. He was a pliant factotum of the MP. I immediately left Kurunegala and arrived at Polgahawela police station. Officers of the station informed me that the ASP and OIC were at the residence of the MP. I think I took one or two constables in my car and left for the Kovil which was on the road leading to the house of the MP. A Buddha statue, about 2ft by2ft, was lying on the steps leading into the kovil. A fair number of Sinhalese had gathered outside. Their comments reflected their hostile mood.

The first thing I did was to have the statue despatched to the police station in my car. Simultaneously the assembled crowd was advised to disperse. I then sent the police officers to fetch the ASP and the OIC who were at the MP’s residence. I also ensured the presence of more police officers at the scene. I asked the ASP and the OIC why they were obliging the MP and consciously abetting him to cause communal disturbances. Several soldiers had died due to a landmine triggered by the LTTE the previous day in Batticaloa, and the MP wanted to exhibit his “patriotism” by creating conditions in Polgahawela for Tamils to be attacked. He obviously desired irate Sinhalese to storm the Kovil and commence clashes.

The ASP and the OIC suggested that the statue be brought back and placed inside the Kovil so that the Sinhala and Tamil communities could enter it to worship together. It surprised me that they chose to ignore the dangers that would arise from such a step. Perhaps they had been more obsessed by a desire to please the MP. I had police resources from outside Polgahawela enlisted to intensify security in the area and returned to Kurunegala. The first thing I did the next day, Monday, was to dispatch a report to police headquarters seeking the immediate transfer of OIC Polgahawela, IP Henry Dissanayake. The order of transfer came a few days afterwards.

The MPs’ who had waited patiently to have me moved out, Abeyratne of Yapahuwa, Ratnayake of Panduwasnuwara, G Premachandra of Mawathagama and Sunil Ranjan Jayakody of Polgahawela now joined hands to agitate for the retention of IP Henry Dissanayake at Polgahawela and for my transfer. The transfer order of OIC Polgahawela stood, but I received transfer orders effective from June 18, 1978 with only two days notice to move out. I had a sense of pride that I stood by professional principles and ethics and said so in my farewell speech to fellow officers. As usual, DIG R. Sundaralingam was a great source of comfort. My transfer was to an insignificant slot in Colombo, away from field work.



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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security



The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!



Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community



by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”


The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.


An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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