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Stop this cold war!



The aftermath of the anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama in 2014

A country in dire straits cannot afford creating divisions amongst and within communities!

By M. M. Zuhair PC

There are deep concerns within the Muslim community on the on-going state of hostility or cold war between certain State institutions and the country’s Muslim community including its long-cherished institutions. The subjective belief appears to centre around the universally condemned Easter Sunday attacks of 21/04/2019 continuing to be exploited by vested interests to cage the community and its institutions even after close upon four years of the 21/4 disaster, which the community had condemned and disassociated itself unequivocally!

Such hostile impositions are discriminatory and appear to be part of the anti-minority moves that began as hate campaigns in an organised manner in 2012. The role of war mongering foreign hands and their agents in progressively alienating and radicalising the country’s Muslims need to be kept under close watch. Prompt rectifications of matters perceived by the disgruntled youth as continued injustice may help prevent some of them becoming pawns in foreign organised disastrous counter moves. A country in economic dire straits or even otherwise, cannot afford to allow anyone to create divisions amongst or within communities that may lead to costly conflicts.

The community is distressed that Muslims, the community’s religious dignitaries both past and present, its historic institutions and its civil society have been continuously singled out for damaging coercive action. Such actions may be seen by the UN HRC mechanisms as oppressive and in violation of the Constitution of Sri Lanka as well as contrary to many multiple international treaties. Terrorists and criminals are one thing and the community and its institutions are another!

The aragalaya activists for instance cannot be dealt with as terrorists, though the country needs peace and social order. It is vital that the national political leaders learn lessons from the rise of the LTTE from amongst two prominent minorities in North Sri Lanka in the 1970s, the uprisings of 1971 and 1989 from the majority community and avoid creating confrontational issues with the Muslim minority, though it has not shown any capability to mount even a simple street protest!

With a pacifist political and business leadership at the helm of this community, oppressive actions on sensitive religious cum cultural issues could create new radical elements prone to violence. This country cannot afford to push anyone into violence! Hence the need to resolve these issues expeditiously.

The following are some of the instances, though there are many others, which require the urgent attention of the government in the interest of justice and fair-play on the one hand and ensuring unity and promoting trust amongst the communities on the other:


State mechanisms have been continuously used, often without any legal mandate to openly enter and survey a number of Muslim civil society organisations without any complaint or court warrants.

These regular visits and phone calls have had the effect of silencing Muslim organisations and reducing their services to the community and the country. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN HCHR) had identified the State institutions which had indulged in action violative of the freedom of association and freedom of expression in this regard. Lately a number of respected Muslim religious intellectuals have also been questioned by State institutions, which the UN HRC may consider as unwarranted harassment. In the circumstances Government must consider all State institutions being made accountable to Parliament, in the backdrop of allegations that some suicide bombers were also funded by certain State institutions, though the allegations may be unfounded.


The Parliamentary Select Committee on Easter Sunday attacks in its Report (page 93 onwards) dated 23rd October 2019 and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry in its Final Report (pages 361/2) dated 31st January 2021 have blamed the majoritarian extremism in the country, ‘igniting majoritarian extremist groups to attack Muslims, escalating the latter into violent extremism resulting in the Easter Sunday attacks’. But the prosecutions and actions taken by the Police Department and the Attorney General’s Department were so far, only against the Muslim minority with no prosecutions as per the said reports, against those who ignited and contributed to anti- Muslim violence in Aluthgama (2014), Gintota (2017), Ampara (2018), Digana (2018) etc. The State and its forces must guarantee on the ground that minorities are protected from majoritarian extremism. That is the best guarantee against minority extremism.


Meanwhile the Easter attacks were extensively and unjustifiably used with widespread indiscretion to blame Islam, its teachings, the Holy Quran, Islamic books, respected foreign and local Islamic scholars, the Mosques, the Madhrasas, Muslim marriage laws, the Wakf Act, Muslim civil organisations, in other words the Muslim community as a whole, in order to cover up the majoritarian extremist violences, which according to the findings of the two reports referred to earlier, contributed to the 21/4 Easter Sunday’s avoidable disaster. The reports had also recommended (page 372) that “the Government should take concrete steps to identify the root causes of religious intolerance and tension and promote trust among the different ethnic and religious communities….” It must be noted that under cover of the Easter attacks, a cold war on the Muslim community as a whole appears to be going on, often below the radar. This undeclared war on the believers of Islam in Sri Lanka may radicalise and compel some within the community to seek relief from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR). We need help to stop them.


A serious matter continuously raised by the Church leaders in Sri Lanka was that, though there were adequate time and opportunity to avert the 21/4 Easter attacks, those responsible for taking action to arrest and prevent the multiple suicide attacks criminally neglected for over 16 days to take any preventive action whatsoever to avert the terror attacks. According to a page 1 lead story published in the Lankadeepa of 11th February 2022, the CID itself has reported to Court that the then ‘CID did not act to avert the Easter attacks though it had the opportunity to do so’ and also ‘to arrest and prevent suicide bomber Zahran Hashim’ from carrying out the disastrous mission!


There are recent attempts by some State officials to blame the ‘unitary or oneness of Allah’ known as ‘Thowheed’ as distinguished from the Christian concept of ‘Trinity’ as an extremist ideology, though “Thowheed” or belief in the singleness or oneness of Allah is a fundamental part of the Islamic belief of every Muslim, including those Muslims divisively named as ‘sufis’ and certain others derogatively named as ‘wahhabis’ (Muwahhideens). These operations are in violation of Article 10 of the country’s Constitution. There are also attempts to defame the well-known Saudi Arabian Islamic Scholar Muhammed Ibn Abdul Wahab (1703-1787) and other scholars and Islamic organisations here and in India as spreading extremist ideology, without quoting a single sentence from any of Abdul Wahab’s or other scholars’ “original” works in support of any of these allegations. These allegations are futile attempts to shield and side track the globally well-known Western war mongers’ hate Islam- hate Muslims campaigns foolishly followed here by a few hate campaigners in Sri Lanka. These are unacceptable attempts to divide the majority from the minorities and presently also to create divisions within Sri Lanka’s small Muslim community.


Muslims are undergoing tremendous hardships for instance to import the Holy Quran and other Islamic books due to discriminatory restrictions imposed only on Islamic texts. The well-known “Peace TV” of Dr Zakir Naik, a reputed Islamic scholar, has been restricted in violation of the right of the Muslims to receive information whereas anti-Muslim Indian channels can be viewed in Sri Lanka engaged in divisive hate campaigns.


Islamic text books used by Muslim students in schools have been allegedly compelled to be edited by persons without knowledge of Islam or respect for the religion in violation of the Constitution. These are impediments directed only against Muslims, although there is a constant process of Islamic educators regularly improving the texts.


The issues facing the Tamil community need to be resolved. In doing so, the Eastern Muslims ought not to be imposed with new problems. The injustices caused during the reign of the LTTE such as the land grabs from Eastern Muslim farmers etc require redress.


The then proposed building approved in 1999 by the Cabinet headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunge on a proposal by SLFP stalwart Lakshman Jayakody then Minister of Cultural Affairs to be set apart for the Ministry of Muslim affairs is being currently divested at the instance of the Ministry of Buddhasasana to be shared with other institutions outside State Muslim Affairs. This is being coercively pursued in violation of and by suppressing the 1999 Cabinet approval. The building presently accommodates the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs. Several State institutions connected to Muslim Affairs such as the Board of Quazis, Quazi Courts in Colombo, Haj Committees, Advisory Board under sections 6 and 7 of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) etc require reasonable accommodation for their functions. The Wakf Board, the Wakf Tribunal and the Department of Muslim Affairs also need additional space for their activities. Persons who travel to Colombo to attend these institutions do not have sufficient space for attending to their official matters. Why is the Minister of Buddhasasana Vidura Wickremanayake wanting to take away what was physically given in 2000 for Muslim Affairs through his father, then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake? The Buddhasasana Ministry must decline to handle matters relating to the cultural and religious issues of Hindus, Muslims and Christians and avoid creating contentious issues with the minorities.


In a shocking move a respected lady officer belonging to the Christian faith has been appointed as Addl. Director of the Muslim Affairs Department. Her competency to manage issues relating to Islamic religious, Muslim cultural and Mosques issues is itself an issue. Three Muslims more competent to deal with these matters have been overlooked. She has not accepted this office as yet.


It is a known fact that the 21/4 attacks were extensively used to arrest and detain for months over 2000 Muslims, though most of them were released later as they had nothing to do with the Easter bomb attacks. Over 75 of the arrested Muslims are still in custody for over 3 ¾ years without the AG consenting to bail in most cases, allegedly depriving those indicted of a fair trial.

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Corruption is the ultimate criminality. It is also a contagion that spreads both vertically and horizontally. It is clearly eating the heart and vitals of our Nation.Corruption is indisputably a dominant reason for our plight. A lot of sanctimonious scoundrels have promised, with monotonous frequency, to “eradicate” this rampant evil. Each event that unfolds in the all-pervasive political arena, serves to increase the public’s revulsion towards politics and its practitioners.

For instance, everything that emanates from the Diyawanna sewer increases the penetration of this diabolical menace. In our early life, parents and schools drilled in developing minds, a compulsion to adhere to the total rejection of lying and falsehood. No more.

The indelible example of this, we learnt, that in developed countries, the newsagent leaves a pile of newspapers in a stack on the front of the shop, with a little label indicating the price of each. A customer would pick his choice and leave the relevant price. Seldom, we were told was there a risk of a cheat betraying this trust. This kind of simple event, makes me an unashamed and unrepentant “Anglophile”!

It appalls me to witness how casually people who should know better, are chronically dishonest and do not deserve the genteel “economical with the truth” label. They should, in our lexicon be simply referred to as liars.

A distressing fact is that the closer one gets to top, the higher the intensity and scale. How then can one address such persons as “Honourable”? I am personally inclined to restrict this “honour” to those who genuinely deserve it. A colleague goes even better – when one such undesirable stands up to speak, he simply walks out. This may seem trivial, but it is symbolically powerful.

Financial impropriety is not all, but an important factor under the general rubric of “corruption”. Why does our Government fight shy of using the readily available listings of the “wealthy” on the Internet? Panama Papers, Pandora’s Box.

The information is shocking. Several are possibly not cheats, but many of their likes clearly are. When somebody with no substantial means of becoming rich, having neither talent nor worth, turns up with stashes of millions of dollars, cannot such be called to account? Is it a question of “He who has no guilt, may hurl the first stone?’ No stones, no guilt”. More likely, Is it a case of “You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours”. Lots of back-scratching is evident.

The most distressing feature is the lateral and vertical spread of financial corruption. Some seem to display remarkable ingenuity of changing crises to bonanzas. Nothing is beyond their reach. If that “talent” is employed towards the public good, Sri Lanka can become a brightly shining country, like our often mentioned Singapore.

“Horizontal spread” is where the dishonest in one Institution (say Assembly or Department”), spawns the practice in another. The vertical spread is within such a body, where subordinates are inspired to feel “If it is good for my boss, how can it be bad for me”?

To take a simple scenario. Say, someone is flicking his petrol coupons or fudging his traveling claim, a whole chain of persons participate in continuing the chain, down to the officer who writes the cheque.

This spreads of the contagion of corruption, corrodes and fouls all. When stashes of currency notes are unearthed, it strongly indicates that this is highly suggestive of dishonest acquisition. With such evidence being readily available, it is no mystery why is there no effective follow up action? Is it not strange why these products of crime cannot be confiscated and used to meet our nation’s needs. How so? It seems as though we are displaying the caution of one who is walking on eggs.

Everyone would know about the (James) Bond scam. There are strong suspicions, but again an inexplicable delicacy and neglect of follow-up. In relation to inexplicable and undeclared hoards in banks and safe havens abroad, why have these clearly corrupt treasure troves not been captured and restored to their rightful owners, in this case, the Sri Lankan State. Such action is morally and ethically proper. The usual excuse of “the Law does not provide” is a feeble and unacceptable stance.

I believe that even the famous “Numbers only” accounts held in Swiss Banks etc. have been made more transparent. This is action (endorsed by the UN?), that permitted the gold snatched from the Jews, and national wealth that has been robbed by persons of the likes of Marcos (Phillipines) and the Suhartos (Indonesia). There would be ample space for more.

One understands that such remedial measures, require the aggrieved nations to institute legal action within their jurisdictions. In our case, there are several cases of astronomical amounts held by persons who have engaged solely in “politics” with no inherited wealth or talent, to generate such astronomical wealth. If a dozen or so of such delinquents are showed into jail, there could be little need for future “Aragalayas”.

Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda.

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Transformation of agro-food system:



A culture-based local solution for Sri Lanka

BY Prof Nimal Gunatilleke

The Thirty-seventh Session of the UN-FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) is being held as a high-level Ministerial in-person event in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 19 – 22 February 2024. This was preceded by the Senior Officers Meeting (SOM) held virtually from 31 January to 2 February 2024.

This year’s conference, themed “Transformation of the Agro-Food System,” will delve into key areas such as promoting nutritious food production, ensuring food security, enhancing food production, safeguarding the environment, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating climate change risks.

This regionally significant meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is being held in Colombo at a time when Sri Lanka is struggling to keep its head above water in the post-COVID era knocked down for the second time in quick succession by her economic crisis.

A government report and data from the health ministry quoted by Reuters indicates that the people in Sri Lanka are currently burdened with soaring prices, including food, largely caused by its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948.

According to the Central Bank Report ‘rising malnutrition among children has become a forefront policy concern in Sri Lanka amidst heightened food insecurity of households caused by the host of economic and social issues that exacerbated during the economic crisis in 2022’.

The following human health statistics extracted almost verbatim from the Reuters report on Jan 18, 2023, are equally disturbing, to say the least.

The number of children grappling with various forms of undernutrition in Sri Lanka has increased for the first time in at least six years in 2022.

More than 43.4% of the country’s children under 5 years of age are suffering from nutrition problems, according to the report released in October, with 42.9% suffering from some form of undernutrition.

Data available on the website of the health ministry’s Family Health Bureau indicate that the percentage of children under five who are underweight, stunted (low height for age), or wasting (low-height for age) increased in 2022 after dropping steadily since at least 2016.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient utilis ation.


According to the World Bank statistics, Sri Lanka ranked the second worst affected country in the South Asian region in terms of wasting among children under five years. Further, underweight among the same group of children remained around 20.0 percent since 2000, while no significant advancement was reported in terms of children with stunted growth.

Meanwhile, the persistent disparities in malnutrition prevalence across regions and economic sectors in the country suggest that nutrition anomalies remain unresolved for a prolonged period. Across residential sectors, the estate sector has become the most vulnerable sector with the highest prevalence of stunting and underweight children under five years. According to the DHS-2016, around 31.7 percent of children in the estate sector are stunted, compared to 14.7 percent in urban areas and 17.0 percent in the rural sector. Particularly child malnutrition represents a deep concern that carries a generational burden.


A yet another alarming set of nutrition statistics has been published in the Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, in December 2023 in addressing the Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: UNDERNOURISHMENT AND FOOD INSECURITY.

The percentage of people unable to afford a healthy diet in Sri Lanka was 54% in 2020 and the figure has been increasing ever since.

Prevalence of undernourishment in Sri Lanka is 5.3% (cf. India 16.6%)

The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity during the period 2020–2022 in Sri Lanka has been 10.9% (cf. Bangladesh 31.1%)

Undernourishment is defined as the condition of an individual whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide, on average, the amount of dietary energy required to maintain a normal, active, and healthy life. The indicator is reported as a prevalence and is denominated as “prevalence of undernourishment”, which is an estimate of the percentage of individuals in the total population who are in a condition of undernourishment.

People affected by moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food and have been forced to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to a lack of money or other resources.



This section reports on four global nutrition indicators: stunting , wasting in children under 5 years of age, and anaemia in women aged 15 to 49 years.

The prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka in 2022 has been 15.9% (cf. India 31.7%).

The Prevalence of wasting among children under 5 years of age from 2015 to 2022 in Sri Lanka has been 15.1% (cf. India 18.7%)

The Prevalence of overweight among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka is 1.3% in 2022 (cf. 2.8% in India).



Prevalence of anaemia among women aged 15 to 49 years in Sri Lanka in 2019 has been 34.6 % (cf. India 53%).


In this regard, notable transformations in the country’s food system are essential to deliver a healthy diet for people at an affordable price. These include improving productivity in the agriculture sector along with more innovations and research and development, reducing post-harvest losses, more value addition in the agriculture sector, reducing import dependency on food systems, introducing climate-resilient food crops, promoting a wide range of nutrient-rich foods, particularly through the popularising integrated farming, rebalancing agriculture sector subsidies, and tax policies and improving agronomic practices as well as maintaining adequate food buffers to face food emergencies.

Among the solutions provided at the national level include the provisioning of school meals, provisioning of food/cash allowances for pregnant and lactating mothers, the Thriposha program, school water sanitation, and hygiene programs, and the salt iodization programme, among others. Reflecting the impact of these efforts and commitments spanning over several decades, malnutrition among children declined remarkably during the period from 1975 to 1995, with stunting among children below five years of age almost halved to 26.1 percent in 1995, compared to 49.9 percent in 1975, while the underweight child population declined to 29.3 percent in 1995 from 57.3 percent in 1975. However, these trends have reversed since the double whammy started in 2021 with COVID-19.

In addition, some of the small-scale community-level initiatives established under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture such as Hela Bojun Hal (Native Food Courts) are gaining popularity in several provinces in Sri Lanka. These food courts serve a variety of nutrient-rich native food preparations using rice flour, finger millet, local vegetables (leafy porridge), and many other sweetmeats prepared by local womenfolk and sold at an affordable price. Also, there are many beverages and local fruit drinks that are equally popular among the customers.

These food courts providing healthy and nutritious meals are making steady inroads into the food and beverage trade among the health-conscious public from all walks of life including schoolchildren, university students, and blue- and white-collar workers, alike which is indeed an encouraging trend.

If these types of Hela Bojun food courts could be promoted in rural as well as urban schools with the participation of the parents of the schoolchildren under the direction of the school administration and local health and agricultural authorities, it may help to address some of the issues under discussion at the on-going UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference such as undernourishment, food insecurity, and malnutrition. At the same time, it may give a shot in the arm for promoting nutritious food production while ensuring food security befitting the theme of this year’s UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference, which is “Transformation of the Agro-Food System”.

Sri Lanka as the host country’s special ministerial event for this conference has put forward her theme as ‘Agro-tourism in Asia and Pacific – accelerating rural development and enhancing livelihoods’ showcasing agrotourism most likely in the world-renown Kandyan Spice/Home Gardens and as a spin-off of this, the local food courts utilizing these home garden produce too, can be highlighted at the same time.

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Harin batting for India



The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.


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