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Two Sundays ago I wrote in this column about the beheading of French history teacher Samuel Paty, 47, by a Chechen Muslim terrorist. President Emmanuel Macron’s stand is appreciated. He paid sincere tribute to the murdered teacher and vowed to take action against dissidents. At a private ceremony in the Sorbonne University on October 21, President Macron bestowed the country’s highest honour on the family of Samuel Paty. “Paty was a quiet hero,” a visibly moved Macron said in a 15-minute speech. “He was the victim of stupidity, of lies, of confusion, of a hatred of what, in our deepest essence, we are … On Friday, he became the face of the Republic.”

Teachers of long ago

The murder of Paty left indelible marks in my mind though so far removed from France and having no connection nor having seen the Hebdo cartoons that provoked the brutal killing. Pity for Paty brought up mental pictures of some teachers down the years.

I had my entire schooling in a Methodist Missionary school in Kandy. I had the good fortune of having the Irish principal of the school even visit our home. She conducted assembly for the entire school on one day of the week. Remembered clearly is the huge cake she cut when the school celebrated its 60th year – Diamond Jubilee – in the presence of all classes and teachers. She was excellent as a disciplinarian but was more a woman with heart when families suffered deaths like when my father died when I was five years old, having just entered school.

Our teachers, without exception, were excellent. Ethel Wijewardena of the Baby Class was all soft heart, while Miss Sim of Std 2 was stern, strict and feared. Each of the teachers in the higher classes, we recognized had foibles but they were all dedicated; very fair to all students. Some of them stressed more good behaviour than studies. Miss Eva Perera did not go beyond Chapter 2 of a bio of Tagore when I was in Form II since she invariably diverted to the importance of home upbringing, so much so that I wondered whether poor widowed Mother was giving me a good home background! Little did I appreciate her struggle to bring up three older sisters (target of censure by evil conservative aunts) and continue our paid-for education.

Those were the days of modesty. Thus our Sinhala teacher, Miss Paranagama, avoided two stanzas in our text guttila kavya in Form II. Girls more fluent in Sinhala asked her why and we joined the chorus; anything for diversion. We were asked to do the stanzas ourselves and found they described graphically the female body. Miss Olga Wijewardena, so attractive, so upright, so innovative in being a class teacher that she had us form a ‘Help Others’ club in Form IV. During an English Lit class when we were going through Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth, she once got me to take the part of Lady Macbeth while she read Macbeth’s part. I ballooned myself with pride as the best reader until I came to the line: “Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall”. It dawned on me why the choosing of a co-reader for that particular lesson. Inadequate and inappropriate since the reader, still a surf board was in the envious stage of being confined to vests while some in class had advanced to Maidenform.

Unfortunately teachers who taught the subject Sinhala were generally not liked much. They were forced to be stricter since we miserably lacked interest. Our opinion was justified as regards our SSC Sinhala teacher. Twice a week we had to read Sinhala newspapers while she did her home accounts and then read a British woman’s magazine. What we did behind the raised newspapers I leave you to imagine. She had a standard mark for each child’s essay which came back after correction with not a single red mark, except the expected mark on 10. Mine was 2 ½. Taking up a challenge, I wrote her first name, which we laughed at, twice within the week’s essay. When returning the exercise books she called me to the front of the class. Shivered violently. I was given one mark more – 3 ½. Not a single red mark on the essay. She chased an extra obstreperous girl around the class room with the girl hoisting a chair in defense!


Teachers of yesteryear

I know what I am writing about first hand as I was a teacher a while ago. Our teachers, on the whole, tread carefully in their often multiracial and multi religious schools. If they err it is through personal aberrations or plain unfairness and greed. The last two traits are exhibited when they can benefit by giving a student special attention or when some gain is to be made, even a year-end gift. I knew a teacher in a prestigious Colombo school where gifts to teachers were forbidden and only flowers allowed, who used to announce to her class her birthday was approaching and closer to the date would with her “Good morning, children” mention the date. What else could the scared fifth graders do but coax surreptitious gifts from parents?

Recently, I kept coaxing a hardworking, decent three wheeler driver to report to the Child Protection Society his six-year old boy’s class teacher who was obviously sadistic. She once caned the boy for talking to the next child in class while she was teaching, on his face and drew a bloody welt just below his eye. The next time she injured his ear. Complaints to the principal had him saying the matter would be looked into but the eye of supervision was always blind when it came to this teacher with some political influence. Before I took it upon myself to save the kid further psychological damage, he was transferred to another class and became a good student.


Teachers in government schools

They range in commitment and concern, both superficial and psychological, like the colours of the visible spectrum from red to violet and all shades between. Before I go to the bad I will mention one co-teacher in a Maha Vidyalaya beyond Galle in which I taught soon after marriage, He was in immaculate white cloth and shervani shirt; knew only a smattering of English but as both a gentleman and dedicated teacher he was excellent. I still cite him as the most genteel, polite and cultured man it was my good fortune to know.

In contrast were teachers who concentrated more on the leave they were entitled to and taking it than teaching or concern for their class children. One teacher teaching English to Grade four kids would get them to stand in a circle outside the staff room and recite ‘Row row row your boat gently down the stream/Merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream’ which they did in diverse styles of pronunciation until the end of the period with her inside the staff room, chatting and munching tidbits! I too got infected with a small bug of laziness, completely obliterated when I joined a private Christian school in Colombo.

In schools, like in government, there is a trickle-down effect, of the bad mostly. Often the good has to be instilled by a strict Principal. Then it is conscientious preparation of lessons with notes written; helping the school in its main aim of encouraging the children and helping them develop all-round personalities. Casual leave taking was completely frowned on and justified since teachers are usually off early and weekends and long holidays punctuate the school year. In such disciplined schools, commitment to the job is inevitable, and more significantly, the teaching and supervising co-curricular activities enjoyed.

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Sinharaja world heritage



Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern

By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke

Continued from Yesterday


Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.

According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.

Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.


Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?

As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.

Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.


Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.

In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.

She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.

Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.

What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.

Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.

Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.

On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.

In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.

The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)


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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field



As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.

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The Soul



The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.

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