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The Mahaweli

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by Chanaka Wickramasuriya

“Mahaweli mahaweli mahaweli”….. Virtuoso pandit Amaradeva’s classic resonates out there as the author traces this river; geographically, along the topographical contours of this varied land, and historically, along its intricate relationship with this island’s both ancient and contemporary civilizations.

The Mahaweli, or literally ‘the great sands’, is not just a river. And it is not just the island’s longest river (at 335km), or the one with the largest river basin (10,500 of the island’s total 65,000 sq km). The Mahaweli has a natural uniqueness to it that has resulted in a profound bearing on the formation and evolution of our cultural and political heritage. It will not be presumptuous to say that this river, analogous to its meandering trace, has carved the path for the history of this island’s peoples. Or even perhaps, been responsible for the sheer existence of a history itself. Amaradeva poetically alludes to this in his classical ballad.

One can say that the Mahaweli traces its headwaters to the Kotmale Oya and Hatton Oya. The former, having its source along the north western slopes of the Horton Plains plateau, while the latter traces its beginnings along the Watawala ridge. The significance of this will not be lost to even the amateur hydrologist. An overlay of the rainfall patters of Sri Lanka on her map shows that the country’s highest annual average rainfall takes place along this range, and notably, on account of it being fed by the more prolific South West Monsoon, at almost twice the precipitation of its North East counterpart.

This makes for a remarkable fact. The Mahaweli becomes, as far as this author can ascertain, the only Dry Zone river to be fed by the South West Monsoonal rains.

Having harnessed and coalesced these waters, the Mahaweli carves an idyllic path northward along the Gampola valley. The splendor of this valley discernible to even this author, as he once sat at a hermitage on the hills of Hindagala watching this river, dotted on either side by quaint hamlets and rice fields, the vestiges of an ancient kingdom that found refuge during trying times. And alas only to be told by his mentors that he was negating the benefits of his vipassana endeavors by pleasing his senses!

The river thus meanders its way up to Gannoruwa. And here, the providence of nature, or the hands of the formative deities of this land, depending on your preference, make a call. The river encounters a small hillock at Gannoruwa, and perhaps because of it, and unlike like all rivers originating on the western slopes that carve their way down toward the western seaboard, the Mahaweli makes an abrupt right turn.

At some point in pre-history these waters would have then encountered a formidable bridge of Charnockite rock in the escarpment between the central plateau and the southern edge of the Knuckles massif. Eons of hydrological erosion then forced these waters through the gorges of Randenigala and the breathtakingly narrow Rantambe, churning out what would have then been class four and five rapids. Legend has it that the master equestrian King Rajasinghe II would leap across the narrow 20-foot gap on his trusty steed, and that until more recently when the dams of the Mahaweli Development Program took shape, the sounds of these churning waters could have been heard over five km away. Like a giant hydrological serpent, the river breaks through this East-West divide to rear its head onto the eastern half of the island. And here too the seemingly inexplicable takes place.

Having garnered further waters from the Knuckles via the Hulu Ganga, from Pidurutalagala via the Ma Oya, from Horton Plains via the Uma Oya and from even as far as the Badulla and Passara hills via the Badulu Oya and Loggal Oya, instead of finding what would look to the layman as a path of least resistance directly toward the eastern seaboard, the Mahaweli decides to turn north.

The river then traverses this almost directly northern path, covering about half of its total distance, and a third of the island, to break into the ocean via a myriad of mangrove forested deltas at the island’s largest bay at Koddiyar in Trincomalee. Here too merging into yet another natural wonder of what is one of the world’s largest natural harbors, replete with underwater chasms and gorges of over 700m deep. But not until the river has harnessed even greater waters along the way through its largest tributary, the Amban Ganga, it too a creation of the western slopes of the Knuckles range, and the less plentiful Hasalaka Oya and Heen Ganga, which gather waters off the range’s eastern slopes. In this section the Mahaweli creates what is the country’s largest deposits of alluvial soil, spanning the entirety of its northern trajectory and breaking into vast areas of up to 10km wide on account of seasonal flood plains, as well as the largest seasonal sand banks from which the river derived its name.

Thus, it is as if nature was the precursor to our island’s proud hydrological engineering heritage, and even its modern manifestation of the Mahaweli Development Program. For nature seems to have decided long ago to find a way to harness the bounty of water from the island’s salubrious western slopes and nourish its dry north-central and eastern plains. A feat of engineering even modern man would have found hard to, and is yet to, replicate.

But the story of the Mahaweli does not end there. Mankind soon pounces upon this natural marvel to both exploit and tinker with her resources for their benefit. It is akin to having been endowed with a mythical nature’s guitar, and then fine tuning its cords to seek the perfect tune. The resulting dance having spanned over two millennia yet continues. While this story could be arguably best narrated through time, this author will choose to deliver it, like the river itself, along the course of its journey.

The story begins in the upper reaches of the Kotmale Oya, the Agra Oya. Here, literally and metaphorically shrouded in the mists of the Thotupola hill and time, a little south of Pattipola, are the remnants of a little known 220m long tunnel and 11km long canal. Believed to have been constructed circa the 13-14th century, it is perhaps the earliest known subterranean trans basin canal. Considered an engineering marvel for its time, this canal used to divert the west bound waters east into the Uma Oya basin to irrigate the lush fields of the Uva.

Moving down the Kotmale Oya, further nourished by the Nanu Oya is the Upper Kotmale Reservoir and Hydro Power scheme. The third largest power generator of the Mahaweli Development Scheme originally conceived between 1965-69 under and FAO/UNDP funded master plan, this was one of the last to be completed in 2010 after a series of environmental controversies and re-engineering. The river is then joined by the waters of the Devon Oya, Pundal Oya and Ramboda Oya and flows into the famed and beautiful valley of Kotmale, once the sanctuary of the legendary King Dutugemunu during his youth. This valley was inundated by a rock-filled dam 87m high and 600m in length starting in 1978 under the Accelerated Mahaveli Development Program, becoming the second highest hydro electricity generator of the scheme. Its added function being controlling the flood waters of the Gampola valley and optimizing the diversion flow at the barrage at Polgolla.

As the Mahaweli, now as a fully-fledged river or ganga, meanders its way around the upper middle-class suburbs of Kandy, evoking visions of our checkered history with names like Primrose Gardens, Anniewatte and Mawilmada, we encounter the Polgolla Barrage. Polgolla was the first of the projects under the Mahaweli Development Program and was implemented in 1976. At 144m in length and 14.6m in height, a relatively innocuous looking structure compared to its gargantuan brethren, the Polgolla Barrage nevertheless, in this authors view, creates the most geographically impactful diversion of Mahaweli waters.

It starts with an eight km long underground penstock northward to Ukuwele power station. Ukuwele then releases these spent waters into the Dhun Oya, which in turn connects to the Sudu Ganga which then emerges further north as the Bowatenna Reservoir. Built in 1981, the picturesque Bowatenna’s primary purpose was retention and diversion of waters for irrigation. In a bizarre twist of engineering and geographical fate, the released waters of Bowatenna become the Amban Ganga, making the Mahaweli the only river to feed its own tributary.

Waters diverted from Bowatenna are channeled through a tunnel to Lenodara, and from there enter the Dambulu Oya. It is from here that modern man’s diversions of the Mahaweli start to enter the realm of the ancient kings, and their stupendous feats of hydrological engineering and civilization building.

The Dambulu Oya has a little known but unique history, as it is a conduit of Mahaweli waters from two separate modern and ancient diversions. The ancient system starting from Demada Oya, a tributary of the Amban where an anicut built by Dhatusena diverted waters to the Wilimiti Oya, a tributary of the Dambulu. The Dambulu Oya thus takes Mahaweli/Amban waters from both Dhatusena’s creation as well as the modern Bowatenna, via the Ibbankatuwa Tank, north into the gigantic Kala Wewa – Balalu wewa complex and the Kala oya basin. Dhatusena’s “only treasure” as he proclaimed, for which he earned his patricidal son Kassapa’s wrath, Kala Wewa is the largest tank complex of ancient Sri Lanka and was built in the fifth Century AD. Waters from the Kala Wewa are transferred via the famous Jaya Ganga, carved also during the same time with the intricate engineering precision of a gradient of one foot to one mile, 86km to Devanampiyatissa’s third Century BC Tissa Wewa in the ancient citadel of Anuradhapura. Waters also find their way to the more modern Rajanganaya further west via the Kala Oya itself. The excess waters of the Tissa wewa find their way into the Malwatu Oya, the islands second longest river, and off that via the Yoda Ela into the famed Giant’s Tank over 50km north west of Anuradhapura, it too a creation of the legendary Dhatusena, to irrigate the famous Rice Bowl of Mannar.

A bifurcation at Dambulu Oya built in 1976 also takes Mahaweli waters into the ancient and touristically popular Kandalama tank, the origin of which is little known, as well as to the Hurulu Wewa a further 25 km north. Built by Mahasen in the first Century AD, the Hurulu is the primary repository source of Sri Lanka’s fifth longest river, the Yan Oya, where a new reservoir was constructed in 2017 about 50km further north east. Sporting what is Sri Lanka’s longest main and saddle dams totaling a staggering six km in length, the Yan Oya project infuses water into the ancient Padaviya Tank. Originally built to trap the waters of the Ma Oya, the actual origins of this very ancient tank are yet debated but speculated to having been built by Saddhatissa (137-119 BC). 165km from its original diversion at Polgolla, this will be the furthest point north yet traversed by the Mahaweli’s waters.

But Bowatenne is not done yet in her generous dispersions of Mahaweli’s bounty. Rather coincidentally and poignantly perhaps, situated at what is considered the center of the island, the reservoir stands where the iconic Nalanda Gedige temple stood. Since relocated to the banks of the lake, this temple represents a unique fusion of Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist Tantric architecture and is thought to have been built around the 13th Century. Waters thus blessed flow beyond Bowatenna as the mighty Amban, the Mahaweli’s largest tributary, which has an ancient and contemporary history worthy of her own story.

To be continued



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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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