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This is our life in this paradise isle

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by Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Decorative terminology such as “The Pearl of the Indian ocean”, “Paradise Isle”, “A land like no other”, “A terrain of unparalleled scenic beauty” and “A haven for tourists”, are just some of the descriptive lingos used to describe our much-adored Mother Lanka. It is generally portrayed as something quite splendid, very special and absolutely grand, with a cultural heritage going back well over 2500 years. Sandy beaches, scenic mountains, unbelievable fauna, flora of classical beauty, smiling people, traditional hospitality and a whole host of other virtues are bandied about quite freely to reinforce the claim that this land is singularly unique.

Yet for all that, at least for us, the native inhabitants, this tear-drop shaped island has had a chequered past, an acrimonious present, and is chugging along into quite an indecisive future. An unwanted war, political turmoil, unprecedented massive corruption, work stoppages at the drop of a hat and abiding dependence on foreign powers for almost everything, are just some of the more important vagaries of these times, the times gone by and most likely of course, the times to come in the future as well. Currently the country is going through utter turmoil with many shortages and people taking to the streets to protest. Add to this cauldron, the apathy, selfishness and lack of patriotism of many of the politicians as well as the populace and one could find definitive root causes of all these maladies and a formula for self-destruction for this paradise isle.

The key elements that have undoubtedly helped to fire the essential element of progress in more developed countries in the West, and indeed even the more fortunate areas of our Asian region, are pride in one’s own country and unmitigated patriotism. Those people unquestionably love their countries of birth and are extremely proud of their languages. Just look at Japan, China, Korea and even India for confirmation of this undeniable truth. In contrast, what happens over here? Given half a chance, many of our people would elect to leave this land and be domiciled and become even second-class citizens of an alien country. They call it leaving for greener pastures and securing opportunities. Many of our intellectuals have deserted this land in the hour of its greatest need. Yet, it is so infuriating and frustrating that some of them are the very same people who are ostensibly “honoured” by the authorities of our own land for internationally acclaimed “achievements”.

The honest men and women who have stayed put in Sri Lanka and struggled through a lifetime to bear the unenviable burden of trying to uplift this land, are generally forgotten. Those who have toiled silently over many decades in the crucible of general deficiencies to do their little thing for the land of their birth would, in all probability, be allowed to fade away and die silently as well. In fact, in the immortal words of a great philosopher in whose name a religion has been established, the axiom in our country is that “a prophet is never honoured in his or her own land”. A proud nation worth its salt would consider those who have left the country for good, as non-citizens. Two great examples are Singapore and Japan; they do not allow dual nationality. Our dual citizens try to get the best of both worlds, by sitting on the fence and not declaring their total allegiance to one country or the other.

Furthermore, we tend to look down on our beautiful languages. If one were to go into some shops or some hotels, and speak in Sinhala, they would look at you as if it is something the cat just brought in. It is marginally better if one goes into a Tamil or Muslim enterprise and speaks in Tamil. Every single one of these very same establishments would bend over backwards and sing hosannas if one speaks in Queen’s English and for that matter, even disjointed and so-called “broken” English. You will generally be treated like royalty and virtually as direct descendants of the British Royal family. Our two wonderful and colourful languages, Sinhala and Tamil are perhaps only for the “yakkos”. The ever-pretending adopted progeny of our colonial masters, the brown sahibs, must speak only in English, just to be understood by all and sundry. In stark contrast, go to any enterprise in France or Switzerland and speak in their language, you will certainly be given preferential treatment.

This is certainly not an attempt to look down and pontificate that English is not necessary. Far from it. The bone of contention is the attitude of our people. English is certainly most essential for the progressive development of our land. It is a fantastic international link language and is spoken in most parts of the globe. Some of the greatest mistakes made by the rulers of Sri Lanka were the futile attempts made to virtually get rid of it from the legislature. However, our paying obeisance to English should not be at the expense of our distinctive languages of Sinhala and Tamil. The need of the hour is to teach our children and grandchildren, ALL THREE LANGUAGES; Sinhala, Tamil and English. Take it from me, friends, children are fantastic at picking up any language and the powers that be should make an extra effort to harness this asset. Proficiency in all three languages would, in all probability, get rid of the misgivings and suspicions that are inherent in our culture and would go a long way towards settling most of our ethnic conflicts.

A primary need for the advancement of any country is its system of education. This is the key that will unlock most closed doors and open up panoramas of unlimited opportunities for the people of any land. Lo and behold, what have we got here? In this paradise isle, education is in complete disarray. Interference; political and otherwise, has pervaded the system to the extent that it would need a major overhaul for it to become even moderately functional as a catalyst for our future. Parents would lie through their back teeth and get up to all kinds of tricks to get their children into the so-called “reputed schools”. That hallowed profession of teaching has now been degraded to the level of a ‘Stalinist’ type of deplorable spectacle of commercialism and selfishness (pun intended).

Countless young people who qualify for higher education cannot enter the universities as the slots available are so very limited and quite inadequate to satisfy the needs of the country. However, those who have been fortunate enough to enter the universities are the very same people who cry foul when even feeble attempts are made to provide higher seats of learning in private institutions to accommodate the less fortunate ones who could not gain admission to the state universities. There you have egotism, immorality and decadence at its very zenith, on the part of those who were fortunate to be taken into the national campuses; very definitely the dog in the manger type of behaviour. The commonly used argument against private higher education is that it would only help the rich. Such a contention is not at all tenable as steps could be taken by the state to help those who qualify but cannot afford it. The state can fund them through bursaries and grants, repayable to the state when they secure stable employment in Sri Lanka or abroad, following graduation. However, they have to be scrupulously held to honour that commitment to the country, without fear or favour.

Selfishness and egocentricity, together with contempt for law and order, are evident even on our roads. The general chaos on our roads must be seen to be believed. The very same lack of discipline in day-to-day life has pervaded the roads as well. We are a nation of horn tooters going nowhere. They are all in a hurry, cutting across traffic lanes, steam-rolling everybody else and just getting there, no matter how. Even the most rational and sedate individuals are sometimes transformed into demons when they are put behind the steering wheel or the handlebar of a vehicle. Even the pedestrians seem to believe that, they are made to walk, simply because of the faults of those who own vehicles. If one is waiting on a side road in a vehicle to join a busy trunk road, it is not uncommon to find all pedestrians brazenly crossing in front of the stationary vehicle, effectively preventing it from joining the traffic on the main road. Apart perhaps from India, no other country in the Asian region has a more frenzied state of affairs on the roads. General indiscipline of the country does show up on our roads as well.

Corruption in practically every sphere of life is a blight that has pervaded the social structure to the extent that it is almost considered the norm. Even to get a file moved from one desk to another in a public enterprise, palms have to be oiled. It has permeated through and through from the highest levels to the lesser mortals. The original “10 per cent commission” has now reportedly gone up to as much as 40, or to even over 100 per cent in certain instances. This is also a manifestation of selfishness and contemptible self-preservation. Making hay while the sun shines seem to be the order of the day. Sadly enough, there are stories of its spread even to the embodiments of integrity such as the police, armed forces, other law enforcement agencies and even much more sadly, to the hallowed portals that are there to mete out justice.

This is indeed a strange country. Generally speaking, the powers that be are hell-bent on getting work done but are there rewards for doing something well or for productive hard work? If at all, they are very few and far between. People accuse our white rulers of yore of many a sin but the work ethic in our country has changed perceptibly from those colonial times when substantial rewards for diligence and efficiency were the norm. As a result, what is operative in our land is the much-quoted cliché “more work means more trouble, less work means less trouble and no work means no trouble”. To many authorities, the word “reward” is an outlandish one. A worker who has diligently performed his or her duties for a period of 35 to 40 continuous years gets very little by way of rewards at the end of it all at retirement. Many such persons do not even get a duty-free permit to import a car while a parliamentarian who has put in just a few years would get one to import a super luxury vehicle. In such a context, are we surprised that we have become a nation of lotus-eaters?

It is a curious feature, this situation is really initiated and perpetuated from childhood onwards. A child in this paradise isle is often forced to do something well, with the threat of punishment at the end of it all if the task is not undertaken properly. How often do we see a child being rewarded, even just by a gesture, a hug or a word of praise for doing something unusually well? Child psychologists would rave and rant about the undesirable elements of coercive behaviour patterns but to no avail. Many people prefer to remain deaf to such advice. The roots of such behaviour are the liberal use of corporal punishment in our schools, ever so rampant at all times. It is banned by law but is carried out in plenty, quite regardless of the statute.

It is indeed a great pity, as well as a major catastrophe, that this state of affairs is prevalent in our society. We have our fair share of potential world-beaters. Undoubtedly, there are hard-working, diligent and brilliant men and women in our land. Yet, no human being is likely to work for nothing. The prospect of ambitious advancement and rewards at the end of the tunnel would be the factor that would spur individuals to go through that tunnel and accomplish incredible achievements. It is one of several motivating factors such as monetary rewards, career advancement or just plain prestige that would keep one going. Look around friends, such incentives are not there for those who really deserve them.

These facts are a scathing indictment on all of us as inhabitants of a country where we hold all religions to be sacred. However, facts have to be faced, however unpalatable they are. Let us come to terms with the fact that this nation has become intensely decrepit. Most of us, especially the politicians, would shout from the rooftops about our heritage that is centuries old but such sentiments alone will not in any way be sufficient to spur development and advancement. The need of the hour is for some statesman to take this country by the scruff of its neck, shake it into shape and put some sense into the populace. At the outset, local food security MUST be ensured. That will give us the ability to thumb our noses and adopt a cock-a-hoop attitude to foreign agencies. After that, rogues and scoundrels must be rounded up and punished, public and private sector enterprises cleaned up, merit and reward schemes set up, education streamlined and patriotism rekindled. We will all have to tighten our belts for a few years but it will not kill any of us. We will have to put our collective shoulder to the wheel and jointly take this country to the far distant Promised Land. Such a concerted manoeuvre would leave our closest competitors in the region, just standing, in the race for development and even survival.

Then, and only then for sure, would we be entitled to be happy and contented with our much-bandied notion of a proud history and a heritage of grandeur, in a country that is a paradise on earth and most definitely, one like no other.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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