By Ashley de Vos
Authorities permit the construction of taller, copy-cat buildings, to satisfy their egos totally disregarding the fact that material resources used for these structures are finite and will soon disappear leaving a scar as evidence of the greatest irresponsible destruction to this beautiful island, a nation that belong to all its citizens
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, sand, the humblest of materials, is the main material that our modern cities are made of. Sand has become the core of our daily lives. The floors, the walls, the roof, partly in concrete, which is nothing but sand, gravel (metal) and steel glued together with cement. Sand is required to manufacture the glass in the windows, the miles of asphalt, later concrete roads that connect the buildings. Countless trillions of grains of sand is utilised to build the towering structures and we break apart the molecules of individual grains to make tiny computer chips (Vince Beiser. The world in a grain). Today, the construction industry worldwide consumes some $130 billion worth of sand each year (Freedonia Group., World Construction Aggregates 2016).
The need to excavate more and more sand, scraping the river beds and even the river banks and the remaining flood plains of the rivers is such that sand mining even threatens bridges. The sand mafia carries on with the greatest confidence, and the possible collapse of a bridge will be blamed on someone else. The holes left in the ground remain as breeding grounds for mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue.
The same applies to the demolition of large boulders and rock escarpments, being dynamited and broken up to provide the rubble and the metal for the construction of large mega structures and highways. In addition, the large blocks and slabs of rock being cut and exported as raw material to earn foreign exchange and for local use. Stone slab paving should not be used in places where people gather, the detrimental effect of the long term exposure to the accumulated radiation naturally present in the stone slabs is anyone’s guess.
The fact that some of these boulders have a significant historical value is of no interest to the suppliers, who supply the material.
One case in point is that a 200-foot-tall boulder on the bank of the Kelaniya River referred to as Ballumgala, on top of which stood King Rajasinghe’s lookout point. Decades ago, the post holes for the timber structure built on the flattened granite top surface were still there. From here the King and his forces could watch the movement of the Portuguese boats plying the Kelani River from Colombo. From this lookout point, he could order the sabotage of the boats in the river, using a simple device. On the opposite bank was the Vidhapu gala. Chains laid across the river connecting the Vidhapu gala with a point near Ballumgala were raised when the Portuguese boats passed. The raising of the chains toppled the boats and threw the Portuguese soldiers into the water and the ready mouths of the many crocodiles that congregated at the spot waiting for the raising of the chains to bring them their next meal!
Today, the boulder is almost no more, completely demolished, excavated and supplied as rubble for construction. This one act has erased an important historic facet of traditional warfare used against the colonial forces that should have been preserved as a memorial to the ingenuity of the local expertise. For some one selling the boulder and breaking it up for rubble, history is less important than greed. In the future, how many similar boulders and rock caves with Brahmi inscriptions will be lost to this enterprise.
From time immemorial all land always belonged to the king. He would issue a copper Sannassa giving access to villages and lands usually to persons who had won his favour in battle or in a similar exercise. Even the so-called Nindagama related to land was issued for use, only to Bukthi Vidinna. It was never on a permanent basis. The King as custodian of the lands, could also take it back, if there was a change in favour. This changed somewhat with the arrival of the colonial powers who usurped ownership of land. The religious orders that came with the Portuguese freely distributed land to their new converts. The Dutch used a similar ruse and used the locally appointed Mudaliers to help maintain the cinnamon plantations and collect taxes and produce for export––in fact, to do the dirty work.
After the British colonial takeover of the island, they declared and even introduced new regulations to usurp village lands. They declared that all land belonged to the Crown. They sold it on 99-year leases, this was the same for the coffee and tea estates as well. After the 99-year lease the land ownership returned to the crown. To be sold to another or to be reacquired. Most of the lands distributed by the British government after the structural expansion of Colombo, even to this date, are lands given to organisations on 99-year leases by the British. The government is reacquiring these lands today.
The Maldivian authorities only offers land for development on short leases. At the end of the lease the land reverts back to the government to do what they please with it. It is the same in Singapore. And similar in most parts of London. Land is leasehold, rearly freehold. An enlightened Sri Lanka should follow a similar principle. Unfortunately, as some assume that Sri Lanka belongs to an organisation or to someone other than the Country and the people of this country, they think they could do what they want with it.
The Archaeological Ordinance of 1941 is very clear, all artefacts found in the ground belong to the Department of Archaeology, as the statutory custodial of all artefacts and historical monuments held on behalf for the government. The land on which they stand though in private hands belongs to the government and the present owners merely Bukthi Vindinawa. Even if the site is important historically there is a process for its declaration and even take over. As such no land could be sold or taken over or passed on by any agency without addressing and obtaining specific permission through the line Ministries concerned, from the people and the country.
Lanka’s marine resources
While Sri Lanka claims that all the resources for a specified hundreds of miles in the ocean, today, under the law of the sea, and extended even further, belongs to the country and its people. Similarly the resources on land as well as in the ocean, including the harbour breakwaters and the groins in the sea also belongs to the country and its people. How could the officers of an Agency that has temporary jurisdiction over some land under its purview for the shortest period, sell the resource to a buyer, local or foreign, when the resource belongs to the people and the country? Did the people of the country give the Agency specific permission to do so? May be it was, a politician who is even more temporary, who entered the space, but has even less right to do so, did. It is the duty of every right minded Official to refuse to be compromised. Could these special Officers stand tall? Sadly there is no one, no, a couple are to be seen.
Ilmenite and Thorium have immense International value, more so in the future. This precious material should then be used for the benefit of the Nation, the country and its people. How could this important and most rare resource be leased out or sold to anyone? The environmental damage, due to the eventual excavation perpetrated on the sand dunes, and the land including the precious Mannar Island, the feeding ground of migrant birds for centuries, will be considerable. Mannar island which is even today just below or just above sea level, with climate change and eminent sea rise is at risk. The excess water discharged into the ocean due to the melting ice caps, will see this small and fragile piece of land completely washed away by the same south west and north east monsoons that helped create the island in the first place. What price is placed on the polluter pays principle for the destruction of the island. How will greed reconstitute the island of Mannar? Why should the country and the people of Sri Lanka eventually lose out?
Dr. Ranjith Amarasinghe, a most worthy son of the soil, issued a judgement on the Eppawela Phosphate deposit, which was to be sold to a multi-national. The judgement is essential reading for all. The priest of the Eppawela temple with the help of activists like Nihal Fernando, the famous photographer, went to court against its sale. The judgement by Dr. Ranjith Amarasinghe, used the law as it stood, and drew the attention of all, to the history, the nation and the people of the nation and presented a masterful document that corrected all. The sale was stopped. There must be more Ranjith Amarasinghe’s amongst us or is it that we are seeing the end of an era, where the Law is no more the Law, with legal eagles spending more time looking for loop holes to serve the perpetrator.
(To be concluded tomorrow)
Danger of disregarding Geopolitical Realities
Negotiating Agreements for Foreign Investments:
By Dr. S.W. Premaratne
Foreign Policy decision-maker, of a state, have to take into consideration the prevailing geopolitical environment of the international system, and of the region concerned, at a given time, when there is a foreign policy aspect involved in the decision that has to be taken regarding any issue Omission, or failure to give consideration to this aspect of the issue, can lead to disastrous consequences. Several examples from the recent political history of Sri Lanka can be given to illustrate this point.
Sri Lanka’s conduct of foreign policy, in the 1980s, is a clear example of the serious consequences of ignoring India’s concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s pro-West tilt in its foreign policy. Sri Lanka’s declared policy was non-alignment in maintaining relations with other states, specially the Big Powers in the West and the East. However, the J.R. Jayewardene government, that came to power, in 1977, sought to develop a closer relationship with the Western countries, led by the USA. The nature of the interactions between the diplomats of the USA and Sri Lanka, at the time, had given the impression to India that Sri Lanka was seeking the assistance of the USA for suppressing the Tamil militant movement in Sri Lank, fighting for the rights of the Tamil community. There were also reasons for India to suspect that there was an understanding between the Sri Lankan Government and the USA to allow the Trincomalee harbour to be used by the USA. It was this perception of India that Sri Lanka was following an anti-India foreign policy, endangering the security of India that motivated India to intervene militarily in the year 1987 to thwart the progress of the Vadamarachchi operation, aimed at militarily defeating the Tamil militant movement.
After aborting the progress of the Vadamarachchi operatio, the Indian government proceeded to compel the Sri Lankan Government to sign an Agreement – the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 – to ensure that Sri Lanka respected India’s security concerns and other interests when seeking assistance from outside Powers for Sri Lanka’s economic development or national security.
India’s concerns regarding China’s excessive involvement in Sri Lanka’s development projects
Sri Lanka’s political leaders and diplomats, whenever they get an opportunity, express their affection for their Big Brother, India, and express the need for further strengthening the friendship for the mutual benefit of both countries. India’s perception, however, is that, especially after the change of government in 2005, there is an evolving special relationship between Sri Lanka and China posing a serious threat to the national security of India.
Sri Lanka felt intensely isolated from the international community after adopting the Resolution A/HRC/46/L. Rev. 1 against Sri Lanka, at the UNHRC, in Geneva, in March, 2021, especially because India also decided to support the core-group indirectly by abstaining from voting.
The only consolation for Sri Lanka now is China’s expression of willingness to further strengthen its strategic relationship with Sri Lanka by extending further development assistance to Sri Lanka, within the framework of the Belt end Road Initiative. Subsequent to a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the President of China and the President of Sri Lanka, in a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, on March 30, 2021, it was stated that “China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral ties and stands ready to work with Sri Lanka to determine the strategic direction and achieve steady growth of the relationship. China stands ready to steadily push forward major projects, like the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, and promote high quality Belt and Road Co-operation, providing robust impetus for Sri Lanka’s post pandemic economic recovery and sustainable development”. China projecting Sri Lanka as an intimate partner of the Belt and Road strategy indicates that Sri Lanka is distancing itself from the path of non-alignment and adopting an anti-Western and anti-India approach.
In the matter of obtaining foreign investments for development projects, Sri Lanka has failed to foresee the foreign policy implications of overreliance on China. The two massive development projects, initiated during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, which came to power in 2005, were the Hambantota sea port and the Port City Project in Colombo. The amount of money invested for these two projects, by China, was so massive that Sri Lanka happened to sign an agreement for permitting the management and control of the Hambantota Port by the state-controlled company of China, under a 99-year lease agreement. The Management and control of the Colombo Port City area also has been granted to the Chinese construction company, under a 99-year lease agreement. Not only India, but also the USA and other Western countries have expressed serious concern regarding the involvement of China in strategically significant massive development projects in Sri Lanka. India’s perception now is that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier of China, stationed in the Indian Ocean, close to India. Hambantota Port is viewed as another pearl in the string of pearls maintained for containing India by China.
India is also concerned over the lack of interest on the part of the Sri Lankan Government to go ahead with the development projects regarding which agreement had been reached with India, during the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe coalition government. In May, 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), Japan and India proposing the development of the East Container Terminal jointly, Sri Lanka and Ports Authority retaining 51 percent shares. However, the present Government deviated from that understanding and decided to nominate one Indian investor, Adani Group, disregarding Japan. But, the attempt of the Sri Lankan Government to involve the Indian Company in this project by offering 49 percent of the shares of the ECT was thwarted by the trade union action of the port workers, supported by an influential section of the Buddhist priests and also a section of the ruling alliance. The Sri Lankan government had no alternative but to respond to the demand of the trade unions by getting the Cabinet approval for developing the ECT only by the Colombo Port Authority, without involving India or Japan.
India has also expressed concern over the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government concerning the development and management of the Trincomalee oil tank farm. The lower farm has been managed jointly by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) via Lanka IOC Private Limited. The 2003 tripartite agreement signed by the Sri Lankan Government, LIOC and the CPC covers the entire tank farm. India is now concerned about the excessive delay in granting the Sri Lankan Government’s approval for commencing the development of the Upper Tank Farm, comprising 84 tanks.
Another joint venture, regarding which Sri Lanka sought the involvement of India’s Petronet LNG Ltd. Company, and also a Japanese investor, was the proposed liquefied natural gas LNG terminal that was to be set up near Colombo. Although Indian and Japanese Investors had indicated their willingness to join this project, as partners, the Sri Lankan Government has not yet given its final approval for commencing the construction work.
India is also very much concerned over the lack of progress in the reconciliation process initiated after the end of the war. India’s concern in this regard was expressed very effectively and in very clear language in a statement made by the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar in the course of a media conference during his two-day visit to Sri Lanka in January, this year. In his statement the Indian Foreign Minister said: “As we promote peace and wellbeing in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is long standing as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony. It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity, within a united Sri Lanka, are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution”.
Sri Lanka should not consider that India’s interest and involvement in the post-war reconciliation process as a case of a foreign country intervening in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka illegally. India is guided by a mindset that there is a moral responsibility on her part to intervene and bring about a final settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Colombo Port City Economic Commission
Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill which was challenged in the Supreme Court, purported to establish an Economic Commission for the administration of the Port City, built by a construction company of the Chinese Government, adjacent to the Colombo Port. This Bill seeks to grant extensive powers to an institution called the Colombo Port Economic Commission, whose members will be appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. According to the provisions in the Bill, the supervisory power of the Parliament of Sri Lanka has been excluded, both regarding the manner of exercising the powers granted by the proposed legislation to the Commission, and also regarding the selection of persons to be appointed as members of the Commission.
Moreover, regarding the activities that take place within the Colombo Port City area, some institutions of the Government of Sri Lanka are excluded from exercising their authority. Dr. Wijedasa Rajapaksa, in his written submissions submitted to the Supreme Court, in connection with the petition filed challenging the Bill, makes specific reference to the Customs Ordinance. He gives the warning that there may be importation of prohibited substances such as drugs, weapons, etc. He points out that in the event of any violation of International Treaties and Conventions, within the Port City area, it is not the Commission but the Sri Lankan Government that is responsible.
In view of the intense power struggle between China on the one hand and India and other partners of the Quad, led by the USA on the other hand, for dominance in the Indian Ocean area, the Parliament of Sri Lanka passing legislation for permitting such a high degree of autonomy to an administrative authority that can be controlled by the Chinese government will be considered by India as a serious threat to its security. This pro-China foreign policy orientation will also be an obstacle for Sri Lanka to promote friendly relations with democratic countries in the West determined to thwart Chinese domination in the Indian Ocean region.
The Philippines and SL combine
Singer Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), who was a big hit in this part of the world, singing with the group Friends, continues to make her presence felt on TNGlive – the platform, on social media, that promotes talent from all corners of the globe.
She made her third appearance, last Saturday, May 1st, but this time she had for company Sean, from the Philippines, who, incidentally, was in the finals of The Voice of Switzerland 2020.
Their repertoire, for TNGlive, on the evening of May 1st, including hit songs, like ‘Something Stupid,’ ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ (Sean), ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love,’ ‘Your Man,’ (Sean), ‘Crazy,’ ‘Great Pretender,’ (Sean), ‘Amazing,’ and ‘Stand By Me.’
It was a very entertaining programme, and Sean certainly did prove why he needed to be a finalist at the prestigious The Voice of Switzerland 2020.
You can take in the TNGlive scene, on a regular basis, by joining the Public Group TNGlive, on social media (Facebook).
Entertainment…also responsible for this messy scene
On many occasions, I’ve referred to the Covid-19 pandemic and the precautions those who are very much a part of the entertainment scene should take in order to keep this deadly virus under control.
I remember saying that we are seated on a ticking time bomb…ready to explode any moment!
Sadly, the people concerned, and the venues catering to those who check out such setups, did absolutely nothing. And, now we are feeling the heat of that time bomb.
Most of the nightspots were crowded with people who didn’t care less…about what the world, and Sri Lanka, was experiencing, with this killer virus, claiming the lives of millions, crippling the economy, people losing their jobs, etc.
Probably, they were following in the footsteps of Niro where it’s said that ‘Niro played the fiddle while Rome burnt.’
Such irresponsible folk didn’t take any of the Covid-19 health guidelines seriously; they were simply overjoyed, gyrating on a packed dance floor – with no masks, and no social distancing.
And, this scene came to a climax during the festive holidays where everyone was out celebrating, in style – again no masks, no social distancing, etc.
Well, sadly the end result is that musicians/ entertainers are now without work.
Where entertainment venues are concerned, it’s the management that has got to take the rap.
They seem to have turned a blind eye to the instructions issued by the health authorities with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some of these managers gave the impression that they were not bothered by what Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, had to say, on radio, and on TV, on a daily basis, about the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizers.
Even if the situation continues to deteriorate, lots of people can still work from home but that is not possible where musicians are concerned.
Blame it on these entertainment venues…and those venues that kept their doors open for tamashas – parties, weddings, and all sorts of celebrations – without adhering to Covid-19 safety rules, laid down by the health authorities.
Yes, it’s certainly going to be a very tough scene for most entertainers, over the next few weeks.
There were certainly signs of improvement, in the showbiz industry, early last month, but then came the aurudu celebrations, both in Colombo, and the outstation, and we are all now experiencing the messy scene that has come out of it.
The band Aquarius had three weekly performances, but the guys are left with nothing at the moment.
Rajiv and The Clan were booked for quite a few weddings, for the month of May, and all of them have been postponed.
“I’m worried that some of the new dates may clash with the bookings I’ve already accepted for the months ahead, said Rajiv, adding that they have absolutely no work now
Kevin and his band Genesis have also had quite a few of their booking, for the month of May, cancelled.
Let’s hope when the scene improves, people will act with responsibility, especially those in charge of entertainment venues, and make certain that Covid-19 health guidelines are strictly adhered to.
And, the authorities concerned should go all out to nab those who deviate from the guidelines, and do their own thing.
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