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Wanderings in the forests and estuaries of the North and East – Part 1

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by Junglewallah

The northern forests around Mankulam, situated some 200 miles from Colombo on the main Jaffna road, consist of tall trees and the undergrowth. These forests are densely populated by the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), perhaps more so than any other area in Sri Lanka. A vigil by a water-hole during the dry months of July and August will show an average of five to 10 bears coming to drink at it before dusk – on occasions, even more.

Bears

The reason why bears are so numerous in this area is worth investigating. The prime reasons, I feel, are the presence of dense forest cover and an abundant supply of food favoured by bears.

I owe much of my experience and knowledge of this part of the country to the guidance of a famous Northern Province outdoorsman and shikari named S. C. Rasaratnam (known as Master throughout the Northern Province). He had been a much-respected schoolmaster from Hartley College, Point Pedro, who had retired from teaching and settled down in a little farm that he owned at Karupaddaimurippu on the Mankulam-Mullaitivu Road. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was a tiny hamlet situated about eight miles from Mankulam and was in the heart of the bear country.

Master was a person who was reluctant to talk about himself and his achievements. According to what I was able to extract painstakingly from him in evening discussions at his camp, he and his good friend, Brigadier C. P. Jayawardena, who was then an Assistant Conservator in the Forest Department, had been requested by Mr. D. S. Senanayake, sometime before Independence, to drive off the herds of elephants that were devastating the cultivated lands of the colonists in the newly opened out settlements in Minneriya and Hingurakgoda. Apparently the colonists were chiefly from Mr. Senanayake’s electorate, Mirigama, including his ancestral Botale, and there had been numerous instances where the elephants had destroyed their huts and killed the colonists.

The settlers were threatening to pull out and return home unless something was done to drive off the elephants. According to Master, Brigadier Jayawardena and he took on the commission of driving off the elephants; but except for saying that they were successful in keeping the colonists back, he was very reticent on how many animals had to be destroyed in order to drive off the predatory herds. It was during these early days, when Master as a youth was engaged in the assignment given to him by the Government, that he had acquired his knowledge and love for the wilds.

According to what Master stated, bears are extremely fond of the fruit of Polyalthia korinti (uluvinthai T; miwenna, ul kenda S). I have observed that it is found in profusion in the Mankulam area, more than in any other forests in Sri Lanka. Huber (1985) describes it as a treelet that is widely distributed, but specifies Mankulam as one of the type localities. In the Mankulam area the uluvinthai is found growing in thickets stretching over large areas of the forest. It is a tallish bush with fairly slender and fragile trunk and branches. The bushes afford thick cover for the bears, but the trunks or stems are not strong enough to support the weight of a man. There is little chance, therefore, of a threatened hunter or villager escaping an enraged bear by climbing one of these bushes.

The uluvinthai bush yields an abundant supply of sweet reddish berries in December and January. The ready supply of this berry, together with a fair profusion of palu (Manilkara hexandra,) which yields a sweet yellow berry in the drier months of the year, as well as the presence of out -cropping rocks containing caves. scattered throughout the forest and providing shelter to the animals, makes this area a virtual paradise for bears. Additionally, there are tracts of the forest where clayey soil is found, where termites build their nests in the form of hills. These termites afford yet another source of favoured food for bears.

The sloth bear has a fearsome reputation in our forests. It is an animal with poor eyesight and only slightly better hearing, but possessed of an excellent sense of smell. In the forests where it is found, if an unwary jungle villager is unfortunate enough to approach a bear down-wind (that is, where the wind is blowing from the bear towards the villager), the animal will not be able to get the scent of the man. Nor will it hear his footsteps, for the little sound the footfalls make will be drowned by the wind. The first thing that a bear with its poor eyesight sees is an intruding villager almost upon it. This-normally happens when the bear is grubbing for termites behind a tree or an ant -hill. In these circumstances, the animal thinks it is about to be attacked. Believing that offence is the best form of defence at close range, the bear launches an attack on the intruding villager with a view to protecting itself. With its fearsome claws and strong teeth it inflicts terrible wounds on the villager. Those who are fortunate enough not to succumb to their wounds are left fearfully maimed and scarred for life.

Victims of bear attacks are not uncommon in the remote forested parts of the Island, particularly in the Mankulam area. I have come across two such maimed persons in this area, one of whom had been reduced to being a cripple as a result of the bones of his legs having been reduced to almost splinters by the bear’s teeth. Until 1963 bears were regarded as vermin and could be shot throughout the year. In the Mankulam area they were profuse enough to be a threat to jungle villagers, who had to go into the forest to cut grass and firewood. The villagers in this area were, therefore, strongly supportive of the shooting of bears. The methods of getting to grips with bears with any degree of certainty were twofold.

First, during the dry season in July and August each year, when the kachan wind blows consistently as a dry land wind blowing towards the north-east, and parching the Wanni forests and drying all the water-holes, the customary mode of lying in wait for bear was over water- holes. The Mankulam area was almost devoid of rock water-holes (or kemas), which are normally found towards the coastal forests. Where the bear came to drink in Mankulam was in deep burrows in the dry sandy riverbeds, which it had dug itself, after scenting the underground water springs with its acute sense of smell. These deep holes went sometimes as much as eight feet into the river beds, and were called puval by the villagers in the area. They contained a small puddle of clear water at the bottom which dried up with the drought as time went on, requiring the animals to dig even deeper. It is of interest that the only animals in the forest, besides the bear, that actually dig for water are the elephants. I have observed them digging for water using their feet and trunk in the dry bed of the Akkarayan Aru, off Murukandy in the Mankulam area.

The customary method adopted by the Wanni villager of sitting up for bear and other game was on the bank of a dry river bed, with a barricade built upon four sides with enough dry branches and driftwood to conceal the hunter and his guide. The kachan wind during the drought blew consistently from the. south-west to the north-east. It is, in fact, the south-west monsoon which has shed its rain over the central hill country, and which blows as a dry-land wind over the north-east of the Island. On several occasions I have sat on the ground in complete safety. The hide is usually built with game paths approaching from the front and sides, and the hunter faces the wind blowing into his face. Any animals getting the human scent from behind, invariably flee from the hated scent, while those that come along the game paths in front and from the sides, unable to get the human scent, proceed unawares to the water to drink.

Whilst on the subject of the extraordinary powers of scent that bears have, I may relate an interesting experience I had in the company of Master. We had gone out to inspect a remote water-hole in the morning, where a hide had already been built a few days earlier. The drought was fierce, with the blistering kachan wind being able to dry even a sodden bath towel hanging out in the shade in a couple of hours. Whilst there had been a small puddle of water when the hide was built, the burrow was now bone dry at the bottom, and since it was the only water-hole for miles around, I was disappointed that I would not encounter any bears that evening. Master however, gave a smile, and told me that I need not worry. He knew of a trick that would attract bears that evening.

After an early lunch, we set off in a Land Rover with Master, the tracker and another villager. When we left, I noticed two large brass vessels of water in the back of the vehicle, which Master had got filled from his own well. On inquiring what this was for, Master told me the purpose. On sitting down at the hide about 4 pm he asked the tracker to empty the two containers of water into the bottom of the dry water-hole dug by the bears. He said that he had done this successfully before, and although the water would be immediately sucked into the bone dry sand, its scent being borne on the kachan wind and carried into the forest would be strong enough to bring the bears to what they thought would be a source of drinking water. Indeed, he proved correct, as before sunset, several bears came to the water- hole.

In retrospect, however verminous they might have been considered, shooting bears over water-holes when they come to drink, crazed with thirst, cannot be justified in any way on ethical grounds. In mitigation, I could only say that bears were so numerous in the area around Karupaddaimurippu that they were a positive threat to the jungle villager. In fact, the son of the headman of the neighbouring village called Manavalapattaimurippu was the victim of a bear attack and reduced to being a cripple. The destruction of bears was therefore something that the villagers pleaded for, and unless they were shot by hunters they were quite safe from the villagers as their skins had no commercial value whatsoever, unlike the skins of leopards.

In my experience a 12 bore shot-gun loaded with SG cartridge was not adequate to bring down a bear with certainty, and this was the weapon the normal jungle villager had at best. The villager therefore avoided having any encounter with a bear unless he was compelled to shoot in absolute self-defence, and even then the animal was seldom killed outright with a shot- gun charge. My experience is that a centre-fire rifle of .30/06 or larger calibre, using soft-nosed bullets is the safest weapon to use on bear.

The second mode of shooting bears in the Mankulam jungles, was not quite as certain as water-hole shooting, but certainly more exciting and risky. It consisted of tracking them in the uluvinthai thickets in December, which was the berry season. There were large tracts of forest around Karupaddaimurippu where these bushes grew in profusion. In fact, some sections were almost exclusively overgrown with these bushes, which in that area were about 10 feet high at the most, but the trunk and branches were quite slim and could not support the weight of a man and certainly not that of a bear. The bears’ technique of getting at the berries was to reach up and tear down a branch and then gulp them down. At the same time, these berries were favoured by the villagers as they were edible and sweet. It is in search of these berries and jungle bees honey that the villagers would come into conflict with bear and be attacked.



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Features

TNGlive relieving boredom

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Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.

Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.

However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.

And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.

Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.

She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.

What an awesome performance.

Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.

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Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution

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The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.

Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).

 

Applicable constitutional provisions

Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.

 

Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum

Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.

The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.

The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”

A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.

When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”

In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.

Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.

However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.

 

The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils

The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.

In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.

It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.

The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.

A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.

 

 

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‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi

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There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.

Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.

Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’

In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.

“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.

“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”

Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.

“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”

A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.

In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!

In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.

Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).

“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’

Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.

“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”

In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,

She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.

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