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What is govt. doing with National Action Plan to mitigate human-elephant conflict presented over three months back?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The human–elephant conflict has taken a turn for the worse in the Polonnaruwa District since 2011 due to rapid deforestation, Convener of the Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle, Supun Lahiru Prakash says.

Prakash said that Polonnaruwa was the district with the second highest deaths, injuries and property damage due to the human–elephant conflict. At the Divisional Secretariat level, Dimbulagala and Welikanda DS areas had recorded the highest number of deaths, human and elephant, with Hingurakgoda DS in fifth position.

“Polonnaruwa was once relatively unaffected by the Human–Elephant Conflict. Even in the 2011 elephant survey, 82% of elephants in the Mahaweli administrative region in Polonnaruwa, lived inside areas that were protected by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Things changed dramatically afterwards. Large swaths of forest land in and around Somawathiya, Flood Plans and Maduru Oya national parks were released for large scale agriculture projects and now a lot more elephants live outside protected areas,” he said.

Prakash said that the deaths of both humans and elephants had risen for decades. On average about 84 people had died each year between 2011 and 2020 due to the Human–Elephant Conflict. The average was 71 between 2005 and 2010 and 54 between 1992 and 2001. The numbers showed that human death rate had increased by about 14% from the previous decade and by about 50% from two decades ago.

“Averages actually can be deceiving when it comes to the current situation. 112 humans died in 2020.  On average 272 elephants died every year between 2011 and 2020. The number exceeded 400 in 2020. In 2005–2010 the elephant death rate was 200 per year and in 1992–2001 it was 137. Therefore, the elephant death rate has increased by about 31% from the previous decade and by about 92% from two decades ago. The elephant death rate shows an extremely high increase recently, exceeding 300 for the first time in 2018 and 400 just a year after. The deaths in 2019 are double the average from a decade ago,” he said.

The wild life enthusiast said that the Human – Elephant Conflict  had spread to about 60% of Sri Lanka and it was due to the reduced quality and the quantity of the elephant home ranges, fragmentation of remaining home ranges, and repeating the failed mitigation measures. He said that Elephants were driven away from their home ranges due to various reasons ranging from development projects to illegal encroachments.

“Meanwhile the quality of the remaining home ranges is reduced by invasive plant species, illegal activities and livestock herding inside home ranges. Furthermore, conventional mitigation measures such as erecting electric fences in protected area boundaries, elephant drives, and elephant holding grounds are outdated and have failed in addressing Human – Elephant Conflict in the country,” he said.

 Prakash said that the National Action Plan for the Mitigation of Human-Elephant Conflict, prepared on a directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had apparently been discarded and the government was violating those recommendations. The Action plan was prepared by a multi-stakeholder committee chaired by elephant researcher, Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando and was handed over to the government on 17 December 2020.

 “After three months, nothing has happened and by inaction the government continues to fuel the conflict in the country,” he charged.

 

 



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Aircraftsman sets swimming record with flying colours

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Leading Aircraftman Roshan Abeysundara of the Air Force yesterday set a new Asian record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in Rameshwaram. During his preparation for the event, Abeysundara renewed the national open water swimming record twice. He has also created a new record by swimming a 25 km distance from Matara to Koggala on 03 Jan, clocking 10 hours and 37 minutes, and went on to surpass the record by swimming a distance of 49Km from Matara to Hikkaduwa and back to Unawatuna on Feb 27 in 23 hours and 10 minutes.

He started swimming from Talaimannar at 2 am on Saturday and reached Dhanushkody and returned to Talaimannar around 7 am yesterday by completing 59.3 km in 28 hours 19 minutes and 43 seconds, breaking a 50-year-old Asian record set in 1971 by V.S. Kumar Anandan’s, who took 51 hours to swim across the Palk Strait. Abeysundara also set a new Lankan record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in 19 hours and 31 minutes.

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JVP women raise fears about cost and safety of food for New Year

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By Saman Indrajith

The JVP women’s wing led by Women for Rights says that exorbitant prices of food and fears over their safety will make the forthcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year a miserable affair.

“The prices of essential food items are at unprecedented highs. In addition, there are fears in the minds of the people about the quality and safety of food items being sold in the market. There were no such fears and doubts whether the food items in the market were fit for human consumption in the past as it is now,” Secretary of the WFR Samanmalee Gunasinghe said addressing a press conference held at the party headquarters in Pelawatte Friday.

Gunasinghe said that all those issues with regard to food prices and their standards and safety were about food security of the country. “Food security is a prerequisite for national security which this government promised to achieve. Food security no longer exists in this country and, worse, people are worrying about food safety.”

She said that social media was full of posts expressing people’s concerns about food safety.

“They are afraid because the government is putting their lives in danger not only by permitting coconut oil imports with high levels of aflatoxin but also allowing the adulteration of other food items. Some months ago, they brought down container loads of canned fish past shelf life and released them to the market. There are fears that milk, chilli powder and packaged food items contain various toxins. Scientists make statements to the effect that the fertilizers being used for paddy cultivation contain huge amounts of arsenic.”

President of the WFR Saroja Savithri Paulraj said that children of the country had not been able to celebrate the last Sinhala and Tamil New Year because of the COVID pandemic and now the people were gripped by fear of toxic food and their prices. Price of kilo of green grams is now Rs 850-1000, cowpea Rs 1,200, Undu (urid) Rs 1,700, chicken Rs 800, Chillies nearly Rs 1,000.

“This government has no answers for the problems created by the Easter Sunday terror attacks even after two years. The forests are being cleared and no responsible action is taken to prevent them. Women who become victims of micro-credit schemes are staging protests. Farmers staging protests in various places in the country. It is with those problems that people this time are compelled to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.”

Exco member of WFR Prabhashini Wickramasinghe also addressed the media.

 

 

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Govt. claims SLPP-SLFP relations remain strong

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… admits Easter Sunday carnage a contentious issue

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (11) strongly denied reports that a section of the ruling party coalition, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was on a collision course with it. Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage insisted that in spite of some minor disagreements among coalition members there was absolutely no threat to the government.

Participating in a newly launched live SLBC programme, the Kandy District MP accused the bankrupt Opposition, that was struggling both in and outside Parliament of propagating lies.

Acknowledging that a section of SLPP lawmakers had met at the SLFP Office at Darley Road, under former President Maithripala Sirisena’s chairmanship last Thursday (8), Minister Aluthgamage said that members of a coalition administration could hold diverse positions on a particular issue.

The Minister was responding to interviewers, Himananda Rajapaksa and Inusha Weebedde on ‘Kannadiya’ produced by Sudarmika Wijeratne. Rupavahini and The Island were represented by Vijaya Dissanayake and Shamindra Ferdinando, respectively.

Referring to what he called a contradictory position taken by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa in respect of some contentious issues, Minister Aluthgamage said that the stand taken by the former JVPer on the East Container Terminal (ECT) proved right. Minister Aluthgamage appreciated the cancellation of the proposed agreement on the ECT following protests by a section of the government. Earlier the government announced plans to transfer ECT’s controlling shares to India’s Adani Group.

The minister said that the consensus on the ECT should be compared with the previous administration handing over the controlling shares of the strategic Hambantota port to China.

Minister Aluthgamage also dismissed claims that the SLFP led group was planning to conduct a separate May Day rally. The minister insisted the coalition was still strong regardless of issues – a situation experienced by coalition administrations in the past. Aluthgamage asserted that divergent views among coalition members were helpful in facilitating a better stand on a particular issue.

The programme was told difficulties experienced by the government should be examined against the backdrop of former President Maithripala, one of those named by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage now being a member of the SLPP led government.  The SLMC and the ACMC flayed over the Easter Sunday massacre switched their allegiance from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the breakaway UNP faction recognized as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

It was also told that the break-up of the coalition was unlikely though in political turmoil.

Top SLFP spokesman and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera confirmed the stand taken by his ministerial colleague, Aluthgamage. Declaring the role played by the SLFP in helping wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa win the 2019 presidential election, Minister Amaraweera reiterated their commitment to the government.

The SLFP group in the government consisted of 14 lawmakers. The government parliamentary group comprised 145 members.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (ret.) Sarath Weerasekera explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government handled the Easter Sunday issue.

Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera, Presidential Secretariat Director General – Legal Affairs said that the government’s response was three-fold. “We provided relief, punishment to those responsible and remedial measures to prevent similar attacks,” Rohanadeera said.

Dismissing accusations as regards the ongoing investigations/process, Rohanadeera pointed out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having consulted the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith retained the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.  The lawyer underscored the government determination to implement the CoI report along with the recommendations of the Sectoral Defence Oversight Committee.

The Presidential aide explained the need to address issues without being diverted by political factors. The official rejected assertions that the CoI was meant to delay justice to those killed and their families.

The interviewers raised issue over SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera reiterating concerns that the person recently named as the mastermind wasn’t so and there were other powerful interested parties bent on destabilizing the country.  The programme was reminded of former UNP lawmaker and one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, warning of Western destabilization projects as long as the Hambantota port remained in Chinese hands.

The previous UNP led government finalized the deal on Hambantota port in 2017.

The programme was told the high-profile Western intervention at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) largely influenced by the ongoing battle for supremacy between the US and China. However, almost all political parties represented in parliament had been in one way or another implicated in the Easter Sunday violence.

Near simultaneous Easter suicide attacks claimed the lives of 270. Over 500 received injuries.

The mystery of India infiltrating the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), too, was raised though there was consensus Sri Lanka should be grateful for intelligence provided by India in the run-up to Easter blasts. The interview was asked of the need to be wary of foreign intelligence services operating in Colombo.

 

PIC SAVED AS MAHINDANANDA

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