Tamil Buddhism and oldness of Sinhala lingo are beside the point
by Kumar David
Justice Wigneswaran is not laying traps to snare GR-MR or the TNA; that’s not the import of my title. I am suggesting is that wily old Wiggy is calculating that these worthies will snare themselves in traps of their own making, and then his line will pay off. His expectation is that the regime will turn explicitly anti-Tamil and his second calculation is that the TNA is too deeply mired in compromises to extricate itself. Of course, I am attributing motives to him; but in politics it’s okay for analysts to make assumptions about why leaders do this or that and I am within limits of fairness in imputing not unreasonable motives to Wiggy.
This of course is in addition to the fun he must be having watching Field Marshals and Rear Admirals frothing at the mouth. The more they froth the better it plays into his gambit. The old fox’s trick is to say incendiary stuff like: ‘Tamil was the original language of the island, the Sinhala tongue emerged only in the Sixth or Seventh Century AD’; ‘Tamils were the first Buddhists in Lanka and switched to Saivism in early BC’; ‘Dushata Kaamini was a Tamil Buddhist fighting Ellalan a Tamil Saivite’. Stuff like that, even if true, the mere utterance will make ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ blood boil.
Leaving to one side whether Wiggy is stirring things up for larks or for political gain, what’s the historical and anthropological evidence. The Wiggy-Fonny adipudi seemed at first a brawl between two ageing crack-pots and I thought experts would weigh in and sort out fact from fiction sans ethnic and ideological bias. But all experts have chickened out, which tells us how explosive the topic is. I have over the years done some amateur reading so fools need to drift in where angels are cowardly to tread. I don’t care whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Double-Dutch is older or whether the Tamils or the Sinhalese first sniffed religious opium. What I have learnt is from writings of Lanka’s best historian, Leslie (RALH) Gunawardena and anthropologist Sudarshan Seneviratne. I am also very familiar with Indrapala’s excellent Evolution of Ethnic Identity, portions of K.M. de Silva’s tome, what was readily available of Gananath, and Wikipedia level stuff. Let me blurt out this little learning till an expert picks up the courage to speak.
Yes, Tamil is one of the oldest living languages; living means it is still spoken. Chinese, Greek and Tamil may be the oldest. Second, many (most?) Tamils in South India and Lanka were Buddhists in ‘BC times’ before the onward march of Saivism inundated them in ‘AD times’, especially during the apogee of Chola power. There is evidence of widespread practice of Buddhism and Jainism in Southern India and the northern and eastern parts of this island before it was pushed out between the first century BC and the third century AD. The third point is what has got the experts into a funk; they don’t want to be lynched. Sinhala became the lingua franca of southern Lanka during the fifth to sixth centuries AD; that is quite recently. The language of the elite and the clergy prior to Mahavamsa times was Prakrit while a classical version called Pali was used by the learned. In olden times the mass of the people, a few thousand, lived in small tribes and communities and a collective name for their speech is Hela or Elu or Helu; hence the case made by certain pundits for going back to the original Hela stuff has a point.
Vijaya and his horde were a raiding band who spoke an Indian dialect and were assimilated by the tribes and communities who proliferated across the island. Only a few hundred strong they could not have made large sperm donations. The originals in the north were tribal groups but linguistically Tamilised by South Indian migration from BC times. Genetically, Tamil and Sinhalese folk are to a large extent, descendants of these tribal pools though these days all they want to do is gouge each other’s eyes out. Then the interesting bit follows. The difference between our warring idiots is not race – they are much the same gene pool – it is ethnic, that is language, religion and culture. After the high period of Chola conquest two separate cultures ossified in different portions of the island among racially similar peoples. These are the two mentally retarded communities we confront today; this comes across clearly in Leslie and Indrapala’s writings but they put it politely. However, propensity for conflict does not disappear; ethnicities can hate each other as much as races because friction is about material and social benefits. But hopefully, if the mass mind knows that the two are of racially the same stock in conflict over benefits and politics, visceral hatred of the ‘other’ may diminish.
Wiggy suspects that the GR-MR government will screw the Muslims first and then turn on the Tamils. He like the rest of us is anticipating tough times ahead for economy and at that time what is more profitable for the regime than the race-card? Many Venerables and State and Cabinet Ministers are merchants of death that GR-MR dare not leash, and that indicates where power lies. The TNA is too compromised. Its efforts were not unprincipled; it correctly judged that without a deal with the Sinhalese the Tamils will get nowhere. It picked on yahapalana because the UNP is liberal as opposed to the SLPP and SLFP which are of Sinhala-Buddhist ethos. The poor sods ended up as empty handed as Chelva and the FP but not quite as stone dead as Prabakaran. It seems unlikely that the TNA can rise again, but true, stranger things have happened.
Moody’s Investor Service last week dropped Lanka’s sovereign rating from B2 to Caa1, a two-tier drop bypassing B3. The agency defines Caa as “speculative, of poor standing and subject to very high credit risk”; that is junk! The corresponding grade in Standard & Poor and Fitch is CCC, CC or C. While rating agencies have responsibility to both lender and debtor the double whammy is harsh; a one tier downgrade was unavoidable since medium-term prospects for the economy are poor. Recent improvements (remittances rising to pre-COVID levels, sharp reduction in imports, fall in 2020 balance of payments deficit from a feared $8 billion to an expected $6 billion deficit, and enhanced activity in the domestic economy) though loudly touted by the Finance Ministry seem to have been dismissed by the agency as short-term gains. Sadly, the outlook is a looming fiscal (budget) deficit, deterioration of asset quality and a depressing employment picture. Not all of Cabraal’s rantings could have deflected a one-tier downgrade. Wiggy reckons that the regime will go after the minorities when troubles multiply. Maybe he reckons ‘Why would a post-20A regime not do just what autocrats do when cornered by a flailing economy?’
Wiggy is palpably mischievous and enjoys baiting the ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ fraternity. For proof peruse the hundreds of naïve, goofy and brain-dead comments following any Wiggy piece in the Colombo Telegraph. On the serious side I think he calculates that Tamil leadership will go next to the one who walks the talk; he who is most boldly Tamil! Though Tamil militancy was the outcome of Sinhala politics even a militant Wiggy will eventually have to cut a deal; there is no other option. The Tamil stand-off has no realisable solution other than cutting a deal with the Sinhalese state. Muslims have always been of this view. Wiggy is upper middle-class; a liberal intellectual who speaks and writes the Queen’s English like, well like a judge. He is a Royalist who must have just missed entry to S. Thomas’ by a few marks. But strangely he is also an obscurantist. I don’t know what to make of a man who is a devotee of the late Swami Premananda convicted on multiple counts of murder and rape in India in 1997. See-
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._V._Vigneswaran and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Premananda_(guru)]
Though the infection rate is now declining the 1000+ that tested positive for COVID in the Gampaha District signal a ‘community outbreak’ described as spread by mechanisms that cannot be traced to contact with a ‘recently-returned person’ or foreign visitor. This is alarming; community outbreaks are very difficult to control; no one knows where this sneaky bug is hiding. If GR and team impose production and industry disrupting curfews again, damage to the economy will be devastating and follow hard on Moody’s downgrade of our credit rating to junk. In the wake of previous mutilation this will act as a geometric multiplier. The possible closure of BIA will further deflate business confidence. If the economy goes into a tailspin the regime will need some drama to distract attention: Dump 20A? Blame minorities for something? Discover ever more welcome crimes of the “previous regime”? The second possibility relates to today’s column.
Deteriorating rural economy, and food security
By Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
Sri Lanka is a land of villages. There are around 14,000 of them. According to the Dept. of Census and Statistics, around 80% of the Sri Lankan population live in villages and estates. Most of them are farmers who are supposed to be suitable to be kings if the mud on their bodies are washed out. According to recent estimates, about 30 percent of the total households, in therural districts of Sri Lanka, live below the poverty line. A socio-economic survey, conducted in the recent past, indicates that although the rural sector has the ability to engage in productive activities, there are many constraints.
Wild elephants roaming in some of the dry zone villages,causing death to many and destroying property, aggravate the socio-economic hardships the rural sector has to face, affecting their health, education and many other aspects of the lives.
Chronic Kidney Disease:
Around 70,000 people of the country are affected by a chronic kidney disease (CKDu) . They are mostly in the rural areas of the country and are affected socially and economically. The patients in the final stages of CKDu have to go for dialysis which again affects the economy of rural people . In some families both parents have died and their children are helpless.
In spite of the country receiving around 100 billion cubic meters of water, annually, there are frequent water shortages, mostly in the rural areas where there are around 12,000 tanks. Most of them are silted, reducing the water holding capacity of these tanks, causing rural communities to face shortage of water which seriously affects crop production and various domestic activities.
Lack of reasonable transport facilities, in the rural areas, is one of the main setback to Sri Lanka’s overall prosperity. People living in some rural areas have to cross rivers, using inflated rubber tubes, as there are no bridges. A large number of rural roads remain in a dilapidated condition but, the authorities were more interested in constructing highways.
Fertilisers are a major input in crop production. During the last two cropping seasons, inorganic fertilisers, and pesticides, were not available due to the utterly foolish decision of the former government. Currently, fertilisers are available but they were not available at correct times.
Farmers are forced to obtain seeds at a high cost. For example, a kg of chilli seeds is around Rs. 170,000 and a kg of cabbage seed is sold at Rs 400,000 in the market.
Pest attacks cause considerable problems to farmers. Last year there was the sena caterpillar called “Fall Armyworm” (Spodopteria Frugipedera) which destroyed large extents of cultivated crops. According to press reports, the same pest destroyed thousands of hectares of maize in Ampara causing severe difficulties to the farmers. Brown Plant Hopper tends to destroy paddy.
Those farmers who manage to harvest the crop of rice/vegetables are unable to sell it for a reasonable price. Currently, paddy farmers are unable to sell their Yala paddy crop to cover the costs. Often vegetable farmers are forced to destroy their produce due to inability to market their produce at reasonable prices. Marketing of agricultural products, at a profit to the farmer, is an issue which the authorities need to take cognizance of.
Unemployment is rampant in the country. As a result of government-imposed restrictions on imports, commercial activities of thousands of companies are slowing down, seriously affecting the private sector in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of those companies have been compelled to reduce employment, non-renewal of employment contracts, and halting new recruitments, resulting in an increase in unemployment. Thousands of workers, in the construction sector, have already lost their jobs. These business enterprises are currently facing liquidity issues due to a loss of revenue and difficulties in the importation of raw material. Thousands of SMEs have closed down mainly due to lack of inputs, resulting in an increase in unemployment.
As a result of these limiting factors, rural economy is deteriorating. For the success of any development programme to improve the rural economy, it is essential to address the problems of the rural communities. However, the previous governments did not give priority to these critical issues, faced by farmers, who continue to live in abject poverty as a result. Most of them have to pawn their jewellery, or resort to some other ways ,to obtain finances to obtain agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and labour. Some of them have become prey to micro-credit companies.
All these issues cause untold hardships to thousands of farmers and have a negative impact on the rural economy. No effective actions appear to have been taken, by the relevant authorities, to implement appropriate solutions to these problems, except appointing committees. Those representing the farming community, in the Parliament, appear to be not concerned about the plight of our farming population who have voted them to power.
There is no centralized planning in farming in the country which, sometimes, leads farmers to cultivating the same crop/s, ultimately resulting in gluts. Previous governments attempted to solve this problem by implementing programmes, such as Api Wawamu-Rata Nagamu and Divineguma. But we continue to spend nearly Rs.300 billion, annually to import food. If the authorities are genuinely keen to improve the rural economy, they need to address these issues.
Food Security is closely related to rural economy. According to the United Nation’s Committee on World Food Security, food security is at maximum level when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. According to World Food Programme’ s latest food security assessment, about three in 10 households (6.26 million people) in Sri Lanka are food insecure. Cost of essential foods has increased during the last few months hindering the population’s ability to consume nutritious food in sufficient amounts. The food security situation is worst among people living in the estate sector.
Nutritious food to meet the dietary requirements of people need to contain mainly carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The local production of carbohydrates (mainly rice and sugar), and proteins (fish and milk) is inadequate to meet the demand. Hence, these food items are imported. During the last few years, we have spent nearly Rs. 300 billion, annually, on food imports, although it has decreased during the last few months, mainly due to restrictions on import of some food.
Availability of rice locally has decreased mainly because of inadequate availability of plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) through inorganic fertilisers. This has caused large amounts of rice to be imported. There appears to be no effective programmes to increase sugar production in the country. About two decades ago, in the1990s, sugarcane was cultivated in about 25, 000 hectares. At present, only about 12,000 ha are under sugarcane. The sugar factory, in Kantale, remains out of production, for nearly 15 years.
Availability of fish and milk has reduced due to a number of factors which the government appears to be not taking appropriate measures to increase the production of these items. According to press reports, the government is planning to import cattle from India and Pakistan to increase local milk production. It is foolish to import cattle to enhance milk production in the country without implementing an integrated programme to upgrade local cattle, making available cattle feed and improving veterinary practices in the country.
In Sri Lanka, during the last two decades, perhaps a few thousands of research studies, related to food security, involving billions of rupees worth of scarce resources, have been conducted. It is important that we utilize these research findings to find solutions to the pressing problems of the country. But there appears to be no effective system to make use of the research findings. Lack of an integrated plan is a factor responsible for the decline in food security. There has been rhetoric on rural economic development during the last few years. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary.
A first indication of readiness to go on a new path
By Jehan Perera
None too soon, President Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be putting the brakes on the government’s policy of repression in dealing with public protests. His decision to initially sign the Gazette notification declaring key areas of Colombo to be High Security Zones was roundly criticised by human rights organisations including the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. The business sector also complained that this decision which appears to have been made by the security establishment would be injurious to business. Revoking the High Security Zones made practical sense in view of the dubious legal basis of the declaration. The High Security Zones were to be set up under the Official Secrets Act which has hardly anything in common with the purpose of the new regulations.
The High Security Zone concept, which was practiced in the North and East of the country during the time of war, would have made it difficult for vehicles to even park on the roads without first obtaining special permission. There were also legal cases filed in the Supreme Court alleging violation of constitutional rights. The president would also have been aware of the resolution on Sri Lanka that is about to be presented for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. As many as 26 countries have agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, of which 10 are current members of the UNHRC. Sri Lanka is finding itself isolated in terms of human rights in the eyes of the international community which can have costly consequences in terms of reducing the international sympathy and support that the country needs at this time.
The president’s early resort to the security forces to clamp down on the protest movement came as a surprise as his prior track record would have suggested a more nuanced approach to dealing with public agitation. As a follow up to the revocation of the High Security Zones, the president needs to consider revamping government policy on addressing the protest movement. So far the government approach has focused on suppressing the protest movement, on the justification that it will destabilise the economy through strike actions and by chaos on the streets. However, in Sri Lanka’s democratic system a policy of repression is unlikely to be workable. A government that is reluctant to go to the polls must not use the security forces as its prop. The president’s withdrawal of the High Security Zones in Colombo may be understood as an acknowledgement of this reality.
There is general acknowledgement that the President is the most suitable for the task of negotiating with, and making the political case, for more international aid to come to Sri Lanka. During his recent visits to foreign countries he met with top world leaders and would have made his mark. However, it is also important that the president should make his mark on the Sri Lankan people. He needs to win the trust of the people who did not vote for him. Having consolidated himself following his election by parliament to be president, he needs to take a more pro-active role in addressing the roots of the protest movement and not simply quashing its manifestations. There is a need to inform the people what the government will be doing to directly address the terrible impact of the economic crisis on the poorer sections of the population.
There is a widespread sense that those arrested for being members of the protest movement ought not to be subjected to the heavy hand of the law. At the present time, both in Geneva and in Sri Lanka, government spokespersons are denying the severity of the problems that exists. Successive governments denied the excesses that occurred during the war period, both in Geneva and at home. In Sri Lanka the majority of the population were prepared to go along with the denials of war time excesses due to the nature of the ethnic conflict that pitted the ethnic communities against one another. However, a policy of denying the impact of the economic crisis on the poor will not be able to garner similar support from any community in Sri Lanka and will end up pitting the majority of people against the government, just as happened during the height of the Aragalaya.
A declaration of an amnesty for all those accused and arrested for being part of the protest movement would be an act of follow-up statesmanship considering the controversy these arrests are causing both internationally and nationally with the human rights groups and the general public. The ongoing arrests of some who have been part of the protest movement have been justified on the basis that they engaged in violence or supported it. Others are accused of having burnt down the houses of government ministers, including the president’s own ancestral house which contained his family library and valuable works of art. Some have been arrested without being charged before the courts.
Magnanimity, empathy and fairness are very powerful in binding the community together. This is an opportunity for the president to show his empathy with all those others who down the years have lost their own homes to violence, during the two JVP insurrections and during the long period of the ethnic war. The government plans to compensate its members who lost their houses. It needs to also compensate those who lost their lives due to government failure, the most recent being those who died standing in long lines, or when their substandard gas cylinders exploded.
At present, the government is denying the veracity of studies done by international organisations, including UN organisations, on the extent of the malnutrition and stunting that affects children. They are also denying the veracity of claims of corruption in the procurement of fuel and other large contracts, even in the midst of economic crisis. It is also doing little to ameliorate these problems. The government points to the restoration of reasonable supplies of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and electricity which can create an impression of normalcy, but only for those who can afford the much higher prices at which these commodities are available. The government denials of the unequal distribution of the burden will ring hollow with the masses of people, whose support is needed if the government is to govern in a stable political environment.
Instead of denying the existence of problems, the government needs to accept their existence and take measures to address them. This applies to both the problems within the country and that are being discussed internationally. It needs to recognise that its denials have got no traction in Geneva, which is why Sri Lanka has had to face nine resolutions, each one getting more difficult to respond to. The resolution that will be voted on in the UN Human Rights Council later this week will call for greater support for the UN’s evidence gathering mechanism that has already been set up and to provide more support to those countries that pursue universal jurisprudence for crimes committed by Sri Lankan political and military leaders anywhere in the world.
The government needs to use every opportunity it can to seek the support of the international community. With the draft resolution now presented, the eyes of the international community are upon Sri Lanka. While it is too late to change the draft resolution, which will be soon voted on, the government can still seek to restore goodwill among those that are pursuing the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. An amnesty for those who participated in the protest movement could send a positive signal that the government is willing to heed the concerns of the international community regarding human rights and democratic freedoms. The possibility of amnesty to be part of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which there is acknowledgment of past violations, expression of regret and accountability for them can also be explored.
Treaty for a Lost City – inconvenient facts or legal myths?
By Andrew Sheng
Asia News Netowrk
Is Hong Kong a lost city or being re-born after its baptism of fire? Hong Kong was always a “borrowed place, borrowed time”, to quote the legendary journalist Richard Hughes (1906-1984), immortalised in John Le Carre’s novels on the intersection of media and espionage in cities like Berlin or Istanbul located at the borderlands of great power conflicts. Having returned the city on 1 July 1997, can Britain hold China to the terms and conditions of the 1984 Joint Declaration with China?
Chinese University of Hong Kong Law Professor CL Lim’s book, ” The Sino-British Joint Declaration” is a meticulously researched legal history of how the Joint Declaration came into being and whether it still has the force of law on both parties. There is a presumption that the Joint Declaration granted democratic rights to Hong Kong. The legal story is much more complex. This book draws on the British National Archives and study of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1990), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) [ICCPR], United Nations Charter, etc., to lay out the facts and opinions for the reader to judge who is right or wrong.
Cities and states are defined by their Constitutions, communal values, geography, cultures and histories. Prior to 1841, Hong Kong was a barren rock that was indisputably part of China. Hong was ceded under the Treaty of Nanjing after the First Opium War (1839-42); but the expiry of the 99 year New Territories lease meant that Britain could not hold onto Hong Kong after 1997. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), following earlier Chinese governments, has never recognised any “unequal treaty” with the Western Powers, but adopted the face-saving principle that “a sovereign may delegate under international law such control or authority to another for a limited period.” Once that sovereignty is resumed, the PRC will not brook any interference in its internal sovereign matters.
This book reads like a series of Queen’s Counsel briefs, densely argued on complex and subtle points presenting different opinions and perspectives. In normal legal disputes, the arbiter would be an independent court, but there is no final decision between China and United Kingdom, which are the five members of the UN Security Council that can veto any rulings at the United Nations level. The only appeal left is to the court of global public opinion, which is today dominated by the English-speaking media. As media today becomes more and more ideologically driven, it is unlikely that deeply held views will be changed by legal or rational arguments.
The genesis of the Joint Declaration was the need to ensure a smooth return of Hong Kong to China. In 1983, when the New Territories lease (covering 92% of Hong Kong) was running out, Britain initially sought to renew the lease, but found that China under Deng Xiaoping was adamant that China would resume sovereignty over Hong Kong. With confidence slipping, the Hong Kong currency was under attack, only to be restored by a peg against the US dollar. This gave impetus to settle the terms and conditions of return. As the book painstakingly pointed out, British negotiators were operating from a weak hand, wanting to retain as much influence and economic benefits as possible post-1997.
As described in Chapter 3, democracy under colonialism was never part of the negotiations. Hong Kong representatives played no part in the discussions between two sovereign powers. The Joint Declaration itself did not mention the word “democracy”. It basically stated that the Hong Kong SAR “will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” (Article 2) and that rights and freedoms will be ensured by Hong Kong SAR law (Article 5). Since the Basic Law, HKSAR’s constitution, is PRC law, the final interpretation falls to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, not necessarily by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals.
The real point of dispute lies in the National Security Law, which was passed by the National People’s Congress in 2020, after the Hong Kong legislature was unable to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law. As public disorder arose with violent protests, the practical issue was whether HKSAR government could handle them without a National Security Law. Hong Kong was uniquely handicapped because in every other international financial centre, there exists very draconian national security laws that protect the integrity and security of the financial system, economy and sovereignty. Hong Kong was deeply polarised. No compromise seemed possible, and continued protests and violence would have destroyed Hong Kong. Between a rock and a hard place, the National Security Law was the least painful alternative barring more physical violence.
Treaty on a Lost Place highlighted the absurd situation of two sovereigns signing one piece of paper having different points of view. Such constructive ambiguity papered over destructive alternatives. The last British Governor Chris Patten was successful in persuading some Hongkongers that one man-one vote was what they deserve. Whether that is a cure all for Hong Kong’s ill is another matter. That his Conservative Party leadership was elected opaquely by of British people shows that different systems may not always practice what they preach. Hong Kong elites failed to correct the injustices that many young faced in not providing them affordable homes with meaningful, well paid jobs. Beijing’s mistake perhaps was to trust that Hong Kong could on her own resolve these contradictions within the larger struggle between China and the West on many fronts.
A Treaty is only a piece of paper. A city is not lost to Britain or China, but lost in its own direction, which must be re-found. The answers will not be found in international law, because that is itself being rediscovered in a new age of multipolar contestation. This book is a major contribution to our understanding of how international law is only one of many guides to the future. Hong Kong has to rediscover her own identity inside a larger identity. That is the tragedy and opportunity facing all islands within the grand ocean of mankind.
22A: Jayasumana asks govt. to stick to SC ruling, warns against moves detrimental to unitary status
Defeat bid to protect the corrupt
Deteriorating rural economy, and food security
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
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