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Yanne koheda? Malle pol!



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Of many a wonderful saying that embellishes the Sinhala language, none seems more appropriate, at present, than the expression “Yanne koheda? Malle pol“; when asked “where are you going?”, the reply is “I have coconuts in my bag!”. Of course, it is a well-known tactic adopted by politicians of all shades, the world over; when asked a penetrative question for which they have no answer, instead, they answer their own imaginary question! Judging by similar responses to my article “Continuing craziness” (The Island, 11 November) I wonder whether there is, perhaps, ‘Covid-induced confusion’.

Whilst thanking G A D Sirimal (Continuing craziness: The Island, 15 November) for his advice on how I should write about the ‘war victory’, may I point out that his blaming me for not giving the credit to General, sorry, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka shows that he seems to have completely failed to grasp the context of my piece. In my article, I was not discussing the war but expressing my total disbelief that the two people, at the helm of the country, are unable to tackle the total indiscipline rampant in the country with the resultant chaos, though they were able to defeat a ruthless terrorist group! In this context FM Fonseka is totally irrelevant as he is far from being at the helm!

I agree with Mr Sirimal that “The government, under Mahinda Rajapaksa, won the war” is the most accurate way to describe the war victory. Afterall, it is the ‘ruler’ who gets the credit for a war victory and, in fact, blamed in case of defeat. Though no one can deny the part played by FM Fonseka for the war victory, unfortunately, it was his own behaviour, following the end of the conflict, that soured the victory. Because he was so convinced that the victory was primarily his that crafty Ranil was able to convince Fonseka to stand against Mahinda at the presidential election. During the campaign, Fonseka declared that the day after victory he will hang the Rajapaksas in Bogambara prison. Meanwhile, Ranil was giving assurances to the Tamil diaspora in Europe that he would sort out ‘the minority problems’, as he would become the ‘executive’ PM, once Fonseka was elected President!

It is beyond comprehension how FM Fonseka got in truck with the UNP, which acted with disdain, mocking the army at every turn. The UNP ridicule was mostly directed at Fonseka, one MP stating in parliament that he could not lead even the Salvation Army! As PM, Ranil signed a peace treaty with Prabhakaran at the instigation of Norway, which was breached by the Tigers even before the ink was dry! Army suffered many setbacks due to his actions. The UNP continued to ridicule the attempts of Mahinda’s government at defeating terrorism.

To grab political power, Fonseka was prepared to forget all those insults. Worse still, he was prepared to let down his own army. When unfair accusations of human rights violations were made Fonseka’s explanation was that he was abroad when ‘the white flag incident, etc. occurred. As he was abroad at the time of winning the war, how come he claims the major part of the victory? Further, his attacks on the Navy Chief Karannagoda is despicable, to say the least. In the final phase of the battle, our Army was advancing under the cover of the Air Force and the enemy was cornered because the Navy effected a blockade, preventing the escape of terrorists. Who coordinated all this? It was Gota and that is why the Tiger rump has named him the “Terminator”. Aided by some burning with jealousy, The Tiger rump levelled many accusations against Gota but nothing was ever proved. The fact that the eace-loving Sri Lankan voters could see through these was shown by the massive endorsement Gota received at the presidential election.

FM Fonseka’s thirst for political power seems totally unquenched. After having made mincemeat out of the reputation of Sajith, and his father too, in a “Derana 360” programme prior to the last presidential election, unashamedly he became a Sajith devotee, after the announcement by Sajith that FM Fonseka would get a top post in his administration. Now it is rumoured that he is in competition with Champika in the move to oust Sajith! A significant proportion of his recent outburst in Parliament had to be ‘bleeped-out’ for broadcast news. Had he retired gracefully, instead of taking to politics, he surely would have earned a much better place in history.

Commenting on my article, Buddhi Perera in his opinion piece “From Craze to prosperity” (The Island, 12 November) states: “When thinking about the past performance of these brothers, namely Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil, the last two names would not give rise to pleasant memories. As Secretary of Defence, during Mahinda’s rule, Gotabaya gave all assistance to our security forces Commanders by providing all men and material they asked for and some named the battle as Gota’s War. One may always wonder why it was not Mahinda’s, Sarath’s, Wasantha’s or Roshan’s War”. Maybe, in a “Yanne Koheda? Malle Pol!” stance, Mr Perera states providing all assistance would not give rise to pleasant memories! Memories would not be pleasant only for Tiger sympathisers!! The reason why some named it ‘Gota’s war’ is simply because Gota performed that vital function of coordination which, according to many defence experts, was the most important reason for the ‘war victory’.

Perera also refers to an opinion piece by Rohana Wijayawardhana (Country in peril? The Island 11 November) which was printed beside mine, expressing an opposing view, which illustrates the high journalistic traditions maintained by The Island over the 40 years of its existence.Wijayawardhana, by the way is no relative of mine, fears the country is in peril due to the following reason: “The present set is being led by a person who had many serious allegations against him even before his election while all past leaders did not have such allegations”. Whilst I greatly doubt whether all our past leaders were squeaky clean and had no allegations against them, am more concerned that the present President is being castigated on the basis of unproved allegations. It looks as if the vilification campaign of the Tiger rump has had the desired result!

In spite of the recent political setbacks, I still feel that provided Gota and Mahinda can repeat their past performance, the prevailing chaos can stop so that Sri Lanka starts a journey towards prosperity. Others may disagree but I still feel they are the only hope as there is no alternative in sight, at the moment. The fact that the opposition is failing badly was well highlighted in the editorial “Enemies of people” (The Island, 17 November).

My fervent hope is that all politicians realize the great danger the country faces and work together for better times.

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Govt. stubborn on organic manure from China



According to media reports, it is evident that the Government is hell-bent on importing organic manure from the same company that supplied the first shipment, rejected by the Plant Quarantine officials of the Department of Agriculture (DOA). We are aware that US$ 6.9 million of Valuable Foreign Exchange (VFE) has been paid to this company (when the country is hard pressed for foreign currency) as compensation for the manure rejected due to obvious reasons viz. contamination with harmful microorganisms.

This VFE thus paid as compensation could otherwise have been used to import the much-needed chemical fertiliser. for which the farmers are rightfully clamouring. It was also reported that the Minister of Agriculture is planning to get a new SLSI Standard established, to facilitate this importation.

First things first, and it will be best for the authorities in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Government, to sit for a while and study the Plant Protection Act No.35 of 1999, without losing time – better late than never. According to provisions and regulations under this Act, commercial quantities of organic manure cannot be imported to Sri Lanka. Only small samples of such materials can be allowed by the Director General of Agriculture, who is the implementing authority for the Plant Protection Act, and such samples can be used only for laboratory research work and cannot be added to the land.

As a retired officer, who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, I am aware that no amendments have since been brought to the Plant Protection Act to change the provisions referred to above, and the regulations thereon. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether such amendments can ever be brought, since plant quarantine is an issue that cannot be compromised on the whims and fancies of Governments, and is subject to international covenants/agreements, as health issues pertaining to plant, animal and human life are involved.

Whatever standard that the SLSI establishes for organic manure imports, as per the request of the Minister of Agriculture, will have to comply with the aforesaid provisions of the Plant Protection Act. The so-called fresh shipment, if it is called organic fertiliser/manure, will necessarily contain a concoction of microorganisms, coming in bulk from a foreign environment to that of ours, and this itself could be disastrous, That is exactly why Plant Quarantine Services, the world over ( including Sri Lanka), are so strict in adhering to the relevant regulations. ( In this regard, we are all aware of the havoc created by the tiny Corona virus that, in fact, originated in China.)

In the event a fresh shipment comes, and if the Plant Quarantine officials act in the same manner as they acted when the first shipment came, strictly on scientific principles and in keeping with the regulations, the new shipment should get rejected if the material is really organic manure. So once again are we going to pay a massive compensation and lose VFE once more at this critical juncture; when we are in dire need of the same, to meet basic requirements? It is felt the Government should even at this late stage reconsider its policy on importing commercial quantities of organic manure/fertiliser, which no farmers ever wanted, and hence stop it forthwith, without getting this country into a further muddle.

The best is to produce organic manure/fertiliser on-farms as much as possible, due to the hassle of transporting over large distances, the way it was practiced by some farmers earlier, too, and use it as a soil re-conditioner; along with chemical fertiliser, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in appreciable quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets. Organic farming per se has been and can be practiced in Sri Lanka in niches over the years; it is nothing new and is known to give low/moderate yields at high cost, for special markets. Organic farming can never cater to our total national need, and the Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider its policy.


Retired Director/Agricultural Development

Ministry of Agriculture

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Power Cuts: Engineers kept in the dark



The above news item says even senior engineers of the CEB were kept in the dark about the power cut on Thursday, 13th Jan, despite Minister Gamini Lokuge assuring the country of uninterrupted supply. This gives the impression that there is no proper coordination among the engineers within the bCEB and the Ministry for Power. Added to this catastrophic situation, now enters another player, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL] making matters worse, where it insists approval for power cuts, according to a schedule, should be obtained from them.

The present power cut may be that the CEB has given the correct picture to PUCSL, and the information to the Minister may be by a section of engineers who play politics. The Minister should take the advice and information from the General Manager, and he should be held responsible for any false or incorrect information. It must also be said that there could be unexpected or unforeseen failures, which could alter the plans, and in such circumstances the GM, CEB could be excused. It is very unfortunate there is no unity among the engineers in the CEB, which has caused this unpleasant situation, embarrassing the Minister, the government, and placing consumers in a state of despair.

This difference in opinions among engineers in the CEB, reminds me of a similar situation in the 1980s, when the hydro reservoirs were running dry due to a severe drought. One section of engineers, to please the Minister, advocated running the turbines, expecting rains any time; while the other section advocated a power cut, saying it is dangerous and makes matters worse as the turbines could be damaged with dead wood and other objects dragging in with the flow.

This matter was brought before the Ministry, and the then Secretary to the Ministry for Power and Energy, the late James H Lanerolle, advised the Minister to approve a power cut which was turned down. Not being satisfied and being national minded, and in keeping with the responsibilities placed on him by the President who appoints Secretaries to Ministries to advise and guide Ministers, with the permission of the Minister made representations to the then President J.R.Jayewardene. A meeting with the President was arranged with engineers of both parties. On giving a patient hearing and understanding the gravity, the President turned to the Secretary and said [I can yet remember clearly as I too attended this meeting] “James, carry out your decision to shed power”. This should be a lesson to the present Secretaries of Ministries, not to play politics, and serve the President who had appointed them for the purpose mentioned above.

If there was no PUCSL to interfere, then the CEB would have briefed the Minister and the Secretary to the Ministry, and taken a correct decision. As the CEB has to serve two masters – PUCSL and Ministry – the two factions of engineers in the CEB act differently, one seeking PUCSL and the other the Minister.

I recall here the plea made by former Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma, to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to remove PUCSL from interfering with the CEB, which the President on understanding the difficulties of the Minister to carry out his duties efficiently, safeguarding the government, rightly agreed and issued instructions accordingly. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was also the Finance Minister, overruled the President’s order and allowed the same procedure to follow.

It will be advisable for the present Minister for Finance, Basil Rajapaksa, to review, under the present confusing situation, which has brought Minister Lokuge to a questionable situation, and also the public having no faith in the promises made by government


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Beginning of all things auspicious



Happy Thai Pongal!

Cosmic phenomena have baffled mankind since the beginning of time. ‘Sun worshipping’ or ‘Heliolatry’ was one of the most widespread forms of worship in ancient times. Historical evidence suggests that sun-worship was practised not only by Indians but by Africans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indonesians. In fact, a remnant of sun-worship, one time-tested ritual survives to-date. Thai Pongal, celebrated today by Tamils the world over irrespective of region, caste or creed, is the only form of Sun worship in existence today.

Thai Pongal is the Hindu version of Thanksgiving, performed by offering the first portion of the harvest to the Sun God, Surya. The festival has more than just religious significance. Especially in the tropics, where the sun shines throughout the year, it is an abundant source of power. Consequently, for millennia the sun has been the driving force of agriculture. In fact, in the tropics any cultivation thrives on just sunlight and rain. In short the tropics owe its plenitude to the sun.

Thai Pongal marks the Indic solstice when the sun enters the 10th house of the Indian zodiac Capricorn. The ‘Thai’ in ‘Thai Pongal’ represents the month of January (the 10th month of the Tamil Calendar), which marks the beginning of the harvesting season for Hindus. ‘Pongal’, rice from the first harvest, cooked in milk and sweetened with jaggery, is an offering to the Sun God, Surya. Pongal also translates to ‘boiling over’ or ‘overflow’.

Thai Pongal is celebrated with great enthusiasm and eagerness by Tamils the world over. Indicative of the bumper harvest, celebrations are more pronounced in the tropics. Unlike in Sri Lanka, in Tamil Nadu, where Thai Pongal is said to have originated, it is celebrated for four days. The first day, January 14 this year, marks the beginning of multiple festivals, characterised by a scurry of activities, just as before Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Houses and yards are cleaned and trash from the previous year is burnt. In fact, so much burning takes place that Tamil Nadu pilots have complained of navigation difficulties due to smoke! The burning of trash is also figurative. It signifies unburdening of past year’s mental encumbrances and the expression of gratitude.

On the morning of the first day of celebrations Hindu women decorate the floor of their houses with Kolam, intricate patterns made from coloured rice flour. Rather than mere artistic expression or decoration, Kolam symbolises happiness and prosperity. Kolam is also used to demarcate the sacred area where the Pongal is prepared. Milk is heated until it boils over and rice and jaggery are added afterwards. The boiling over of milk symbolises abundance. Prepared within the parameters of the Kolam, in a clay pot using fire wood, Pongal is offered first to the senior most members of the family on banana leaves, after the prayers.

‘Mattu Pongal’, the third day of celebrations is dedicated to paying respect to cattle. Much like the Sun, cows are an integral part of tropical agriculture, not to mention Hindu culture. The cows work the fields year round, helping the farmer reap a plentiful harvest, by pulling the plough. In fact, before the advent of commerce, much of the early Hindu economy was based on milk trade. During the festive season cattle are garlanded, kumkum applied on their foreheads, horns painted and fed a mixture of jaggery, honey, banana and other fruits, referred to as venn pongal.

On the first three days most Hindus restrict themselves to a vegetarian diet. But on the fourth day, hill country Tamils of Sri Lanka start eating meat. The third day is spent visiting relatives. Bull fights, referred to as Jallikattu, are the main attraction in India on the second, third and fourth days. These take place out in the open and is considered an extremely dangerous and gruesome sport. Consequently, those who participate are considered gallant. The season consists of many other games and festivities such as bullock cart races, harvesting dances, music and festivities at temples.

Thai Pongal signifies prosperity and abundance in the new year. Hindus reap their first harvest in the month of ‘Thai’. As such, it is a financially beneficial and prosperous month. Hindus make wedding plans, plan to buy new property and assets and start new jobs during this month. The Tamil saying ‘Thai piranthal wali pirakkum’ means ‘with the beginning of January a new pathway is also paved’. This is the essence of Thai Pongal, which marks the beginning of all things auspicious for the Hindus.

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