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Yusuf says his stand on 19 A never an issue for CC ire

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‘All CC members enjoy equal rights’ 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf said yesterday that the Constitutional Council (CC) had not made an issue of his call for taking a stand on the much-debated 19th Amendment to the Constitution on a civil society platform in the run-up to the Aug.5 general election.

Attorney-at-law Yusuf said so in response to a query raised by The Island.

Outgoing Chairman of the CC and former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya chaired its final meeting on August 3 – two days before the election, at the Speaker’s official residence.

Asked whether the CC had taken up for discussion his declaration against the moves to do away with the 19th Amendment at its last meeting or the outgoing Chairman raised it with him on some other occasion, Yusuf said: “The answer to both questions is in the negative.”

Addressing a civil society gathering at the New Town Hall, on July 8, Yusuf declared his strong opposition to the high-profile campaign by the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to abolish the 19th Amendment enacted at the onset of the yahapalana administration.

Yusuf was among three civil society members of the 10-member CC. Of the seven other members, the Speaker, Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader held ex-officio positions.

A member of the now defunct CC told The Island that Yusuf, in his capacity as a member of the apex body couldn’t be faulted for taking a stand on the 19th issue as Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, in spite of him being  a CC member, did the same.

The former pointed out that except for the then Chairman Jayasuriya, six of his parliamentary colleagues represented in the CC either backed moves to abolish the 19th Amendment or opposed the SLPP project.

In spite of the SLPP making unprecedented electoral gains at the commencement of the releasing 2020 general election results, civil society grouping, ‘Freedom: People’s Collective’ that campaigned for the continuance of the 19th Amendment still believed the required two-thirds majority couldn’t be achieved by the ruling coalition.

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, while acknowledging a comfortable victory for the ruling party at the 2020 General Election said that two-thirds was impossible under the Proportional Representation system. The academic who appeared on the platform of ‘Freedom: People’s Collective’ with Yusuf told The Island that a two-thirds was beyond the SLPP’s capability.

Meanwhile, UNP Colombo District candidate Oshala Herath yesterday told The Island that he was quite disappointed by the failure on the part of the CC at least to make a reference to serious allegation he made to the then Chairman himself as regards the irregularities in the registration of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). The CC couldn’t under any circumstance absolve itself of the responsibility for the conduct of the Election Commission.

Herath pointed out that the CC and the former Speaker commended the EC without taking into consideration serious accusations directed at the latter over its conduct. Herath said that he moved the Supreme Court against the SJB registration as the EC in no uncertain terms confirmed irregularities taking place in the process. The civil society activist vowed to go ahead with his campaign regardless of the heavy defeat suffered by the UNP.

Herath lambasted the poll monitors for remaining silent on what was going on. They complained, he said about the display of propaganda and campaign advertisement on social media whereas far bigger irregularities took place at the very place responsible for managing the parliamentary election, Herath said.

The CC will meet again after the new parliament begins sittings on Aug 20.

Herath alleged that all political parties to varying degrees cooperated with the EC.

 



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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