Thursday, April 19, 2018

Inside Story: Welikada Prison Massacre in 2012 — Recommends Charging Gota

Recommends charging Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Chandra Wakishta, Indika Sampath, Kodippili, Shantha Dissanayake

Warning: This investigative report contains graphic contents that some may find disturbing – Editors

by Ruwan Laknath Jayakody, Kavindya Chris Thomas and Kavindya Perera-

( April 19, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The prosecution of six high ranking officials previously attached to the Ministry of Defence, the State Intelligence Service, the Prisons Department and the Sixth Gajaba Regiment of the Army in relation to the Welikada Prisons incident of November 2012, has been recommended by a Committee of Inquiry which probed into the matter.




If readers may wonder what my headline means, I refer to the rat-pack who led others up the garden path to support the recent No confidence motion, by assuring them of victory. Numbers they said they had in abundance, in every statement and at every media briefing, many UNPers they said were in their hands and would support the motion. As an UNPer, born and bred who has never swayed or wavered in my support for the party and all its Leaders, ‘through its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, I have never been prouder of being an UNPer than when this motion was soundly defeated.
  • UNPers stood as a team, in spite of their varied personal feelings
  • Everyone is equal; there are no first or second class citizens
  • When NCM failed, a certain media tried to get public sympathy
  • There was no attack at all, as UNPers abide by the rule of law
  • RW emerged a more stronger personality with popularity
  • RW has more experience in governance and in the school of life than any other politician
The UNPers stood together as a team,in spite of their varied personal feelings, the party came first as it always should! I was reminded of a line from W. S. Senior’s famous poem; ‘One man from shore to shore’ The Stranger become a brother. The task of the tutor o’er’. The UNP, as its very name, suggests is for all citizens of this country, irrespective of race or creed. Everyone is equal; there are no first or second class citizens. This is why one of the former great leaders of the party, the late Dudley Senanayake once said that it his wish and hope that all citizens would be able to say with pride and joy ‘This is my own, my native land’. Unity and strength are an unbeatable combination.
The Prime Minister has come through this ordeal through the past two gruelling months with his usual cool composure
I was glad than no UNPer fell prey to media moguls and others trying hard to be king-makers in this scenario, in order to have Leaders they can control and get favours from.When the motion failed, a certain media station tried to get public sympathy, by announcing that a jubilant crowd who lit crackers in celebration of their Leader’s victory were there to attack them. There was no attack at all as UNPers abide by the rule of law. It is on the contrary, those sacked from the party who break the law, allow their children to do so too, and carry guns while taking part in so-called peaceful marches! The jubilant crowd also made their way to the Prime Minister’s private residence, where he lives in a house which has remained the same, ever since his father built it for him. They lit crackers there too. Was this an attack?

The Prime Minister has come through this ordeal through the past two gruelling months with his usual cool composure. Never resorting to slander and fabrications against those who slandered him, day after day in no uncertain terms, with the vilest of lies. He just turned the other cheek in his customary style! He has emerged a stronger person with unprecedented popularity. He must ride on the crest of this wave and show that he is a stronger, decisive Leader and not a vacillating one as his enemies keep saying.

This is not a time for complacency either for him or for the government. We were the laughing stock of the entire democratic world by trying to get rid of a Prime Minister and party leader after a local government election. It has hindered all progress, development and brought everything to a standstill for two long months. No work was done. It has hurt the economy, hindered tourism and investment and instilled a sense of instability. The former ruler’s group comprising of more than two parties got 44.6 % of the vote which was less than what they got at the last election.

The SLFP with 2 parties got only 13% of the vote while the UNP on its own got 32% while other Ranil bashing groups got 0.1%! Some among those who got the 13% shamelessly joined the JO in bringing this No confidence motion.

Those who enjoyed the perks and privileges of power and those basking in the reflected glory of it, who never had enjoyed this kind of luxurious flamboyant lifestyles ever before in their lives, did this in an attempt to return to the luxury they enjoyed with the corruption and murders that were an integral part of their horrific rule. How can anyone try to put the whole blame on the PM for the results of the elections? Surely there is something called collective responsibility, which is part and parcel of a democratically elected government?

All Minister and MPs have to share the blame as it is their duty to get down to the grassroots and tell the people what has been done, as a great deal has indeed been done and remind the people of the misdeeds, corruption, white vans, murders and so on during the tenure of the regime which was ousted in 2015. It is time now for hard work on the part of one and all in the government. The people want more than ever to see the wrongdoers of the last regime punished.This was an election promise that must be fulfilled. Otherwise there is no hope even of a distant dawn!
The SLFP with 2 parties got only 13% of the vote while the UNP on its own got 32% while other Ranil bashing groups got 0.1%!  
Pomp and glory are not new to Ranil Wickremesinghe, he did not get these things through politics or power. He was born with a silver spoon and has had them all his life. He has been brought up on the solid virtues of self restraint and obedience. He has more experience in governance and in the school of life than any other politician. His ancestors have contributed more to the nation and to Buddhism than that of any other politician. In thought, word and deed, his vision is for the future generations and not only geared to the next election. This is what makes him different as he is a statesman of no mean stature and not a mere politician like the majority of his peers. He has stayed loyal to his party through thick and thin, and served all past leaders with loyalty,dedication and commitment to all tasks assigned to him.

I would like to mention a few sentiments expressed to me after the defeat of the No confidence motion. A young man I know was at a dinner celebration with his family of his birthday which was on that day, when he heard the news. He said ‘This is my best birthday gift. I certainly don’t want my daughter to live in a country ruled by those in the last dictatorial regime.’ At two other events I attended, the majority of ladies present came up to me, knowing well where my loyalties were, they said they were all so happy and had prayed unceasingly for Ranil ever since they heard about the No confidence motion.

Several other men also expressed the same sentiments including a well known SLFPer, I was surprised to hear that he too shared the same view as the rest of us. In lighter vein, I use a Churchillian phrase ‘a collective abomination’ to describe the Ranil-bashers. I have noticed that besides their hatred of him, another common feature they share is that none of them are oil paintings. Perhaps therein lies the birth of the green eyed monster from where their hatred stems!  

Sri Lanka Committed To Preventing Financial Crime

Mangala Samaraweera – Minister of Finance & Mass Media
logoSri Lanka has long identified the risk of financial crime as a priority area, given the country’s history in battling a sophisticated terror organization.  A number of measures were taken over the years and the government is currently working on bringing on necessary amendments to some of the existing regulations with the objective of preventing financial crimes.
Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera made these remarks at a roundtable discussion on ‘Financial Regulation: Working Together to Address De-Risking,’ held on the sidelines of the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at the Mansion House in London, today (17).
Full speech below:
Financial Regulation: Working Together to Address De-Risking
It is a pleasure to participate at this roundtable on an important and timely topic. 
As the dynamics of the finance industry and technology constantly evolve, it is essential that financial regulations remain one step ahead. The sophistication of financial crimes has increased exponentially in recent years and is a threat to all nations, be it developing or developed nations. This has resulted in a number of negative fallouts for international finance.
One such negative fall-out is “de-risking”, the scenario of global banks selectively withdrawing from the business of correspondent banking. This can have highly detrimental implications for banks in developing countries in particular as it can shut them out of the global financial architecture. 
This is largely attributed to the shortcomings of the existing structure of the financial system. Given the importance of correspondent banking in a globalized world, it is important to take measures to enhance respondent banks’ capacity to manage risks, improve communication between correspondent and respondent banks, strengthen and effectively implement regulatory and supervisory frameworks in line with international standards, particularly for Anti Money Laundering and counter-terrorist financing.
Distinguished Delegates,
Sri Lanka has long identified the risk of financial crime as a priority area. Given the country’s history in battling a sophisticated terror organization, addressing terrorist financing has long been on the agenda. A number of measures were taken over the years and the government is currently working on bringing on necessary amendments to some of the existing regulations with the objective of preventing financial crimes. Those measures include the introduction of Prevention Of Money Laundering Act in 2006, Convention On The Suppression Of Terrorist Financing Act in 2005, introduction of Financial transaction reporting Act in 2006 and setting up the Financial Intelligence Unit at the Central Bank.
More recently, steps have been taken to address emerging issues in internationalization of financial crimes, and to meet our global obligations as well. Since November 2017, Sri Lankan authorities have taken a number of measures to enhance Anti Money Laundering compliance such as introducing amendments to the Trust Ordinance, Companies Act, enactment of the Proceeds of Crimes Act, enhancing Customer Due Diligence Rules, and regulations on targeted financial sanctions on proliferations. 
Distinguished Delegates,
The challenge for countries like Sri Lanka is how to ensure continued progress of financial inclusion in this context. At a more micro-level, one of the major objectives of our government, embodied in the 2018 Budget themed Enterprise Sri Lanka, is to empower entrepreneurs by providing access to finance. In order to ensure access to finance at grass roots level, it is important for the Sri Lankan financial system to have robust access and engagement with the global financial architecture.
As the financial system develops, the laws and regulations aimed at preventing financial crimes need to be updated. Sri Lanka very well understands this reality and is taking every necessary measure to keep abreast of the regulatory developments.

Read More

Social media ban: Undue pressure from diplomats: President

2018-04-18 15

When the Sri Lankan Government took action to impose the curfew, banning the social media and declaring the State of Emergency to control the Sinhala-Muslim unrest in the Kandy District in March, there were undue pressures from certain diplomats on the Government, President Maithripala Sirisena said on Tuesday in London.

“Certain diplomats spoke against the Government moves to take necessary action-including banning access to social media sites. Some of the diplomats acted beyond their mandate against the move,” the President told a group of Sri Lanka community in London Tuesday night.

“But despite those oppositions, the Government had taken necessary action, and because of that we able to prevent a major tragedy,” he said.

The President also said that at that time, an organization connected to the UN had stated that Sri Lanka had managed to impose a complete ban on the social media sites-something even the US couldn’t do.

“Almost all the international organizations welcomed the Government move to ban social media, and many parents of school children and others told me that it was a good move and requested not to remove the ban,” he said.

The President said that about 75% of the media reports on the Kandy unrest incidents were completely wrong.

“Those wrong information reached to the Sri Lankan diaspora, who eventually come to a wrong conclusion about the country’s situation,” the President said.

He requested the members of the Sri Lankan community, who were present at the meeting, not to depend only on social media for credible information.

A large number of the Sri Lankan community living in London participated.

Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Rishad Bathiudeen and acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London Sugeeswara Gunaratne were also present. (Sunil Jayasiri in London)

TV Lanka wins court case against TRC

02:00 AM APR 18 2018

A three-member Bench, presided by Chief Justice Priyasath Dep turned down a Leave to Proceed application, submitted to the Supreme Court by the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL), objecting the establishment of a Digital Television Broadcasting Network by the Television and Radio Network (TRN).

The television broadcasting station TRN, which operated the popular TV Lanka channel in Sri Lanka and worldwide since 2000 was closed down by the CID and TRCSL officers in May 2012, alleging that TRN operated a digital broadcasting network without TRCSL authorization.

At the time of the forcible shutdown of TRN’s TV station by the CID and TRCSL - which damaged equipment in the process - TRN had set up an advanced version of DVB-T2-based digital broadcasting technology and a H.264/H.265/HEVC encoding technology-based digital television broadcasting station. TRN had the capacity to broadcast 200 TV channels with DVB-T2/H.265/HEVC technology in this network, which was the first such operation in the whole of Asia.

When the matter was taken up at the Colombo Magistrate Court in June 2012, the Magistrate Nishantha Peiris ordered the CID to restore the television broadcasting station immediately to its original state, refusing TRCSL’s plea to continue the shutdown.

As the TRCSL was determined to closedown TRN’s operation, the frequencies assigned to TRN were cancelled by TRCSL in December 2012. The request for extension of the frequency license for 2013 was also refused by TRCSL.

TRN appealed against the purported action of TRCSL to the Court of Appeal, stating that the action of TRCSL was ultra vires, as TRN had the necessary Licence to carry out Digital Pay Television transmission in Sri Lanka. After a lengthy hearing, the two-member bench presided by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Vijith Kumara Malalgoda PC, allowed the appeal in favour of TRN, disregarding the objections of TRCSL.

TRCSL submitted an application for Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court for the Order of the Court of Appeal to be set aside, under Case No SC (SPL) LA Application no 11/2017. However, this application was refused by the three-judge Supreme Court Bench presided by Chief Justice Priyasath Dep on 4 April 2018.

“The Supreme Court and Appeal Court’s landmark decisions in this regard should be eye-openers for the present Government, which is being forced to implement a highly outdated digital television broadcasting system provided by the Government of Japan, at a cost of US$ 135 million (Rs 21,000 million) obtained via loan, to provide 12 standard definition (SD) digital TV channels, while TRN, a Sri Lankan television technology company, was set to do it free of charge - with 200 digital television channels with far more advanced technology”, critics of the enforced closure of the TV station said.

When contacted, TRN Managing Director/TV Lanka Owner, B A C Abeywardana said if not for TRCSL’s actions, TRN would have provided digital television services to the entire country of more than six million homes by now, dedicating over 75 TV channels to assist the education of rural Sri Lanka out of the 200, it planned to provide.

Abeywardana said the Government should look inward to find talent - which is in abundance - instead of looking for the assistance of foreign countries, riddling the country with debt.

Counsel Manoj Bandara, assisted by Lakshana Perera of Sudath Perera Associates, represented TRN at the Court of Appeal, while Ali Sabry, PC appeared for TRCSL, who opted for the private bar instead of the Attorney General. That was in December 2016.

Counsel Thishya Weragoda appeared for TRN, while Manohara de Silva, PC appeared for TRCSL at the Supreme Court.

Photograph: Yardstick Films

18Apr 2018
Police Scotland has come out in defence of a contract with the Sri Lanka, which included training of Sri Lanka’s notorious Special Task Force, despite continued concerns over the use of torture by security forces.
In response to a freedom of information request submitted by The Ferret, Superintendent Shaun McKillop, head of Police Scotland’s International Development and Innovation Unit, defended the relationship with Sri Lankan security forces, that has reportedly stretched back to nearly 10 years.
“The British High Commission review our training on a regular basis, as well as our own monitoring,” said Superintendent McKillop. “Sri Lanka remains one of the key places for the UK government, so we continue to work for them through the conflict, stability and security fund.
In December, undercover footage provided by Yardstick films revealed deep ties between Scotland’s police force and Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force – a paramilitary unit that has been accused of directly carrying out war crimes.
Ann Hannah Acting Director of Policy and Advocacy at Freedom from Torture (FfT),an organisation that works with Tamil torture survivors from Sri Lanka, commented that there was a “lack of focus on human rights issues, especially torture prevention”.
“Recent public threats by the Sri Lankan defence attaché in London suggest that there is a culture of impunity that remains unchallenged,” she added. “Without reforming the structures that have allowed torture to continue and signalling publicly that this is an essential pillar of engagement, this sends a message to perpetrators that they can continue to act without consequence.”
Superintendent McKillop meanwhile acknowledged that concerns had been raised regarding Sri Lanka’s human rights record and torture, but continued to defend engagement with its security forces.
“I understand the concerns,” he said. “We absolutely understand the concerns, and have regular conversation with the British High Commission and Sri Lankan Police about these concerns.”
“Because we are working with them, we are able to have these conversations with them. It’s not ideal but we will continue to work and do what we can to improve that situation.”
See more from The Ferret here.

Politicians, don’t play the fool in school

The legendary South African President Nelson Mandela has said education is the most powerful weapon which could be used to change the world. Another moral and spiritual giant Mahatma Gandhi acclaimed by India as the Father of the Nation has said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”. One of America’s most popular 20th Century poets Robert Frost has said Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Reflecting on the vital role that education plays in our lives, the government needs to be commended for some of the important changes it has made in education. For instance every child will have 13 years of education. Even if the child fails the GCE Ordinary level examination there will be no need to drop out. Provision has been made for such students to go into vocational training in areas ranging from high technology to star-class hotel culinary skills. In financial terms the government has provided substantial health and life insurance policies for public school children and their parents. 

In addition, steps are being taken to make the nearest school the best school though in recent months, political instability has made the process slow and unsteady. The 2018 budgetary allocation for education has also been increased to the highest level.

While commending these moves and hoping that from next month, when Parliament meets again after the National New Year prorogation, the government will take practical steps to implement its policies. We also wish to spotlight here some serious drawbacks in the field of education. 

The Uva Province Chief Minister and its former education minister, Chamara Sampath Dassanayake, who was suspended for allegedly forcing a female principal to kneel in his presence at his office in Badulla, has reportedly been reinstated in his education portfolio, according to the Ceylon Teachers Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin.What a shame and a sham.

On January 3 this year, Mr. Dassanayake was asked to step down from his education portfolio post after allegedly having humiliated and threatened Badulla Tamil Girls’ School Principal R. Bawani. Following widespread protests, President Maithripala Sirisena had removed him from his education portfolio until investigations were completed.

The Chief Minister, according to the teachers’ union, was reinstated last week, prior to former Uva Province Governor M.P. Jayasinghe being transferred to the North-Central Province.

“We see that this has been a drama; an election trick. The Magistrate’s case against him has not concluded and the Human Rights Commission is still conducting investigations, but he has been reinstated,” the CTU lamented. Mr. Stalin warned that the CTU, other unions and organisations, would take action over the reinstatement after schools reopen. The CTU has already sent a letter to the President, protesting Mr. Dassanayake’s re-appointment. But some political observers claim the President himself had approved the reinstatement. 

In October last year the CTU had sharply condemned the appointment of North-Central Provincial Councillor Ananda Sarath Kumara, as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Organiser for the Anamaduwa Electorate. In 2014 Mr. Kumara had been sentenced by the Puttalam High Court to two years rigorous imprisonment suspended for seven years and ordered to pay Rs.300,000 as compensation for forcing a female school teacher to kneel in his presence. He was also ordered to pay a fine of Rs.50,000 and in default, serve a prison term of six months. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa had refused to give Mr. Kumara nomination and the CTU said President Sirisena could not justify his appointment.

Discipline is vital if Sri Lanka is to produce educated, eco-friendly and responsible citizens. But if highest level politicians are condoning such indiscipline we are deeply concerned over what will happen in our schools and to our children, the next generation.  

HIV Stigma : Ganemulla School Girl Granted New National School

The Education Ministry has decided to grant a new national school to the 10 year old school girl in Ganemulla who had to gone through a stigma at her school, because her mother had been diagnosed as being HIV positive.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam announced this decision during his meeting with the school girl and her parents at the Education Ministry yesterday (18). Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake also participated in the meeting.

Kariyawasam said that the girl’s father would be given a job based on his educational qualifications.
Moreover, an independent investigation committee will be established to probe into incidents like this to ensure school children not facing any kind of harassment in their schools in the future. All the schools, even private and international schools will be regulated by this proposed independent committee, the minister said.

The school girl came under harassment of her school authorities, other children and their parents when the fact that her mother was diagnosed as being HIV positive was revealed in 2017. She was studying at Ganemulla Kudabollatha Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Gampaha at that time.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had to interfere with the matter to ensure the school does not harass the child. She resumed her studies at the same school after that. However, the girl on 22 February wrote to President Maithripala Sirisena, complaining that the principal of her school was allegedly harassing her.

The girl in her letter to the President mentioned that the principal showed media reports about her story from 2017 to other children using a projector on 22 February.

Disability, the Cabinet Reshuffle and time for change 


By Dr. Padmani Mendis, Adviser on Disability-
April 17, 2018, 12:00 pm

The long anticipated Cabinet Reshuffle brings a much awaited and rare opportunity for people with disabilities to have their aspirations addressed. The United Nations Convention for Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) was ratified by Sri Lanka on 08th February 2016, but until now the Government has taken no action to demonstrate that it is serious about making it a reality.

Disability has always been the responsibility of Social Services/Welfare as a subject of service provision. This may have been acceptable when action on disability (except in the instances of Health and Education) called for Government only to deliver services to meet the needs of disabled people such as supplying them with technical aids, providing vocational training, granting financial assistance for housing, medical care, education, income generation and so on. But now, with the commitment by Government to implement the UN Convention on Disability, action on Disability calls for two cabinet functions – namely the new subject of "Disability Inclusion" in addition to the subject of "Disability Service Provision". The new subject of "Disability Inclusion" is essential to make ratification of the UN Convention Disability a reality.

Simply put, the new subject is a strategy which includes disabled people in the mainstream of our communities, allowing them to participate in all the country’s development activity wherever they live, seeing them as equal citizens with the same access to all the rights and responsibility available to other citizens of our country. Ratification of the UN Convention must move Government action away from seeing people with disabilities as a special group who need special isolated and segregated services to seeing them equal citizens with equal rights in all things. This includes such programmes as children with disability being detected early and having the early interventions they need through our existing primary health care system; children participating in the same primary and secondary schools which have been adapted and made inclusive including teachers who can meet the varying needs of all children including theirs; young adults attending the same higher education and skills training centres which have again been suitably prepared and adapted to meet their needs alongside those of other young people; and children, youth and adults, both girls and boys, women and men participating in the same workplaces, the same social, sports, recreational, political and cultural activities as their neighbours.

People with disabilities supported by disability workers and activists have been lobbying for this change for well over a decade, ever since changes were visible globally. A radical shift was taking place throughout the world in thought and action related to disability and to the situation of people with disabilities. Sri Lanka responded early, with a Cabinet approved National Policy on Disability in 2003 and a Cabinet approved National Plan of Action on Disability in 2012 focussing on ensuring opportunities for disabled people in our country’s mainstream. Alas these well-intentioned documents were usually unread and unused but were considered to be attractive documents for distribution. They remained in the desks of administrators in the Social Services Sector.

Persistent efforts by disabled people and those who support them to have a dialogue with those responsible in Government have come to no avail. Disability is jealously guarded by the Social Welfare Sector. This is perhaps due to a misunderstanding that is resistant to discussion. It must be made clear to those who have fears, that the Ministry of Social Welfare will not have to lose its responsibility for Disability Services. This Ministry will always have an important role to play and continue its mandate from Government to provide the special services required in the field of disability. This needs to be made very clear.

What should be equally clear to those who hesitate is that ratification of the UN Convention calls for an additional role by Government. It calls for another Government Body, to ensure that the Convention is implemented through disability-inclusive policies, legislation, planning and action. To include disabled people in the many dimensions of the country’s development mainstream calls for most, if not all, ministries and sectors to play their part. If this "Disability Inclusion in Development" is to be done effectively and efficiently then this Government Body is also called upon to provide oversight and coordination for the many actions being implemented for inclusion. No one Government Ministry can carry out these functions of oversight and coordination of disability inclusion. These functions must be carried out at the highest level of Government. What could be most effective in our country is a single Body (say a Disability Rights Commission) situated within the Secretariat of the President or Prime Minister and directly responsible to one of them. Only then will multiministerial and multisectoral oversight and coordination be possible in our country.

This is why Government action on Disability must be seen as two entities. One, the continued provision of "Disability Services" by the Ministry of Social Welfare, and two, a single Governmental Body such as a Disability Rights Commission with the mandate for "Disability Inclusion" responsible directly to the President or Prime Minister.

Has the time come for Sri Lanka’s People with Disabilities to be truly recognized as citizens with equal rights and responsibilities? The Opportunity is certainly here with a cabinet reshuffle due very soon. Allocation of subjects is done by the President. It is our experience that once subjects have been allocated, administrators are obstinate about "losing" something that they consider they own. This perhaps is their privilege. So for our people with disabilities this may well be a "Now or Never Moment" in their hope for a better life. Will a National Body such as a Disability Rights Commission be set up within the Secretariat of the President or Prime Minister to ensure that they really do become Sri Lanka’ citizens on an equal level? Or will they be ignored once more and remain as neglected, isolated, segregated and discriminated against second-class citizens?

Dr. Padmani Mendis, Advisor, Disability and Rehabilitation

phone:    011 2587853; 


address:    7/1 Prince Alfred Tower, Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 03


The glyphosate story – CKDu, food security and national economy

  • Time-tested weed control techniques/tools such as glyphosate have been removed without scientific proof, affecting our food security and national economy
  • The ban has opened up avenues for business crooks to import the product illegally
  • Glyphosate ban should be lifted and we should continue research on effective and economically viable alternatives

logoThursday, 19 April 2018 00:27

We in Sri Lanka have a history to be proud of. According to our historical record, the golden age of Sri Lankan agriculture production centres around Polonnaruwa during reign of King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD).

At that time, Sri Lanka was known as the Granary of the East and the nation’s prosperity expanded substantially during this era – mainly owing to the epic scale of rice cultivation and reported exports. This flourishing peasant agricultural sector was later destroyed during different ancient regimes, and through the colonial invasions of the Portuguese (1505), Dutch (1658) and British (1796) thus shifting the country’s agriculture to a plantation-based model.

In colonial and post-colonial Sri Lanka, we witnessed the shrinking of the country’s agriculture sector, where Sri Lanka went from being the Granary of the East to a nation that in the 1940s, was importing as much as 60% of our rice even from Myanmar to feed a population of just six million. At that time, we were proudly using traditional technologies, without any agro-chemicals and the average yield stood at approximately 0.65 tons per hectare.

By 2015, our population had grown to 20.7 million people, yet we were able to increase productivity to 4.5 tons per hectare, representing an increase in total paddy production in the magnitude of 15.8 times compared to that of 1940. This was despite only marginal increases in extents of rice cultivation which expanded by only 1.85 times over the past 75 years, meaning that the bulk of this increased production was almost exclusively a result of new agricultural technologies.

This massive improvement was made possible due to improved education, research, extension, and adoption of new technologies including agrochemicals (fertilisers and pesticides) together with the extension of health and education services. This is a classic example how we have continued to feed our nation, minimising foreign exchange drain on import of the major staple, and surviving global food and food-price crisis experienced in the past.

In the past two years (2016-2017), Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector has been negatively affected, partly due to drastic climate change and partly as a result of policy changes made without scientific evidence. The impact of climate change has been discussed at length in previous articles written by the author.

However, the recent policy changes made without any consideration of scientific evidence – including the removal of time-tested weed control tools due to their alleged involvement in Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain etiology (CKDu) – have exacerbated the negative impacts of climate change affecting both food and plantation crops. Given that weeding remains the most troublesome biological constraint to any crop production, it is evident that these types of short sighted policies cannot last much longer.

The glyphosate saga

Glyphosate was imported to Sri Lanka with the intervention of the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Sri Lanka in 1977, with initial use being confined to experimental use on roadsides, ravines, boundaries and abandoned tea fields for the control of weeds such as torpedo grass (Panicum repens).

A year later, in 1978, following evaluations on preliminary experimental use and following TRI recommendations, Sri Lanka started using the herbicide on such areas at a national scale and by 1983/84, the Mahaweli Development Authority of Sri Lanka was involved in experiments using the herbicide in zero tillage systems, which were later abandoned. Glyphosate was later recommended by TRI to be used in pruned tea fields and mature plucking fields (after three pruning cycles) to control troublesome weeds in 1988 after successfully completing the herbicide residue trials in tea, and for general weed control in tea in 1994.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) evaluated the herbicide for weed control during land preparation of rice in 1995 and recommended the herbicide for pre-plant weed control in rice in 1998. However, the herbicide did not initially attract paddy farmers due to availability of the low cost and quick-acting herbicide paraquat at that time.

When paraquat was banned in 2014through a phased-out process following several incidents of suicide utilising the herbicide, and expired patent rights by Monsanto for their popular glyphosate-based herbicide, numerous second-makers flooded the international market with such herbicides at a cheaper cost. Consequently, glyphosate became popular among paddy and maize growers, in addition to those in tea plantations. According to CropLife – Sri Lanka, of the glyphosate imported in 2014, tea consumed 36%, maize and other field crops 33%, wet zone paddy 25.8%, and dry zone paddy 4.4%.

Glyphosate was restricted for use in December 2014 in five main districts where paddy was cultivated in Sri Lanka. This decision was mainly based on a “hypothesis” paper published by a group of Sri Lankan scientists in February 2014that first considered a hypothetical link between glyphosate and CKDu. The herbicide was banned from importation and use in June 2015.

The impact of the absence of effective weed control technique in tea cultivation has been discussed and debated heavily. Recently, the Planters’ Association (PA) has estimated a loss of Rs. 10-20 billion per year due to the ban of glyphosate mainly owing to increased cost of production arising out of high cost of labour intensive alternate weeding techniques or abandoning weed control in tea fields due to scarce and costly labour resources. It is our economy that has been threatened due to this unwise, non-scientific decision in banning glyphosate.

The FAO of UN and World Food Programme (WFP) produced a Special Report on Food Security in Sri Lanka in June 2017 and stated: “Until recently, farmers relied heavily on the use of the herbicide glyphosate (‘Roundup’) to control weeds in their paddy fields. In 2014 a presidential decree banned its use in most agricultural sectors in the belief that it was responsible for the high incidence of chronic kidney disease amongst paddy farmers, especially in North Central, North Western, Uva and Eastern Provinces. In the absence of glyphosate, paddy fields often have a high weed population. In a year of reduced rainfall this is especially harmful as the weeds, which are often more adapted than the crop to dry conditions, use a large proportion of the available soil moisture.”

It is clear that our national food security has also been challenged as a result of this ad hoc decision to ban a proven weed control technique.

Increasing incidence of CKDu in dry zone of Sri Lanka has drawn the attention of many scientists and medical practitioners and researchers. Given that the causal factor of CKDu remain unknown, it has been dubbed as having a multi-factoral origin by medical professionals from Peradeniya and Kandy who with long years of experience of this disease in the country. There is no argument that the affected communities should be treated and no new incidence of the disease should emerge.

At a recent press conference held on 22 March 2018 organised by the National Research Council (NRC) to commemorate the World Water Day, the scientists including a well-respected Nephrologist has made it clear that there is no conclusive evidence to say that pesticides are linked with the disease. Moreover, the WHO’s International Expert Consultation on CKDu held in Colombo in April 2016 – where the author of this article was also invited as an agronomist – reported that there is no conclusive evidence to implicate glyphosate and other agrochemicals as a cause for the disease.

CKDu was first recorded in early 1990s in the North Central Province, where paddy cultivation is dominant. However, the herbicide glyphosate was recommended to be used in paddy fields only in 1998. Therefore, associations explained by some researchers between glyphosate and CKDu stand out as being highly questionable.

Deviating away from the hypothetical links of the herbicide to CKDu, some scientists claim that the herbicide ban should be continued as it is categorised as a probable carcinogen (class 2A) by the WHO since March 2015. This was based on the recommendation of the French-based organisation called International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC). This highly-debated and controversial categorisation has been challenged by many countries and organisations. There were even claims for conflicts of interest of those involved in decision-making.

In May 2016, the joint report of FAO-WHO meeting on pesticide residues clearly states that “The meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures”. If further noted that: “glyphosate is not carcinogenic in rats but could not exclude the possibility that it is carcinogenic in mice at very high doses.” Further, the report states “In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by the oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

Considering these results and other studies conducted by independent research groups, the EU voted in November 2017 to renew the license of glyphosate for another five years with 18 countries supporting, nine opposing, and one abstaining. This is despite the fact that many anti-glyphosate lobbies have been waiting impatiently to see the product banned. Moreover, among the nine countries voted against, four have opposed as they wanted the glyphosate license renewal for a period less than five years. Essentially, 22 out of 28 countries in the EU wanted the herbicide at least in the short run.

The EU with strong regulatory measures and human toxicological and environmental concerns still gave the green light to use the herbicide to ensure their agriculture progresses and the continued food security of member nations. In contrast, Sri Lanka – without any reliance on even a fraction of scientific data available – has banned a time-tested product without even pausing to propose an effective alternative. Instead, based on a hypothetical argument, we have compromised our food security and national economy. It is high time that we reverse the decision taken. Instead of banning the product government should have promoted using it judiciously, wisely, and in accordance with recommended dosages, application techniques, and timing.

Using alternatives

We need effective alternatives for herbicides and we have been using alternate techniques where possible. Flooding lowland paddy fields is considered as an effective age-old technique to control weeds, by reducing their competition with the crop and negative impact on crop yield. However, lack of adequate water in a changing climate still causes problems to the farming community. Manual weeding or use simple implements such as mammoties and grass cutters are alternatives, provided that the economic benefits are assured.

The situation is different with respect to other crops, for example: maize and tea. Both being up-land crops and grown in different terrains with no options for water logging (the upland crops are sensitive to stagnant water) more labour intensive technologies are the only option thus, affecting the economic returns from crop cultivation. Mulching may work out to be a viable option to control weeds provided that large quantities of the materials are made available.

Overall, practical application of available alternatives has not yielded the expected results, except for some locations including small scale agriculture. Scientists are still working out, and need time, to come up with viable alternatives that provide effective weed control, minimised non-target effects and required economic gains.

Having a bird’s-eye view

We have failed to look at issues taking the totality into consideration. The complex problems in agriculture have no single and simple answers, especially with regard to national level food security. Forces with political and spiritual ideologies have always succeeded in the recent past in over-ruling even the most basic scientific principles. This is a pathetic story.

We have to analyse our production systems in concert with our food security in order to ensure that our growing population will be fed overcoming hunger, without depending on food supplies from neighbouring countries. Food security is a National Security issue that cannot be ignored.

Hence, any policy that negatively affects national food security should never be tolerated as it will without a doubt lead Sri Lanka into becoming a food beggar nation. Our policy makers must follow science and make evidence-based decisions considering the big-picture rather than focusing on one-end of the problem.

Scientists, too, need to support the policy makers by being open and providing conclusive and scientifically valid data to facilitate decision making. However, they have to be careful not to bombard decision makers with half-baked information or information based on whims and fancies of a select few, especially where the outcome is potentially disastrous. Our country has already experienced the negative impacts of the latter.

Misinformation is worse than not providing any information at all to the public and policy makers. Unfortunately, many seek to grow influence by stoking unnecessary and oftentimes irrational fear among the general public on incidents/substances without any scientific evidence. This has now become a common method to rally people to achieve unscrupulous political or personal motives, and I believe our most pressing concern is now to ensure that such tactics are dispensed with. Science and rationality must prevail.

The ban on glyphosate has been imposed without scientific evidence. The recent claim that we need to go by the precautionary principle itself proves that the original decision to ban the product made in 2014/2015 hypothesising that the chemical causes CKDu is baseless. Three years have lapsed since this erroneous decision was made and in that time, the agriculture sector has taken the brunt of this disastrous policy. Climate change further exacerbates these dynamics. Weeds tend to thrive and compete vigorously with crops when resources are limited. That is their nature. We need to understand this behaviour to make sure the crops survive and the country reap richer harvests.

Regular challenges continue to be made to those who support the ban to clearly state their justification with scientific evidence and to date, none have stepped forward. Hence, there is no necessity for new reasons. Interestingly, many who supported the ban also claim publicly that glyphosate-based products are imported illegally and are available freely in the country. This is yet another reason for lifting the ban.

Previously, we have been bringing in pesticides under stringent Government control through the Registrar of Pesticides (ROP) who operates as per the Pesticides Control Act No 33 (as amended) of 1980. We have now blocked the entry of quality-assured glyphosate to the country but opened up avenues to crooked businessmen to bring in products illegally with no quality control.

Just a few days ago, Sri Lanka Customs reportedly confiscated an illegal consignment of glyphosate. This seems to be the third occasion, but who is responsible for such imports? Who uses these illegal products? They are the same cohort that some others assume to have been affected due to the use of the herbicide. Does this make sense?

On one hand, those who forced the policymakers to impose the ban without scientific evidence should take the responsibility for this unfortunate situation. On the other hand, was it a deliberate effort to provide business/political opportunity for a select few? We must now ask who stands to benefit, since clearly it is not the agriculture sector.
[A qualified expert in weed

science, Professor Buddhi Marambe serves as a Professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Chairman of

the Board of Study in Crop Science at the Postgraduate Institute

of Agriculture (PGIA) of the University of Peradeniya.]

Climate and food security~I

Climate, food security, IPCC, climate-smart technologies
LOGOMadhusudan Ghosh | 
The agricultural system the world over is under tremendous pressure on the use of resources. This is largely due to the burgeoning population, urbanisation, climate change and environmental decline.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has estimated that food production will have to be raised by at least 60 per cent to meet the needs of the world’s expected population of 9 billion by 2050.
This is a formidable challenge for global agriculture given that one in eight persons is insecure in terms of food. Agriculture is largely influenced by climate change and variability.
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report (2014), has warned that global climate has been changing and this will continue to happen in the foreseeable future.
The global mean surface temperatures are predicted to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C by the end of this century… relative to 1990. There would also be changes in the variability of climate and in the frequency and intensity of some extreme climatic developments, leading to uncertain monsoons and more frequent floods, drought, cyclones and gradual recession of glaciers.
Climate change is a major threat to agriculture, leading to instability in food production and adversely affecting food security and the livelihood of millions of people in many countries.
IPCC has noted that increasing temperature and increased frequency of floods and drought will have direct and adverse effects on crops, fisheries, forestry and aquaculture productivity.
The yield loss due to climate change could be up to 35 per cent for rice, 20 per cent for wheat, 50 per cent for sorghum, 13 per cent for barley, and 60 per cent for maize. Climate change and climate variability are critical challenges for global food security, particularly in underdeveloped and developing economies.
South Asia, as one of the most densely populated regions in the world, is among the most vulnerable to climate change and climate variability. Both can have major consequences in terms of food security, poverty and other developmental goals in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.
India is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to widespread poverty, dependence of about 50 per cent of its population on agriculture for livelihood, excessive dependence of agriculture on natural resources, and limited strategies to cope with a crisis.
Despite the success of Green Revolution technologies in transforming agriculture, food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and hunger are persisting unchecked. Among 119 countries, India ranked 100 and was classified in the ‘serious category’ with a score of 31.4 in the 2017 global hunger index.
As per FAO estimates, India had the largest number of undernourished people in the world ~ 190.4 million in 2009-11 and 190.7 million in 2014-16, though the proportion of undernourished persons declined marginally from 15.8 to 14.5 per cent.
Moreover, continued intensive use of the same technologies and the consequent environmental problems such as groundwater depletion with the declining quality of water due to its over exploitation, deteriorating soil health, etc. are considered responsible for the slowing down of growth in crop production.
The problem is further aggravated due to global climate change and increasing climatic variability. The surface air temperature in the South Asian region was predicted to rise by 0.5-1.2 degrees C by 2020, 0.88-3.16 degrees C by 2050 and 1.56-5.44 degrees C by 2080 depending on the future development scenarios. The Indian Meteorology Department and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (Pune) have projected a similar trend for temperature, precipitation, heat waves, glaciers, drought, floods and rise in the sea level.
The predicted increase in temperature and precipitation is likely to change land and water regimes that have significant implications for agricultural productivity, and in turn, the food security and livelihood of farming households.
There is a probability of 10-40 per cent loss of crop production due to the increase in temperature by 2080-2100. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has indicated that food production could decline by 4.5-9.0 per cent in the medium term (2010-2039) under the impact of climate change.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has indicated the possibility of loss amounting to 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree C temperature by 2020-2030. While climate change is likely to reduce yields of most crops in the long-run, increased climatic variability could increase fluctuations in production in the short-run.
The agricultural production system could be further worsened by climate change through increasing water scarcity, frequency and severity of floods, and declining soil carbon. The adverse impact of frequent and severe drought and floods on crop production in many parts of the country has been reported in several studies.
Thus, climate change and increasing climatic variability will lead to greater instability in food production and threaten the food security of millions of farmers and pose a serious challenge to poverty alleviation by exerting tremendous pressure on the agricultural system.
The agriculture production system will need to adapt to these changes in order to ensure food security and maintain economic activities and the livelihood of farming communities.
Efforts to achieve food security entail building resilience of rural households to climate shocks and strengthening their adaptive capacity to cope with increased climatic variability.
Agricultural systems including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries need to be transformed without degrading the natural resource base to ensure adequate quantity of quality food to the rising population and to promote economic growth and alleviate poverty.
FAO has recognised that agriculture must be “climate-smart” to achieve these goals. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach that increases agricultural productivity and incomes, adapt and build resilience to climate change, and reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Food security has been defined by FAO as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
As the availability of foodgrain is essential for security, the primary necessity is to improve foodgrain production. The small landholders with an average landholding size of less than two hectares constitute a key group that needs special attention.
It represents more than 80 per cent of farmers and contributes more than 50 per cent of total agricultural output, cultivating 44 per cent of agricultural land. The system supports the livelihood and food security of millions of people.
The CSA approach contributes towards achieving food and livelihood security and other developmental goals by (i) increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, (ii) adapting and building resilience to climate change, and (iii) reducing and/or removing GHG emissions, where possible.
It integrates climate change into the planning and implementation of sustainable agricultural strategies, and focuses on developing resilient food production systems that can lead to food and livelihood security under climate change and variability. Naturally, an integrated approach that is receptive to specific local conditions is required for CSA to become a reality.
The most challenging task is to adopt appropriate strategies that enhance climate-smart agriculture. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in its Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), has been working with rural communities in collaboration with national programmes to develop climate-smart villages (CSV) as models of local action that ensure food security, promote adaptation and build resilience to climatic problems.
CSV is a community approach to sustainable agricultural development where farmers, researchers, local partners and policy makers collaborate to select the most appropriate technological and institutional interventions on the basis of global knowledge and local conditions to increase productivity and incomes, achieve climate resilience, and enable climate mitigation.
It integrates village development and adaptation plans along with local knowledge and institutions. The major strength of the CSV approach is its inclusiveness in bringing together farmers, policy makers, researchers and local organisations to work on a set of climate-smart technologies and practices with a view to adapt agriculture to climate change in order to ensure food and livelihood security of farmers in vulnerable regions.
(To be concluded)
The writer is Professor of Economics, Visva-Bharati University. He can be reached at