2nd July 2000

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Rare species becoming rarer: official

By Chandani Kirinde

A large number of fish, birds and plants endemic to Sri Lanka are facing extinction due to an unchecked trade in these valuable resources, a senior Customs official said.

Contradictions in the different laws governing exports have led to most of these resources leaving the country's shores with the relevant authorities having little power to act to stop this plundering, he said.

The lenient punishments meted out to offenders who are detected and interference from influential quarters mean the issue has been pushed to the background, the official said.

Fish are among the worst threatened because under the guise of legal exports, a large variety of endangered species are being sent out of the country, the official who wished to remain anonymous said.

"Fish exports are big business but only some varieties are allowed to be legally exported. But there is over-exploitation of the protected species too resulting in them being wiped out from local waterways," he said.

Another serious problem affecting the indigenous marine life is the illegal import and the subsequent introduction of some of the world's most dangerous types of carnivorous fish into local rivers, he said.

"The knife fish, the piranha and cat fish are now found in the Panadura and Bolgoda lakes. They breed fast and are destroying the edible fish populations," he said.

Among endangered birds is the swiftlet whose nest is a culinary delicacy in the Far East.

"The nests are stolen before the eggs are hatched because they are clean and look attractive. This means the bird spends all its time building the nest and ends up with nowhere to lay its eggs, he said.

Rare herbal plants are also facing a similar plight because of the lack of plant protection laws, the official said.

The genetic resources in herbal plants that have been used for hundreds of years in Ayurveda medication are being exploited with the country not getting its due revenue, he said.

He said moves were afoot by some quarters to start exporting cinnamon plants. He warned this could be a threat to Sri Lanka's dried cinnamon export market as once the plants leave the country, other countries will begin to reap the benefits of this highly valued spice.

He added that goods exported under BOI projects go unchecked and many of the country's protected flora and fauna maybe leaving the country through this means.

Last year Customs detected 25 illegal exports and imports while 10 detections have been made so far this year.

Among these detections were more than 3000 rare sea shells, star tortoises, spiders and butterfly cocoons.

The formation of a bio-diversity task force in 1993 and the bio-diversity protection unit in 1999 have helped control illegal imports to some extent.

Effective barriers for level crossings

The proposal to replace existing bamboo barriers at level crossings with automatic barriers was approved by the Cabinet last week, said Railways General Manager W. K. B. Weragama on Thursday. Mr. Weragama said that there are 600 unprotected level crossings in the country, and that out of these 252 will be provided with automatic barriers.

He said that because the barriers are costly, they have not yet decided what to do with the remaining level crossings which are not protected in any way.

Kissing the fire

Pix and Text by Lakshman Gunatilleke

'Gini sisila' or fire eating is a specialised dance form usually seen at peraheras. Although it is only men who practise 'gini sisila', women incorporate it in dance sequences on stage. 'Gini sisila' - kissing the fire.......

In 'gini sisila' the dancer holds the burning torch in hands and rubs it along forearms before putting it into the mouth.

Fire eating is practised as a 'shanthi karma', a curative act.

In olden days it was believed that one is saved from the scorching heat of the 'gini sisila' by the 'gini sisila mantra'. However this mysterious manthra was not passed down from earlier generations. Therefore dancers today have only their faith to protect them from the embers.

Renuka is a low country dancer......Renuka is a low country dancer who does 'gini sisila' on stage as a performance.

Woven into her dance sequence, Renuka is able to keep the blazing torch in her mouth for as long as two minutes.

So far Renuka has performed the 'gini sisila' 250 times and has performed on stage in Bangladesh, Norway and Bangkok. She says she has never been burnt by the fire but some dancers are not so lucky.

Questions over voters' lists and Grama Niladharis

Sections of voters have voiced their concern that they were not getting a proper acknowledgment when they handed over completed Elections Department forms with their list of names to the grama niladharis or at certain election offices.

Reports from outstations and Colombo said that voters had complained to AGA offices or election offices claiming they had not got an acknowledgment and were not sure whether their names would be included in the voters' register.

They claimed there had been instances in previous years where voters' names had been omitted despite handing over the duly completed list in time.

Before the last year's elections it was revealed that in certain areas the grama niladharis had not handed over the forms to the relevant Government Agents.

Meanwhile several residents in Colombo had also not received the receipt when handing over the completed list.

Election officials told The Sunday Times a receipt had to be given by the grama niladhari and not by the officials at the office.

However a voter will receive the poll card even without the receipt unless the Elections Office misplaces the register.

Meanwhile the Elections Department is continuing the voter registration.

The fresh lists will only be made use of for next year's elections.

Meanwhile monitoring groups too are taking an active role to monitor the delivery of lists following reports of grama niladharis not handing over the lists.

Several political parties too have come forward to have a close watch on the registering of voters.

This is followed in every electorate.

Colombo varsity registers drop in Asiaweek rankings

By Hiranthi Fernando

The University of Colombo has dropped two places since last year, in Asiaweek's annual Best Universities ranking for the year 2000. It has been ranked No. 77 in the current listing while in the listing for 1999 it was ranked 75.

The two top slots in the multi-disciplinary list were taken once again by Kyoto University and Tohoku University, both of Japan. In the current listing Kyoto University ranks No.1, taking over from Tohoku University which ranked No. 1 in 1999.

Three universities from Hong Kong have been placed among the top ten universities, in 3rd, 6th and 7th places.

Seoul National University has been ranked fourth and the National University of Singapore follows in fifth place. The last three places in the top ten have been taken by three Australian Universities, Australian National University, University of Melbourne and University New South Wales.

Among the Best Science and Technology Universities, Korea and India lead the field.

Asiaweek has conducted the annual survey of Asia's Best Universities since 1997 and published a special report on the subject in 1999.

According to their study, Asiaweek claims to have 'an extensive databank on everything from faculty qualifications to research output, to student-per-teacher ratios to data on Internet access of 114 leading multi-disciplinary institutions and science and technology schools across Asia'.

To measure the academic excellence of universities by quantifying their achievements, questionnaires were sent to the various universities and science and technology institutes in the region. For the 1999 ranking, 25% of the total score was allocated to quality of students, 25% to quality of teachers, 20% to research output, and 10% to financial resources.

The balance 20% was allocated to a subjective evaluation by the universities themselves. This year, although the total percentage for quality of teachers remained the same, the weightage given to the number of teachers with PhD degrees was increased from 2 points to 5 points.

In its report accompanying the current survey for 2000, Asiaweek writes that Asia's universities are in a ferment. Governments are pressuring them to raise more money, without increasing tuition fees. They are pushing institutions to ride the globalization wave by recruiting foreign teachers and admitting foreign students.

They want to reform the all or nothing university admission system. Even without governments prompting, schools are mulling strategies for the Internet.

Some universities, particularly in Australia, already teach classes partly through the Web. Entire degree programmes are to be delivered over the new medium. How these trends will affect the quality of Asian higher education is still being debated.

Eventually, Asiaweek expects the changes to be reflected in the annual best universities survey. For now, the 2000 survey shows the same names continuing to dominate the top places.

Goodies on the way for triplets

By Faraza Farook

New promises are paving the way for the first millennium triplets who came into the world with much hope and promises that failed to be honoured a few months later.

People both locally and from abroad have volunteered to assist the three little girls whose parents find it difficult to bring up due to financial difficulties.

Responses for assistance came following The Sunday Times article of May 14 which explained their pathetic living conditions.

Gamini Yapa in Toronto has been able to collect toys and money for the babies from his Sri Lankan colleagues working with him at the ORION bus company in Toronto and as well as some of his close friends. The toys that have been collected will reach the triplets soon with Nirantha de Silva of Trico International having volunteered to ship a box full of these toys (10 sq. ft.) free of charge to the mother of the triplets.

However, with regard to the money, Mr. Yapa hopes to be in Sri Lanka this week and would meet the parents and hand over the money to them personally.

Other donors were S. Samarajeewa and her group of eight retired colleagues who run a handicrafts shop named 'Silver Hands'. The group plans to visit the family and make an assessment as to how they could help. "If the mother is willing to learn, she can run a small business and sell the crafts," Ms. Samarajeewa said. In addition to assisting this young mother, Ms. Samarajeewa plans to make a monthly contribution. "We are also considering to undertake responsibility to spend for one child, may be for a period of five years," she said.

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