Officials look away as imposter still reigns

Nil Manel controversy

The declaration came way back in 1986 but the imposter crept in around 1992 and still reigns, misguiding not only thousands of schoolchildren but also the bureaucrats who proudly display her on official documents.

The Sunday Times now has in its possession documents how the national faux pas with regard to the wrong picture of the National Flower came into being. The picture of the wrong flower and not the National Flower, officially declared as the Nil Manel (Blue Water Lily -- Nymphaea nouchali Burm. f) is featured in all clarity in a booklet titled, ‘NA and MANEL, The National Tree and The National Flower of Sri Lanka’ published by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) which at that time (in 1992) came under the purview of the Ministry of Environment and Parliamentary Affairs.

The booklet was commemorating ‘The 100 Million Trees Programme’ which had been launched back in 1985 by the CEA under the directive of then Prime Minister R. Premadasa. When the booklet was published in 1992, Mr. Premadasa was the President and had this to say: “The National Tree and the National Flower have now acquired an identity and a meaning which they amply deserve. Today (in 1992) these two National Symbols have become the focal points of the rich and varied flora of Sri Lanka.”

The documents pertaining to the national faux pas

Little did President Premadasa know that the picture being propagated in the booklet was incorrect as also the sketches of the leaf, two flowers and bud and some parts of the botanical description.

The section referring to “………but distinguishable from them (N. caerulea and N. capensis) by the dentate margin of the leaves”, is incorrect says Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala who last year, after much research, pointed out that Sri Lanka was using the wrong picture for the beautiful Nil Manel.

However, the efforts of this Professor of Botany at the Science Faculty of the University of Peradeniya specializing in plant molecular taxonomy and phylogenetics, to right the wrong have fallen on deaf ears.

Years and years of research along with husband Dr. Kapila Yakandawala of the Wayamba University, assisted by Technical Assistant Indika Peabotuwage to prove that Sri Lanka has in fact been using the picture of Nymphaea capensis, Nymphaea caerulea or even a hybrid with Nymphaea micrantha, not even a native to the country have met with inaction.

The Nil Manel is a “native” of Sri Lanka but the imposter is neither endemic nor native and may have been introduced to the country long ago, it is learnt. The Sunday Times first highlighted Prof. Deepthi’s research on November 7, last year and once again on January 9 when full-page advertisements setting out the vision of none other than President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a photograph of the imposter.
Sri Lanka, however, continues to give power to the imposter with this deafening silence propagating a national misconception.

Meanwhile, when contacted by the Sunday Times, an Environmental Ministry source assured: “We will make a decision on this issue very soon aftr meeting with the scientific community.” The options will be either to introduce the right picture or bring in a more colourful and beautiful flower as our National Flower, he added.

Research ignored

I have not only informed President Mahinda Rajapaksa in writing but also relevant institutions such as the Environmental Ministry, the Biodiversity Secretariat and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), said Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala when asked by the Sunday Times what action she had taken with regard to her research. She had personally written to these institutions in early January.

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