Weed out the rot that has taken root within the rice industry We are today experiencing a crisis situation in the paddy/rice ‘industry’, on which millions depend for their livelihood. This is indeed a sad situation for we had an excellent paddy marketing system through the Multi Purpose Cooperatives and the Agrarian Services and Food [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Letters to the Editor


Weed out the rot that has taken root within the rice industry

We are today experiencing a crisis situation in the paddy/rice ‘industry’, on which millions depend for their livelihood. This is indeed a sad situation for we had an excellent paddy marketing system through the Multi Purpose Cooperatives and the Agrarian Services and Food Departments in days of yore.

Let us recall the contributions of our leaders towards making our country self-sufficient in rice, our staple food.

It was our first Prime Minister, D.S. Senanayake, who first laid the foundation to make our country self-sufficient in rice; he established major irrigation schemes such as the Gal Oya project and other major irrigation schemes, his son Prime Minister Dudley in the 1960s started a Food Drive concentrating on rice cultivation and we in the NCP knew of no better times for the bushel of paddy, (in that era the government guaranteed price of paddy was Rs.12/- for a bushel; it fetched Rs. 68/- in the open market!).

Ministers Phillip Gunawardena and T.B. Illangaratne also made enormous contributions towards making our country self- sufficient in rice, by improving the lot of the paddy cultivator and by establishing proper mechanisms for the marketing of paddy; we had the Multi Purpose Cooperatives purchasing the paddy at village level; this paddy was then taken to the Guaranteed Price Scheme stores of the Agrarian Services Department, then transferred to both government rice mills and private rice millers who then after milling ‘transferred’ the milled rice to the Food Department Stores, which then transferred the rice to the Cooperatives from where consumers purchased the rice.

Instead of continuing with this time-tested paddy marketing system, the Paddy Marketing Board was established and the old paddy stores around the island were closed down.

Today we are seeking to use airport hangars to store paddy (shame, shame shame!) and with that the Multi Purpose Cooperatives also closed down and the unfortunate rice farmer was left to the mercies of unscrupulous traders, the paddy mafia.

The whole system appears to have virtually broken down and we do not have any proper organisation for paddy purchase or efficient personnel for the task; this is a crime.

The government MUST establish a proper mechanism as we had in earlier times to buy the paddy of the farmer; he certainly deserves a better deal for let us not forget the fact that he has to wait four months after sowing to reap the harvest after the ‘Maha’ sowing and three months if the water is available and he is able to sow for ‘Yala’. Have pity on the poor farmer.

Structural changes to paddy cultivation were effected by the late Minister Phillip Gunawardena, who brought the Paddy Lands Act, to protect tenant cultivators and obtain for them security of tenure and a fair share of the crop.

He also established the Cultivation Committee System under the PLA which gave statutory power to paddy cultivators to manage their occupation in all its aspects. In 1970 the PLA was amended and the elective principle was thrown overboard and the Minister appointed the Cultivation Committee.

From then on the rot set in and rice cultivation suffered enormously as minor irrigation systems were also neglected.

I do hope that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will himself give this matter the highest priority because of its importance and establish a new paddy purchase/ marketing system at the earliest.

K. Godage
Via email

How sadly have the standards of our public conduct sunk

The last few days have seen all our TV channels ‘ going to town’ and boring their jaded viewers with endless doses of new Ministers displaying their piety and domestic bliss when assuming office.

As an old government pensioner I remember the era, not too long ago, when Ministers and senior officials (I was one of the latter category) “assumed duties” they just walked into their office, had a briefing from the Chief Clerk and proceeded to clear the accumulated files in the ‘In’ tray.

No religious blessings were ever chanted during office hours. Religious activities were conducted in temple, churches, kovils or mosques. Monks, padres, poosaris and moulanas came to office only to discuss mundane problems such as permits and boundary disputes.

As for wives, their husband’s office was ‘terra incognita’. Their sole ‘official’ function was to accompany their husbands to the Public Services Club or school prize-givings.

The recent practice of assuming duties preceded by priestly prayers and flanked by wife, children and, when available, grandchildren – all before TV cameras, is a shameful display of hypocrisy and ‘boru shoke’. How sadly have the standards of our public conduct sunk!

I have written and spoken about these shameful displays on many occasions- to no effect. Alas! mine is a voice crying in the wilderness.
Tissa Devendra
Via email

Please don’t cheat us Mr. President

I am writing in response to the news item in the Sunday Times of September 6, ‘Thou too Sirisena’.

Just a year ago a huge group represented us at the UN General Assembly in New York. We remember the names of the group (particularly some unsuitable Reps), where they stayed, what they did, and how much of our national wealth they spent.

Now another entourage is getting ready! If it is so, ‘It is a grievous fault and grievously you have to answer it’.

The voters rejected some of the traitors who squandered the country’s wealth and betrayed our trust. But now it seems as if some of our leaders are unable to distinguish between right and wrong.

Please be reminded of the law of nature- Justice should prevail, and truth will triumph. All have to reap what they sow. We voted for a new Government to cleanse our system. We expected them to investigate the misuse of State funds and punish the wrong-doers accordingly.

Have these ‘thieves’ and their families been assured of protection ?The poor sprats are getting caught. Is this to distract us? Please remember, all are not fools, all the time.

Please don’t cheat us. Look before you leap!


Sealing cracks: Simple way to maintain carpeted roads

Let me say this up front.  I am no expert in road construction or maintenance but a mere road user. Even as a non-technical person, it baffles me as to why the authorities do not use modern methods to properly maintain our network of carpeted roads.  I refer to maintaining roads by sealing cracks on roads as they appear.

In every developed country, be it in Europe, the US or Australia, roads are regularly maintained by sealing cracks as soon as they appear.  The process is simple and the equipment used for this purpose is basic and cheap to buy.  All what they do in these countries is that they periodically seal up the surface cracks with an asphalt filler.

The major cause of road surface damage is cracks.  The cracks form on road surfaces for a variety of reasons.  Even roads with proper foundation and drainage develop cracks over time.  Simple maintenance like sealing the cracks will prevent water seeping into the carpeted surface and breaking it up.  With such maintenance, a road needs to be resurfaced only once in 25 to 30 years or so.

I live in Gohagoda, on the road joining Peradeniya to Katugastota.  This road, I recall has been resurfaced at least three times in the past 15 years.  The road is yet again disintegrating.  Soon it will have to be totally resurfaced.

I do not know what it costs to resurface a road of this width here in Sri Lanka.  Resurfacing an 8.4 metre-wide four lane road, two in each direction, costs, in Tasmania, Australia, an equivalent of Rs. 24 million per kilometre (see the link below).

This is for applying a 30 mm asphalt layer.  The local Sri Lankan costs, with whatever commissions that get distributed down the line, cannot be any lower.  Given the Gohagoda road is a two lane road, it would cost around Rs 10-12 million per kilometre to resurface.

This ten kilometre road from Peradeniya to Katugastota would therefore cost Rs. 100 million to resurface.

I could be wrong about the actual cost, but whatever it is, it is not cheap by any account.  Obviously the local road authorities would know the actual cost for resurfacing a two lane road – information that should be publicized so that we all know.

For a minute fraction of resurfacing cost, the authorities could purchase a crack sealing machine.  Typically, a machine would cost around $800 or less, say about Rs. 100,000.  This is one thousandth the cost of resurfacing a ten kilometre stretch of roadway.

Ideally there should be a dedicated machine for every ten or so kilometres and a crew of two or three. Such a unit could, with self-contained facilities, be tasked to continually maintain that stretch of road.

They could also be tasked to ensure proper drainage of water from the road surface, maintain the side drains, cut the grass and other foliage overhanging on to the road, etc. What it requires is a well-designed management plan and good supervision and incentives to the crew to maintain the roads properly.

The monies saved in their millions could be used to build proper roads with drains.  Or, ideally, invested in an extensive railway network across the country.
Provincial Councils and other local authorities have the responsibility to maintain roads.  To be sure, there aren’t any kick-backs and bribes to be had when no major contracts are to be awarded, such as to resurface a road costing millions upon millions of rupees.

But the people will hold their politicians and public servants in high esteem if they use the revenue collected wisely rather than waste it on resurfacing roads when it could be avoided for decades.

Those interested in road maintenance costs in Australia could use the following link:


Ranjan Pethiyagoda
Via email

Mem Sahibs of the UK visa office

I have been a regular visitor to U.K for over 50 years, so I didn’t envisage problems with my visa when I decided to attend my Grand-niece’s wedding in the UK.

The first hurdle was the complicated on-line visa form. There were several categories of visas; as I was going for a family wedding, I clicked on to “family visitor” visa. The fee was astronomical; thinking it was part of a generalised increase of fees, and in view of the dead-line for payment I complied. I discovered later the category, “general visitor” visa, where the fee was quarter the sum I paid.

To my consternation, my visa application was rejected. My main crime was that my Bank (BoC), had omitted the year from my bank statement. The implication was that I was using an old bank statement [fraud]. I got this rectified immediately, and emailed the statement.

Over a week later I was informed, that a review was not possible, and that I would have to re-apply, this would entail a further three week delay, and was not within my time-frame.

I find this is quite a common occurrence. One of my friends resorted to professional guidance for her re-application, at the cost of Rs. 100,000!

It appears that the colonial mentality is difficult to shake off. Apart from their attitude of callous indifference, they are perpetuating the old habit of economic exploitation.

One of their main concerns was that I would have insufficient funds for the return air-fare. This is completely illogical thinking, as any tourist now gets a return air ticket, as there is very little difference in price between a return and a one-way ticket.

In future if I do get the urge to travel to Europe, I shall opt for a Mediterranean country. The Schengen visa poses no problem, and one is assured of a marvellous holiday.

Dr. Premini Amerasinghe

Open letter to the Prime Minister

Saving our National Parks not just from roadkills!

Emboldened by your enlightened post on your Facebook page of September 2, we the General Committee of the Wildlife & Nature Protection Society offer the following possible broad solutions to the problems facing the over-usage of the National Parks of Sri Lanka, in detriment to the preservation of the wild creatures and wild places of this island for future generations.

This time it was a leopard that was killed by a speeding vehicle in the Ruhunu National Park (Yala), the fourth leopard to meet its fate in this way, in the recent past within the so-called protection of the Park.

Add to this list the number of other animals killed in this way – deer, jungle cat, hare, and numerous other smaller creatures – and one has to question, along with the casualties of poaching, whether it is in fact safe for wild animals in our National Parks today?

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), plagued for the last few decades by political influence and manipulation, has become an unprofessional and weak body that no longer fulfils the purpose for which it was set up over six decades ago.

A victim of a speeding vehicle in Yala

Rather than investigate this callous act within one of its premier protected areas, it tries to cover it up with baseless stories of the leopard being killed by an elephant!

It is important that this matter is investigated and the culprits are found and punished to the maximum extent of the law. Of all Sri Lanka’s National Parks Yala attracts the largest number of visitors, mainly on the expectation of seeing leopard.

It is estimated that there are between 40 and 50 leopard that prowl Block 1 of Yala. With these roadkills, 10% of that population has been wiped out!

It is estimated that there are over 1, 200 hotel beds in the Yala Region alone! There are 300+ jeeps from the area that are registered with the DWC office at Yala. It is reported that there may be as many as 600 more hotel beds being planned in the area. This problem will not go away and it has to be managed.

The Wildlife & Nature Protection Society (WNPS) recommends that the following measures be considered to help mitigate the enormous stress that is being made on the management, infrastructure, wild animals and habitat of the so-called protected areas of Sri Lanka:
Studies have shown that it is possible to demarcate Yala Block I into two.

This way, vehicles entering the Park would be directed to either one or the other zones with the strict proviso that a particular vehicle cannot trespass into the other zone. This procedure is successfully practised in India, particularly at the Ranthambore National Park, famed for its tigers.

For an added premium, however, visitors could pay for access to both Zones, but at a price.

Blocks II, III and IV of Yala, and the Lunugamvehera Parks should be used as alternatives to Yala Block I. Located close to Yala, these Parks are not only rich in fauna and flora, but have unique habitat types of their own.

To enable this, however, the infrastructure and road networks of these parks need to be improved on, considerably.

The number of vehicles entering the Parks, particularly Yala, must be strictly controlled. A scientific study must be carried out to determine the vehicular carrying capacity of each park, and this must be strictly adhered to.

This does not mean that the number of visitors per head to a park has to be reduced. If it was insisted on that each jeep entering a Park must carry at least six (6) passengers, this would not only reduce the traffic in the Park, but if sold on a seat-by-seat basis, will bring in additional payments to the jeep drivers.

Once again, on the payment of a premium, a visitor may be able to take fewer others in his vehicle but at a price!

In addition, the DWC could have vehicles of their own, small buses or large Canters which could be used to take a larger number of visitors into the Park than a jeep, and with trained guides, give them a quality experience.

Harsh penalties must be imposed on any who breach the rules. In the case of jeep drivers, this must extended to the owners as well. (No exceptions should be made for owner driven vehicles that flout park rules.) Suspending the driver means that the vehicle comes in with another.

The vehicle and driver must be banned…and for several months. Financial penalties, too, should be imposed on any malefactors and, as with the present case, criminal proceedings taken against any who damage, injure or kill the fauna and flora within these sanctuaries for wildlife.

Existing provisions need to be reviewed and revised to formulate strict new regulations.

The Tourism Sector has little understanding of the wildlife sector and contributes greatly to the problems in the parks. They seek sensational encounters for their customers, often enticing park officials to flout the rules with added financial incentives.

What is required is Responsible Nature-based Tourism, where visitors are given such a quality experience of the natural world that they will wish to come time and again to experience it (see “Shattered Silence deep in the Jungle” in the Sunday Times of August 30, 2015, as written by a foreign visitor to our Parks).

The Department of Wildlife Conservation must drive this process by enforcing the rules of the park, and engaging in dialogue with the tourism providers to ensure that this happens.

For any of the above to work, the capacity within the DWC must be built up. They have inadequate personnel and inadequate training in dealing with these matters. In addition, they are strapped for financial resources. None of the large amounts taken at the gates of the National Parks goes back to the DWC for the development of the Parks.

Instead, they receive a meagre budget from Central Government, and that towards the end of a financial year, so that much of it is returned unutilized – a budget on a string!

For the future development and protection of the protected areas it is of vital importance that each park benefits from the revenue it makes and at least 50% of the gate should be used for the development of the park.

This was one of the better proposals of the Asian Development Bank’s Protected Area Management Project, but was never implemented, as with much else of that initiative.

No visitor should be allowed into the Park without an official from the DWC to accompany and guide them. This will require an increase in the cadre at each park; that have been specifically trained for the purpose, and passed examinations accordingly.

This could even be extended to jeep drivers – on attending a suitable course and passing the necessary examinations, they might be allowed to guide visitors into the park on their own, subject to all of its rules and regulations.

These few suggestions are made to enable the swift tackling of a problem that is endangering the well-being and sustainability of the National Parks of Sri Lanka. With it, there has to be a complete restructuring, redevelopment and empowering of the DWC.

Nothing, however, will be possible without the appointment of a Deputy Minister and officials who not only have empathy and some understanding of the subject, but will strictly enforce the laws of conservation, without pandering to political expediency and convenience.

Mr. Prime Minister, at 121 years of age, the oldest conservation group in Sri Lanka, and the founder of the National Parks in Sri Lanka, and of the DWC, the WNPS is happy to support all efforts that you propose to alleviate this critical situation. We are always available should you wish to consult us in taking these measures further.

The General Committee of the Wildlife & Nature Protection Society

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