In recent times, it has become a trend where unannounced train strikes by various trade unions are a new norm at the expense of more than a million commuters who use the service on a daily basis. Whether the cause could be engaging in such trade union action can be justified on ethical and moral [...]


Another railway strike, over a cigarette; will it be over beedi in the next one?


In recent times, it has become a trend where unannounced train strikes by various trade unions are a new norm at the expense of more than a million commuters who use the service on a daily basis.

Whether the cause could be engaging in such trade union action can be justified on ethical and moral grounds is something unions have to ponder as this week’s ‘surprise’ strike revealed a petty argument over a ‘cigarette’ which lead to an assault on a assistant railway guard that ended up in a strike disrupting some 78 scheduled trains that evening.

The most recent train strike on Thursday. Pic by Lahiru Harshana

It turned out the assistant railway guard got into an argument with the security guard at the Maligawatte yard, while he was smoking on the premises. The argument ended in an assault, with the railway guard who was not in his uniform, claiming he was assaulted by the security guard.

Just weeks ago, another surprise strike was staged–disrupting dozens of official trains–over an incident where a Railway Controller was allegedly assaulted by a technician working in the Railway Department.

Last month, the sudden strike called by the Locomotive Engineers Union resulted in the death of a youth who had to undertake a dangerous journey on a crowded train. The grieving father of the victim said his son was forced to take the train as he could not afford to give him Rs 200 for the bus as he had asked for.

Fed up with strikes and crowded trains, commuters are also critical of the behaviour of the railway trade unions for calling surprise strikes to score points for their personal issues and administrative lapses by the department.

When a television crew approached an old gentleman who was stranded at Fort Railway Station on Tuesday, wondering how to reach home, he was subtle in his response, while calling for privatisation if this continues: “So now, this strike is over a cigarette fight and I am afraid there will be one for beedi in future as well.”

Modi’s crackdown on media: Controversy over Lankan-born entrepreneur

The ongoing crackdown on media in India this week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is having a chilling effect not only within India after the 1975-1977 emergency period but within the region as well.

But many are unaware that the man at the centre of the controversy of funding a news website called NewsClick and accused of receiving Chinese funds through a billionaire–software entrepreneur Neville Roy Singham has Sri Lankan roots.

His father was Archibald Singham (A.W. Singham) born to Sri Lankan parents, a well-known political scientist and an influential figure in the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1960s.

The Indian police said Mr Singham was a conduit for Chinese funds and took into custody two journalists, including the Editor in Chief, after investigating more than 40 journalists who either worked or contributed to the platform. The arrest came after an investigation piece published by The New York Times (NYT) in August which shed some insight into Roy Singham’s philanthropy work and political ideas, but failed to provide substantial proof that Chinese funds were channelled through to the platform.

Alleging weaponisation of the NYT article and ‘irresponsible reporting’, ‘The Hindu’ newspaper’s former editor N. Ram, who knew Roy Singham, set the facts straight in an interview with veteran Indian journalist Karan Thapar.

He said: “I have known Roy Singham for quite a long time. Roy Singham is somebody who worked on the Left. He and others in his family gave a lot–his father is a Socialist from Sri Lanka and his mother is an American and he is an American citizen.”

The veteran editor said Thoughtworks, a technology company founded by Roy Singham was sold for USD$ 870 million according the NYT article and the Indian website received funds from the philanthropy foundations set up by Roy Singham under US laws.

“There was no Chinese money involved in this.”

Accreditation cards produced with waste material and cinnamon

The Fifth Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of the Asia Pacific took place in Colombo this week.

As various topics related to the environment were discussed, an announcement was also made that the accreditation cards were produced with waste material and cinnamon.

Some delegates were quick to check it out.  Pic by M. A. Pushpakumara

N.E Lawyer’s protest: Photo opportunity with Lady Justice in Jaffna

In the Northern and Eastern provinces lawyers boycotted cases in courts this week, condemning the recent incident where Mullaitivu judge T. Saravanarajah claimed he was forced to resign and flee the country due to threats to his life.

Part of the ongoing protests was a ‘human chain’ protest held on Wednesday, organised by civil society outfits, political parties and lawyers collectives calling for an independent probe over the resignation of the magistrate. The human chain protest was from Jaffna town to Maruthanarmadam covering some ten kilometres along the main Kankesanthurai (KKS) road.

While the protest was underway near Kokkuvil, another group unfolded its secret plan for a photo opportunity. The group, backed by some civil society activists, politicians and lawyers brought the statue of Lady Justice, placed it on a table along the road and started to pray while kneeling down for justice for the judge.

The protest continued for some time to ensure all media channels covered the new stunt while others kept holding hands and making human chains along the streets. Since the protest did not score the points they anticipated, some political parties are planning to call for a hartal next week.


Blow to backbenchers in Parliament, hardly anyone to listen to them

For quite some time, some Parliamentarians–particularly the backbenchers–have been at the receiving end when it comes to allocating time during debates, as party heavyweights take considerable time.

Often, they are allocated merely minutes for the sake of it at the end of a day’s session and when they arise, there is hardly anyone in the House to listen or respond to them.

This was evident on Friday evening when Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Gunapala Rathnasekara was told by Presiding Member Mayantha Dissanayake that the MP had only three minutes to speak. The agitated MP refused to speak protesting about the shortened allocated time.

Not only that, during the sessions on Friday, when Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs staged a protest in front of the House on an issue relating to Batticaloa farmers, there was poor attendance of peoples’ representatives let alone no Cabinet Minister to respond to the group. Later, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha stepped in and assured to look into the issue.

In the afternoon sessions, it was observed that many MPs go ‘missing’ or sometimes there were not enough members to maintain a quorum to continue sessions, which cost millions of taxpayers’ funds to conduct a day’s session in the Parliament.


SriLankan Airlines in political storm

The delays and cancellations of SriLankan Airlines flights over the past few days caused severe inconvenience to hundreds of passengers. They included at least three MPs.

State Indigenous Medicine Minister Sisira Jayakody was due to fly to Nepal but his flight was cancelled. He gave vent to his feelings in the media, saying Ports and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva must bear responsibility for what happened.

Opposition Parliamentarians Chandima Weerakkody and Kabir Hashim were delayed by more than ten hours in Bangkok as a result of their SriLankan Airlines flight developing a technical fault.

Shocking backlash for State Minister over electricity bills

State Water Supply Minister Sanath Nishantha, who paid a Rs 2.6 million electricity bill on behalf of Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, has been in the news these days, as some believe he can step into pay the bills of those who cannot afford to.

But, State Minister Nishantha, on Friday responded, that he would not entertain idea of paying electricity bills of villagers in his area.

This response came after the minister’s actions were ridiculed on social media. There were social media posts being circulated by people in his area, who were expecting that he would pay their electricity bills as well. There were more social media posts where the minister was named as one option to pay bills online.

“I am aware of these social media posts. These are politically motivated,” he said.

He added that he actually paid the bill not as a favour to Namal Rajapaksa but as a way of paying respect to Mahinda Rajapaksa who he considered as his father.

The Minister also said sons and daughters should pay the electricity bills of their parents’ houses as a way of showing respect.

He added that he personally paid the bill through a cheque, and the money of his personal business Royal Aquaculture was used to pay the bill.

He added that as the State Water Supply Minister would be able to provide a relief to people through his ministry, but that did not mean he could entertain the idea of paying peoples’ electricity bills.

Giant Ranil in Batticaloa; campaigning begins

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to present his Budget speech to Parliament on November 13. It is widely expected to be a “Presidential Budget” with Rs. 11 billion set to be allocated to the Election Commission in expectation of Presidential elections scheduled for next year.

For some in President Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), campaigning already seems to have begun.

This larger than life cutout was put up this week in a Batticaloa town by local UNP organisers.

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