Friday, December 31, 2010

Jaffna sees millions of Sinhala visitors in addition to the Army but no real peace

Minister Devananda with a family member of slain Zonal Education Director Manikkam Sivalingam
(January 01, 2011) A senior official of Sri Lanka Army said recently to Sinhala daily The Divaina that 2.8 million people from southern parts of the island visited Jaffna before the final days of the year..

With the expected 200,000 year end holiday travelers, the official anticipated the total number of visitors that visited Jaffna in 2010 exceeded three million.

2010 set on Jaffna with same terrifying stories the cultural heartland of Lankan Tamils heard since years before the 'end of war.'

Jaffna sees millions of Sinhala visitors in addition to the Army but no real peace.

Walikamam Zonal Director of Education was brutally killed last week, perhaps to take revenge for opposing singing national anthem of his country in Sinhala at the National Safety Day commemoration on December 26 under a new directive of the cabinet that dropped the almost half a century practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil too.

A 26 year old businessman who went missing since December 27 was found stabbed and killed on the same day whilst anonymous caller sought a staggering eight million rupee ransom from the father of the youth.

Killings continue in strictly guarded Jaffna under the nose of the security forces. More Sinhalese will go there to enjoy their peace dividend of a pilgrimage to Nagadeepa, a place Buddhists believe Lord Buddha had visited.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How people starve in India as food stocks rot

By Bharat Jhunjhunwala
The Statesman/ANN

THE country’s food grain stock is 60 million tons which is nearly three times the required buffer. We have storage capacity for only 52 million tons. About seven million tons are rotting in the open. At least six million tons have already become unfit for human consumption. The surplus is likely to increase further in the coming months. The monsoon crop has been satisfactory. Heavy rains have led to recharge of groundwater and the winter crop is also likely to be normal.

Surprisingly, India continues to languish in the Global Hunger Index despite availability of surplus food grain. The index is prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute. India was ranked 65th last year. It has slipped to 67th in the 2010 index. Not that the extent of hunger has increased; there has been some improvement on that score. We had secured 31.7 points in 1990. This has declined to 24.1 points in 2010. But while the scale of improvement has been better in other countries, our rank is sliding. The laggard athlete runs forward but is yet said to be ‘behind’ in the race. Similarly, we are moving ahead in reducing the level of hunger but are falling ‘behind’ other countries.

The Supreme Court has suggested that the surplus grain may be distributed free to the poor instead of letting them rot in the open. Yet it is doubtful whether this will lead to better nourishment. Haryana is among the more prosperous states in terms of agriculture. However, its "hunger status" is said to be "alarming". Punjab and Tamil Nadu are not far behind though they are not facing a shortage of grain.

Central to the problem is the lack of a balanced diet. Grains are provided to the poor BPL card-holders at a considerably subsidized rate. However, they don’t have the means to buy oil, pulses and vegetables. The resultant imbalance in the diet may be the reason why these states rank high in the hunger index. The distribution of more grain is unlikely to improve the nutritional requirement of the poor since enough of this commodity is available.

The second factor behind the country’s low rank in the hunger index appears to be the culture of consumerism. The family uses the available money to buy television sets instead of nourishing vegetables. The free distribution of grain is not feasible from the administrative point of view either. As in the public distribution system, the risk of a huge leakage is substantial.

The problem of malnourishment is inherent in the model of economic development. As the policy gets to be implemented, the poor man is first deprived of his job and made destitute. Manufacture of goods by automatic machines is encouraged. Then the destitute is provided with free or subsidized grain through the government machinery. The homemaker is not able to provide a balanced diet because the family can’t afford oil, pulses and vegetables. The government had provided a huge subsidy on urea till a few years ago. Soil productivity declined on account of over-application of nitrogen and a deficit of potash and phosphates. Similarly, the excessive intake of grain is leading to an unbalanced diet, even malnutrition. The current development model also encourages the purchase of electronic gadgets ~ the symbols of prosperity. The family spends the limited cash that is available on such purchases instead of balanced nutrition. The leakages that take place in distribution are also inherent in the development model.

The solution is to dismantle the welfare state and provide direct cash support to all citizens. An advertisement policy, that encourages healthy lifestyles, should be devised. The government must export the surplus grain and distribute the profit obtained. The price of wheat in the global markets is Rs 17 per kg. It is procured at Rs 12 per kg. It is better to export the surplus and give Rs 17 in cash to the poor instead of giving them grain valued at Rs 12.

Domestic prices may rise due to exports. This should not be regarded as a negative phenomenon. The farmers’ income will increase and benefit scores of people. Increased prices will lead to higher production and help secure food security. Agricultural workers will get a share of the higher prices through higher wages, and this will help reduce malnourishment. The negative impact of higher grain prices will be felt by the urban consumers. We should not sacrifice the food security and welfare of our millions of rural people for appeasing this already well-off segment of the population.

The Minimum Support Price policy is said to be responsible for the surplus stocks. The government is committed to buy all the grain offered for purchase at a pre-determined price. Farmers prefer to grow grain because they are assured of this minimum price. The result is excess production of grain and a shortfall in the production of oil, pulses and vegetables. While these facts are true, it doesn’t follow that the support price policy is undesirable.

Till the eighties, we were dependent on food imports. Today we are in a position to export because farmers have increased production on the basis of the support price policy. Millions of farmers have benefited. The government must procure yet more foodgrain and, if necessary, export them even at a loss. This is being done by the developed countries in order to maintain domestic production of food. We need to increase both production and exports. Another strategy to manage the surplus is to include other minor crops such as mustard, groundnut, soyabean and pulses in the Minimum Support Price policy. This will lead to diversification of the crop pattern and make oils and protein available to our people.

The World Bank has suggested that countries like India should not impose a ban on the export of foodgrain as a matter of policy. Free trade in grain will be beneficial for importers as well as exporters. This is in keeping with this writer’s suggestion to export surplus stocks. But there is a critical difference. The World Bank suggests that exports should be allowed even in times of domestic shortage, if international prices are high. This can be harmful for the sovereignty of the country. Remember that the former US President, Jimmy Carter, had imposed a ban on the export of grain to Russia as a pressure tactic for quitting Afghanistan. We will unnecessarily push ourselves to a similar situation. We should confine exports to surplus stocks.

The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Sinhalese displaced from Jaffna and Tamils displaced from the rest of the island

(October 11, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity, Ajith Perakum JayasingheLanka, irrespective whether it is Jaffna or Hambanthota is a multi-ethnic multi-religious country since times known.

A minority Sinhalese community lived in Jaffna before the escalation of hostilities in 1980s. Famous stories say they ran the bakery business there. Several university dons, namely Sucharitha Gamlath and Sunil Ariyarathna taught in the Sinhala Department of Jaffna University before 1983.

The fond memories of multi ethnic Tamil dominated Jaffna shattered with escalation of war. Tamil Tigers resorted to military strategies that attributed to ethnic cleansing. But, a Jaffna which was meant to be out of bound for Sinhalese and Muslims soon became a hub for tens of thousands of militarized Sinhalese young men that guarded the city with suspicious watchful eyes penetrating the Jaffna Tamils.

Now the war is over although conflict drags on at different levels. An apparently organized Sinhala group of around 200 families led by yet to be disclosed elements has emerged in Jaffna seeking land to resettle in what they call either the birthplace or the former residential town of theirs. They say their claim is rational although they had no proof for land ownership there.

Jaffna peninsula is a crowded area where a large extent  of land is still under Army high security zones. It is not easy to grant the demands of these Sinhalese families, although their claims can be justifiable.

Many thousands of Tamils also lived similarly in many areas in Sinhala dominated south and they too were displaced mainly as a result of 1983 July ethnic violence against Tamils. They either resettled or began to repeatedly displace elsewhere. What can the government do if all these people come back and ask for land in the places where they lived before they were dislocated by the circumstances of history?

For instance, Anuradhapura is a city a sizable Tamil population lived.  Only a few remained there after 1983 violence and the Tamil Tiger attack in the city in 1985. Some land the Tamils owned were grabbed by others and sometimes government used them in development projects.

What if the Tamils that lived in Anuradhapura return there and seek refuge in the city railway station pleading resettlement. Is the government ready to accept the returning Tamils in the same vein the Sinhalese are admitted and provided security at Jaffna railway station.

If the government redress the Sinhala people displaced from Jaffna it will rationalize the claims of the Tamils for similar treatment. But, the problem here is if this kind of development will create any positive impact in regard of reconciliation.

Won't the Sinhalese if they would be resettled in Jaffna face hostilities from the jealous Tamils who think the Sinhalese are responsible for their plight? Are Tamils' mindset broad enough to admit them as brethren?

In such context, are Sinhalese in south ready to admit the Tamils also in similar vein, if they return to pre-1983 context?

Status quo can be a better solution for some problems although it causes injustice in some senses.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Make schools places where love is distributed to the most needed instead of being melting pots of stress and competition

(October 03, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity, Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe)Sri Lanka government has announced that legal action will be taken in future against the parents of the children that are not attending schools.

A recent survey of the Census and Statics Department pointed out that around 250,000 children do not attend schools despite education plus text books and uniforms are provided free of charge to all needy and affluent children.

The government has decided to direct these children to schools and to make the village officer, the lowest rank administrative official, answerable if there is any child that is not attending school.

Meanwhile, several teacher activists pointed out that the above mentioned number can be more than the estimate of Census and Statics Department since there are many regular absentees in schools. These students are counted as those attending schools although they are not doing so.

A major reason for absenteeism and dropping out among school children is failing year end examinations and the students losing interest in schooling after failing to enter the next grade.

Many schools make students to repeat in grades but lacks programmes to improve them in the second year they stay in the same class. The attitudes of the teachers towards the repeaters are another reason for dropping out. Most teachers consider the failing students as a nuisance. Many children that lose the association of the peers fail to adjust to the new situation.

Many ignorant parents do not send their children to schools and direct them to earn a living through minor work due to poverty. Assistance and law enforcement is necessary for these families to make their children attend schools.

But that will not solve the problem. There is severe lack of good attitudes in the schools system towards slow progressing students. Principals and teachers are made to show good results and answerable to poor outcome compelling them to make the slow progressing students dropouts to save the heads of the principals and education officials.

It is not easy to get all students pass major competitive examinations. Focus should be to take all the students through the school education process. Failures should not be highlighted as the politicians, officials and media do now for petit gains.

See how many times it is reported that this number of schools has this amount of failures. The principals and teachers are needed to be monitored but not stressed to show the best outcome. There should be proper mechanism to attract and keep the slow progressing students in schools.

The schools are needed to be made places where love is distributed to the most needed instead of being melting pots of stress and competition.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The decay of the capitalist class and the rise of the wealthy elite in Sri Lanka

(September 27, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity, Ajith Perakum JayasingheSri Lanka' ruling party MP Rajitha Senarathna, a liberal democrat converted into dictatorial worshipper said to The Sunday Observer newspaper that the capitalist class has lost faith in the United National Party (UNP). "They are also working very closely with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government." he said adding "UNP is having a class crisis."

He also says he does not believe in that a vibrant Opposition is essential for democracy.

It is understandable that the capitalist class is closely working with the Rajapalsa regime since their main focus is business for profit and the situation that prevails in the country at present is one even the smallest business needs the blessings of politicians to survive. Capitalist class has adjusted to any harsh condition, even under socialism to survive.

Capitalist class does not essentially mean the wealthiest class of a country. Capitalists are capital accumulators, investors and entrepreneurs. They are independent of the state but both state and capitalists are inter-dependent. Their class interest is a rule that maintains peace for a level they can run businesses normally and a democracy that pays way for enterprise competition healthy to them. No less, no more.

They further need a cheap labor force that is contented or adequately suppressed not to rebel to the level they challenge the system.

For them, the middle class is not a crucial force. It is an intermediate social strata than a class, perhaps a wealthy elite of bureaucrat, small and medium scale businessmen and  pre-capitalist class remnants. However, the middle class was active in the bourgeois cultural space.

UNP, especially under the brilliant leaders like D.S. Senanayaka, Dudley Senanayaka and J.R. Jayawardhana maintained the balance of handling the interests of both crucial classes, the capitalists and the proletariat. Symbolizing this phenomenon, the leaders appeared equally at ease both in the parties of the social elite as well as among the masses in May Day rallies. There was a time UNP challenged the leftists and the trade unionists by holding massive May Days in which real workers enjoyed the shade of the green flag. UNP was well-founded among the peasant class as well. an important social strata in Sri Lanka especially due to their numerical massiveness.

Thus, UNP became the party of the capitalists. Are they the same further?

It is unarguable that the UNP still appears for the interests of the capitalist class unequivocally and boldly. But it has lost the grip of the rein of the peasant and  proletarian classes that have given in to Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. UNP lost its roots. If one argues it is a problem of the present leadership, a counter argument also exists that there is and perhaps was no alternate.

We propose that this is a class crisis, that parallels with the leadership crisis of the working class. The result seems an inevitable situation evolved from the right inception of the social system in the post-colonial era.

Rajitha Senarathna says only the capitalist class "working very closely with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government" and he does not point out that the capitalist class has faith in Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. It is understandable. The regime appears more for the interests of a wealthy middle class than the capitalists.

What is this wealthy class? They belong to a social elite that depends on state for the new found prosperity. Namely, the businessmen and the bureaucrat made of the politicians and the public or service sector officials that have made state their primary source of profit through salaries, perks and benefits, commissions, contracts and unscrupulous means. What they usurp is the local and foreign debt obtained by the government, the tax collections and the loss-making business ventures of state.

They are a rich class but not a hardworking people like capitalists. They cannot prosper without the government. Their unethical, abhorrent earnings are also re-invested in state loans such as treasury bills, unless they are not taken away from the local economy for laundering.

This kind of greedy usurping strata existed everyday in the margins of the capitalist and middle classes. The paradigm shift in recent times is this class outwitted the capitalists and came to front as the most powerful class in Sri Lanka. The ideological and leadership crisis of the working class that paved way for the spread of chauvinist political ideologies among the lower classes was a blessing for this class to prosper.

Mahinda Rajapaksa led regime belongs to this class and it appears for their interests. One fact to prove this argument is as follows. The Sunday Times newspaper on 26-09-2010 reported that President's brother Basil Rajapaksa was given a new responsibility of foreign direct investment development. The same government that is in a dire need a rapid increase of foreign direct investment to peddle through a possible debt crisis in near future is also chasing away the major reputable foreign investors from the country. State took over Appolo Hospital even giving a name change, took back the Emirates management of the Sri Lankan airline and now discussing to buy back the shares owned by Shell Gas while incessantly clashing with Prima.

Capitalist economists identify the situation as mismanagement of economic affairs. We propose you are completely wrong. It is the really brilliant management of the wealthy class, not your bourgeoisie. Hell with FDI! State is a hen laying golden eggs for this wealthy class. That is why they are strengthening it both politically and economically. Keep no more hopes under this regime to get the private sector made the engine of the growth. Forget the fact that state enterprises make losses. People will pay for it. Women will continue to go to Middle  East.

Tourists will arrive in Sri Lanka. IMF will bail the economy. The task of the Central Bank is to maintain good ratings so that the government can obtain loans perhaps until a day until the government will be declared bankrupt. The rulers will try to postpone the day as far back as they can. That is politics or better say governance.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sri Lanka's hand picked democracy; what an amendment to what a constitution!

(September 23, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity, Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe)Today, the 23rd of September is a crucial day for Sri Lanka.

The time frame given to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader to appoint members for the five-member parliament committee will end today and the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa will appoint the two Tamil and Muslim representatives for the committee in accordance with the powers vested in him by the 18th amendment to the constitution.

The Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe earlier appointed Tamil National Alliance MP M.A. Sumanthiran as his representative but the TNA rejected it on the basis it opposed the 18th amendment. The Opposition Leader said his strategy was to appoint representatives that reject the position so as to disrupt the smooth functioning of the parliamentary committee. It is understandable that his party has no MPs that he is sure of rejecting the position as he expects. He wants TNA to be his scapegoat but TNA does not.

The Prime Minister is in a struggle to save his position in the second term of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa that is to start in November. He will readily appoint any Tom, Dick or Harry asked by the President. But here it seems worse than that and the President appears advised the Prime Minister to keep mum. Therefore the Premier leaves his nomination vacant and the Speaker will have the chance to appoint the two nominees to represent Tamil and Muslim communities.

Who is the Speakaer? He is non other than the President's elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa.

The President handpicked the Prime Minister. The President hand picked the Speaker. The President hand picked the two Tamil and Muslim representatives. The Opposition Leader will not participate in the parliamentary committee.

The parliamentary committee has powers only to make observations to the appointments made by the President to the 'independent' committees. The President will hand pick the members for these committees and he may regard or disregard the observations of the parliamentary committee members he hand picked. Perhaps the observations may also be hand picked by the President.

What an amendment to what a constitution!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sri Lanka's cultural custodians blast historical sites for treasure hunting

(September 22, 2010, Colombo - Lanka PolityNine persons including the Assistant Superintendent of Police of Vakarai were arrested by police when they were fleeing after attempting treasure hunting in Polonnaruwa.

The group had been treasure hunting in a place close to Siripura temple of Polonnaruwa in the night of 20th. The villagers that came to know about the crime, sounded the bell of the temple and summoned people. They kept the group surrounded and informed police.

The suspects that were armed with a revolver threatened the villagers and fled in a van. Police apprehended the van with the group later. Equipment used in the treasure hunting were also arrested.

The arrested suspects included seven police officers including the ASP and two civilians.

A week ago, police produced a Buddhist monk before Mathale magistrate for attempted treasure hunting in a historical site.

The Buddhist monk and his accomplice, a businessman, had blasted a rock using dynamite, police said.

The land in which treasure hunting took place is a fortress belonged to colonial period. It is called Fort Macdoval and belongs to Mathale Sambuddha Jayanthi Sangamaya.

The Buddhist monk was released on personal bail of Rs. 100,000.

Treasure hunting is often reported around the country and people who want to become instantly rich believe that the ancient kings have hidden unbelievable amounts of wealth in unbelievable places like inside the rocks.

A spokesman of the Archeological Department said that this belief was wrong and it had led to vandalism and destruction for valuable historical and cultural property.

It seems that the majority of these treasure hunting cultural vandalists are in some way the should be custodians of the historical and cultural values.

There is a Sinhala saying meaning what if a farmer can do when the field fence and borders. (Wetath niyarath goyam ka nam kata kiyamida e amaruwa?)

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White handkerchief marks protest against forcible cremation by the government of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan civil society is silently but strongly marking their protest against the government's inhuman  forcible  cremation of a 20-da...