Attempt to prioritise national needs

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I believe that there are many Sri Lankans (here and abroad), who are ready to help our country to flourish, and our people to enjoy the maximum benefits, out of the blessings that Nature has so plentifully bestowed on us. We have ruined our endowments, and reduced ourselves to disgraceful beggary. We have been blessed by our location in the Tropics. Had it not been so, we would perhaps have needed to invest all of our foreign earnings, to merely keep ourselves warm in the biting cold of Winter, and if we could not, possibly perish.

One of the alarmingly helpless laments heard is, “What is the point of writing or talking, when we are sure that nothing will ever happen”? I do not believe so, as the youth of the Aragalaya have also proved otherwise.

The authorities seem to be deaf and blind, and ready to sacrifice all that of the “other” in their insatiable greed for power and pelf.

I am cautiously hopeful. This is what emboldens me to keep on writing. After all, it is the incessant beatings of little drops of rain that convert even the hardest of rocks into fertile soil. Persistence and patience in doggedly and relentlessly pursuing a worthy goal, are the operative words. The youth in the Aragalaya, unlike the senior citizens, displayed their courage to do so against fearful odds, and rally against corruption.

There are three main areas we have to concentrate on: population, environment and law and order.

Some Cosmetic changes

“Great Britain”, became “Britain”. Likewise, “Lanka” could be modest, and less pompous than “Sri Lanka”.

There are examples. “Slave Island ” became Kompanna Veediya and the innocent “Havelock Road ” was renamed “Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha”. The August Assembly could become more reminiscent of a staid Parliament, and less like a disorderly fish market.

Democracy rests on three pillars––Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. The Judiciary could largely remain as it is. It must however be admitted that certain rulings, particularly those concerning politicians, are disturbing. Inordinate delays in the legal process should be eliminated. “The Executive” (President as of now), should logically move to, and Head “The Legislative,” whose function is to formulate Laws, and to supervise their intended implementation.

What we consider as the “Administration”, should properly be “the Executive”. The term to “execute” is to act, to perform and to deliver. This is precisely what it does, or is expected to do. It is the government arm close to the public; it is in need of reform.

Needless to say, “Cabinets”-should be established solely in the interests of effectively serving the needs of the public. They have instead become an instrument, not for the common public. They have instead become an instrument, not for the common good, but for shameless electoral convenience.

The first Cabinet at Independence had only about eleven or twelve members. Today, there could be nearly 50 ministers of all sorts. This is more to assure votes for the governing party, than to provide useful service. This is a naked betrayal of trust.

Monks in Parliament have generally been a disaster.

The diabolical dissolution of the former CCS, mostly comprising an elite and fearlessly independent set of administrators, was a tiresome barrier to the corrupt, who had it destroyed. Felix Dias was the man to willingly and willfully do it. Today, we have for the crooked politician, a comfortably compliant service in place of what should be one of such propriety that none will dare corrupt.

Corruption is so entrenched in every nook and cranny of the system that drastic action has to be taken to eliminate it. The complicit quickly learn the ways of the game and gleefully violate all principles of honesty, integrity, decency and culture. The whole structure cries out for urgent reform, and to be made leaner by trimming the superfluous. Some will need a new spine and some others would warrant castration. In view of the fact that the Politician is often the source of the evil pollutant and source, I began to write about this in some detail. The text got to be so long that I decided to leave it for the present, and resolved to honour it with an article on its own.

Population issues

Every livestock farmer is familiar with the concept of “carrying capacity” which determines the number of chickens that can be sustained in a cage or cows in a field. What applies to animals surely should apply to our species as well. Natural laws are universally valid. A farmer reduces his excess stock when it exceeds his capacity, by “culling”. This cannot conceivably be applied to human populations. Has Nature taken over by inflicting periodic natural or self- inflicted disasters (conflicts or diseases) to restore some stability?

Population increases exponentially, while production of (food) can only increase linearly. Thus, the former outgrows the latter. At that time, this was condemned as a diabolical plot to deny the benefits of the Industrial Revolution to the poorer countries or the poorer segments of society. It seems that Malthus’ dire warning is now proving its validity.

Making some assumptions, our population is said to increase by 1.8 % per annum. This means an annual population increase of about 420,000. I am no demographer and the numbers could be erroneous. But as a crude estimate and by a crude calculation, I make this out to be 1.8 x 21,000,000 divided by 100. This works out to an annual increase of 22,000. That is roughly about 800 to 1,000 per day. This is ridiculously high, or in fancy words, in error by a magnitude. Whatever, can our country handle the implication of demands by such numbers?

Likewise, schools, houses, jobs, Universities, transport, hospital beds, power and so many other basic needs that our societies enjoy and take for granted. One has to note that these are estimated daily requirements. Even if today’s needs are met, tomorrows will loom menacingly. This assumes that the present standards of living remain as they are. This seems an impossible task. The only option is some sort of population planning, which of course will be resisted.


The environment

Global warming might seem a distant prospect that may not bother us at the moment. This is so, although recent observations suggest that the earlier projections were in error, and the worry is more severe than at first feared.

Several of our major rivers flow brown from eroded soil. This points to serious flaws in our land and water use. The Soil Conservation Act which prohibited forest clearance above elevations of 4,000 feet. was prohibited, but continued nevertheless, mainly for tea planting. If such tea is left unharvested. They would grow into small trees of about 10-15 feet and also allow the establishment of secondary forests of tree species natural to these areas.

Sand for building construction requirements are normally met by river sand. Remembering that most soils have only a small percentage (say 10%) of sand, every ton of sand removed, would mean that ten tons of soil has been eroded. It has been estimated that it would take about 400 years for an inch of soil to be restored by the weathering of rock, Thus, a massive tonnage of rock is required to replenish the topsoil washed away continuously.

Forests constitute the natural barriers against erosion. Our forest cover which was estimated to have been about 60 % of our land area at the beginning of the last century, has diminished to less than 18 % now. Urbanisation, farming, uncontrolled felling for timber are the main causes of this decline.

Hitherto, forests have been protected mainly by forbidding human entry into forest sanctuaries and control of illicit felling. It is being realised that policing of forests is ineffective. Much the better method is to allow reasonable access to humans for gathering of indigenous herbs required for Ayurveda, firewood from fallen branches and thus engender a sense of ownership and thus offer a protective option, that is much more economical than the hitherto attempted policing of large extents, A new concept of participatory “Agroforestry” has developed, The hitherto degraded “Kandyan Mixed Garden” has regained respectability. The traditional Rotational or Shifting Cultivation (the Chena system’) is better regulated. Destructive, mechanised logging operations and unsupervised encroachments, illegal felling and sand mining. Are much better controlled.

There is also a salutary interest in deterring pollution (principally by long-life reusable plastics).


Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Courtesy The Island

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Disclaimer: Attempt to prioritise national needs - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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