Victor Meldor

The Archdiocese of Colombo has declared 7 March as Black Sunday, saying they were not satisfied with the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday bombings. The Archdiocese of Colombo, which met on 28 February, has decided to declare 7 March as Black Sunday as a day of protest against the lack of justice for those who died and were affected by the Easter Sunday bombings. Catholics are expected to attend Mass dressed in black on that day. The Archdiocese clergy have discussed the contents of the report put out by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday terror attacks in depth. The clergy have unanimously decided that they should not be silent anymore regarding the matter of delivering justice for those who died and were injured in the attack. Furthermore, they have reportedly stated that the hopes they had the Government would deliver justice have been shattered now. It has also been decided to hold special masses to remember those who died and were wounded in the terror attacks during the holy period of Lent. The clergy have proposed to take action until the information on the responsible persons and their true intentions are revealed. The final report of the Commission was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 1 February and then handed over to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on 23 February. The Archbishop of Colombo and Mahanayaka Theras of Malwathu and Asgiri Chapters also received PCoI report copies yesterday (1). The Commission which was appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena ended hearings on 31 January.  Chief Secretary of the Asgiriya Chapter Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Dhammananda Thera said, the country’s Buddhist clergy will support the decision taken by the Catholics to mark next Sunday (7 March) as ‘Black Sunday,’ as justice has not been meted out to them following the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks. He stated commemorating the coming Sunday as Black Sunday was wholly justified and acceptable considering the long delay in bringing perpetrators behind the carnage to book. Issuing a special statement, Ven. Dhammanandha Thera stated the majority of people would condemn the contents of the report compiled by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which probed the dastardly blasts, as it had failed to either intentionally or otherwise identify those who had masterminded the carnage. (Ceylon Today, 2.3.2021) 

The Cabinet of Ministers have approved a proposal submitted by the Minister of Tourism for the establishment of a mangrove botanical garden in Akmeemana, Galle. Plans have been drawn to initiate a new mangrove botanical garden in extent of 26.71 hectares by the Department of National Botanical Gardens in the close proximity of the expressway access point of Pinnaduwa of Nugaduwa Grama Niladhari division of the Divisional Secretariat division of Akmeemana. This mangrove botanical garden is expected to cater to the standing shortage of the conservation of mangroves in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, establishment of this proposed mangrove botanical garden would be an added advantage for the upliftment of the tourism industry and assist the National and International researches on mangrove species. (Ceylon Today, 2.3.2021)

More than 200 people a month are rushed to the Accident Service of the National Hospital with critical traffic injuries, mostly to the spine, head and limbs, National Hospital Training Coordinator and Head Nurse Pushpa Ramyani de Soysa said. Most of the casualties were aged 30-40 years. “Out of the close to 100,000 injuries reported annually to the accident service, 31 per cent are road traffic accidents. Apart from that, the accident service receives most of the fatally injured persons from outstation hospitals,” Head Nurse de Soysa said. More than half of all victims came from accidents involving motorbikes; a fifth, from three-wheelers; 7 per cent come from bus accidents and 5.6 per cent from cars. Police said 261 people were killed in road accidents between January 18 and February 18. On February 28 (a Sunday) 12 died, compared to the average daily count of six. This week too saw days with 10 and more deaths from road accidents. Most deaths are caused by reckless driving and drink-driving, Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said. (Sunday Times, 7.3/.20210

A research team lead by Prof. Kapila Yakandawala and Indrakheela Madola attached to the Faculty of Agriculture and Plantation Management of the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, with Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala and Dr. Senani Karunarathne, made a breakthrough discovery of a new plant species known as  “Lagenandra wayambae”. The plant, which is from a freshwater swamp forest in Sri Lanka, is a new species that is considered rare and critically endangered. It is also the ninth member in the currently exisiting genus, “Lagenandra”, and was named in recognition of the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka.  The project is funded by the Wayamba University Research Grant. (Ceylon Today, 8.3.2021

The most debated Muthurajawela wetlands have lost more than 1,800 hectares of land in a time span of 30 years. The Wetlands was composed of 3,060 hectares in 1990 and has drastically declined to 1,200 hectares due to various occupations. State Minister of Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness Nalaka Godahewa said that Muthurajawela would be conserved into Ramsar Wetlands and handed over to the Ministry of Wildlife. The discussions also focused on how to conserve the wetlands under the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and highlighted the inability of the Department of Wildlife Conservation or Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation to conserve the wetlands. It was also revealed that neither the Department nor the Ministry is financially stable to handle payments for certain lands as they have to be acquired as soon as possible. Dr. Godahewa also said that his Ministry has both institutions with the technology and capability to conserve this ecosystem. Despite the current situation of the Wetlands, a private company has acquired lands by erecting billboards and steps that will be taken to take over all the lands belonging to the Wetlands were also discussed. Commenting on this, Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera said that although the private company had planned to open shooting ranges, golf courses and hotels there, none would be allowed. “The company has caused a great danger to the Muthurajawela Wetlands and we are on the run to acquire the 700 acres that were lost,” he noted.  “Therefore, no new construction will be carried out in the Muthurajawela Wetlands and the Government will remain in the same stance where the Wetlands will be conserved as a Ramsar Wetlands,” he noted. (Ceylon Today, 8.3.2021)

The majestic tusker ‘Rewatha,’ which was named by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa, was found dead yesterday in a forest reserve in Kekirawa area, a senior official of the Wildlife Department said.  The tusker was found dead after the animal got caught up in a live electric fence. The incident was reported from the Balalu Wewa wildlife reserve in the Kala Wewa area. The tusker was reported to have been electrocuted by unauthorised electric fences erected to protect illegal farmlands within the forest reserve, the official said. Opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa in a Twitter message said that he had named the tusker ‘Rewatha’. Following the death of the tusker, Mr. Premadasa urged the government to initiate an urgent and impartial inquiry and take stringent measures to punish the culprits. (Daily Mirror Online, 10.3.2021)

The years-long battle for plantation workers to be given a Rs. 1,000 daily wage wound to a close yesterday after the Government issued the necessary Gazette notification. The Gazette was issued by Labour Ministry Secretary M.P.D. Mapa after the Wages Board cleared the way on 1 March. Under the Gazette, the basic wage has been raised to Rs. 900 and workers will be given an additional Rs. 100 as a budgetary allowance. The new daily wage will be applicable from 5 March.  Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva hailed the breakthrough yesterday, recounting to reporters the two dozen rounds of talks that had taken place since last August to find a common ground between trade unions, Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and representatives of the Employers Federation of Ceylon.  RPCs had earlier routinely protested the move insisting it was “unsustainable” as the industry did not have the capacity to earn the additional Rs. 12.5 billion needed to meet the cost companies would have to pay if the daily wage is set at Rs. 1,000.  Companies had also pointed out Sri Lanka was already contending with high costs of production and low global prices, which would result in RPCs having to engage in serious cost cutting measures to meet the increased wage expenditure. The RPCs favoured a basic wage of Rs. 725, a price share supplement of Rs. 50, an EPF/ETF of Rs. 108, and an Attendance and Productivity Incentive of Rs. 225, which has been reintroduced. This, they argued, would take the daily wage beyond Rs. 1,000. Under the RPCs proposals, a fixed daily wage model would have been applicable for three days a week. On the rest, employees were to be remunerated based on one of two productivity-linked earning models – one where employees will earn Rs. 50 for every kilo of tea leaves plucked, the other being the revenue share model where employees could become entrepreneurs. However, the trade unions were adamant on a Rs. 1,000 all-inclusive wage, which will now be implemented by the Government. 
Hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, the Tea industry weathered a tough year in 2020, with exports down and production plunging to its lowest in 23 years, according to a report by Forbes and Walker Tea Brokers. (Daily Financial Times, 11.3.2021)

The country’s tea production in January increased by 5% to 23 million kg compared to 21.9 million kg a year earlier, where the boost of production was generated entirely from the low grown sector.
The year-on-year (YoY) low grown sector production increased from 13.3 million kg in 2020 to 14.9 million kg, which is at a three-year high following more favourable growing conditions and availability of fertiliser. But the high and mid growns were lower YoY from 2020 by 5% and 6% respectively. Sri Lanka Customs data analysed by Asia Siyaka Research confirmed that the country’s export volume in January dropped by 6% to 20.8 million kg compared to 22 million kg shipped in a year earlier. However, the earnings in January increased by 6% to Rs. 19.2 billion ($ 101 million) compared to Rs. 18 billion ($ 99.7 million) recorded in the corresponding period last year. (Daily Financial Times, 11.3.2021)

A total of three new plant species which were found in the extinction category of the National Red List have been found in the year of 2020 and now they are critically endangered.Director  General at the Department of National Botanic Gardens, Dr. Shelomi Krishnarajah said that these three endemic plants will be added to the National Red List of 2020, with the aim of conserving these threatened Flora. She said that the three plants that will be added to the list are Rinorea bengalensis, Rinorea decora and Crudia zeylanica. A total of five plants were added to the extinction list in the year of 2012 and in the span of eight years it has been possible to find three out of them. Currently, there are only two plants in the extinction Red List. According to Dr. Krishnarajah, although these plants are recognized as at risk of extinction, the plants could still be discovered at various locations rarely. She also said that a total of 3087 plant species are in the Red List and 625 out of them are labelled as endangered and 295 as critically endangered. “We have identified these species which were thought to be extinct, now we will take the fullest precautions to conserve them. We will start planting those plants in a botanical garden and then after the reproduction process is over, we will be releasing them to the environment,” she noted. The National Red List or the Red Book consists of Fauna and Flora that are at the risk of extinction. The main objective of the National Red List is to conduct a census with regard to the endangered Flora and Fauna at the risk of extinction given various human activities that cause destruction to the environment and ensure the conservation of the relevant species. Ceylon Today, 12.3.2021)

Wildlife Conservators in Anuradhapura said the death toll of wild elephants in accidents was increasing in alarming proportions and that three wild elephants in the area had been electrocuted to death in cultivated land for the last five days. The calf was about one and half years old and that it had roamed away from its mother. The elephant calf which was injured with gunshot wounds was found in the Ipalogama area They said the three wild elephants had been killed by the squatters who illegally cleared the forest for maize cultivation. They pointed out that individuals receiving political patronage were clearing hundreds of acres of forests for maize cultivation. Wildlife conservators who expressed concern about this situation said the wild elephants who lost their natural habitat were roaming into the villages and the cultivated land only to die in electric traps or to be shot dead. Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe who performed the postmortem examinations confirmed that the three jumbos had died of electric shock. (Daily Mirror Online, 14.3.2021)

The tea industry is sustaining the refreshing start in 2021 with February fetching the highest-ever FOB value of Rs. 940.09 per kilo. Tea Brokers said. Total export revenue in February amounted to Rs. 21.78 billion, up by Rs. 2.21 billion resulting in a FOB value of Rs. 940.09 ($ 4.87) per kilo. “This is the highest ever FOB value surpassing the previous highest of Rs. 923.99 ($4.87) recorded in January 2021,”. When compared to Rs. 827.38 ($4.60) of February 2020, the current year’s achievement reflects an increase of Rs. 112.71 per kilo. Volume wise, tea exports in February amounted to 23.16 M/kgs, down by 0.49 million kilos from a year earlier. Main categories of exports, bulk tea and tea bags showed a marginal growth, whilst packeted tea has shown a decrease compared to the corresponding period of 2020. January-February 2021 cumulative exports totalled 43.99 million kilos showing a deficit of 1.76 million kilos from the corresponding period of last year. Main categories of exports, bulk tea and tea bags show a marginal growth, whilst packeted tea has shown a fairly significant decrease to 2.82millionkilos. (Daily Financial Times, 20.3.2021)

The driver of a tipper-truck has been arrested over the deadly bus accident in Passara. CCTV video footage showed the bus attempting to avoid the truck before it went down a precipice. The bus had gone down a precipice near the 13th mile post in an area where the road was damaged. The Police said that 14 people were killed in the accident while 30 others sustained injuries. Among those injured is the driver of the bus. (Daily Mirror Online, 21.3.2021)

The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) revealed that although Rs. 490 million had been spent on building electric fences between 2019 and 2020, there had been no decrease in the incidents of the human-elephant conflict.The cost of constructing the electric fences in 2019 to prevent human-elephant conflict was Rs. 275,447,639 and the amount spent for this purpose in the year 2020 was Rs. 221,505,818. The total length of the electric fences was 4,756 km. (Daily Island, 27.3.2021)

Eighteen 18 police officers have lost their lives in 78 road accidents this year, Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera said. He said 293 police officers were injured during road mishaps while on duty last year, in which 28 of whom had died. Minister Weerasekera said after an event in Kalutara that the police officers on duty are under pressure, but he would not approve some activities of those policemen such as the incident at Pannipitiya where a traffic policeman was attacking a lorry driver. The minister said that public should also understand the role and pressure situations handled by the policemen. (Daily Mirror, 31.3.2021)

Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate reached 5.8 percent in the third quarter of 2020 (3Q20), the highest-ever recorded in recent years. According to data released by the Department of Census and Statistics, the country had a total of 486,524 unemployed persons for the July – September period. The 3Q20 is also the period when the country was resuming economic activity after the easing of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The survey results highlighted that the unemployment among females is higher in all age groups. Youth and female unemployment contribute more to the overall unemployment of the country, the Department said in its latest bulletin. The overall unemployment rate reported for female reached 8.6 percent, whereas for males it reached 4.3 percent. Youth unemployment rate (age 15 – 24 years) increased to 25.9 percent, the highest reported unemployment rate among all age groups. Furthermore, as the highest unemployment rate is reported from the G.C.E (A/L) and above group (9.6 percent), the survey revealed that, female unemployment rates are higher than those of males in all levels of education. “The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males, which was observed consistently over the results of previous survey rounds as well,” the Department of Census and Statistics said. (Daily Mirror, 31.3.2021)








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