17 October, 2021

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Building Megapolises While Rural Sri Lanka Burns

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

In describing what the Maithripala/Ranil (MR2) lot are doing in the matter of following in the footsteps of the Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR1) mob the title of this piece is in fact an understatement of the larger reality. It seeks to describe in a very abbreviated form the destruction of the Sri Lankan environment as we know it and those who depend on it for sustenance. And in this, I do not confine my reference to the abomination that the land reclamation/port project in Colombo constitutes.

Knowledgeable environmentalists such as Ranil Senanayake have spoken incessantly about the truly enormous negative implications of these schemes which do little but fatten the purses of those in the commission-collection queues. The Rajapaksa horde did very well on all of that and while there is no gainsaying that the MR2 bunch could not avoid inheriting that pile of corruption there is no excuse for the latter continuing that process without missing a beat, so to speak.

The ignoramuses – and I am being kind in describing these mouthpieces for the Commission Kaakkas – who write reams to the media on the need for these huge schemes – are deliberately blind to the fact that such humungous projects have proven to be nothing but economic white elephants and/or contributed to problems such as Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology as in the case of the accelerated Mahaweli Project. Read what Arundathi Roy had to say about the huge dam projects in India and how dead right she was proved to be. They simply created problems rather than provided solutions.

What macaques do to coconuts

What macaques do to coconuts

“Small is beautiful” is not simply some romantic concept. It has proved to be the direction in which we should be going and, in some parts of the world which have learned the bitter lessons of “bigger is better” that is where governments are moving financially and philosophically, seeking reconstruction instead of glitz.

Do we have, over and over again, to walk in the footsteps of the greedy “developers” of the often-derided “west” whose behaviour has benefited no one but themselves, becoming complicit in their corruption? All of that, while trumpeting the fact that we are the beneficiaries of 2500 years of civilization?

A reading of Jane Jacobs might give some of our “planners” a few ideas on the direction in which we should be going. Admittedly, there is no glitter and glamour (and commissions) in that approach but it has certainly proved to be where salvation lies for urban dwellers. Jane moved from the US to Toronto where she, justifiably, proceeded to establish an iconic reputation in the matter of renewing the core of population centres.

I once lived in a city which spawned the world’s biggest shopping mall. It not only gutted the core of a modest, friendly provincial capital that had earned the title of “city of festivals” by drawing all the retail businesses to the ‘burbs’ but became a by-word for a sub-culture that no one wanted to see replicated thereafter.

While all these champagne projects are putting money in an assortment of projects (and private pockets), our rural brothers and sisters don’t even have the luxury of a pol-katta of kithul (Caryota urens) thelijja or toddy, leave alone some of the delectable treacle and jaggery that the sap of these trees produces. Why? Because the macaque monkeys get to the pots first.

The fact that macaque monkeys are taking over the mid-country of this land to the detriment of those whose basic nutrition has, without song and dance, been significantly supplemented by the produce of the land around their homes appears to be of no concern to those making the decisions for them. Not glamorous enough and certainly, the control of the vermin population afflicting the inhabitants of rural Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to generate baksheesh of any kind. And if that kind of inducement does not exist, who gives a tinker’s dam in the matter of what millions of our less-fortunate brethren have to put up with?

Monkeys love every part of the papaya plant!

Monkeys love every part of the papaya plant!

And in the matter of impact, the other reason that the plight of the rural folk of the mid-country has not been spotlighted has been that there is little glamour attached to exercises such as stopping the depredations of macaques, giant squirrels, wild pigs and porcupines on every type of food and fruit that one might want to grow in one’s home garden. There is, literally, nothing that escapes the unwanted attention of these vermin. Villagers in our neighbourhoods NEVER had to buy jak fruit, at any stage of maturity, from some urban vegetable vendor. They went out and picked a jak, whether it was at the polos stage, had reached kos or was in its final dessert stage of waraka. Plantains of any description and at any stage of maturity? Forget any ambitions of harvesting them because you would be lucky to have a kehel muwa at the end of a stalk, leave alone fruit on it!

When one is told that monkeys have devised a means of getting cassava yams out of the ground before they get too mature and are too deep-rooted, it is difficult not to be impressed by the agents of such ingenuity! However, such admiration does not, in any way, make acceptable the damage they do to the economic well-being of Sri Lanka’s poorest.

The most recent claim I’ve heard from a neighbor is that some of his free-range chickens were being picked off by these simians. As difficult as this might be to believe, the man speaking to this turn of events had nothing to gain by telling tall tales! And his story was preceded by one from his neighbor of monkeys having stolen some chicken which he had left unprotected prior to its being cooked.

Of course, if Manihot esculenta (cassava) is being targeted by the simians it is because the wild pigs have missed it or been too busy with some bathala (sweet potato) in the neighbourhood. In fact, if some parts of one’s land carries more grubs and roots than what might be the norm, it looks like a roto-tiller has been through it no sooner the first rains arrive.

I would suggest that those concerned with the human-elephant conflict in the dry zone of this country – another problem aggravated if not created by an emphasis on “productivity” – could well do with some exposure to the practical implications of wild pigs getting into peasant paddy fields just prior to harvest. It might prove a bit of an eye-opener even if it isn’t as romantic as defending our pachyderms.

Up to the time I left the shores of Sri Lanka at the age of thirty-five, I only recall having seen one (dead) flying squirrel. Now, they have become a pest, destroying whole trees full of their favourite fruit, arriving after the humans around those trees have retired for the night. Oh, and that is if the fruit-eating flying foxes haven’t beaten them to the punch!

The extent of the damage being done to the very economic survival, leave alone well-being, of those living in the mid-country of Sri Lanka is extremely significant even if it is not dramatic because the victims appear to have resigned themselves to what years of battering has convinced them is their fate. Their disempowerment and resignation does not reduce the extent of their victimization.

As for the rest of our society: remember an economic blow to one is an economic blow to all and when that blow is as substantial and far-reaching as that which I have described only very briefly, our urban-dwellers better give up the idea that they can stay above or protected from it in the long run, simply being entertained by observing how big the commissions are that emanate from some huge “project.”

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  • 2
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    Emil van der Poorten

    RE: Building Megapolises While Rural Sri Lanka Burns

    “Knowledgeable environmentalists such as Ranil Senanayake have spoken incessantly about the truly enormous negative implications of these schemes which do little but fatten the purses of those in the commission-collection queues.”
    “The Rajapaksa horde did very well on all of that and while there is no gainsaying that the MR2 bunch could not avoid inheriting that pile of corruption there is no excuse for the latter continuing that process without missing a beat, so to speak.”

    Thanks. Expose, Exopse and Expose!

    Yes, it is about collecting commissions, destroying the environment, burden with debt and debt payment burdens for the people, that cannot be paid by the return on the investment or development.

    Example 1: Mattala Airport

    Example 2: Hambantota Stadium

    Example 3: Hambantota Harbor

    Example 4: The Harbor City.

    The Saga o the Paras (Pradeshis) in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho Continues….

    It is circulating around the Bulath Vines, Vettila Vines and Grape Vines that the Turncoat, Traitor Gon Sirisena Gamarala, was collecting some of the stolen booty from the Rajapaksas in return for interfering with the independent commissions and the judiciary.

    • 7
      2

      Emil, when your ancestors in Europe we’re advancing in all fields of knowledge during the last 600 odd years what were the natives in Sri Lanka doing? Of course they were colonised by your ancestors and kept down. That is not the point I am driving at. The point is the natives were and are primitive in their knowledge of the most important fields. They are far behind the developed world.

      One can claim 2500 year old civilisation, but that is just hubris when we look at the state of the art in science, technology and many other useful fields of knowledge. Sri Lanka has a long way to go to catch up unlike Singapore which caught up with the West in 50 years. Besides they don’t have a man with vision and dedication like late Lee Kuwn Yew to propel Sri Laka to join the first world club.

      To me you are wishing for the practically impossible!

      • 6
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        Thiru;
        This is exactly what Emil does not Want- ‘to propel Sri Lanka to join the first world club’.

        Copying the West is not the Way to the Development of a People!

        • 1
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          Emil keep up you great work!

          Sri Lanka is stuck in a DEBT TRAP between China Govt. and IMF Washington Govt. Both encourage CORRUPTION by venal local politicians in banana republics like Lanka in order to ensure and control the UNDER-Development and de-development of small countries in the global south.

          All the valuable hi-canopy treas including in Vihara Maha Devi Park in Central Colombo, State property, have been logged and sold off by corrupt Colombo municipality officials, the military that is supposed to protect the parks, and local governments.

          Illegal sand mining is going on massively by corrupt politicians.

        • 0
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          Hamlet “to be or not to be” which country should we copy the most? Japan, maybe?

  • 6
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    The biggest problem that both humans and wildlife face with regard to the matters that Emil outlines is the loss of habitat for the fauna.

    The expanding population in most areas has deprived the animals of their natural environment in many areas, which makes it imperative for them to adapt to their changing conditions. This makes them (in spite of their fear of Homo Sapiens) take the risk of injury or death their quest for food by entering the territories of folk like Emil, several rural inhabitants (myself included).

    The solution for us is difficult, given our limited ‘space’ (or availability of land).

    • 1
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      Cheers:
      The problem in our areas is just the opposite: the EXPANSION of what you probably term “natural habitat” and WAS NOT for a couple of hundred years at least, has led to an absolute explosion of the populations of macaque monkeys and the other vermin I referred to. surprisingly, their ability to multiply has been enhanced it seems with the reduction of their food supply and their numbers have been additionally increased by the authorities at the Dalada Maligawa who enjoy a very privileged existence themselves, “exporting” them by lorry under cover of darkness to our areas!
      In addition, thanks to “land reform” and what followed, trees such as sapu (Champaca indica) and jak (Artocarpus integrifolia) and anything that resembled “timber”were exploited and NOT replaced with similar trees. The landscape has been subsequently dominated by trees (such as Spathodea which is NOT an indigenous species and didn’t exist in our neighbourhoods 40 years ago) and by the so-called “mana grass’, otherwise known as “Guinea A.”
      One of the other side-effects of that has been the loss of the wild bee population because every time the dry grass is set alight it produces lots of smoke with deadly effect on the bees. Try to think of a world without a significant bee population, particularly where there is no commercial bees’ honey production worth even mentioning! This is a long response to a short comment but the traditional “we are giving back to nature what we took from it” just is NOT true. It is a little more complicated than that and the contribution of venal, vengeful and incompetent politicians such as Hector Kobbekaduwa to this crime bear examination in that context.
      Romantic explanations for rural tragedies need to be dealt with in the context of people, particularly the poor and less powerful, the less powerful in our society and the overall picture surveyed and analysed.

      • 0
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        Emil, I can well understand your frustration about yours and the other inhabitants’ personal problems in areas that are overwhelmed by the incursion of the Macaques. However, that doesn’t mean that the loss of habitat of the fauna in general is NOT the main problem concerning the ‘wildlife – human conflict’ that exists in many areas of the country and is not confined to your general area.

        The other contributing factor is that there are no more predators to balance the population-growth of the Macaques. And again, loss of habitat is the reason for this.

        Your concern for the loss of the bees is well taken and the cause for this is also connected with loss of habitat that led to he incursion of “Guinea A” that was originally caused by the exploitation by the timber thieves.

        The problem needs a solution that may well call for culling!

        • 0
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          Cheers:
          You do not seem to be aware that, probably, the ONLY natural predator that the macaques in Sri Lanka have is the leopard and that none of the smaller wild cats prey on them?
          That said, I would challenge you to indicate when last a leopard, even a feral one, was so much as sighted in our part of the country.
          There are leopards on the edges of Kandy town, I believe in some places within that municipality, but they prey on domestic canines because that particular part of Kandy’s outskirts is not populated by monkeys of any description and dogs have always been known to be the caviar of Panthera pardus!

          Perhaps, also some investigation of the huge problem that these same simians cause/continue to cause in New Delhi, India might be an eye-opener to those subscribing to the, often-relevant,”wild life returning to the habitat that humans invaded” theory.

          Also, claiming that “plantation development” has driven the macaques away and that they are now “returning” cannot be substantiated either. A substantial number of the plantation lands around here DO NOT have a “monkey problem,” and never have, believe it or not! I trust that lays to rest the theory that these monkeys were lying in wait, in little pockets, for the opportunity to counter-attack the invading forces!
          I am also aware that a group of senior veterinarians with international experience have put together a plan for reducing the macaque population without “terminating them with extreme prejudice.” I also understand that that plan is probably still on the desk of the Minister of the Environment who is, I understand, our President.
          I have never previously responded at such length to comments on anything I’ve written to CT. However, romantic theorizing is not going to solve the problems of poor people who have been dependent on agriculture for their survival for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

          • 0
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            Emil, this is no “romantic theorizing” as you so complacently put it. Just check what Primate Info Net (a scientific organization) has to say on the matter (http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/rhesus_macaque/cons).

            Hopefully this will enlighten you a little further with regard to the problem and you will end up slightly less of a ‘home-grown’ expert on the subject and depend more on established scientific research and results.

            • 0
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              Cheers:
              “Coconuts in a sack and destination” (the Sinhala equivalent) come to mind in your display of ……goodness knows what in your reference to the comment I made with regard to Marxist-Leninist theorizing. Perhaps my reading is more limited than I thought in that I do not recall Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky making any reference to simians in their writing. You can, perhaps, enlighten us in that regard?

              Also, trotting out the list of monkey predators you do makes a great deal of sense in the context of the large crocodile population we have in the Central Province the location(s) of which you could perhaps enlighten me about.
              And if you want to call some of Sri Lanka’s poisonous snakes “monkey predators”, how come you’ve omitted what are probably the most venomous of them all: the kraits? Or does your knowledge of herpetology not include the “karawalas?”
              Better to keep your mouth shut (or your keyboard covered) than to open one or the other and display stupidity of monumental proportions.

              • 0
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                Emil – my response to your “romantic theorizing” bit, was due to thinking it was referring to my views on loss of habitation causing wildlife to encroach into ‘human habitat’, and not to any Marxist-Leninist connection (exemplifying your “koheda yanne ..” quote”). Hope this “enlightens you in that regard”.

                And my “trotting out a list of monkey predators” was in response to your “You do not seem to be aware that, probably, the ONLY natural predator that the macaques in Sri Lanka have is the leopard”.

                This was to disprove your assertion that “the ONLY natural predator that the macaques in Sri Lanka have is the leopard” and had nothing to do with crocs in your part of the world.

                So stop being rude and expose your aggression and defensive posture by telling me to “shut my mouth” or to keep my keyboard covered just because you have a bug up your arse about being ‘corrected’.

                There ARE other points of view that should be considered and could be discussed in a more meaningful manner.

                • 0
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                  @Cheers
                  Emil VDP has a hard time admitting he is wrong. Check this out https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/time-to-start-naming-names/ [Edited out]

                • 0
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                  Cheers:
                  How about a start in what you espouse by practicing what you preach?

                  Oh, I forgot to add to your compendium of monkey predators, the common or garden dog (when it is not itself under attack by troops of monkeys).

                  How often have you seen ANY of your “predators” preying on a monkey? Even a leopard which, is universally known to prey on monkeys of various kinds.

                  Don’t expect kid-glove treatment when you spout such absolute rubbish which can have no other intent but to seek to mislead readers.

                  • 0
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                    Oh Dear, Emil!

                    More ‘defense’ of the indefensible?

                    Once again – it’s not to do with MY observation of the predators (quoted from research material – source provided). It’s to do with YOUR statement that “You do not seem to be aware that, probably, the ONLY natural predator that the macaques in Sri Lanka have is the leopard”.

                    You are wrong (as the research material confirmed)!

                    Can’t handle that??? Or is it that you fail to comprehend English (with all the pontificating that you do in your columns about “various commenters’ lack of ‘proper English’)?

                    Your childish response about expecting “kid-glove” treatment is just that!

                    And I’m afraid that the onus of the “absolute rubbish” and the “misleading of readers” is on YOU.

          • 0
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            Incidentally, Emil, another complacent misnomer from you is when you state that “You do not seem to be aware that, probably, the ONLY natural predator that the macaques in Sri Lanka have is the leopard “.

            For your information “Known Predators include mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris), leopards (Panthera pardus), Indian pythons (Python molurus) and Russell’s vipers (Daboia russelii)” (check http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Macaca_sinica/).

      • 0
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        Emil Vander pooten:

        it seems with the reduction of their food supply and their numbers have been additionally increased by the authorities at the Dalada Maligawa who enjoy a very privileged existence themselves, “exporting” them by lorry under cover of darkness to our areas!

        HOw come privilaged status of the Dalada Maligawa relates to the Megapolis.

        Are there Dutch Catholic churches in Sri lanka ?

        How About Christian/Catholic church preaching and it’s influence on liquor and meat consumption and killing food animals.

        Do you have a problem with the Dalada Maligawa ?

        • 1
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          Jim softy:
          Are you in competition with the other idiot who, surprisingly, has not “contributed” to this discussion, for idiot of this week? Parading racist claptrap and trying to pass it as god knows what is hardly the sign of the supposedly most intelligent mammal on earth.
          Incidentally, not being a “Dutch Catholic” or having any connections with them or being an adherent of any of the “Christian churches” , whoever they are, precludes me from dealing with that particular abusive idiocy of yours.

          In closing, I DO have a “problem” with the Dalada Maligawa when its very affluent primary custodian is responsible for the “re-location” of macaques in our neighbourhoods to suit his convenience and/or that of his acolytes.

  • 3
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    “Building Megapolises While Rural Sri Lanka Burns” Vanderpoorten:-

    The reason for this is the mistaken ‘Democracy’ which is practised in Sri Lanka today.

    Democracy means Government ‘By the People, For the People’ whereas what is happening now, is the Enhancement of the Egoism of Those chosen By the People, who expected Something Different!

  • 1
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    goo if you can suggest a remedy please ?

  • 3
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    Emil, I was thinking exactly like this since this idiotic idea was introduced by this bunch! Sri Lanka has always been an agricultural economy but now it is in utter neglect. Mismanaged tea estates, tea estate labour have all moved to other livelihood, corruption, all subsidies to tea, coconut and rubber are things of the past, no research on improvements or the introduction of crop rotation and cash crops, no adequate water fr the existing properties, etc etc. I can give so many neglected areas of this most vital sector but what use??!!~ And Patali and the bunch want “ETCA and “Mega Cities”. Eventually, this “mega city” will only benefit the Chinese, and in the event of a serious war between China and the West, ……. Wel, that is another story.

    • 2
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      Kumaran;

      Patali probably crept into the Present Government, because he saw an Opportunity to further Bolster his EGO with the Development of Mahinda’s Ideas!

  • 0
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    The rural poor was burning issue since 425 years of colonial rule. British rule and their occupation has change but they loots fertile land which belongs from Rural Poor of Upcountry.

    The policy of Land for Tillers has been NOT that change by several governances since 1948!

    Rural poverty and simple commodity production is remain key problem and task of bourgeoisie revolution that betray by compradors class represented by UNP led Neo-colonists Ranil.w…. as core leader and CBK as Neo-Federalist also betray interest of Rural poor.

    The Revolution task of bourgeois has been betray by compradors allied ( UNP + SLFP) with surrender to the USA and Indian monopoly bourgeoisie by name of by the “Rainbow Revolution” of “Good Governed” in 2015 January 9th.

    Unfinished task has to be completed by People led democratic of Revolution .

    But not by bourgeoisies, only by the People’s led Revolution and its party.

    That its task must undertaken by Marxist-Leninist political party.

    • 0
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      Ranjith Gunawaradena:
      This sounds like it came out of one of those (outdated)textbooks on Marxist Leninism and while there is no gainsaying the essence of that contention, isn’t it time we became practical and, at least, sought SOME SOLUTION to the immediate problems of the rural poor rather than seek some pie in the sky as their salvation?

  • 1
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    Mr poo

    It should be Building megapolis while normal polis stink!

    A country can build a megapolis, when they can not dispose garbage in a small city?

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