1 October, 2020

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Ex-Governor Ajith Cabraal’s Proposal For Expressways Covering The Country

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

The former Governor of the central Bank (2006-2015) has made  proposals with the objective of  “A new impetus to revive the Economy from 2020-2025” (Island, 25 Sept-2019). These include (1) a new elliptical expressway parallel to the coast at a distance of about 40-50 km from it around Sri Lanka, (2) a new expressway to provide easy access to both coastal belt and hinterland. (3) A single expressway from Medawachchiya to Kilinochchi. (4) Fast-tracked construction in five years.

The present writer proposed the construction of a dyke-type highway along the perimeter of the Island, not only to provide transport, but also to defend against rising sea levels, tsunamis and sea erosion. It should be an ecological highway taking account of  socio-economic and environmental imperatives.  Hence a 10th province, covering  a maritime strip running around the island was  an integral part of the proposal, impacting on the constitution, integrating  the country  politically and environmentally (see Colombo Telegraph, Oct. 4th, 2017)

The need for farmers and industrialists to bring their goods to markets and ports, and for imports to reach the interior are recognized by all planners. Even the  US Millennium Corporation proposals emphasized the need for such transport infrastructure, featuring a highway connecting strategic Trinco (the ancient port of Gokanna) to Colombo, the modern engine of development driving the Western province.

Roadways, irrigation schemes and human settlements can be planned to solve development issues and ease social conflicts. Such schemes can resolve political problems associated with national security,  control of floods, effect of tsunamis etc., and  move goods and people while strengthening  the ecological integrity of the landmass. Such holistic planning is rarely supported by politicians who have little knowledge, want quick results, and are dazzled by foolish visions  of the tallest towers or fastest highways seen in their travels.

Knee-jerk projects, be it roadways, waterways or human settlements,  can have unintended  disastrous consequences. The best we can do is to formulate an overall model treating as many factors as possible.  Improvement in transport can be a win-win situation instead of “improving” one sector while causing irreparable damage to others.

(1) Highways can connect as well as divide communities –  a Gokanna-Colombo highway will divide the north and south of the nation along separatist lines. Instead, a fast “bullet train” moving at 300 kmh connecting Colombo and Jaffna could be the basis of national integration. Jaffna would become a suburb of Colombo! The Romans and the British built roadways to hold together their empires. US and Canada and Russia built railroads to ensure the integrity of their confederations. The trans-Siberian connected Moscow to Vladivostok. Pointedly, the Tigers destroyed the Yal-Devi rail link to enhance the separatist agenda while the ordinary Northerner – Tamil, Moor or Sinhala benefintted immensely from Yal Devi .

Mr. Wigneswaran rejected Mahaweli coming to the North to ensure “self-determination” in spite of porjected future water shortages. The behaviour of Mr. Wigneswaran is no different from the leaders of the Tamil community during the days prior to 1948 when they opposed the building of causeways connecting villages in the Jaffna Peninsula (see Dr. Jane Russell’s book, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore commission, 1931-1948). They, absentee land owners of the North living in Colombo 7 feared that  providing good road access to  so-called “low-caste” villages will make them “uppity” and that they will loose control. They also opposed the upgrading of Jaffna to a municipality as they did not wish to pay municipal taxes! It was SWRD Bandaranaike, the Minister of local government in DS Senanayake’s first cabinet, who forced the building of causeways and also gave Municipal status to Jaffna. 

Clearly, the leaders of the North and East, bogged down in Casteist or Eelamist ideology, have often failed to work for the betterment of the people of the North and East. Today these leaders –  haughty lawyers driven by ideology –  are oblivious to  the urgent threat to  large parts of the North and East from rising sea levels due to global warming. While they could control or drive out the Moors, they see the threat of Sinhal-Buddhist nationalism as being most urgent  in the context of a militant   Hinduthva ideology and Tamil Nationalism that aims to preserve its traditional ethnic voter base as its source of power. There are technological solutions to such conflicts as well, when examined from a social-planning point of view, but we will not address them in this essay. The Tamil community is blessed with technically highly qualified practical-minded men and women who should take the lead in politics, instead of leaving it entirely to the lawyers.

(2) Highways and river-valley developments cutting through diverse regions become permanently disconnected ecological pockets causing irreparable harm to ecosystems important for sustaining agriculture and human health. Conflicts between humans and large animals like elephants become frequent and animals get destroyed first, and the slow decline of human health follows. Galoya, Udawalawe and Mahaweli were planned at a time when environmental concerns were low priority.

(3) New highways and new river-valley developments spawn new settlements (“colonization schemes” in old, incorrect parlance) with little regard to consequences, especially when we have “accelerated” projects. The accelerated Mahaweli program settled people in higher grounds further from irrigation rivers, canals and tanks due to lack of space, spawning the use of tube wells and shallow dugout wells in locations naturally containing fluorides and other salts in the soil, triggering an epidemic of kidney disease in the dry zone areas of the accelerated Mahaweli project. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on providing clean water to the affected areas, the government took the cheap, politically expedient step of banning the use of the herbicide glyphosate – an act similar to changing cushions to cure dysentery.

Highway development was the “Mantra” of the post War developments in the West. We knew little about the enormous dangers of such expansion that are evident today in the  clogged multi-lane highways and the urban sprawl of Western cities and their neighbourhoods, e.g., around Los Angeles, greater London or Cairo. These metropolitan regions constitute huge networks of asphalt-concrete gridlocks of traffic, creating carmageddons of pollution and highly inefficient use of resources. People stuck in traffic jams develop stress, high adrenaline, and chronically high blood sugar even without eating sweets, with obvious health consequences! Tiny little Kandy, or big brother Colombo, even without Los Angeles traffic is  a pocket of pollution spawning allergies, asthma and lung disease.

Just after the Eelam wars in 2009, this writer appealed  strongly for a network of high-speed electric trains as the first step in infra-structure development, coupled with installing  floating solar-panel arrays placed on existing hydro-electric reservoirs, which daytime excess power stored as water saved in the reservoirs to provide firm electric power for the night (for more details, see here )

Increased encroachment of the natural habitat by humans, and the increased use of fossil fuels since the 1960s have lead to a catastrophic loss of flora and fauna, acid rain, bleached coral reefs etc.,  threatening the very planet blanketed and overheated with CO2 emissions. A strident and completely misguided call against  agrochemicals  orchestrated by a frightened public serves to ignore  far more dangerous pollution from petrol and diesel vehicles, tractors, lorries, buses, and the effects of high levels of sub-micron particulate dust. Instead, everyone wants  a car, while VIPs demand  a fleet of  them , “duty-free” and  “bullet proof”.

We depends on bees, insects and butterflies for the pollination of flowers that give rise to crops that we eat. We depend on trees for re-oxygenation. The loss of habitat has caused a catastrophic decline in pollinating insects and birds. Today many countries like England pay for their folly in having to  import bumble bees from  “less developed”  Eastern Europe to sustain its agriculture! The day when Sri Lanka has to import bees and butterflies from  “less developed” nations may not be far away. We are told of an “energy mafia” in the Ceylon Electricity board, working hand in hand with commission-seeking politicians. Is that why we build coal-burning power plants and stunt the land,  flora and fauna when we have less polluting means of generating adequate amounts of firm power cheaply from solar and biomass, and within short time scales (see  Clean, practical solutions to Sri Lanka’s energy crisis, Colombo Telegraph 6-May 2019)

The present writer supports the suggestion of Ajith Cabraal, the ex-Governor, but modified to a ring road encircling the Island, integrated with mangrove replanting, carbon capture etc., located along the coastal periphery in the form of a dyke-highway, envisaging the rise in sea levels, tsunamis, high sea erosion and high waves that we anticipate from global warming.

Public transport in electric trans should be prioritized over Individual vehicle transport. Fast electric train lines instead of roadways should be the first objective, inside and along the periphery. Such train lines  or highways must have raised sections and large underpasses at every 10 km interval so that continuous ecosystems are maintained so that animals, insects and even root systems can safely pass across. Equivalent amounts of conserved wilderness to compensate the landmass used for building roads etc., should be legislated by reclaiming urban sprawl.

Sprawling human settlements, in the form of “villages” designed with the traditional concept of “Gama-Weva-Temple or Kovil” are disastrous to the environment in an age of high populations. Instead, urban sprawl in the from of settlements fed by highways should be strictly constrained. High-density high-rise habitations should be encouraged by higher taxation on individual homes. The “GamUdawa” must be replaced by models where habitat encroachment and garbage production are minimized, and wilderness areas are preserved. This  also implies  high-yield no-till agriculture using minimum land and minimum water per kilogram of harvest, as is possible with modern scientific agriculture. These go well beyond the green-revolution model and recycles the water and agrochemicals used, without significantly releasing them to the environment ( See Colombo Telegraph, 26-February).

Consequently we have to reject our nostalgic models of traditional agriculture as it  yields low harvests, high methane outputs and CO2 production in composting, land tilling, weeding, slash-and-burn etc. It poses the danger of bio-accumulation of naturally occurring metal toxins in plants due to re-use of plant material in composting.  

Ex-Giovernor Ajit Cabrals plans for highway development to revive the economy have to integrate with all these considerations of ecology, food, health and high productivity needed for a densely populate island with a painfully finite land area inhabited by warring communities fighting for that land.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    4

    The clogged arteries of transport in the island is virtually killing the economy. The suburban commuters who are holding high powered and highly paid positions are spending 2-3 in their cars daily,getting to workand back. The public service employees and the lower level private sector employees who live out side of Colombo. would have spent all their energy and enthusiasm on just getting to work from, Gampaha and Kaluthara, and Watthala and Horana by the time they reach the work place. The tourists who arrive at Katunayake have to spend eight hrs at least reaching east coast. The vegetable grown in the North West and the Central hills take 6-8 hrs to reach Colombo and over 25% of the stock rots on the way. We already have a extensive rail system, why not upgrade that for commuter transport in addition to the highway systems for transport of goods. A comprehensive transport and commuter plan must take priority in the economic development agenda of the next administration.

    • 6
      1

      Why reinvent the wheel?

      There is already a blueprint for 4-lane expressways in Hambanthota ………. how the Rajapakses eliminated traffic jams …………….. for elephants.

      Adopt that for humans.

      Ol’ Cabraal should stick to his forte/expertise …… robbing the Central Bank, plundering the EPF, pumping and dumping stocks, helping the Rajapakses to launder their loot ……. and last but not least conga-dancing.

      He has expertise alright ……… but not in planning and designing highways.

      Fully grown Lankans adults are reborn everyday ……… and start speaking like innocent babies. ……… ma ma ma ma ah ah ah um um um ……….

      Where would Lanka be if there were no Lankans! :))

      • 1
        1

        Nimal,
        This is Keynesian economics in its worst form! It is no different from all the “White Elephant projects” they already completed with the same intention but once the projects are completed, the country is buried under humongous mountain of debts.

        Besides, I also think that the author of this essay is dumber than Ajith Cabraal. How else could he think that it is feasible to built Highways around the island to stand like dams to prevent sea-level rising? What about 103 rivers flowing to the sea?

        • 0
          0

          D.P.,

          Commissions and looting aside …….. not all what the Rajapakses did is bad …….. Katunayake and Southern expressways will eventually pay for themselves.

          Linking major cities is a good thing. Jaffna won’t feel so isolated and it’s a good thing for the “physical” integration of the country. But for The Tamils to feel full stakeholders of the country other things need to be done. That’s the best defence we can have against the ever-present threat of India turning into a threat.

          America build a comprehensive network of highways linking all parts of the country during the depression that is paying good dividends now. That was some clever use of Keynesian-economics of deficit-spending to put the labour force back to work and get the economy moving again.

          Highways and all means of efficient transportation is needed for a country. A great amount of productivity is lost if the workforce spends most of its time getting to and back from work.

          There are many ways to do it and many countries have done it; some very well.

          Many large cities have comprehensive networks of underground subways …….. good public-transport/buses …….. special lanes for multi-occupancy cars etc …… that reduces the number of vehicles clogging the highways during the rush-hours ……

          Shanghai has a greater population than Lanka, Australia ……….. but works like clockwork …….. Tokyo has a efficient network of subways …….. London charges a fee for vehicles to enter the central part of the city …… there are many tried and tested methods we can adopt from the rest of the world.

          • 2
            0

            continued

            It was sheer corruption/stupidity/lunacy ……. for the Rajapakses to borrow at commercial-rates to build grandiose unproductive white-elephants.

            Now is a good time as any to borrow money and do it when the interest rates are heading toward zero all around the world …… if we are smart about it we can get someone to pay to build our highways if we can borrow at negative-rates :))

            Many corporation who don’t even need money are borrowing at these low rates ……… even Apple that has 20 billion spare cash in its kitty borrowed a large sum recently; they feel they can put it to good/better use ….

            • 1
              0

              Chandre:
              Sri Lanka, a small island, needs INNOVATIVE transport solutions for the 21st century.
              Lanka need as efficient Light Railway network around the country for island-wide connectivity and transport of goods and people.
              The country must think beyond its western foreign Fake aid for transport sector that benefits donors and the car and over priced highway fetish that is at the root of a great deal of pollution and bad air as well as debt!
              Light rail is environmentally friendly and would .provide good Public Transport as well as enable efficient and low cost transport of good.

              A light rail network for the country should be designed with the help of the Chinese, as the Japanese have delayed just one line from Colombo to Battaramulla for 5 years in order to keep selling their cars while depritving residents of greater Colombo good public transport/

              Sri Lanka does NOT need more highways, concrete and polluting cars. The country is a grave yard of second hand Japanese cars and Japan funds overprice highways to sell its environment polluting cars with the ADB in tow

              • 0
                0

                Yes, an island-wide light rail system that connects strategic population centers, and agricultural and manufacturing centers is the solution to Lanka’s environmental and transport crisis, and will also help reduce the national debt.

                An island wide speed rail network would be a truly innovative 21st century solution, NOT more cars and concrete highways!

                Japan and ADB have crippled the transport sector and policy making process with fake aid to sell Japanese cars and massive Japanese loans for highways.

            • 2
              0

              “A fast bullet train moving at 300 mph connecting Colombo and Jaffna could be the basis if national integration” – What a stupid statement. Only way for a true national integration is through justice and equality for Tamils to rule themselves. If the writer thinks that Tamils will barter their self respect for the sake of a fast train, he is sadly mistaken. Regarding Cabraal’s proposal, it would be effective only partly and the rest will be a white elephant. Such megalomaniac schemes will only help some individuals to fill their pockets illegally. Only expressways that will be effective in Sri Lanka are : Southern expressway (presently existing) which could go up to Kataragama, Central expressway to Kandy (the one to be constructed ) and Northern expressway to Jaffna. What this route is to take has to be according to the wishes of people in the north. Trace mentioned by Cabraal is centering Anuradhapura. Best trace would be along west coast, as an extension of the present Katunayake road passing Puttalam along the coast on old Mannar road. If the government wants, it can adopt the dyke system to reclaim land from the sea to construct this section, which will not disturb Wilpattu. Moreover this path to Jaffna will be a convenient link for the future land bridge to India. Eastern section of Cabraal’s eliptical route from Tissamaharama to Madawachchiya will be under utilized as population in the areas covered by it is less, and it will be money wasted like other Hambantota projects. The most important highway that is needed for prosperity is the link with India, which though is of economical benefit, politics of Sinhala racism is preventing it being established.

              • 0
                0

                Dr.G.S.
                ” If the writer thinks that Tamils will barter their self respect for the sake of a fast train, he is sadly mistaken.”
                You can easily test this hypothesis. Explicitly propose that +50% Tamils (all Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival) presently living outside NE should relocate themselves into a proposed Homeland to be defined within NE and see the reaction for yourself. I have tested this and came to the conclusion that dying ambition of every Tamil is to live among the Sinhalese.

                Soma

        • 0
          0

          Do you know that there are such things called Bridges that go over the 103 rivers? You need them whether there is a dyke or not, and in fact we already have them.. How to handle rivers is exactly as in
          Holland where the land is below sea level and safeguarded by a dyke.

          This author has put the accent on electric trains and public transport instead of motor cars. We don’t need anymore highly polluting expressways for the benefit of transporting the rich.

          That is a GREAT PLUS.

    • 2
      1

      wannihami
      Have you ever thought about the cost of this inter-city expressway? Do you think it is worth? This will only make Sri Lanka drowned in more and more debt. It has proved again and again that Sri Lankan politicians don’t care about the country. This is an easy way to line their pockets.
      Your concerns can be addressed without a costly inter-city expressway.
      Some big problems have simple solutions.

      • 1
        0

        This should be built, if at all, by using local labour, knowledge and resources. Using shramadana concept and involvement of villagers and townsfolk.

  • 10
    3

    When did rogue cabraaal transform into infra structure expertise. The guy who manipulated treasury, CB, stock market —etc and helped Rajapaksas to loot now wants to build high ways. Writing on his ideas makes me to question your credibility. That explains your sudden concern for North and East. Dude the south will merge into sea much sooner than N & E. So spend your time and energy in saving the South and leave the rest to the real experts.

  • 9
    1

    This is a “PROPOSAL” to recover the “EXPENSES” of elections incurred by SLPP. Simply, another “Fountain of Commissions”.

  • 6
    0

    Sri Lanka faces a Dog eat Dog situation.
    Our people divided by politics, religion, caste, race, up-country/low country, social standings,
    English & non-English speakers………………..what more

    • 7
      0

      Thondamany

      “Sri Lanka faces a Dog eat Dog situation.”

      How did you arrive at this situation?

      “Our people divided by politics, religion, caste, race, up-country/low country, social standings,”

      Are you blaming the people for being divided by their politics, religion, caste, race, up-country/low country, social standings or their so called leaders who divided, ruled, stole and profited from maintaining the divide?

      You should start blaming those who mislead all of you lot, Anagarika Homeless Dharmapala, …………… Bandaranayake, …. Nalin, Dhinesh, Rajapaksas, Wimal, you, Champika, ….. Gnanasara, …………… soma, ………………..

  • 3
    0

    The thoughts of infrastructural development of appropriate design is good. But they are the opportunity for the Kleptocrat. I would like to see a reduction in road usage, thereby a significant reduction in fuel by promoting electronic transactions such as e-commerce, e-courts etc. This means affordable Telecommunication services. Although it is not obvious to many the profits earned by some Telcos permit the payment of LKR 20M per month to the CEO and LKR 1.8 M to every board member for a sitting. It is important to promote an agricultural regime where water, fertilizer and other resources are optimally used and a produce with more nutrients.

    • 3
      0

      This is rubbish.

      No company pays Rs 1.8 m for a board sitting. Look at the SLT and DIALOG annual reports to get your facts correct. Rs 1.8 m per annum for a board member for a large listed entity is reasonable.

      Rs 20 m per annum for a high quality CEO is common.

      Get your facts correct please.

      • 0
        0

        This comment has no rleation to the content of the article. Where is a 1.8m board sitting mentioned?

    • 1
      0

      Telecommunication cannot move vegetables, paddy, construction material etc. So you need actual transport. But Cabral’s expressways do not help. Use of electric trains as proposed y this author is the right approach.

  • 8
    0

    Yes of course you are so very much interested in investing on infrastructure development! Yes we also can remember you and your MR gang built so many of them. Pathetic nature of such buildings is still being experienced by the masses in this country. Airports, harbors, sports stadiums, holiday homes for the MR, his family and others goons and culprits are examples of that kind of investments. Sorry, before I forget, you were also instrumental in literally wasting millions of US dollars on hedging deals, trying to host commonwealth games at Hambantota etc; just to please your glorifying leader at that time!

    No wonder you are now expecting your former masters to come back as rulers of this country so as to enable you and your gang to go for second innings of batting in amazing, not runs, more wealth!
    Have you ever done anything like generalized equilibrium modelling for this country during the time you were the big boss at the CB? My guess is that you have not even dreamed of doing such productive analysis to prioritize resource allocation in this country! If you have done that you may not have been suggesting economically unproductive projects of this nature.

    Of course an accountant will not see the broader economic prospects but will see the profit and loss account of the project in choosing a contractor!! Wow build more things and amaze more money! God bless this beautiful paradise!

    • 2
      0

      I think the comment writer Siri has assumed that Ajit Cabral has written the article?
      The article seems to go AGAINST what Cabral has proposed, as far as I can see.
      The author of this article has proposed a dyke to prevent inundation from sea-level rise. Such a dyke is NECESSARY some day. So, why not put a high-speed electric train on it. That is a GOOD IDEA, but I doubt if the present lot of politicians and bureaucrats like Cabral would be interested in such utilities useful to the public. They want expressways that cater to the businessmen who go about in their limos. In any case he is talking of a 5 hour car ride. If you use fast Bullet trains, as proposed by this professor, it would only take 1 to 2 hours. But setting up such trains would mean becoming EVEN MORE INDEBTED TO THE CHINESE?

  • 3
    0

    Uncle from some of the comments here , you would have realized by now, readers are more smarter than you think. Your time is over (with BS and cooked up facts ). You need different set of audience to appreciate cabraaaal and your expertise in infrastructure and planning. Is Namal a member of the advisory council ????

    • 1
      1

      Do you realize that this writing is NOT supporting Cabral’s proposals, but a completely different that he is trying to piggy back on TOP of the cabral proposal, by INSTEAD proposing fast electric trains run by solar power? It is a pity that the writer did not clarify that clearly.

    • 3
      0

      chiv – “Is Namal (Rajafucksha) a member of the advisory council????”.
      This GCE (OL) failed synthetic “lowyer” does not have the requisite qualifications nor a natural aptitude to be a member of the advisory council.

  • 4
    0

    Before you go ahead and propose highways in the Sky, first discipline the drivers, bring in systems to monitor traffic and traffic violators. Make sure Private Buses are not bus bodies built on lorry chassis. Bring in buses that fit our roads. Make sure pedestrians, drivers and all, aware of the road rules. Make sure people who are given licenses, are properly trained before issuing them a license to drive. Once you have this in place you can go ahead build anything you want.

    What separates developed nations from us is discipline and Pride.

    • 2
      0

      To Oma Yang
      If you use electric trains instead of CARS, as proposed by this writer, then you don’t have undisciplined drivers. You have to GET AWAY from the idea of cars, and go for public transport. The successive governments have pushed highways and cars because they are making the same mistakes made by the West 30 years ago, and also seeking commissions.
      But western countries, and newly developed countries like China have pushed STRONGLY for fast electric trains which are non-polluting, efficient and travel much faster than cars. Bullet trains moving at 300kmh is now standard,.

      That is what we want in Sri Lanka. This is what the writer is saying, but by linking his ideas with those of Cabral (a neo-liberal prop of commission-seeking politicians), the writer has clouded his message.

      But if you read carefully, one can discern what the author is saying.

  • 1
    0

    It is indeed unfortunate (though understandable) that Mr. Wigneswaran, or the leaders of the TNA have concentrated exclusively on constitution and power devolution (so-called national question by many), while doing very little or nothing about inexorably pressing issues like the effect of global warming on the Northern Peninsula, or planning for the expected water shortage which is laready being felt.

    Engineer Arumugam had foreseen some of this already in the 1960s. But today, instead of facing the problem, the powers that be have resorted to rain-water collecting! How long will that work?

    There can be NO DEVELOPMENT of the North as long as there are anticipated water shortages and anticipated inundations. Many countries including Singapore and Indonesia are taking steps to deal with expected sea level rise and coastal inundation. But NO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE has talked about it, as far as I know. It may be less important in the south, but I think it IS important in the North as most parts are almost at sea level, with out water being mearly a bubble sitting over the limestone surrounded by sea. Same is true for many parts of the Eastern coast.
    The perimeter of the country is about 900 miles, and perhaps we need to get expertise from the Dutch and plan for the future.

  • 1
    0

    Another super suggestion from the legendary Ajith Nivard Cabraal! This is the guy who together with the up-and-coming Namal Rajapaksa came up up with the brilliant idea of us hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Hambantota. What a super tamasha – with dancing girls and all. Who can forget the incredulous meeting with the Games Organising Committee? The SL delegation laid on a fabulous Sri Lankan buffet in the Caribbean that was well enjoyed by all the delegates – even if they laughed the SL proposals out of the committee room the next day. And the elephants of Sabaragamuwa breathed a huge sigh of relief!

    • 3
      0

      Spring Koha

      It appears you are bit jealous.

  • 0
    0

    Uncle, now I understand the purpose of your article . Cabraaaaaal has no plans of building highways. Today news papers say he may be considered as an alternate candidate (Lankan version of Manmohan????? LOL). So you were told to do this introduction/promo shit. Didnt I voice my doubts on your credentials the very first day ??? HYPOCRITE .

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