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A farmers’ agitation demanding water for their paddy fields.

Looks like the controversy over pronouncing the significant word in the

National Anthem as Matha or Mahatha has died down. But lots were caught in it. A dinner for a nephew, niece and friend had the argument raising its head. In fact, it was Cass who brought in the issue to enquire as to the guests’ opinions. The nephew said Umara dragged the ‘a’ sound but the visitor, who is a musician, opined there definitely was the introduction of the ‘h’ which meant the singer was saluting a Mahaththaya! However, all agreed it was a promoted and blown up controversy to divert attention from the shenanigans of SLC recently made known by the Auditor General. The meaning of shenanigans, Cass insists on elucidating: “secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering”. Hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it – the word used.

    An email landed in Cass’ in box with no authorship to it. Theme was that a huge fuss was being made over the rendition of the NA in operatic style while so many more weighty issues have been just swept aside, not under the carpet since they could be uncovered easily, but away with the wind and the people of this country are OK with it. I quote from the email message: “The Sri Lankan public is like the Lotus Eaters in Homer’s Odysseus.  It is as if the people of the island have eaten the fruit of the lotus plant and become forgetful of everything other than just eating the fruit. They are numbed. The distractions, magnified and displayed in the media, be it of Umara, Natasha, Sepala, Sumana, or Sudantha are just distractions – the fruits of the lotus.  By the way, the Lotus Tower in Colombo is emblematic and an appropriate Homeric symbol for these sedated lotus eaters in the island. (Although Homer wasn’t actually referring to our lotus plant). Then, on a larger and ominous scale, the sinister attempts to keep stirring sectarian divisions over an archeological site.

“The focus should be on the ball. What happened to the national wealth? Who stole it? Where is it stashed? Who killed X, Y and Z? On whose orders? Who is behind this or that atrocity?  How can the country get the culprits to pay? To have them incarcerated? How stolen wealth can be recovered? Where is the transparency when national assets are being sold?  Hambantota Harbour given to the Chinese on a 99-year lease for half the value of the loan Chinese had given to Sri Lanka previously to build it? To whose pocket did the other half of the original loan go? Why is Xpress Pearl Case heard in Singapore? These are the issues that should continue to be asked, day in and day out. And not why Umara sang Mahatha instead of Matha.”
We cannot but agree fully.

Irrigation vs electricity

    So, it was finally decided by the Cabinet that it was more important to give the southern paddy farmers water for their fast wilting plants than ensure 24/7 electricity to the area. Thus, Samanala Wewa gave off its waters to the paddy fields of Hambantota and elsewhere. The one statement made in Parliament by the Opposition Leader was a good summation. There is no coordination between Ministries in this government, and in this case among Irrigation, Power and Agriculture. That is the way governments rule us. Another moot point was that the media highlighted the plight of the rice growers and thus their plight was made known and at last after much talk and verbal steam fogged the issue, the farmers were given water, hopefully not too late.

Cass has stated this before and states it again. Why do our wewas, most of them, overflow copiously when it rains hard and then dry up to a mere semblance of collected water at the first failure of the monsoons? Weren’t the ancient wewas like Nuwara, Tissa, Kala and its twin Balalu always full of water? It was the same with wewas such as Uda Walawe. Cass wrote in her previous Cry that every time she and family went to Uda Walawe the wewa was full of water, lapping against the bund as traffic moved on. What is the reason for this overflowing of wewas at one time and in the same year going far down in its water level and making it impossible to draw water out for irrigation or electricity generation? Is it excessive demand as well as supply of water due to population growth and increase of habitation? Or is it an increase in acreage under paddy and sugarcane cultivation? Or most likely is it silting of wewa beds? This was not attended to at all. Cass has heard desilting is a very risky business to be undertaken expertly. Lack of coordination among relevant ministries and also just plain don’t care attitudes exist are also blame-worthy factors.

Remedial suggestions

   The very concerned national who calls himself Guwan Seeya in print, suggested recently in a letter to the editor of this newspaper that seeding of clouds should be resorted to in the southern areas lacking water in wewas, and added that India has the technology.

 Cass as a mere being asks whether it would and could be cost effective to install a desalination plant in Hambantota or thereabouts and supply fresh water to those parched areas. Initial cost would be high but so very much cheaper than constructing a harbour or airport or even a grass covered playing field in water scarce Suriyawewa. Also, it would obviate resorting to buying power at exorbitant prices from private installations. Cass visited Kuwait three decades ago and found the thriving township created from a desert having plenty of fresh water – desalinated from the ocean.  Trees planted in the middle of highways had a tap each. Parts of Kuwait were turning green fast.

She also continued visiting Malé first as a tourist in the 1970s and thereafter on training programmes. In the early years of Male, dwellers collected their requirement of fresh water from scarce rain in tanks over their house roofs or beside homes. Then desalination plants were installed and the island overflowed with fresh water.

News from across the oceans

   First, just across the Palk Strait. Rajiv Gandhi is back in Parliament and will be resuming campaigning for elections set for next year after the Supreme Court turned aside the ruling given by lower courts, starting with one in Gujarat, punishing him for what he had said. Cass and all others who uphold justice and fair play are delighted with this turn of events, just for the sake of this young politician and not politically motivated.

   In Canada it’s a bit of gossipy news that caught Cass’ attention in a foreign paper she had access to.  It’s a high-profile split, no less than the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire announcing their separation prior to divorce. The couple who have three children were married for 18 years. His parents did the same: PM Pierre Trudeau and wife Margaret went through a divorce in the final months of his term in office in 1984, initially separated in 1977.

As the article said, the people ‘gave a digital shrug’ as if to say it happens all over. During Queen Elizabeth’s ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992, three of her children were in troubled marriages, separating or divorcing in that one year.  In March, Prince Andrew separated from Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne divorced her husband of 18 years – Mark Phillips.  Andrew Norton’s tell all book – Diana: her true story – was out and Prince Charles and she separated; he accused of having an extra marital relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and Diana suffering mental strain and eating disorders.

We in Sri Lanka have not had these blared out divorces of high ups. No. Facades of false fidelity and morality are erected. But what goes on behind the facades is much worse than legal separation and divorce.Cass suddenly caught up on herself. Is she writing about these gossipy happenings to forget/cover up the national problems that beset the country and its people? Maybe; relief, temporary though it be, is sorely needed.

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