Arrogance of power

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Saturday 12th August 2023

Clashes among rice growers have been reported from Embilipitiya, where paddy fields began to receive water from Samanalawewa via the Udawalawe tank belatedly. Farmers are desperate for water in that part of the country to save their withering rice plants, and it is only natural that clashes have erupted.

Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera admitted, in Parliament, on Thursday, that an inordinate delay on the part of the government to release the Samanalawewa water had led to riots among paddy cultivators. The House was told that the police had been deployed to bring the situation under control.

Last year, there were clashes among angry people over fuel, with some people going for each other’s jugular at filling stations; today, farmers are fighting over water!

The Udawalawe reservoir has dried up due to the prevailing drought, and farmers dependent on its water for paddy cultivation demanded water from Samanalawewa for a few days. Regrettably, their demand went unheeded. Droughts are beyond human control, as is obvious, but water problems and the resultant clashes among farmers in Embilipitiya and the adjacent areas could have been averted if the government had cared to use the Samanalawewa water to manage the crisis.

The government should have had water released from Samanalawewa at least about one week ago. It initially opted to prioritise hydropower generation over irrigation, and then made a U-turn owing to farmers’ protests. Some of its ministers warned the people in the Southern Province that there would be power cuts in case of the Samanalawewa water being used for irrigation purposes. Such is their arrogance of power!

The mismanagement by the government of the water issue in Embilipitiya reminds us of a local folk story about a self-proclaimed pundit, Mahadenamutta, who lacked grey matter, and together with a coterie of equally stupid acolytes always made the wrong decisions. One day, a goat had its head stuck in a clay pot and its owner brought it to Mahadenamutta, who had it beheaded immediately ‘to save the pot’, and then had the pot smashed to extricate the poor animal’s head.

Perhaps, the ruling party politicians are deriving some perverse pleasure from the clashes among the protesting farmers, who threatened to intensify their struggle and bring down the government. They may be thinking that the water disputes will leave the farming community too divided to take on the government. Let them be warned that the ongoing clashes over water are temporary and the day may not be far off when the irate farmers unite and rise against the government unless their grievances are redressed expeditiously. Farmers’ associations have already declared that they will fight for compensation for partial crop losses.

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