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Better water management , more irrigation schemes in the offing

SLFP stalwart and Minister of Irrigation and Water Management Nimal Siripala de Silva in an interview with the Sunday Observer expressed confidence that Sri Lanka would emerge unscathed with regard to the Darusman Report. The report neither had the legal authority nor the formal sanction of the UN and is based on falsehood and unfounded heresay information. The Government refuted the report’s credibility and is in the process of informing the world community and the diplomatic corps of the true situation and seeking diplomatic intervention, he said. He also elaborated on irrigation projects being launched by his Ministry to boost agriculture and the national economy. The Government’s position with regard to talks with the TNA and the double standards of some of the Western nations with regard to the elimination of the LTTE from the face of the world.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: A large majority of our population is concentrated in the rural areas engaged mainly in agriculture. Is it not possible to build up a sustainable and robust national economy by expanding irrigational facilities and providing better water management systems to rural areas?

A: Certainly. Because about 70 percent of our population is concentrated in the rural areas and we have to improve our policy of farming. In the traditional way, we are providing them water for cultivation of paddy and other agricultural crops. If we can persuade them to embark on cultivation for three seasons, their income levels will go up while national productivity will also rise. Water is necessary for farming and for paddy cultivation and cultivation of fruits, vegetables or any other subsidiary crops. So providing water is the basis of agricultural development in any country. The latest concept in the world with regard to farming is not just distributing water but also better water management which includes educating farmers to save water and get the maximum out of the use of water.

Q: What are the Government’s plans in this respect for the present and for the future?

A: The Government is focusing on minor and major irrigation schemes. We had an unprecedented rainfall this year and our reservoirs are full. This is not the usual phenomenon. We have to build more and more reservoirs in this country to ensure the proper collection of rain water to be utilised for agriculture. As such we have embarked on several new projects like the Uma Oya poject, Moragahakanda project, Rambaken Oya project, Orugal Oya project and the Deduru Oya project. We commenced large irrigation schemes and are in the process of constructing new dams and canal systems to irrigate more than 100,000 of new agricultural lands.

This will contribute to the national economy, while also creating employment opportunities in the rural sector. We have to make sure that agriculture is a profitable venture because, otherwise, farmers will abandon agriculture and seek other avenues.

It is for this reason that the Government is providing fertiliser subsidies, free seed paddy etc. to the farmers and above all we are not charging for water that is being given. In many of the developed countries, such as the US and Australia, a fee is levied for water for agriculture. In Sri Lanka we don’t do it. We have to ensure increase in productivity. Previously we were able to get only about 10 to 15 bushels of paddy per acre. But now it has gone up to 100 - 150 bushels per acre under the new farming methods. We have to teach farmers to adhere to the new methods so that they would get a higher income.

Q: Will the minority communities of the Eastern Province also benefit under the projects embarked upon by the Mahaveli Authority?

A: Yes; to a certain extent. Mahaveli schemes cover only a particular area of the country. But the Irrigation Department which comes under the purview of five ministries is extending extensive agricultural facilities and services to all communities in the Eastern province. One example is the Urugam Tank in the Eastern province. There are many other similar irrigational tanks in the Northern province too . We launched a project for the development of many more new tanks in the Eastern province as well as in the Northern province. In addition to this the Ministry of Economic Development is also restoring over 5,000 tanks all over the country, including the North and East. I visited such tanks in Trincomalee and Mannar. We have substantially increased the water capacity of the Giant Tank in Mannar after rehabilitating it.

In the area of irrigation, we have no borderlines or boundaries and it is not confined to the South alone. It embraces all parts of the country - North, East, South and West. Wherever services are required in this respect we are there. Our future plans will encompass all the areas, especially the North and East because these regions lagged behind in development for three decades due to the terror regime of the LTTE terrorists.

Q: Global warming and the marked change in weather patterns have caused many problems to farmers affecting productivity. What are your plans to effectively tackle this phenomenon and help our farmers?

A: My Ministry is dealing with both irrigation and water management. In many countries they have introduced new methods and new technologies, including in our neighbouring Indian sub-continent. I met a group of Israeli experts engaged in agricultural promotion in India. According to them they were now using only one third of the amount of water which they used under the traditional methods. It implies that water has become an expensive and valuable commodity in the world. So, therefore, we have to use the minimum necessary amount of water for agriculture taking advantage of the new methods, including the trip irrigation method.

Q: With the world water usage tripling since the mid-century and water scarcity expanding throughout the world, how do you propose to encounter any similar situation here in Sri Lanka at any point of time in the future?

A: Taking into account the unpredictable weather conditions we are focusing on more reservoirs and tanks for storing water to be used during dry seasons. Our plans are to commence large irrigation schemes and construction of large reservoirs.

Q: There have been internal problems in our neighbouring countries over water. The Northern province is in the dry zone and needs more water for irrigation. Do you have plans for such large schemes there too?

A: Of course. We are planning very large irrigation schemes for the North under the NCP canal scheme. Under this project, the excess water from Malwathu Oya will be taken to Vavuniya and to other Northern areas.

This is in the planning stages now. From Kalawewa and other places excess Mahaveli water was given to farmers in the Trincomalee district. So in Sri Lanka we have no fight for water.

We are a community that respects the needs of the other communities. Water can be shared and distributed harmoniously.

Q: A large majority of citizens of both the North and South are farmers. The LTTE kept them apart for their own ends. Do you now have plans to embark on activities and programs that will create better opportunities for mutual understanding, interaction and brotherhood?

A: We already have. One example is the Galoya valley. The water collected in the Galoya Reservoir is the water that goes to Kalmunai and Batticaloa.

That water is being shared by all three communities - Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims. It is a simple example of co-existence and brotherhood. Water has brought communities together and we have many more such programs.

Q: Under the current situation where unjustifiable and unfounded accusations have been levelled against our country on purported war crimes and HR violations, do you think a confrontational attitude is the right approach?

A: The Government has certainly not embarked upon a confrontational attitude. Our position is very clear. The Darusman Report is not a report that was prepared at the UN. It has no legal authority or sanction whatsoever from the request of UN . The Secretary General is now saying that he cannot do anything with that report unless the Sri Lankan government or any other member country moves in the matter.

One more point is that we are not accepting the credibility of that report. The report was made on heresay information and not on investigation. Then persons who were involved in the preparation of the report have admitted in the report that they did not have any investigative powers and, therefore, they did not do any investigations. They merely acted on various information which they received. So the report has no credibility. The veracity of the statements contained in the report has not been verified. They have stated in the report that “the LTTE is the most disciplined group of rebels in the world” which we vehemently object to. Everyone knows that they were the most ruthless terrorists in the world. We are demonstrating to the people of Sri Lanka and the international community on the falsehoods that appear in the report. We will be able to convince them that this report is biased.

Q: Are you confident that we can get out of this crisis without any major repercussions?

A: We are very confident because we have launched on campaigns for diplomatic intervention etc. We will be making representations to the UN, member countries and other organisations concerned. I am confident of ensuring that no harm is caused to Sri Lanka.

Q: Your comments on the double standards of the US and some of the European nations that have their own different yardsticks to measure killings of leaders of two terrorist organisations - Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin-Laden and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran?

A: The whole world is convinced what sort of double standards they are playing in the West. When we eradicated terrorism with the greatest difficulty from the face of our small country, we took the maximum precautions to ensure the least number of civilian casualties and other damages to the civilian population.

The LTTE leader was killed in confrontation. But in the case of Bin-Laden an unarmed man was captured first and then killed. This is the information which we are now getting. Channel 4 and other channels in the world have highlighted it. So this shows their duplicity.

Q: Some sections of the Tamil diaspora overseas and LTTE cronies are bent upon damaging the image of our country in the international arena. Your comments please?

A: As I told you before, there is an international conspiracy by sections of the Tamil diaspora and some of the NGOs to tarnish the image of SL. But we will be making representations to the world community to educate them on the true situation and the facts.

Q: Former PM and present Senior Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake has resigned from the Government delegation that was holding discussions with the TNA on issues of power devolution on the ground that the TNA has welcomed the controversial report of the UN Secretary General. Will the resignation and reason cited by him for the resignation affect future talks with the TNA?

A: The resignation Miniser of Wickramanayake has no impact on the talks which we are having with the TNA.

We are a Government delegation. The Government is talking to them and not any individuals. Even I am only a member. So the assertion of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to sort out this problem has not been affected in any manner.

Q: What are the Government’s reactions to the TNA position in welcoming the UN Secretary General’s panel report?

A: Some members of the TNA have come out with comments welcoming the report. But that does not affect our relations with the TNA. That is a separate issue. Ours is a democratic country and they have the right to make their own comments.

That will not affect our discussions with the TNA. We are continuing our discussions to see if we can arrive at an agreement on the question of power devolution.

 

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