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Review

   
 

People in Freedom Home want to go back home


Many needs but no one has the time for them
(inset) Dreams of going back home

By Ranee Mohamed

Compassion and serenity are the theme words in their surroundings. As hundreds of devotees calmly make their way to the Kelaniya Temple - just a few metres away, down Gomes Lane in Waragoda Road, Kelaniya there is turmoil in the minds of approximately 55 people who live in Freedom Home.

They live in Freedom Home, yet remain trapped by their own minds. Freedom Home is a transit place for the mentally ill. But sadly all those who come here to stay a few days before they actually go home find that they are stuck here for life.

"Nobody wants us, my son does not want me," says Kusumalatha who has attempted to set fire to herself because  her son does not come to see her.

There is a painful lack of lustre here, but that does not seem to affect them, but the lack of food certainly does.

Something nice to drink

 As we walk in the requests keep pouring in and they are all 'food based.' "Can I have something nice to drink," begs Arafath, a young man in faded old clothes who sits alone in the hot, dry surroundings amidst the rising dust.

 Kusumalatha begs for 'cooked pumpkin, green leaves and fish curry,' and Amala Raj wants 'bread and butter.' The requests go on. "Cutlets, patties, cakes and coloured sandwiches," beg these mentally traumatised people  who amazingly seem to gather their wits and seem inspired at the mere mention of food.

Pathmakanthi says she worked as a midwife. "Yes, she was a midwife" said a staff member of the Freedom Home. "I suffered mental anguish because I had a baby to look after and a job to do. In addition to this my mother-in-law was harassing me. I could not cope and was under stress because I had to go to work and instead of help I only got antagonism and turbulence," said Pathmakanthi who volunteered to sing a song to forget the anguish she had suffered.

Mournful tune

The song lasted almost as long as a whole musical show, and it was with this mournful tune in the background that the others spoke out loud of their own plight.

"My husband was a pilot and he died in a plane crash," said Kanthi. It was Kanthi who missed the cutlets and patties the most. "Can you please also get me some Fair & Lovely and some Godrej Hair Dye," she whispered. "I miss my son," she went on to weep.

Frail and worn out Premila walks closer to us and whispers her ardent request; "Bread and margarine is what I dream of day and night," she said.

 On some days Freedom Home does not have the funds to buy the inmates a meal of bread. This seems understandable because they do not receive any kind of permanent outside funding.

Despite all their hardship, they did not pause to give out a dream menu - "capsicum, dhal curry, tempered potatoes, cutlets, brinjals, yellow rice and fish and chicken," they chorused.

Nilantha is young and Nilantha is musical. "Please bring me a book of songs by Niranjala Sarojini is his only request.

Remains troubled

Nilantha is a young man. Yet he remains troubled. "Jokes make him uncomfortable and he does not want to be laughed at," said his friends.

Music makes him very happy, yet there is no music around here - only tears and the hurt, humming of those around him.

"It is not easy to look after them. They have to be fed and washed and supervised. Some of them dive into depression at the slightest provocation," said Daya Fernando, their caretaker. "I spend my days looking after them in the hope that this merit will make my son walk. I have a young son who cannot walk and I know the sufferings of the handicapped," said caretaker Daya Fernando.

Freedom Home is a personal venture of Samanthi Sagarika Perera. "I was an only child and this was my ancestral home which was given to me. I first wanted to start an elders' home and then saw the plight of the mentally ill whom nobody wants to know and this is how Freedom Home came into being," said Chairperson Samanthi Sagarika Perera who having given her home away to the mentally troubled is now living in a rented house.

She seems very happy

But she seems very happy. "We bring nothing and we take nothing with us," she analysed our life on this earth. And so happily she continues to live and give these mentally troubled a roof above their heads and their basic needs. 

"We have problems with regard to food and dry rations. They also need everyday medication. I also wish we had a bigger space and I am on the lookout for a donor who could give us a space to build a bigger home. It is getting stuffier in here and it is not easy to house 55 inmates," said Samanthi Perera.

"I know that is asking a lot, but if there is someone who is willing to refurbish this home," she wished. The conditions in the home takes one back in time to perhaps an era of war; the broken down conditions and the fading paint - the makeshift bunker beds all made the outside world look like heaven.

But  these people grappling with their different thoughts, seem to be condemned to live in hardship for they have limited people to care for them and understand their minds and lives.

Hurried happiness

"We seldom have a visitor in here," said the caretaker. Yet today there was a visitor. The sound of a vehicle down this quiet roadway brought a hurried happiness into the hearts of those living here. They rushed to the gate as Daya Fernando made her way there with a key. The family who came in was welcomed with great happiness.

"We are so happy that someone came in here," said Darwin Jalill and his wife Zaveeni. Darwin Jalill carried a radio for Nilantha. The young man grabbed the radio and threw himself at the feet of the visitor.

"We are  from the social service organisation called Az Zahra Association and we try our best to give these people a meal whenever possible. They require a 50 kilo bag of rice for one meal," said Jalill.

No one wants them

His wife Zaveeni Jalill said that the sufferings of these people must be realised. "No one seems to want them and no one seems to want to care for them. When we bring them a bag of rice and unload it they all begin to clap their hands in glee," she said with tears in her eyes.

"There is a gentleman called Saybhan Samat who comes here every Friday to play the trumpet for them. They call him Sindu Sir," said Jalill.

It is hard to keep that little sparkle in the eyes of these people for they have no reason to be happy.

They who seem to be steeped in a permanent unhappiness which was brought into their lives by society are now struggling to reach out to happiness. And the very same society that has put in the unhappiness into their lives will neither take them back, nor take back the unhappiness which is threatening to  become a way of life for these helpless people.


Windmills — a breath of fresh air


A windmill power plant (inset) Windmills for clean energy

By Risidra Mendis

Living close to a beach or in an area where strong winds are a constant occurrence has more often than not instilled fear in us. The mere thought of witnessing or experiencing a hurricane in full force and the damage caused to lives and property has always created a negative attitude among people. However it is only in recent times that people have come to realise that the power of this mighty wind can be utilised to bring positive results to a country that is presently facing a serious energy crisis.

Windmills as they are commonly known were always a craze among many of us during our school days. The thought of having a colourful windmill and watching it respond to the powerful wind has always brought joy to many children. Many are the days when we have seen children running with windmills in their hands or passing vehicles with windmills sticking out of windows. But little did we know that these windmills that were made as toys for us would someday play a major role in an energy crisis that has affected the entire world.

Renewable energy is probably one of the most talked about subjects these days. Solar power, wind power and hydro power are the most viable solutions towards solving the serious energy crisis.

The country’s main aim is to have 60% of its energy requirement from renewable energy by 2011, 70% from renewable energy by 2016, 80% from renewable energy by 2021, 90% from renewable energy by 2026, and 100% from renewable energy by 2031.

Find a solution

Consultant of Practical Action Ajith Kumara says that it is high time the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) finds a solution to the growing energy crisis. “The CEB has no long term solution to address the energy crisis. Many people are made to believe that the energy crisis can be solved by the use of solar power. Solar power is costly and not the best solution,” Kumara said.

He added that the presently functioning coal power plants are causing environmental problems and are costly. “If we run out of coal someday how are we going to run these power plants,” Kumara asked.

According to Kumara saving on energy is not difficult in this day and age. “It is up to us to train ourselves to cut down on the large use of energy. I know of a man who has taken on the task of cutting down the amount of energy he uses for the day. He switches off his computer monitor if not in use. He irons all his clothes for a week in a day and doesn’t iron his shirt below the waist as this part of the shirt is tucked in to the trouser. He switches off his fridge at night and uses bio gas generated from solid waste for his day to day work,” Kumara explained.       

Wind energy

At present a large percentage of Sri Lanka’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels. Utilisation of renewable energy for electricity generation has therefore become very important to mitigate economic and environmental impacts. Wind energy has been identified as one of the more promising renewable energy sources that could generate electricity in Sri Lanka.

Wind energy is popular because it is clean and relatively cheap.

“It will be necessary to improve the quality and accessibility of renewable energy resource data before large-scale wind energy technologies can be developed locally. At present, ground wind measurements are not sufficient to accomplish a comprehensive wind resource assessment in Sri Lanka,” some experts say.

The wind power plant in Hambantota, the only one in the country was established by the CEB as a pilot project at a cost of Rs 280 million in March 1999. The Hambantota wind power station with a capacity of 3 MW has five windmills, and is situated on over 17 hectares. The wind power station consists of five wind turbines of 600 kW each and an expected annual energy generation of around 4.5 GWh.

Sri Lanka became interested in wind power in the 1980s. According to a new study Sri Lanka has nearly 5000 square kilometres of windy areas for power generation. In the 1990s, the concern for the environment and the reduced cost of production were the main reasons for many countries to establish wind power plants.

 Potential of wind energy

The Wind Energy Resource Atlas of Sri Lanka compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the United States has said that the island has a wind resource potential of 24,000 MW. However engineers estimate that only 200 MW can be utilised due to the system operation limitations.

According to experts areas where the wind blows throughout the year are ideal locations to build wind power plants. The wind is known to increase with altitude and over open areas with no windbreaks. The tops of smooth, rounded hills, open plains or shorelines, and mountain gaps are considered to be the best places to build wind power stations. 

Researchers in the field have stated that seven provinces in the country provide over 2000 MW of good to excellent wind potential. “However, not all of this wind energy can be tapped, as the country does not possess the required technology to harness all this energy and is only capable of absorbing about 10 % (200 MW) into the existing system. Seasonal variations in wind patterns and capital expenditures have also prevented the country from tapping all its wind resources,” experts have revealed. 

Although wind is available in plenty, tapping this energy resource is difficult as wind cannot be stored. “It needs to be utilised on the spot, as and when it becomes available.

Another possible option is to produce hydrogen from wind and store it for future use. However the hydrogen procedure though pollution free is costly and is yet to be developed,” some experts explained.

Sites in Puttalam and Nuwara Eliya in the hill country have been identified by experts for wind power plants.


Kunu Kanda in the news again

 
The garbage mountain at Bloemendhal

With Dilrukshi Handunnetti

When the Bloemendhal garbage mounds collapsed last week, burying a dozen houses under the smelly toxic waste of Colombo, it was the local version of Slumdog Millionaire. Only, there are no mega movies made based on the Bloemendhal dumps and certainly no Oscars. There are also no millionaires emerging.

Some 350 tiny dwellings of the city's poorest of the poor are located in close proximity to what is referred to as the 'Kunu Kanda' in Colombo 13.

Many attempts by the Colombo Municipal Council  to clear the garbage mounds proved no permanent solution. The recycling efforts by a private company also drew little result. But the poor dwellers have to deal with the squalor and disease that go hand in hand when living close to the mounds of garbage.

The authorities cannot feign innocence that they were clueless about the enormity of the Bloemendhal garbage issue. There had been previous warnings that went largely unnoticed.

Caught fire

The Kunu Kanda is once again making news. In the wee hours of Sunday, thick layers of garbage caught fire due to gas formed under the garbage piles. Fire fighters had to be called to douse the fires.

Typically, a few houses were damaged and some were buried. Backhoes were used to unearth the buried homes of the poor people. The only saving grace was that the occupants were away from their homes, attending a ceremony at the Mahawatta Kovil nearby. Or else it would have been a question of double jeopardy for the poor - losing homes and suffering physical injury in one unfortunate incident.

The garbage mounds are well over 100 feet high, a nauseous and ugly site that bespeaks of not only the city's increasing garbage problem but also the failure on the part of the authorities. 

When fire broke out, squatters in the area sprang into action to douse the flames which would otherwise have gutted hundred of shanties in the vicinity.

Growing day by day

The mountainous garbage keeps growing day by day, and the warnings were made earlier that the mounds could explode if fire spreads to the methane gas emanating from the lower levels of the dump.

The Colombo Municipal Council Public Health Department's warning has fallen on deaf ears. It has warned that garbage there contained methane gas and should be taken seriously.

Now officially labelled as 'hazardous waste'  the garbage dump poses a health problem to those living close by, especially the families  in Madampitiya and Mutwal.

Sadly, the land that had now become Colombo's toxic dump yard, was years ago a wetland extending to 22 acres. Then the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) converted it into a convenient dumping site. Although about 70-80 tonnes of the city's garbage is now dumped there,  there is no effective recycling or disposal system adopted by the CMC to combat the menace.

Respiratory problems

Following Sunday's incident, residents complained of respiratory problems and a dry cough among the children. Asthma and bronchial diseases are common  among these families.

The offensive smell that emanated continued for days, even after the fire was doused, they claim.

When it rains, the area is flooded and the garbage is washed on to the main road. "Have you seen a hell on hearth? It is right here in Bloemendhal," an angry resident said.

The spreading of disease, the unbearable stench and the possibility of the garbage mounds catching fire or collapsing give these residents sleepless nights. During the previous fire, some Rs. 50,000 was paid to the affected to rebuild their lost homes.  Incidentally, authorities complain, that since then the number of illegal settlers in the area has increased. 

There are around 10,000 families living in the area surrounding the garbage dump while around another 1000 families live close to it. Closest to the dump are some 350 makeshift homes  all occupied by the poorest of the poor.

Garbage mounds

These garbage mounds pose many problems, chief among therm being environmental and health problems. Then there is the issue of physical safety of the people living close to the mounds.  

The CMC earlier issued notice to the private company responsible for dumping garbage there to immediately start the process of recycling as agreed.  The local body is now under a Special Commissioner.  And there is no long-term solution on the cards.

According to Colombo Municipal Commissioner, Bhadrani Jayasinghe there is a special presidential committee also appointed to look into the Colombo garbage menace and to recommend how to carry out a quick clean up.

Then there is the ever green Environment and Natural Resources Minister Champika Ranawaka who pledged on the day he assumed his portfolio to clear the mountainous garbage in Bloemendhal. 

But nothing as such has happened. Words do come cheap, especially when the mounds not only stand there but also continue to grow turning nauseous and toxic with each passing day.


Protecting the consumer

By Sarath Wijesinghe

World Consumer Day was first observed on March 15, 1983. Two years later, on April 9, 1985 the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the UN Guidelines for consumer protection, following a decade of hard lobbying and hard work of consumer organisations worldwide. The guidelines adopted the principles of eight consumer rights to provide a framework for strengthening national consumer protection policies of respective states and governments which have changed according to the respective trade practices and economic policies.

The consumer worldwide is a powerful force well organised with the media worldwide.  

They say in the West that the consumer is always right and he is the king. An organised consumer could dictate terms to the supplier and manufacturer. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka consumerism and consumer activism is less organised, developed and powerful. It is time for civil society, NGOs and other organisations to come forward at this hour of need to save and protect the consumer against exploitation and unhealthy trade practices.

Consumers refer to individuals or households that use goods and services generated within the economy, which uses any product or services. In a free market economy, consumers are presumed to dictate what goods are produced and are generally considered the centre of economic activity.

The identified rights by the UN are, right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose, right to be heard, right to redress, right to consumer education and right for a healthy environment and by adoption of the guidelines, consumer rights were finally elevated to a position of international recognition and legitimacy, acknowledged by developed and developing countries alike.

Yet they continued to be ignored or trivialised by governments, producers, companies and powerful interests. These rights sometimes are embodied in the legislature.

Chapter on fundamental rights jurisdiction and public law remedies available in the system of law has some opening in promoting, protecting and enjoying consumer rights which are a basic human right. These rights are codified and implemented in various ways.

The best and the most effective mode is consumer activism which is also known as consumerism which is on the top of the agenda worldwide today. Obviously, today is the peak of activity in world consumerism for the year.

Unethical

World Consumer Day initiative can be concerned with the food we eat, the medicine we take, or the products we use in our homes. They can draw attention to unethical marketing practices, expose to hazardous technologies and production processes, or point out the need for consumer legislation and its enforcements.

It is the mandate of the regulator to protect the consumer against marketing of goods or provision of services which are hazardous to life and property of consumers, protect consumers against unfair trade practices and guarantee that consumer interests are given due consideration. Also to ensure that wherever possible consumers have adequate access to goods and services and to seek redress against unfair trade practices, restrictive trade practices and other forms of exploitation.

Junk Food (JF) is unhealthy and/or has poor nutritional value according to the food standards agency in the United Kingdom. It contains high levels of saturated fat, salt, sugar, numerous food additives such as mono sodium and glu-ta-mate. At the same time JF is lacking in proteins, vitamins and fiber.

It is popular with suppliers because it is cheap to manufacture and has a long shelf life and do not necessarily need refrigeration. It is popular in the USA and the trend is spreading fast all over the world encroaching poor and underdeveloped countries as well because it so easy to purchase, requires little or no preparation with lots of tasty flavours. It aids obesity, heart diseases, Type 2 Diabetes, dental decay and many other diseases. Mostly junk food is consumed for enjoyment, not for health and good living.

This is a cancerous habit which is fast spreading all over the world due to ferocious advertising techniques by multinational companies mainly targeting and aiming the future generation. Pseudo heroes and names such as Poke man, Batman, Superman and hundreds of games are being used via supermarket ‘giants’ and modern IT mechanisms and many other modern forms of enjoyment to attract children and young generation to eat junk food.

The former prime minister of Great Britain increased government funding to schools for a balanced diet for the children, discouraging them from consuming ‘junk’ food which has the potential to ruin the nation in the near future.

Health food

Junk food chains have got the message and started introducing salads and health food to the children and public. It is sad that our children and even adults consume soft drinks which are short and long term poison without consuming ‘Tambili’ which is one of the best, cheapest and healthiest drinks available at a much lower price. It is known that we have 40,000 food outlets out of which only few are safe, and adopt safety standards.

In this country anyone could start a food outlet without any requirement. Multinational, local junk food outlets are spreading all over the country rapidly. It has become a style for the young and even the elder generation to eat from these chains, which are now deserted in the West as consumers are now health conscious. They read and look into the health aspects before consumption of any food or drugs.

Public law

Consumer Protection Law or Consumer Law is considered an area of public law that regulates private law relationships between individual consumers and businesses that sell those goods and services. Within the law, the notion of consumer is primarily used in relation to consumer protection laws and a definition of consumer is often restricted to living persons, not to the corporate or business sectors and excludes commercial users.

Consumer protection is a form of government regulation which protects the interests of consumers. A consumer under the CAA Act is defined as actual or potential user of any goods or services made available for a consideration by any trader or manufacturer. This gives a broader meaning to include all citizens as consumers as even a person who intends to purchase any consumer item or service is considered to be a consumer by definition.

Government may require businesses to disclose detailed information about products particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue such as food.

Consumer protectionism  is linked to consumer rights and to the formation of consumer organisations which help consumers to make better choices in the marketplace. This shows that there should be a joint force by the government, trader, manufacturer, industrialist and the consumer to make our country a better place to live.

According to Western ideology consumer interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the market which directly and indirectly serves consumers, consistent with economic efficiency but this topic is treated in competition law.

Our traditional system of price control was completely overhauled by the introduction of the free economy and subsequently introduction of the present Consumer Authority Act  No: 9 of 2003, which has replaced the Consumer Protection Act, Fair Trading Commission Act, and Control of  Price Act which implemented the policies of governments of closed and planned economies.

Regulatory power

Today the only piece of legislation in this area of law is the CAA in which the consumer is protected mainly by regulatory powers in Part 11 of the Act which has power of indirect price control of certain items only by enforcing Section 18 of  the Act. Under the Act the government is expected to protect not only the consumers but the traders as well.

It states that the policy of the government is to safeguard the consumers through the regulation of trade and the prices of goods and services and to protect traders and manufacturers against unfair trade practices and restrictive trade practices.

CAA is helpless before a number of multinational and company giants. Many companies stand firm against the regulatory powers of CAA by ignoring the decisions of the authority. Dishonest traders have a field day due to the lacuna in the implementation process of the instrument.

The government alone will not be in a position to deliver the goods. It will only act as a catalyst as provided in the Act which encourages formation of consumer organisations. Steps are being taken to amend the legislation shortly for a more effective mechanism of consumerism in Sri Lanka.

The CAA is a mixture of the USA, Australian, Canadian and traditional UK/Sri Lankan system, enacted with lots of hope but unsuccessful as it lacks teeth for implementation.

Ultimate goal      

Our ultimate goal is to protect the consumer and maintain the goodwill and equilibrium with all other players. We need alert consumers and just traders. The umpire in the process is the government as the regulator and the watchdog of fair play and impartiality.


Humour

Say Again?

A German radio operator, while monitoring the emergency channels, heard a distressed voice saying, "We are sinking, we are sinking." The operator keyed the mike and said, "Okay, what are you sinking about?" 

You're Not Alone Sailor

"Why such a long face John?" asked the other seaman.

"I don't know," said John "maybe it's just that we have been at sea for so long and I'm so depressed, I can't seem to do anything right. Most of the time I feel so alone and useless!"

Smiling and nodding in an understanding way, the other seaman said, "John, I don't know if this helps, but let me assure you; you are not alone. Most of us on the ship feel you're useless too."

 News Flash

One ship carrying blue paint collided with another ship carrying red paint.

The crew is missing and believed to be marooned 

Pass the....

First sailor: "Pass me the chocolate pudding, would you?"

Second sailor: "No way, Jose!"

First sailor: "Why not?"

Second sailor: "It's against regulations to help another sailor to dessert!"  

Some Service!

The lonely bachelor wrote to a dating service explaining that he had specific criteria for a potential mate and would not accept anyone who falls below his standards. He went on to explain that the candidate should be cute and short, who enjoys water sports, is a team player and who enjoys group activities.

He received an envelope the following week. It was a picture of a penguin.


Retiring with a pet

   

There’s no doubt about it: pets have a positive effect on people. And now there’s good news for older people with pets — if you’re thinking of moving into a retirement community, you may be able to find one that will allow you to bring your four-legged friend with you.

Independent living communities are the type of retirement community most likely to allow pets. They are designed for healthy, active older adults who are able to live without assistance, and are thus able to care properly for their pets. You probably wouldn’t be able to notice a difference between an independent living community and other residential communities except for the age of the residents.

Assisted living communities, on the other hand, are meant for older adults who need regular help with daily activities — but do not require the services of a nursing home. 

Some assisted living communities will allow residents to bring their lifelong pets, while others may permit a “community pet;” a pet that doesn’t belong to any person in particular, but that lives within the community to provide companionship to all residents.

If you or a family member is looking for a retirement community that will allow you to bring your pet friend with you, be sure to get a copy of their pet policies. Some communities may require:

An extra deposit to cover possible pet-related damages to the facilities.

Pet care fees to cover anything that you cannot provide for your pet. This can include walking your dog, cleaning kitty litter, feeding or bathing your pet, and other such services.

Only certain types of pets maybe permitted. For example, some communities will allow dogs or cats but will not permit reptiles.

Some communities may only allow cats or small dogs below a certain weight or height.

In communities where there may be a number of resident pets, it is in everyone’s best interests that they all get along. Some communities may screen your pet to determine that they are properly socialised (can get along with other people and pets) and reasonably obedient.

It’s not uncommon to see pets in retirement communities. And if you spend some time with the residents, they’re sure to tell you what a delight it is to have a pet companion living with them. It’s wonderful to see more and more communities catering to the health and well-being of its residents by permitting pets.


Is your pet obese? 

Just like people, pets can become “a little too healthy.” All kidding aside, obese pets can have serious health problems — including arthritis, heart and respiratory problems, and shorter life spans. Your pet is overweight if you cannot feel his ribs or backbone when you lightly run your hands over him.

Although it’s no doubt hard to ignore the pleading eyes of your adoring pet, it’s best to turn away and not give in to his pleas for more food.

Use feeding guides as a recommendation only. Pet food packages will often recommend how much to feed your pet. However, this really depends on your pet’s age, activity level, and size. Use your own judgment.

Try not to use the “free-feed” method. In other words, resist leaving food out for your pet all day long. This can contribute to overeating.

Provide your pet with more exercise. Take him out for an extra little walk, or play with her in the house for half an hour. Every little bit helps.

Severe weight loss or gain should be checked by your vet. If you think you’re feeding your pet adequately but he loses weight, or your pet suddenly starts gaining weight, consult your vet.

Older and overweight pets may be switched to special diets. There are lots of high-quality pet food formulated especially for senior pets, as well as plenty of low-calorie diets. You may want to consult with your vet to get recommendations.


George E. De Silva — champion of the poor 

The 58th death anniversary of the late George Edmund de Silva was on  March 12. He was the third son of a famous ayurvedic physician who migrated to Nuwara Eliya  from the south in 1870, and set up a lucrative practice in the British era. He owned the “Orange Tree House” at the foot of the Pidurutalagala Mountain, with a large garden of roses.

On March 12, 1950 he died from a stroke followed by two heart attacks he got while playing at the Peradeniya Golf Course with a few Englishmen friends. He was 71 years of age at the time of his sudden death. He was a very enthusiastic golf and tennis player. His brother lawyer Timothy de Silva was the first Ceylonese golf champion.

George Edmund de Silva was a very prominent politician in the Donoughmore Era of Sri Lankan history. He was a tall, sturdily built, fair, handsome and jovial man with a constant smile and he immediately attracted the attention and friendship of all whom he met.

He began his career as a journalist. He was a reporter to the Ceylon Independent and later worked in the editorial staff of the then famous Times of Ceylon. He had a brilliant command of the English Language having being tutored by the famous English scholar at N’Eliya, Henry Young. He then entered the Law College, Colombo.  He was a pupil of the famous Lorenz College of Colombo. He passed the Proctors Final Exam in 1900s and went to Kandy, and within a short period had established a very lucrative practice.

His two brothers, Timothy and Gregory who migrated to Malaysia were also brilliant lawyers.

The Kandy Bar was at that time dominated by Dutch Burgher lawyers and they resented the entry of the newcomer George and on the first day all the other lawyers including a few Kandyan aristocrats walked out of the Bar, but the English Magistrate remained and George won his first case, much to the consternation of those who boycotted the courts. Subsequently he found it difficult to get a chair in the Court House, and he got his valet to bring a chair.

Subsequently he taught a bitter lesson to the Burghers by marrying Agnes, the only daughter of Paul Nell, who was the provincial engineer, from the cream of Burgher Society. George was a very keen ballroom dancer and quite adept in dancing and singing. He met Agnes at many of these parties and subsequently married her in grand style. She was a very kind hearted lady who championed the cause for franchise for females in the 1930s.

George entered politics as a ward member for Katukelle in the Kandy Municipal Council and in 1931 he was elected to the first State Council of  Sri Lanka for the Central Province seat, which extended from Dambulla to N’Eliya. He handsomely defeated Sir Gerard Wijekoon and Kandyan lawyer Albert Godamunne, who were prominent persons in the country’s political arena.

He was subsequently re-elected and held the Kandy seat for 16 years, and was appointed as the Minister of Health by the then Prime Minister  D.S. Senanayake. He held this portfolio for five years and in the next parliament he was the first Minister for Industries and Fisheries. The cabinet at that time comprised of a dozen ministers only.

Before entering the State Council, he was the mayor of Kandy for several years.

The racial riots between the Sinhalese and  the Muslims started at Gampola in 1915, and spread to Kandy and within a few days it spread to all parts of the country except the north and east. Many Sinhalese national leaders and professional men from many areas were jailed and some were tried by ‘Kangaroo Courts’ presided over by Justices of Peace, who were mostly senior British planters.

Martial Law was enacted and Punjabi troops were brought from India, who harassed the Sinhalese people. This irked George very much and it proved to be a watershed in George’s political advancement. He fought against the injustices meted out to Sinhala people by Governor Chalmer, and he went to England along with E.W. Perera, another national hero of this era, and had the British governor recalled by making convincing representations to the Colonial Secretary. He fought valiantly to save the lives of young Hewavitharana and D.G. Pedris.

He championed the case of the poor peasantry who under feudal lords had to perform Rajakariya, a compulsory form of free labour. Due to his efforts the Rajakariya system was abolished and the depressed class citizens got their place and dignity in society. He commenced the Mura-Pola Ela irrigation scheme in Hewaheta and many barren lands were irrigated and paddy and vegetable cultivation commenced in the Kandyan areas.

Even to-day these farmers are famous for their vegetable and fruit cultivation in this area. As the Minister of Health there are may landmark achievements. He established the first ayurvedic hospital having come from a famous generation of ayurvedic physicians from Galle, N’Eliya and Matara areas. He established 250 cottage hospitals in rural areas as malaria was rampant at that time. He introduced the system of spraying D.D.T to eradicate malaria breeding mosquitoes all over the island.

The famous Oxford scholar Dr. Jane Russel published his autobiography. The President of Sri Lanka at that time, J.R. Jayewardene, who was a very close political associate of George, in a foreword to this book has stated as follows:

“ I worked with George E. de Silva during the war years in the Ceylon National Congress and came to know him as a patriot and an untiring worker for social and political reforms.  His death in 1950 deprived Sri Lanka of a man of progressive thinking, for it must be remembered  that together with A.E. Goonesinghe, George E. de Silva proposed the introduction of universal franchise in 1931 and supported the freedom struggle in 1943. George was essentially a man of the people. Although he became the Minister of Health from 1942 to 1944 and President of the Ceylon National Congress on several occasions, he was a man who never lost the ability to feel and articulate the heartfelt desires of the common man. His championship of the cause of ayurveda and rural hospitals proves this.

I welcome the writing of the biography of this great son of Sri Lanka.”

– J.R. Jayewardene.

President of Sri Lanka. December 15, 1978.

It is recorded that when George E. de Silva became the president of the Ceylon National Congress in 1943, before we achieved freedom J.R. Jayewardene and Dudley Senanayake were the Joint Secretaries. G.C.S. Corea, Sir Edwin Wijeyaratne,  A.F. Molamure former Speaker P. de S Kularatne, Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, D.M. Rajapakse, and Nethil Hewavitharana were very prominent Congress leaders.

His son Fredrick Edmund de Silva, M.B.E., followed his footsteps and not only became the leading criminal lawyer in the Central Province, but also the Mayor of Kandy and Member of Parliament. He was a class-mate of Dudley Senanayake at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia. Later he was Sri Lanka’s ambassador in France and director of UNESCO in Paris. At the time of  his death he was chancellor of the Peradeniya University, founded by his father.

His only son is Sir Desmond de Silva, Q.C., world renowned criminal lawyer who is engaged by the United Nations for international assignments. He is married to a lady from the British Royal family. He was knighted recently.

George E. de Silva moved a motion in the State Council for the establishment of a Ceylonese bank to help the indigenous entrepreneurs. This was opposed by the  Englishmen who had their own banks. He went to England and got the approval of the Colonial Secretary and Bank of Ceylon was established. His photograph should be hung in the bank premises as acknowledgement of his endeavours.

 As the mayor of Kandy for nearly a decade he did yeomen service to the rate payers like the inauguration of a pipe-born water supply scheme, improvement to the Kandy Lake and Wace Park, providing benches to people to sit round the lake bund, the Deiyannewela Model Tenements Housing Scheme with a school and a playground.

The Watapuluwa Middle Class housing scheme was designed by his daughter, the first lady architect of Sri Lanka who worked with world renowned architect Patric Abeycoombie who designed the Peradeniya University, mooted by George in parliament. When he was the Minister of Health the new Kandy Hospital was built. It is one of the best hospitals today in the island.

George E. de Silva died a poor man. His tea estate in Kandy was sold on a mortgage and once he was the co-owner of the largest coconut estate in Sri Lanka, had a palatial bungalow overlooking the Hantane Range and the Dumbara Valley.

All his wealth was spent to help the poor people. He gave a helping hand to many poor students and looked after his enemies at times of distress. His worst enemy in the Kandy Bar was Cox Sproule, a leading Burgher lawyer. He spoke against British excesses during the Martial Law and he was arrested and detained at Diyatalawa Camp to be shot dead. His wife came and fell at George’s feet. It was a remarkable day for George to travel to Diyatalawa in the height of martial law and get the release of his enemy by forcefully arguing the case.

N.E. Weerasuriya Q.C. the famous Kandyan lawyer, writing of George commented, “But then George E. de Silva’s career was unique not only for his professional success and his political career, but also because he was a symbol of new Ceylon, despising and attempting to overcome caste oppression mindful of Lord Buddha’s message:

It is not by birth that a man becomes an outcast. It is not by birth that a man becomes a Brahmin. It is a man’s character, that makes him an outcast. It is a man’s character that makes him a Brahmin.”   

When you enter Kandy city one could see the statue erected by the grateful people of Kandy at the George E. de Silva Park, as a fitting tribute to the selfless service he rendered for five decades.

“ In this monument as in the hearts of the people for whom he lived and laboured, the name of George E.de Silva is enshrined. Born June 6,1879.  Died March 12,1950.

— L.B. Abeyaratne


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