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TANK REHABILITATION PROGRAMME IS A RIGHT MOVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

By A.A.M.NIZAM, MATARA.

As a major step in the march to “build a prosperous nation to the
posterity” the government launched the “Dahasak Wev” (Thousand Tanks)
programme last Saturday, from Yapahuwa in the Kurunegala District. The
Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Irrigation Mr. Anura Dissanayake
deserves the nation’s gratitude for spearheading this programme, which
aims at reviving the neglected agricultural sector that earned
prestige, glory and economic stability to our nation in the past. The
imperialist and South Indian invaders systematically destroyed the
Asia’s greatest agro-based economy we possessed and the post-1977
import-servile fast-food prone open economic policy ruined whatever
that was left from this great heritage.


This programme is part of the 10,000 tanks earmarked for renovation
throughout the country within the next four years and 1000 tanks are
scheduled for completion before the end of this year under the first
phase of this project. Another 2000 will be rehabilitated in 2005,
3000 in 2006 and 4000 tanks in 2007 under the final phase of the
project. These tanks are located throughout Sri Lanka including the
Northern and Eastern provinces. The rehabilitation of the tanks
programme will also help Sri Lanka to overcome the menace of severe
drought that afflict the country very often.


The government has allocated 400 million rupees for the first phase of
the project. Although this amount is not sufficient for this gigantic
work people’s participation is expected to help overcome the financial
shortage. Business community, Technologists and the general public
have already expressed their willingness to contribute to the
project. A bank account has been opened at the People’s Bank,
Battaramulla Branch, under account number 161-0000-668 to collect
funds for this project. Contribution can also be made in the form of
providing heavy machinery.

The ancient Kings of Sri Lanka gave the highest priority for
construction of Temples, huge irrigation work and development of
agriculture. It was due to their extensive dedication to these
activities ancient Sri Lanka achieved self-sufficiency in food and was
even exporting rice to countries such as Burma and Thailnd. Sri Lankan
Kings Mahasen, Dhatusena, and Parakramabahu had gone down in history
as the greatest tank builders although the other kings too
significantly contributed to this great tank building culture. Sri
Lanka’s eminent diplomat Mr. Vernon Mendis points out that the
irrigation system of the early civilizations of Sri Lanka is placed in
the same category as the Pyramids of Pharaohnic Egypt as extraordinary
feats of engineering (The Rulers of Sri Lanka – page 247). Sri Lanka
achieved this glory at a time the westerners were languishing in the
jungles.


Several thousand acres of land that were nourished by these tank based
irrigation facilities have become fallow lands due to continuous
neglect and thousands of tanks have become unusable. Also, there were
systematic destruction of these facilities by the imperialist rulers,
and the marauding South Indian armies of Prabhakaran’s great grand
fathers. Although governments of Sri Lanka since 1948 gave priority
for agricultural development, the open economic policy introduced in
1977 ruined these efforts and made Sri Lanka a dumping yard of the
aliens and completely neglected this vital sector. Visit to rural
areas throughout the country will reveal the pathetic status of these
lands that served as food bowls of the ancient Sri Lankans.


70% of foreign exchange Sri Lanka spends currently is used for import
of essential food items, which can be produced locally utilizing our
own resources. At the same time the Gross National Product of the
country mostly depends on the contribution from agriculture,
livestock, fisheries and small industries. Prior to 1977 Sri Lanka was
nearly self-sufficient in most of the food items and it was the main
reason that the Presidential candidate the late Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa
received a huge majority over the incumbent President at the 1982
Presidential election and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike received a
mammoth welcome with pandals decorated with chilly and onions when she
visited the North. Due to the inapt open economic policy the country’s
national products sector collapsed and the producers went bankrupt. As
a result the rural population became destitute and 25% of our children
are suffering from malnutrition and 35% of our pregnant mothers are
afflicted with anaemia, which
could severely endanger our future generation.


Along with the rehabilitation of tanks the Agricultural Ministry has
also envisaged to linking these activities to improve food production
and strengthen the farmer community. The government’s agricultural
policy has laid more emphasis on people’s participation in
implementation of its programmes and accordingly it hopes to
strengthen the farmer community by establishing 450 farmer
associations and to vest these associations the responsibility of
formulating cultivation strategies and marketing of produce. These
associations will function in close liaison with the Ministry of
Agriculture to obtain various benefits, concessions and consultancy
services.

While United States and some other developed countries discourage
improvement of agricultural in developing countries so that they could
ensure a profitable market for their products in these countries,
under the fast food cocacola culture, India and several other
countries with huge rural population have laid great emphasis on
improving food production and enriching the rural population. The new
government in India is providing every possible facility to emancipate
the farming community from the pathetic poverty status they have been
subjected to. The new Indian government has also pledged to help Sri
Lanka in the improvement of its agricultural and food production
sectors.


Other than India, the Freedom Alliance government has also received
pledges of massive assistance to improve its agricultural sector from
many countries. These include Cnina, Japan, Thailand and many
countries that attended the 27th Asia Pacific Summit held in China
recently. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka could regain its past
prestige and glory with people’s participation and dedication for
improvement of agriculture, which is the main path to build a
prosperous nation for the posterity.


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