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The Hindu notes 16-05-2018

1. Cauvery water issue: At last, a scheme

Cauvery basin States must quickly agree on an authority to apply the water-sharing award

•Now that the Karnataka election is over, the Centre has finally mustered the courage to submit a draft scheme in the Supreme Court to implement the final decision on apportioning the Cauvery waters among the riparian States. The draft, which gives no name for the authority it proposes to create to monitor implementation of the Cauvery Tribunal’s final award, as modified by the Supreme Court, has been largely drawn from the Tribunal’s directions. It will be a two-tier structure, with an apex body charged with the power to ensure compliance with the final award, and a regulation committee that will monitor the field situation and water flow. The powers and functions of the authority are fairly comprehensive. Its powers would extend to apportionment, regulation and control of Cauvery waters, supervision of operations of reservoirs and regulation of water releases. The draft makes the authority’s decisions final and binding. However, there is an ambiguous clause: if the authority finds that any one of the States is not cooperative, it can seek the Centre’s help, and the Centre’s decision will be final and binding. This can be seen either as an enabling clause to resolve the situation when there is a stand-off, or as one that gives scope to the Centre to intervene on behalf of one State. To allay apprehensions of the Centre acting in a partisan manner, it would be better if it is not given the final say, but mandated to help in the implementation of the Tribunal’s award at all times.

•There are a few differences between the Cauvery Management Board envisaged by the Tribunal and the authority proposed in the scheme. The Tribunal favoured the chairperson being an irrigation engineer with not less than 20 years of experience in water resources management, whereas the scheme says the chairperson could be a senior and eminent engineer with wide experience in water resources management or an officer in the rank of Secretary or Additional Secretary to the Union government. Similarly, the representatives from the four States would be administrators rather than engineers as proposed by the Tribunal. It is possible that Karnataka and Tamil Nadu may have differing views on the nature and powers of the authority, as well as its name and composition. But it is vital that all States accept the mechanism, and that the authority itself have adequate autonomy. The Cauvery dispute has dragged on for several decades, and it would be unfortunate if the implementation of a final decision arrived at through rigorous adjudication is not monitored by an independent authority. All States should agree to the broad contours of this scheme and comply with the authority’s decisions. The most welcome feature of such a mechanism is that an issue concerning the livelihood of thousands of farmers will be taken out of the political domain and entrusted to experts.

2. Wuhan’s promise

There are compelling reasons for PM Modi and President Jinping to stay the course

•Missed opportunities and false starts have been the hallmarks of the India-China story. In the 1950s, the “brotherly friendship” between the two countries led by strong leaders — Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong — promised to redefine Asia. Dreamers even entertained the idea of India and China piloting a post-colonial Renaissance in the developing world. But the trust-shattering 1962 war annulled all such hopes.

•The overhang of the border row has marred a full-scale rapprochement between the two countries ever since. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious visit in 2014 was sullied by the military face-off in Chumar in Ladakh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s journey to China in 2015 was trailed two years later by a near-war situation in Doklam.

•But the late-April meeting of the two leaders in Wuhan may yield a more bountiful harvest, notwithstanding the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump has crashed into the India-China equation. Geo-economics is weighing in heavily in shaping the course of New Delhi-Beijing ties. China worries that the so-called trade war that is brewing with the Trump administration is the beginning of Washington’s long campaign to impede China’s rise. The Chinese have made no bones about the urgency of seeking India’s backing to counter these headwinds blowing across the Pacific.

•China perhaps views India as part of a larger pan-Asian riposte to Mr. Trump’s America First doctrine. Beijing is also re-engaging with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN to make Asia the pivot of a new wave of globalisation. After the Wuhan summit, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited Tokyo for a trilateral summit. Japan, South Korea, and China batted for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade bloc which not only covers the three countries but also knits the ASEAN with other major economies of the region including India, Australia and New Zealand.

•There are other compulsions — domestic as well as international — that may drive Mr. Xi to keep alive the spirit of Wuhan. At the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress, Mr. Xi aired his “new era” doctrine of a “community with shared future for mankind”. If a large country such as India is on board, it would be a big advertisement for Mr. Xi’s blueprint for a post-American international order, anchored in Eurasia. In Mr. Modi, Mr. Xi is likely to find a willing partner to seal big dreams. With the 2019 polls ahead, Mr. Modi is under pressure to show that his ‘Make in India’ campaign is as saleable at home as is his soft-power push for yoga and Bollywood abroad.

•China’s late entry with billions of dollars of investments in India, and a decision to open its own market to Indian pharma and IT products, if it happens, could once again refurbish Mr. Modi’s flickering appeal as the helmsman of a “new India”. After Wuhan, there are compelling reasons for the two leaders to stay the course.

3. Contempt plea likely in Babri case

Counsel says some sections are trying to ‘muddy the waters’ in the dispute

•Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan on Tuesday indicated that his side is preparing a contempt petition to be filed in the Supreme Court as certain sections are trying to “muddy the waters” in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute even as the court is hearing the case.

•“While the case is being argued, people should restrain themselves. I would caution all of us not to muddy the waters,” Mr. Dhavan, appearing for some of the Muslim parties who have moved the Supreme Court, submitted before a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

Special status

•The court is hearing arguments on a plea to refer the question whether a mosque has no “unique or special status” and is not an essential part of the practice of Islam and namaz to a Constitution Bench.

•In 1994, the Supreme Court observed that “Muslims can offer prayer anywhere, even in open.”

Land acquisition

•The 24-year-old Ismail Faruqui versus Union of India case dealt with the acquisition of 67.703 acres of land in Ayodhya after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The constitutionality of the ‘Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act of 1993’ was under scanner.

•The government justified the acquisition as a step to promote harmony. But the Muslim parties suspected the 1993 law as a veiled attempt to “perpetuate the consequences of the demolition of the mosque.”

•It was in this background that the Supreme Court observed in 1994 that a mosque cannot restrict the State’s sovereign power to acquire land for an “undoubted national purpose.”

•Moreover, the court went on to distinguish between places of worship with “particular significance,” which have to be treated reverentially. The others were classified as “ordinary places of worship,” subject to acquisition.

•A quarter of a century later, the Muslim parties have challenged the rationale of the 1994 ruling.

4. PM wants media to self-regulate: Rathore

Says it’s not ‘us versus them’

•A day after getting independent charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Rajyavardhan Rathore has indicated that he will be walking a different path from Smriti Irani, who was divested of the portfolio.

•Meeting presspersons in his office on Tuesday, Mr. Rathore said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very clear that the media has to self-regulate. It is not us versus them.”

•He has been Minister of State of Information and Broadcasting since November 2014.

•The statement is significant considering the Ministry under Ms. Irani had issued a press release announcing that they would be bringing in new accreditation guidelines. A journalist’s government accreditation could be suspended if his or her news reports were found to be “fake.” There was no clarity on what would be considered “fake news”. The mandate of judging this was on the Press Council of India for print and News Broadcasters Association for television news. She was forced to withdraw the press release after the PMO stepped in.

On social media

•Mr. Rathore said the media should be the voice of the people. He clarified that social media did not come under the ambit of his Ministry.

•“We hope social media users will be careful about what they put out there. Social media is totally independent and does not come under this Ministry”.

5. Rythu Bandhu: errors galore in pattadar passbooks, cheques

Beneficiaries point out misspelt names, incorrect details

•As the special drive to distribute the new pattadaar passbooks and cheques to beneficiaries under the Rythu Bandhu scheme continued for the fifth day on Tuesday, complaints about alleged mistakes in the newly issued pattadar passbooks continue to pour in from several farmers in Aswaraopeta, Wyra, Chintakani and various other mandals in the erstwhile undivided Khammam district.

•In Aswaraopeta, wrongly spelled names and incorrect details about the land holdings among other errors reportedly cropped in the new pattadaar passbooks issued to several farmers in Narayanapuram and various revenue villages in the mandal.

•The surname of Venkataramana of Narayanapuram was wrongly printed and the land holdings of many farmers in the mandal recorded were much less than their actual holdings, sources said.

•The authorities reportedly kept in abeyance distribution of as many as 26 cheques after the beneficiaries reportedly complained about sanction of less amount to them, disproportionate to their actual land holdings. In sharp contrast, the staff concerned noticed the cheque amount exceeding the original agricultural lands some of the beneficiaries actually hold, sources added.

•In Musalimadugu revenue village in Wyra mandal of Khammam, over 50 pattadaar passbooks issued to beneficiaries contained incorrect details about individual farmers, pointed out Telangana Rythu Sangham State leader Bonthu Rambabu.

•The errors in the much-publicised tamper-proof passbooks exposes lack of coordination between the government agencies and departments concerned, he said. The mistakes in the passbooks must be rectified and the investment support should be extended to all the actual tillers, including the tenant farmers, to bail out the real cultivators from the vicious cycle of rural indebtedness, he demanded.

•Aswraopeta tahsildar Y. Venkateshwarlu said 8,204 cheques have been sanctioned to the mandal under Rythu Bandhu so far. Of these, over 5,400 cheques have already been distributed to the beneficiaries till Tuesday.

•Efforts are on to distribute the cheques to all the eligible beneficiaries soon, he said, asserting that wrong entries found in the pattadaar passbooks will be rectified and the records will be updated on the land bank website “Dharani” shortly.

Large-scale irregularities

•CPI (M) district secretary G. Mukund Reddy has alleged large-scale irregularities in the land purification works, saying that the state government encouraged corruption among the revenue officials involved in the process. In a press note, he pointed out incidences of spelling mistakes in pattadaar passbooks. He also alleged that the authorities had committed mistakes in the identification of actual lands of the beneficiaries. The land purification works had only encouraged rampant corruption by revenue officials, he alleged.

6. Central Railways to deal with plastic bottles menace

Plans buyback policy and crushing machines at stations

•With Maharashtra set to implement a Statewide ban on plastic from June 23, the Central Railways is exploring the possibility of implementing a buyback policy for plastic bottles along with installing plastic bottle crushing machines at major stations.

•The biggest challenge that the railways face is that of plastic containers, including bottles, entering Maharashtra from other States. Within Maharashtra, the State government is proposing to have plastic bottles with a buyback price printed on it.

•According to a senior railway official, they are considering to extend the buyback policy only for approved manufacturers of the railways and on bottles that print the buyback price. “The details for the same will only be finalised once the State decides on its policy. At present, we are only looking at how to make it operational,” the official said.

Storage problem

•Additional Divisional Railway Manager of the Mumbai Division, Central Railway, V.A Malegaonkar, said, “We will be meeting the approved manufacturers in the coming week. We have also sought clarification from the zonal headquarters as to how to implement the buyback mechanism.”

•Many stall managers and owners have highlighted the issue of storage for returned bottles and also mentioned that the scheme will work only if all stakeholders participate. “If there is no mechanism of collecting the old bottles periodically, there will be a pile up. We hardly have enough space to stock our running items,” a stall manager at Dadar railway station in Mumbai said.

•Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is also separately discussing ways to frame a buyback plan for water-vending machines, which provide water in plastic cups as well as one-litre bottles. “We will follow the law of the land and take appropriate measures to replace plastic with suitable paper or equivalent bio-degradable options at water-vending machines. Deliberations are on to look into the use of plastic bottles in a suitable manner so as to implement the rule,” IRCTC west region spokesperson Pinakin Morawala said.

7. A triple blow to job guarantee scheme

A lack of sufficient funds, rampant payment delays and abysmal wage rates are to blame

•The ₹11,000 crore fraud that diamond merchant Nirav Modi is said to have created is a figure that needs to be put in perspective. The total amount of wages pending under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme for the whole country (2016-17) was around ₹11,000 crore too. This sum is a fifth of the MGNREGA budget announced for financial year 2018-19.

•MGNREGA stands out in its worker-centric legislation and stated emphasis on transparency and accountability. Several potentially progressive measures such as a real-time management information system have been put in place. The scheme is meant to be demand-driven in the sense that the government is mandated to provide work within 15 days of a worker seeking work. Otherwise the worker is entitled to an unemployment allowance. A second key provision of the Act pertains to payment of wages within 15 days of completion of work, failing which a worker is entitled to a delay compensation of 0.05% per day of the wages earned. However, both these provisions have been routinely violated. There is an ongoing Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court (Swaraj Abhiyan v. the Union of India) concerning these violations. We look at three ways in which a lack of funds has led to a subverting of these provisions in letter and spirit.

•First, budget allocation over the years has been insufficient. While there has been an increase in the nominal budget in the last two years, after adjusting for inflation, the budget has actually decreased over the years. The real budget of 2018-19 is much lower than that of 2010-11.

Further truncation

•Second, even this low budget allocation has undergone various kinds of curtailment. By December of each year, through a bottom-up participatory planning approach, every State submits a labour budget (LB) to the Centre. This contains the anticipated labour demand for the next financial year. The Centre, on its part, has been using an arbitrary “Approved Labour Budget” to cut down funds requested by States (using the National Electronic Fund Management System, or Ne-FMS), making this a supply-driven programme.

•Ne-FMS guidelines issued in 2016-17 say the Management Information System (MIS) “will not allow” States to “generate more employment above the limits set by Agreed to LB”. This meant that the work demand of workers was not even getting registered and the MIS was being used as a means to curb work demand. Thus the “approved labour budget” puts a cap on funds. So, for 2017-18, for example, if one aggregates the requested LB of all States, the minimum budget requirement adds up to ₹72,000 crore. However, the initial allocation was only ₹48,000 crore, which is in synchrony with the approved LB (as on the first week of April 2018).

•Because of the ongoing PIL, the Centre was forced to rescind guidelines that enabled the use of the MIS to constrict demand for work. The Centre releases an Annual Master Circular (AMC) each year that serves as a guide to the programme implementation of MGNREGA. The most recent AMC suggests the setting up of an Empowered Committee (EC) to this effect.

•The lack of payment of wages on time has meant a violation of the second key aspect of the Act. By analysing transactions (over 90 lakh in 2016-17 and over 45 lakh in the first two quarters of FY17-18), a study on wage payment delays has highlighted how the Centre has completely absolved itself of any responsibility of a delay in the release of wages. Only 21% of payments in 2016-17 and 32% of payments in the first two quarters of FY17-18 were made on time.

•In response to the first phase of the study, the Ministry of Finance issued an office memorandum. Acknowledging the validity of the study’s findings, the memorandum also said that the principal reasons for payment delays were “infrastructural bottlenecks, (un)availability of funds and lack of administrative compliance”. The study findings and this memorandum are at odds with the Centre’s dubious claims of 85% of payments having been made on time. The situation worsened in the last six months of FY17-18. Around 25% of the funds transfer orders (FTOs) pertaining to worker wages from January to April this year are still to be processed by the Centre. Last year, the Ministry froze the processing of FTOs (over ₹3,000 crore) due to a lack of funds. In August 2017, the Ministry of Rural Development demanded a supplementary MGNREGA budget of ₹17,000 crore, but the Ministry of Finance approved only ₹7,000 crore, that too in January 2018. The poor are paying a heavy price for this throttling of funds by the Centre.

Stagnating wages

•The third point is about stagnating MGNREGA wages. Delinking of MGNREGA wage rates from the Minimum Wages Act (MWA), 1948 has contributed to this. MGNREGA wages are a less lucrative option for the marginalised, being lower than the minimum agricultural wages in most States. As primary beneficiaries of the Act, women, Dalits and Adivasis could be the most affected and pushed to choose more vulnerable and hazardous employment opportunities. Such contravention of the MWA is illegal.

•MGNREGA now faces a triple but correlated crisis — a lack of sufficient funds, rampant payment delays, and abysmal wage rates. What this reflects is not only a legal crisis created by the Centre but also a moral one where the fight is not even for a living wage but one for subsistence. One hopes for a just order from the judiciary.

8. Suresh Prabhu bats for services pact at WTO

•Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu pitched for inclusion of the trade facilitation pact on services in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) saying it would help promote growth of the global economy.

•“We are working on trade facilitation in the services sector at WTO. We feel WTO will not be doing full justice to the economic development of the world unless services sectors are taken on board, he said. He was speaking at the inauguration of the Global Exhibition on Services, organised by the Commerce Ministry and the CII. The proposed pact would help professionals move smoothly from one place to another.

9. The Sri Lankan Army Chief on the army’s role and challenges in the post-war context, efforts towards resettlement, and on international scrutiny

•Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake took over as the 22nd Commander of the Sri Lankan Army in June 2017. The conduct of the army in the past, during the island’s civil war that it ended by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, and its contentious presence and role in the country’s Tamil-majority north and east since then continue to dominate the discourse around post-war resettlement and reconciliation. Amidst growing calls from the Tamil political leadership and the people for demilitarisation of the war-scarred areas, what is the army’s role and vision as Sri Lanka tries transitioning into peace? Excerpts from an interview in Colombo:

It is nine years since the civil war ended. The period has witnessed some crucial political developments, including a regime change in 2015. The current government came to power on the promise of strengthening democracy. In this post-war context, how do you see the role of the army?

•The Sri Lankan army had been a traditional army, a ceremonial army, back in the 1970s, early 1980s. Due to the negative incidents that took place in the early 1980s, the army was expanded to face the challenges and threats that came in the way of the country’s territorial integrity and internal security. The army put in the main effort to ensure there is peace that the people aspired for, making many sacrifices. In recent history, Sri Lanka is the one and only country on the world map that has eradicated terrorism from its soil. We are a victorious army.

•Once the combat is over, it is the responsibility of the army itself to understand its role and task. The last nine years were very critical to understand what happened 30 years ago. What must this government and army do to ensure that we don’t go back to the roots of the conflict that began 30 years ago? We have to find a mechanism, a commitment within the country to satisfy our own people more than the people outside. Today, we are closer to a better solution. Democracy was restored, elections were held [in 2015], good governance was brought in.

•In this context, we are right-sizing and building a capacity-based army. We have to give back to the people by right-sizing and ensuring that the war will not recur. We are engaging with the people in the north and east to identify our responsibility. The 30 years of war were brutal, many lives were lost on both sides. This is a sort of testing period for us. Maybe till 2020. I believe that will be the time to take a good jump. As Chief of the Army Staff, I can say that the army is the only organisation which has the biggest capacity, be it human resource or anything else.

In Sri Lanka, as in some other parts of the world, the military is highly politicised. How are you negotiating that?

•In the past, extra politicisation was there. Of course, the war is an extension of politics, we do know and understand that. But today, with the change of government in 2015, we are proud to say that we are not under pressure. As an army commander, I am not under pressure from my Minister, the President, or the Prime Minister. That means, politicisation of the armed forces has been curtailed or is very minimal.

•In 2015, we had [presidential] elections in a democratic way. There were a lot of allegations on the armed forces — especially the army — that they got involved in politics in January 2015. The same year, in August, we had [parliamentary] elections. The same people who earlier accused us were asking, ‘Where are you?’ This February, we had another election [local government polls]. People say many members of the armed forces were voting against the government. That means there was no politicisation or pressure. We never pressured our soldiers to vote a particular way; we allowed them to vote for the person they wanted. There may be a few individuals who have their own affiliations with political parties, but otherwise generally they have the right to decide what they want to do.

You served as the Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna in 2016, overseeing some efforts towards resettlement of the war-displaced Tamil community. President Maithripala Sirisena recently told Parliament that 85% of people’s land occupied by the military has been returned. Why did it take this long?

•Based on our study after the war ended, we evolved a 2020 plan and a 2025 plan. We know which land can be released at what time. Before 2015, there were many other reasons, the people were not sure what was going to happen. But after 2015, and that is why I say there is no politicisation or pressure, the decision is being taken by the armed forces itself. We have understood where it is strategically and tactically important to stay, what the nodal points are. We decide how best we can bring normalcy, giving the maximum to the people who are legally entitled to it.

•I look at it like this. This is a country in which we have Internally Displaced Persons’ [IDP] camps. About 3,00,000 [civilians] joined us after the humanitarian operation. As many as 13,169 ex-LTTE cadres surrendered. Our aim is to make this country free of IDP camps. You should not have internally displaced people in your own country. I can understand somewhere else, but not here.

•But there are reasons for them to stay in camps. One, they don’t have the land. Secondly, in some instances, the people who stayed back [and did not migrate] belong to the third generation, and don’t own land. We are addressing this by engaging with the Tamil political leadership in the north and east, for them to understand that ‘this is your army’. This is not a Sinhalese army, this is a Sri Lankan army.

•Until now about 80% of the land has been released. The remaining? Still 2% of the land mass is yet to be de-mined. We had three types of minefields — one laid by the Sri Lankan armed forces, we have the records for that. Secondly, those laid by the LTTE, we do not have the records for that. And thirdly, those laid by the IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force], we don’t have records for that too. When you say humanitarian de-mining, it should be 100%. It will take time. So, 2020 will be our target for that.

•On April 13, we released 683 acres in Palaly, a critical area. It was a very bold decision as far as the Sri Lankan armed forces are concerned and we took it. We calculated the risk, nobody pressured us. Frankly, even the government or the political leadership did not know that we were going to release land there.

•In another four to five months, we will return more land. We have identified some private land on which armed forces are stationed. We cannot compromise on national security. For that reason, we have to have some troops in those areas, and we are shifting them to state land. I need some finances for us to resettle.

•The Resettlement Ministry has paid LKR 150 million to the army as compensation to relocate from private land that the people once lived on, or cultivated. Given that the Defence Ministry has the highest budgetary allocation, why would you need these additional funds, which are meant for people’s resettlement, to return the land that rightfully belongs to the people?

•The army has two programmes. One is sustainment; the other is modernisation. To sustain the army, it is not only about land or capital investment. Maintenance of our inventory is key. We are spending about the same amount, but the value of money has gone down. When we shift from one place to the other, leaving behind some things, there is a need for redeployment or to establish something, for which you need capital. If the Government of Sri Lanka decides that money should be allocated from that Ministry, I am not interested in where the money comes from.

As per the Appropriation Bill ahead of the 2018 Budget, the Ministry of Defence was allotted LKR 260,711,375,000 ($1.6 billion) as recurrent expenditure and LKR 30 billion ($190 million) as capital expenditure, the highest allocation in the Budget. How do you justify such a huge allocation, nine years after the war ended? Is it for modernisation?

•More than modernisation, it is for sustainment because costs have gone up. During the war, we were not living comfortably. In the post-war scenario, to ensure that there is no war again, the army is being deployed in different areas and the basics have to be given to them. Even that costs money.

You spoke about right-sizing. Why do you still need so many uniformed men in the north and east, almost a decade after you defeated the LTTE? The people have voiced concern over the army’s involvement in civilian activity, particularly in agricultural farms and as preschool teachers, seeing it as continuing militarisation. Why must the army get involved in these areas?

•It is a perception among some segments of society. If you take north and east, take the capacity of any organisation. Thirty years of war have left our community in the north at a disadvantage. The government machinery was not functioning for decades. There was a big gap and our services are needed to address it. The armed forces deployed in the north are the only organisations who have the capacity to perform.

•I have been discussing this with the [northern] Chief Minister, requesting him to use our capacity. Some can look at our presence negatively, but a majority will accept it. Then there is the question of security itself. By that I mean security concerns from non-traditional threats.

What are they?

•For example, drugs, human smuggling. In Sri Lanka today, drug trafficking and drug abuse is a non-traditional threat. Our newspapers often report news of Kerala ganja being smuggled. We are in close proximity of our neighbours. Everybody is not doing it, the Indian government doesn’t do it, but it comes here. And it is being distributed. Our Tamil population has never experienced this threat in history, and that is why there is a security force requirement as of today, until the police does policing correctly. There is a gap in policing, law and order. The day that Sri Lankan police does proper policing, we will be the happiest to go inside a camp and play cricket or come back to the south.

•In the north, definitely there is a reduction in our troops. We are in the process of right-sizing. This does not mean downsizing. The number may be the same but the deployment is different.

Is this the security sector reform that Sri Lanka committed to at the Human Rights Council in 2015? Where does that stand?

•If I talk about the figure, when I joined the army it was totally about 10,000 in number. But at the end of the conflict, we were an army of 2,36,000. It has been reduced by almost 50,000 now. I agree that we are not exhibiting what we are doing. Then we want to discipline the society. We believe that by disciplining the society these problems will not be there. It has happened all over the world. But when we do it, it is interpreted differently. That is why you are asking that question.

Your army has been under international scrutiny for some time. Do you feel pressured?

•If we were listening to only what the international community was saying, not only Sri Lanka, any other country will not prosper. We would have not won the war. The peace that everybody enjoys today, irrespective of whether you’re a Sinhalese or Tamil, north or south, would have never been there. So, at that time, with political will and public support, all armed forces, everybody got together and we finished that. Now we face allegations, those are baseless.

•No war was fought with zero casualty. If the accusations against anyone are proved in the courts, there will be no sympathy from our side. We want to maintain discipline so we are ready to face any inquiry, but within the legal framework of Sri Lanka.

You spoke of non-conventional threats. But in terms of conventional threats, both domestic and international, how is Sri Lanka placed today in your assessment?

•Sri Lanka is a peaceful country today. We are not expecting any external aggression but internally, being an island and with people living here with different motives, a few skirmishes could take place. But touch wood, from May 19, 2009, till date there has been not a single explosion or round of firing in the name of the LTTE or terrorism. That means we are a model to the world on how to progress in a post-conflict scenario.

•But it is the responsibility of any nation to prepare for war. That doesn’t mean only internal, it maybe regional. We are our neighbour’s [India’s] closest friend, we have almost 1,00,000 Sri Lankans living there and we have more than 10,000-15,000 of them living here. It is a security concern, not a threat.

•We have Muslim brothers and sisters living here, about 10% of the population. There is no Islamic State here. There are very few self-motivated people. They are not motivated by Madrasas, or by any mosque, but just through the Internet. They work here. It is common to any society, to other countries also. It is not organised, just a few individuals. Then it is our responsibility to ensure that a capacity-based army is ready for any eventuality. All this is manageable.

•Could you talk about military cooperation with Pakistan and China? Do you find any tensions or challenges in these partnerships when it comes to other relationships? For example, with India or the U.S.

•Historically, Sri Lanka has been a non-aligned country. We are neutral, so we value all our neighbours. Our biggest neighbour and best friend is India. We are looking forward to the Indian army chief’s visit [currently ongoing]. For army commanders, these regional visits are common. The Pakistan army chief was here. I went to Pakistan, met the President, the Prime Minister. I was in India in March but unfortunately, I was called back after the first day because of the problems [anti-Muslim attacks] in Kandy. I am waiting to go back to my college. I did my civil engineering degree in Pune. A majority of Sri Lankan army officers are trained in India.

•We have exercises with India, Pakistan, the Chinese, and the U.S. because this is neutral. We believe we are a good strength for SAARC, whether it is economically or militarily. Because we are neutral.


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