India and Lanka commit to more cooperation in education and skills training – The

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To mark 58 years of capacity building partnership between India and Sri Lanka through Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), High Commission of India in Colombo celebrated ITEC Day 2022 on Sept 28.
An Indian High Commission release said: Education Minister Susil Premajayantha and Secretary to the Ministry of Education Nihal Ranasingha graced the occasion as the Chief Guest and the Guest of Honour respectively. The event was attended by over 100 participants, which included ITEC alumni from Sri Lanka, officials and professionals from diverse sectors who have participated in various training courses in India under ITEC programmes.
In his address, the Minister of Education lauded the historically close relations between India and Sri Lanka for more than 2000 years. He appreciated India for the ITEC slots and the annual scholarships offered to Sri Lankan nationals, and thanked India for the financial support extended to Sri Lanka in recent months.  The Minister highlighted the scope for further cooperation between India and Sri Lanka in the field of higher education, skill development and capacity building, especially from India’s STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and IT sectors. He also referred to the comprehensive National Education Policy of India and its benefits for students and educators.
Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay noted the enormous interest shown by Sri Lankan officials for the ITEC programme over the years. He emphasised the importance of ITEC cooperation and remarked that “sky is the limit” for India-Sri Lanka partnership in education and skills training. High Commissioner highlighted India’s endeavour to help Sri Lanka in the education sector, including in higher education through partnership between higher education institutes in India and Sri Lanka, besides the current 402 ITEC slots and around 700 scholarships offered every year.
The participants reminisced and shared their experiences of ITEC training in India and appreciated the holistic content of the different ITEC programmes. Prof. Ilmi Ganga Hewajulige, Additional Director General R&D of Sri Lanka’s Industrial Technology Institute, who had undergone ITEC training programme on ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Policy’ at the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISC),Bengaluru described the programme as ‘a package of knowledge and experience’. She added that the information gathered on policy drafting and   I-STEM were highly informative and the learnings had already been put to use in Sri Lanka as Sri Lanka’s National Science Foundation (NSF) has started a similar concept on I-STEM to have collaboration with the Indian system. Rishad Akram Rafi, Manager of Cyber Security & Compliance at Sunshine Holdings Plc., who attended Young Leaders Neighborhood Fellowship Programme at the St. Stephen’s college, New Delhi highlighted the lectures and experience he received in India in diverse fields ranging from Economics, constitutions, Policy planning, Political science, Healthcare & Law. Sasija Gayeshini Silva, Deputy Director of Education, Zonal Education Office at Chilaw, who attended the ITEC course on “Design Thinking Approach for Innovative Organizations” conducted by Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida said that the ITEC training motivated her to work for her motherland with renewed energy. Chathurdi Udari Withange, Career Counsellor at University of Colombo,who attended the ITEC training program conducted by Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (SVYASA), Bengaluru termed the training as “life changing” experience and mentioned that she will use the training to help others to find their inner peace and happiness through Yoga. The participants also remarked that the training modules were synchronised with modern technologies and were social relevant.
ITEC is a flagship programme of the Government of India launched in September 1964 for extending technical assistance and enhancing capacity building of friendly developing countries. It has emerged as an important vehicle for India’s contribution to human resource development of partner countries with over 200,000 persons from 160 fellow developing countries having participated in the programme. Sri Lanka is currently allotted 402 training slots annually for the ITEC programme. Every year Indian diplomatic Missions celebrate this South-South partnership all over the world as ‘ITEC Day’.

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Alleging that those who participated in the recent protests could be targeted, former Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan moved the Supreme Court last Friday (30 Sept.) against the ‘Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill’.The Attorney-at-Law named Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, as the respondent. The fundamental rights petition has been filed in terms of Article 121(1) of the Constitution challenging the Bill, titled “Bureau of Rehabilitation Act”. The petitioner has stated that provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution  of Sri Lanka that guaranteed freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and unequal treatment and discrimination.
Satkunanathan served the Human Rights Commission during the Yahapalana administration at the time Dr. Deepika Udagama functioned as the independent commission’s chairperson.The petition states that the Bill purports to establish a Bureau for the rehabilitation of “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons who require treatments and rehabilitation”.
 Notwithstanding the fact that these categories are ill-defined and do not clarify how persons may qualify for rehabilitation under these categories, the Bill assumes that “members of violent extremist groups” and “drug dependent persons” require that same approach to rehabilitation. The use of such vague and arbitrary classifications can thus lead to persons being detained for rehabilitation for even participating in protests, as recent arrests of protesters, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, have demonstrated.
The government has previously attempted to introduce a similar rehabilitation programme under the “Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021”. The petitioner filed a fundamental rights petition against these regulations, as well, in SC FR Application No. 107/2021 as they contained provisions that contravened articles of the Constitution. The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed, issuing an interim order against the regulations being applied until the final determination of the application. The petitioner states the Bill in its current format is similarly ex facie unconstitutional and impinges on fundamental rights.
The petitioner has raised concerns against the militarisation of the rehabilitation process by way of section 17 of the Bill, which allows the President to designate any member of the armed forces to exercise, perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions under the Act. The petitioner states that there is no connection between the rehabilitation process and involvement of the armed forces, and the lack of a clear chain of command restricts oversight and accountability of the actions of the members of the armed forces. These concerns are exacerbated due to section 25 of the Bill, whereby officers of the Bureau are prevented from disclosing information about the ongoing activities at the Centres, which threatens the welfare of persons detained for the purposes of rehabilitation.
The petitioner has cited other provisions of concern in the Bill, including section 28 (2) where persons employed at the Centres for Rehabilitation “to preserve order and discipline” may use all means “including minimum force as may reasonably be necessary to compel obedience to any lawful directions’’, which enables the use of violence against persons detained at the centres. Section 27 makes the obstruction or attempted obstruction of any person employed at a Centre for Rehabilitation in the performance of their duties an offence punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment, without defining what may constitute an obstruction. For instance, relapse and withdrawal symptoms are expected aspects of drug treatment processes, but under the above-mentioned provisions, persons engaging in such behaviour could be subjected to punishment.
The petitioner has requested the Supreme Court to declare several sections of the Bill, as outlined in the petition, inconsistent with Articles 10, 11, 12(1), 12(2), 13(2), 13(4) and/or 14A of the Constitution of Sri Lanka as they violate the fundamental rights and Sovereignty of the People contrary to Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution, and therefore cannot be enacted into law except if approved by the People, at a Referendum, in addition to a two-thirds vote of the whole number of the members of Parliament in favour.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kirirella, MP, has said the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksha government should hold Local Government (LG) polls without further delay.The Samagi Jana Balavegala (SJB) heavyweight questioned the rationale behind spending public funds on a three-day international conference on local governance in Colombo this week at a time the Opposition was demanding the government to conduct the much delayed local government polls.
The three-day conference, organised by Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance (SLILG), will be held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) commencing 05 Oct. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena are scheduled to attend the inauguration.Kiriella warned the government that it couldn’t hoodwink the public by conducting conferences on local government instead of local government polls. The former UNP minister acknowledged that their Yahapalana government, too, had put off local government polls. But, ultimately, paid a very heavy price for what he called a strategic blunder.
MP Kiriella asserted that both President Wickremesinghe, with just one UNP seat in Parliament, and absolutely no local government bodies under its control, and the trouble-ridden SLPP feared to face the electorate.The terms of the LG bodies were to expire in March this year but they were extended by a Gazette notification till 19 March 2023.
Former Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe issued the relevant Gazette notification pertaining to 24 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils, and 275 Pradeshiya Sabhas.Kiriella said the Covid-19 pandemic had been cited as an excuse for postponing the LG polls.Commenting on the inauguration of the National Council, on 29 Sept., Kiriella, who attended it, told The Island the government was not genuine in its efforts to overcome the crisis.
MP Kiriella said that he had reminded Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena how the latter had gone back on a promise to allow the Opposition to head the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA). The Speaker had given that pledge at a meeting of the Parliamentary Business Committee on June 07, and reiterated it on 12 August, in Parliament, Kiriella said.
Contrary to the Standing Orders, the SLPP retained the leadership of the COPE, the COPA, as well as the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) following the last parliamentary elections.  Commending the leadership given by Prof. Charitha Herath (COPE), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (COPA) and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (COPF) during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President, MP Kiriella emphasised that the Opposition could have played a much better role if the three watchdog committees were under the leadership of Opposition members.
The circumstances leading to the country declaring bankruptcy, in May this year, should be examined against the backdrop of the government retaining control of three watchdog committees, the Chief Opposition Whip said. In the wake of the economic turmoil, the government gave control of the COPF to the Opposition (Dr. Harsha de Silva) though a decision was yet to be made on the COPE and the COPA.
MP Kiriella said the SJB didn’t want to reject the National Council outright without giving it an opportunity. But their cooperation would depend on the government’s readiness to address the concerns of the Opposition, MP Kiriella said, adding that the SJB was yet to name its representatives to the National Council. In addition to two ex-officio positions (Opposition Leader and Chief Opposition Whip), the SJB can name three MPs to the council.
MP Kiriella said that the government should realise that the National Council couldn’t, under any circumstances, achieve what was expected of an all-party- government. He warned that the SJB wouldn’t dance to the SLPP’s tune. The inordinate delay in LG polls, the appointment of 38 State Ministers and the moves to increase the number of Cabinet ministers by 10 more wouldn’t help achieve consensus, the MP said, demanding that the government made a clear statement on how it intended to address the economic woes.
MP Kiriella said that the TNA, the JVP and SLPP rebels had rejected the National Council. The government should address the concerns of the Opposition immediately as, contrary to their expectations, the situation was deteriorating. “I Hope the President and the SLPP realize the agreement with the IMF for USD 2.9 bn is not the panacea for all our ills.”
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has alleged that there are drug addicts in the Parliament. Therefore, all members of Parliament should be screened before the ordinary people are made to undergo drug tests in terms of the proposed Bureau of Rehabilitation Act, he says.
Declaring his opposition to the Bill titled Bureau of Rehabilitation Act, the SJB leader said at a recent public gathering that the new law was meant to suppress anti-government protests. Referring to some provisions of the proposed Bill, lawmaker Premadasa said that first of all members of Parliament should be tested. Assuring he would subject himself first for the required testing, the SJB leader said the proponents of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Act could identify those addicted to medicine and narcotics, including heroin.
The Bill is aimed at establishing a Bureau for the rehabilitation of “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons who require treatments and rehabilitation” MP Premadasa said that tests in terms of the proposed Act could reveal the number of MPs addicted to drugs and narcotics in the Parliament. (SF)

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