SAITM, CRICKET AND YAHAPALANA
Posted on December 4th, 2017

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Yahapalana government   has gone out of its way to upset the public and send tempers high. The SAITM issue is one example. This issue which should have been solved internally was allowed to escalate, observed Dr. Susirith Mendis, who teaches in the Medical Faculty, Colombo. Business Times and Research Consultancy Bureau (BT-RCB) conducted a street poll in Colombo and Galle in October 2017. While commenting on other matters, respondents said that Yahapalana avoids issues like the rising cost of living and instead raises unnecessary issues, such as SAITM.

SAITM started as the South Asian Institute of   Technology and Management.  Then it replaced the word ‘Management’ with ‘Medicine’. SAITM was a BOI project.  The BOI is not an advisable route towards a degree awarding institute, to start with.

From the beginning, the medical profession was critical of this institute. They said the facilities and training were unsatisfactory and SAITM should be closed down. Sri Lanka Medical Council and the Government Medical Officers’ Association issued public warnings regarding registering with SAITM. The two medical boards appointed by the UGC in 2013 and 2015 to evaluate SAITM, refused to approve the institute but were sympathetic to the plight of the students already registered.

In July 2016, the Deans of Medical faculties issued a report, where they recommended further training for those in SAITM and wanted them to obtain a further certificate acceptable to the licensing body, SLMC. UGC however granted degree-awarding status to SAITM amidst protests from the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). The first batch of SAITM doctors emerged in 2016. They were refused registration. They went to courts and Supreme Court directed the Sri Lanka Medical Council to grant provisional registration to SAITM medical graduates.

Several bodies intervened to settle the issue. GMOA, deans of all state medical faculties and unions representing lecturers at state medical faculties drafted a joint document,  around April 2017, which put forward a set of solutions acceptable to all stakeholders.    But Yahapalana took no notice.  All this has resulted in a protracted tug of war, which has still not ended.

There have been so many protests over SAITM that is difficult to recall them all, observed Susirith Mendis. There were protests for SAITM and protests against SAITM. The SAITM students held a protest held outside the Health Ministry demanding that they be allowed to practice at national hospitals. The students then invaded the Ministry of Health and damaged public property. This was televised and shown on news. The SAITM parents also demonstrated several times. They held a satyagraha and later a hunger strike at Fort railway station. One demonstration went on for over 50 days.

On the anti-SAITM side, Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) staged many one day strikes on SAITM issue. They had a vehicle parade as well. Government Nurses Organization and Dental Association also joined in the demonstrations. The SAITM demonstrations also became anti-government demonstrations with the unions of Ceylon Electricity Board   and Petroleum Corporation joining in. The protests caused severe traffic congestion in Colombo.

The very idea of a private medical college in Sri Lanka has always been a sensitive issue with medical students. They fear for their jobs.  Therefore, medical students from state universities also joined the protests. Over 7,000 students of eight state-run medical faculties boycotted lectures for two months and returned to their studies only in November 2017.

Their most spectacular student demonstration was in May 2017 in Colombo. The demonstrators, who included Inter-University Student Bala Mandalaya and  Medical Students’ Action Committee, defied a court order and tried to march to Presidents House in a very forceful manner.  Police blocked their way but they refused to move and were exposed for half an hour to water cannon. Then since they still did not disperse, the police baton charged them. The ferocity of the attack   was clearly visible on television news. (e.g. Derana news of 10.10.17) Island ran a half page of photos on this incident. 13 persons were   admitted to hospital for treatment.

Yahapalana encouraged the SAITM conflict. Yahapalana Government has tear gassed and water cannoned both the parents of SAITM and students protesting SAITM, observed critics. Outside organizations were also encouraged to join in.  One organization, I am told,   was pushed by its President to have three separate seminars on the SAITM matter, one for GMOA, one for SAITM and the third for the public. The membership had misgivings and the plan was dropped.

Yahapalana first said, bluntly, that they would not close down SAITM, which meant that the protests would continue. This decision received such strong opposition that Yahapalana finally offered two separate solutions. These were promptly rejected. GMOA described the Government’s proposals as being designed to escalate the issue”.

The Federation of Faculty of Medicine Teachers Associations of Sri Lanka (FFMTA) representing trade unions of the academic staff of state medical faculties issued a statement in April 2017. They said that a consensus proposal to solve this issue was handed over to the President on March 2017. No action has been taken. FFMTA is extremely disturbed by the ‘negligent approach’ of the authorities to solve the matter.  We do not see constructive action been taken to end this crisis, using the proposals submitted.

This crisis has now come to a stage where the harmonious existence of the daily life of the whole population is at stake, due to the strikes, continued FFMTA. Further, educational activities of the students of the eight state medical faculties are disrupted for over two months, leading to serious consequences for generations of students in the future, it noted. FFMTA demands a quick and a reasonable solution to this crisis based on the five point proposal presented by us.

With final examinations not being held at the state medical faculties, there will be no intern doctors for deployment in November 2017 and May 2018 when the intakes are scheduled to be recruited. Till the new intern doctors are recruited, the House Officers will not be released, which would then travel upwards in the hospital system, preventing and impacting even post-graduate education said observers.

SAITM simply cannot be allowed to do this to the whole system, said commentators. We need urgent action in addressing this crisis which has dragged on for far too long. GMOA added that GCE A/level students eligible to study medicine were also wasting their time, unable to gain university admission.

it was also observed that many Bhutanese medical students study at the Ragama Medical Faculty — the fees from whom are used for the development of the institution. the Bhutanese government which is sponsoring these students has expressed serious concerns about the current situation. Bhutan is wondering whether to send their medical students, elsewhere to other countries, said authorities.

When the SAITM issue was developing into crisis proportions, I had a worrisome premonition, said Susirith Mendis. I had the feeling that the government was deliberately allowing this issue to fester into a ‘national crisis’. That there was an underlying method in its madness. The government deliberately planned to allow a ‘national crisis’ to develop over the issue.

The government plan was to create as much chaos as possible, goad the GMOA and the IUSF into action, entice them onto the streets, commit themselves into demonstrations that will inevitably lead to violence, said Mendis. The public  will    exhaust themselves, their ‘protest energies’ sapped by the months’ long protests in the streets over SAITM   and more important matters such as ECTA,  Trincomalee  oil tanks and Constitution reform will  be  passed unnoticed.

There was agreement with this view. These demonstrations are well organized, said another commentator. I think that they are extending the SAITM issue in the hope that it will divert attention from the Acts they are planning to bring into Parliament and all the other things they are planning to do, he said.  All agree that SAITM matter should have been solved internally, instead it was allowed to escalate because Yahapalana wants to create dissension in the country.

National tensions have also showed up in Sri Lanka cricket. Indrajit Coomaraswamy said that since the World Cup 1996 victory, the Sri Lankan cricket team has had a record that has been surpassed only by Australia in ICC tournaments, involving all the major cricket playing countries. The Test Team has also been highly competitive. The Sri Lankan brand was both respected and admired, even loved, throughout the cricketing world. Sri Lanka has also produced a number of iconic players who have thrilled fans throughout the cricketing world .

Sri Lanka seemed to be everyone’s second favorite team after their own country, continued Coomaraswamy. The success on the field was complemented by a fan base which supported its national team with great passion but also a disciplined attitude which celebrated successes with great enthusiasm and accepted losses with philosophical equanimity. Sri Lanka fans have supported their national teams, particularly the cricket team, loyally through both successful and challenging times, concluded Coomaraswamy.  We also know that unlike in India, Sri Lankans did not attack the homes of cricketers and the cricketers themselves, when the team lost.

But after Yahapalana took over, Sri Lanka’s international cricket went down very fast. Sri Lanka lost match after match. Sri Lanka were completely outplayed in the ongoing bilateral series against India, where they were whitewashed 3-0 in Tests and 5-0 in ODIs, reported the sports media. The first two Tests ended inside four days while the last Test lasted less than three days. During the ODI series, Sri Lanka was bowled out thrice without utilizing their full quota of 50 overs.

Cricket fans became impatient and finally,   tempers flared when Sri Lanka lost the third one-day international to India at the Pallekele International Stadium in August 2017. That loss was Sri Lanka’s 15th in 19 ODIs for the 2017 calendar year. As Sri Lanka hurtled towards another defeat against India, certain sections of the crowd in Pallekele went out of control as they hurled bottles onto the ground, leading to the stoppage of play for 32 minutes, reported the media. It was the first such instance in Sri Lanka  where Sri Lanka cricketers were booed at a home match. However, riot police came in and managed to clear an entire section of the grass bank, which allowed play to resume. The cricketers had to remain in their dressing room until they were escorted away from the stadium by the Police.

This was the second instance of Sri Lankan fans turning hostile against their team in this ODI series. After the home team’s nine-wicket loss in Dambulla, Sri Lankan fans resorted to protesting and shouted slogans against the team just as the players were about to board the team bus. Riot police had to intervene then to clear the crowd before the team members boarded the bus and headed towards their hotel.

An inability to accept negative outcomes after a sporting contest runs counter to the outlook of the vast majority of Sri Lankans, said Coomaraswamy. The bad behavior at cricket matches by a small minority must therefore, be condemned. It is out of character and wholly unacceptable. The behavior of fans at last two ODIs was not called for, he said. The young Sri Lankan team played with plenty of spirit in both games and competed vigorously against a strong Indian team which is currently ranked number one.

Sidat Wettimuny, a former opening batsman and one of the most respected voices in the sport, criticized the  present structure of Sri Lanka cricket, specially  Sri Lanka’s First Class structure. Sri Lanka had 14 teams competing in First Class cricket, but the current administration increased the number into 24. Thanks to a terrible First Class structure, we don’t have anyone waiting on the wings. Then, we could lose five players and bring a good combination, but not right now, noted Wettimuny.

There is erosion of confidence and that’s the biggest problem I see at the moment, noted Wettimuny. The mindset of the players is in disarray. There’s lack of direction and confusion. Wettimuny also criticized some of the selections that have been made in recent times.  Dinesh Chandimal has been Sri Lanka’s best batsman in ODI cricket in the last two years, but strangely he was left out of the Zimbabwe series and for the current series. He was only brought back into the squad as injury replacement.

Public tensions are erupting elsewhere too. Derana news on 28.8.17 showed Chilaw fishermen in two villages fighting each other with large poles. There was another instance, shown on television, where a commuter had been assaulted for asking where the train to Veyangoda was and a fight had started in the station.  (I have lost the reference, it came on Derana 6.55 news). But the best indication of heightened tension is the sudden strike of railway drivers on 11.10.17 at Fort station. This sudden train strike was due to trade union action staged by the engine drivers and railway guards,

The railway trade unions had opposed the new procedure of recruitment of engine driver assistants, which they said breached recruitment and safety guidelines.  Prime Minister’s office and Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry refused to revise the recruitment procedures. So the Locomotive Operating Engineers’ Union struck work. We thought the Government will compromise and settle the issues related to the recruitment process of engine driver assistants and their salaries, a spokesman said.

All trains starting from Colombo Fort and Maradana were cancelled. without prior notice. Thousands of commuters were left stranded, resulting in a tense situation at the Colombo Fort and Maradana Railway stations. Hundreds of enraged rail commuters surrounded the office of the station master while crowds bayed from the elevated walkways and stairways at the rail hub demanding transport to go home.

Railway staffers who issued tickets were humiliated by irate passengers. They were asked to shed their uniforms and go home. Derana 12.10.17 showed the fury of the commuters. One said ‘ meke une umbala eyalata chanda dunne nisa’, another said ‘strike properly, not like this’. many furious passengers said they will teach an unforgettable lesson to locomotive driver unions and threatened to punish them while TV cameras kept rolling. Meanwhile, the SLTB deployed additional buses to provide transport to commuters.

One Response to “SAITM, CRICKET AND YAHAPALANA”

  1. Senerath Says:

    And then he broke Viv Richard’s record !

    Dhananjaya and a new dawn for Sri Lanka – Coutesy Siddhrat Monga Delhi

    On the brightest, cleanest day of the Delhi Test, Sri Lanka completed what had happened only five times previously: bat 100 overs or more in the fourth innings to deny India a win at home.

    Sri Lanka recorded the highest fourth-innings total against India in India and they did so in one of the most bizarre Tests seen – well, seen might be a stretch given the smog. Their players kept falling sick because of pollution, and the genuineness of the sickness was questioned in some way or the other every day by officials and former India players.

    Every time you heard an India player or support staff talking about it, you would have thought this was war and the players had no choice but to continue fulfilling their duty no matter the sacrifice. And take pride in it. With Mahendra Kapoor playing in the background.

    If it was war, Sri Lanka forced the aggressor to call a ceasefire with India offering the draw in the end. If it was a test of dedication to one’s duty and sacrifice, there was a clear winner in the end.

    Unable to adjust to the pollution in Delhi, Dhananjaya de Silva vomited inside the dressing room on day two. He then bowled five overs in the second innings, but more importantly went on to bat 257 minutes to save the Test despite a glute injury that troubled him so badly he was unable to bend by the time he went off the field for treatment. Runners are not allowed nowadays, remember.

    It was an innings of calm, of assured attack, and of restraint. This was not quite an epic blockathon, the kind that tickles the fancies of Test tragics. This was an effort from a man who knew he had to keep scoring runs to keep the pressure off. The pitch was his ally. There was hardly any assistance for the spinners. Ravindra Jadeja made one misbehave here and there but, largely, Dhananjaya could trust the ball to turn the way it was intended to and back himself to play accordingly.

    That was only half the job done, though. India had all the momentum when he came in to bat in gloomy light on the fourth evening. R Ashwin and Jadeja are still the two highest-rated spinners in the world. There were spells of cat-and-mouse cricket. When Ashwin left the cover open, Dhananjaya managed the balance that is hard to maintain. His first instinct was to look for runs off every ball but defended assuredly if it was not quite there. He would stay back and wait for a ball short enough. If it was fuller, he would block it out. And if it was fractionally short, he would place it wide of mid-off, even if for just a single.
    Dhananjaya de Silva receives attention from Sri Lanka’s physio in the middle BCCI

    Slowly those fractionally short balls became shorter and shorter, and Ashwin was forced to ask for a cover and a deep point. Now Dhananjaya began sweeping to take advantage of the relaxed on-side field. India under Virat Kohli have shown against South Africa and England that they can find a way past a blockathon, but when the runs keep flowing, they start to spread fields. Niroshan Dickwella might have been a tad bit cheeky in saying that Sri Lanka were going to go for the win if de Silva had not injured himself, but Dinesh Chandimal explained the approach by saying they stood no chance if they did nothing but defend.

    Spread fields mean running for your runs, and that is where Dhananjaya was severely hampered. In the middle session, he would double up at the end of each over, stretching himself, grimacing with pain, receiving treatment, but somehow getting up again to face another over. After a while, the umpires waved off help. They were fair in doing so having given him enough time. Now it was up to de Silva to either play through the pain or go off. He continued but not for long. It was decided the physio needed to get him off the field and treat him on the table. And this is not tennis, where you get that break.

    If India had to go through Sri Lanka, they had to go through de Silva. He was ready to come back had a wicket fallen. But then two youngsters – Roshen Silva might be 29 but he was playing his first Test – saw them to safety and de Silva ended up with the highest fourth-innings score by a visiting batsman in India.

    Therein was a lesson for the Sri Lanka management. Not long ago, Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya burst onto the scene almost by accident – they didn’t come up through a system – and won them Tests against Australia in tough batting conditions. Despair after the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara had given way to promise. Imagine the two developing under the watch of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal.

    Then the team went to South Africa. It was okay till Port Elizabeth, but come the two tougher surfaces…

    De Silva, until then a No. 6 batsman, was asked to move up to No. 4. Chandimal, Mathews and even Upul Tharanga – a rather inexplicable comeback based on ODI runs – batted below the inexperienced Mendis and Dhananjaya. Fifty-six runs in those two Tests later, he was dropped. Just as suddenly as it disappeared, despair was back with India beating Sri Lanka for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Sri Lanka only need to look at their neighbours, where a strong leader in MS Dhoni identified the youngsters he wanted to back and gave them a long rope as opposed to exposing them to the line of fire. One of the beneficiaries of this trust, Kohli – he could have easily been dropped in Australia in 2011-12 to protect a senior and at the same time make a change for the sake of change – carries that legacy forward.

    There are few things more heartbreaking in sport than false dawns and watching young talent wither away. Sri Lanka have let that happen once. Dawns rarely knock twice; Sri Lanka can’t afford to put on their sleep mask and look the other way now.

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