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Whither university education in Sri Lanka?

Text of an address delivered by Professor J. N. Oleap Fernando, Chartered Chemist to a joint meeting of the British Scholars Association of Sri Lanka and the Imperial College Alumni Association of Sri Lanka at the British Council Auditorium recently

Generally speaking, Sri Lanka has over the past years produced university graduates, who have been able to occupy satisfactorily relevant positions available in the country. Some graduates have also read satisfactorily for post-graduate degrees both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Unfortunately many graduates, particularly in the hard sciences and professional fields, have migrated and contributed to the Brain Drain but most of them are performing well abroad. Some graduates are however unemployed or under-employed largely due to a lack of competency in English and/or lack of creativity and/or over-production.

However we have to take cognisance of important issues that have come into the forefront in recent years due to globalisation and the transformation of Sri Lanka’s closed pre-1977 economy to an Open Economy thereafter. If I were to pose three questions:

Question 1: 25-30 years ago, getting 4 out of 8 Distinctions at the GCE (O/L) was a rare event while getting all 4 Distinctions at the University Entrance was certainly not that easy or common as today. The demand for admission is also much more acute today. Therefore, at least on paper, those admitted to Universities in recent years should have a much better academic competence. However, are most of the graduates produced today from 13 University institutions amongst a very competitively selected group of secondary school leavers as versatile, capable, flexible and forward looking as those produced by the single University of Ceylon up to 35 years ago?

Question 2: Are the academic staff teaching today’s undergraduates as competent, capable and inspiring as those academics who taught some of us in the single University of Ceylon up to mid sixties.

Question 3: Is the University system adequately autonomous, independent and having adequate resources to meet the ever increasing challenges of the 21st century and the new millenium?

You would agree with me that the many problems awaiting solutions in all spheres of life in Sri Lanka are inevitably affecting the activities of our state sponsored University system as well. Regrettably the problems in the University are becoming even more acute and the solutions are getting further away.

Personally I have studied under this system at Colombo & Peradeniya for 4 years; I have served this system uninterruptedly for the past 34 years as an academic at Peradeniya, Colombo and the Open University. Despite all the agony and frustrations I have encountered in serving such a scale organisation, particularly in an administrative capacity for 15 of the 34 years, I am looking forward undaunted to serve this same system for the next 9 years as well. I have also now become the academic with the longest continuing university service at the Open University of Sri Lanka. Unlike some of my colleagues who have looked outside Sri Lanka for the university education of their children, I am happy that my only child has just completed a Sri Lankan University Degree Course. I therefore feel that I have a sufficient 40 year experience with Sri Lanka’s national higher education system as a student, as a parent and as an academic to venture to attempt to identify a key culprit for many of the problems in our University system:

Increasing politicisation of the University System in Sri Lanka

In my opinion, a key culprit in our continuing failure to respond as we should have to the rapidly changing needs and demands of the Sri Lankan society is POLITICS and the consequential POLITICISATION of our Universities. Politicisation is fast becoming a malignant cancer and preventing in fair measure the pursuit for truth, honesty, integrity, scholarship and national development through the national University system. I can vividly see this cancer multiplying in geometric progression throughout the system. Unless we curb its further growth today, doom and failure are ahead of us. Many of my academic colleagues are unfortunately so neutral, unconcerned and ignorant of what is going on and are naive to accept everything that comes from politicians and their academic political agents. Many among the few who are aware of what is happening are reluctant to talk since they are afraid of penalisation at future promotions and appointments. What is happening in the rest of the country is, perhaps naturally, spreading into the Universities and it is imperative that we exercise the utmost vigilance so as to, at least, prevent a worsening of the current situation.

This explains why I have chosen to title my talk to you today on "WHIT UNIVERSITY EDUCATION IN SRI LANKA?"

It is my honest and unbiased feeling that if we go along in the way we have been doing over the past many years and allow politics to dominate, then very soon state sponsored University Education in Sri Lanka, particularly of the non-fee levying type, might wither in Sri Lanka. That would indeed be a national tragedy, which must be averted at all costs. Otherwise, the so called University Reforms will remain a theoretical exercise in the presence of this politicisation and gross Iack of all types uf resources.

One year ago the Minister of Education and Higher Education suddenly tabled in Parliament a bill to amend the Universities Act that would have eliminated even the little autonomy Universities presently have at least on paper: among its provisions, two members of Parliament were to be appoinled to University Councils for what can only be construed as to impose political interference while the currently common irregular practice of the UGC often rejecting the three Council nominees for the post of VC was to be 1egalised; the Minister was also going to have a formal say in the appointment of the VC. Neither the UGC nor the Vice Chancellors apparently took any steps to object to the most draconian, undemocratic and obnoxious provisions that were embodied in the amending Bill that was unexpectedly before Parliament. University Trade unions and others, however, took up the matter and submitted 8-9 petitions to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the amending Bill on various grounds. Fortunately, these submissions were upheld by the Supreme Court and the Minister was compelled to withdraw the Bill from Parliament. Very funnily everybody, including the UGC, the National Education Commission, Vice-Chancellors, Presidential Task Force on University reforms and even the Attorney General’s Department etc appeared to be completely unaware as to how this amending Bill originated or were prepared to claim paternity or were prepared to divulge as to whose draft it was. What a sad situation? What unbelievable things are attempted through the rhetoric of openness and transparency? To date, one year later, the University community is still unaware as to how this Bill ever came before Parliament.

The only silver lining that emerged amongst the dark clouds in this blatant, underhand and failed attempt to enhance political interference hy the executive in the Universities was the clear judgement given by our Supreme Court. In its landmark judgement, that will hopefully guarantee, at least on paper, autonomy and academic freedom for our Universities, the Supreme Court reiterated in no uncertain terms that academic freedom and autonomy are essential requisites for the attainment of the objectives of any institution of higher education.

Our Supreme Court agreed with the Lima Declaration on academic freedom and autonomy of institutions of higher edcation: in this declaration,

academic freedom has been defined to mean "the freedom of members of the academic community, individually or collectively, in the pursuit, development and transmission of knowledge, through research, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation, teaching, lecturing and writing":

autonomy has been defined to mean "the independence of the institutions of higher education from the State and all other forces of society, to make decisions regarding its internal government, finance, administration and to establish its policies, research, extension work and other related activities."

Our Supreme Court, in its judgement also quoted the following resolutions of UNESCO dated November 1997:

(17) The proper enjoyment of academic freedom and compliance with the duties and responsibilities listed below require the autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education. Autonomy is that degree of self-governance necessary for effective decision making by Institutions of Higher Education regarding their academic work, standards, management and related activities, consistent with systems of public accountability, especially in respect of funding provided by the State and respect for academic freedom and human rights. However, the nature of institutional autonomy differ according to the type of establishment involved.

(18) Autonomy is the institutional form of academic freedom and a necessary precondition to guarantee the proper fulfillment of the functions entrusted to higher-educational teaching personnel and institutions.

(19) Member States are under an obligafion to protect higher educational institutions from threats to their autonomy coming from any source.

Taking these definitions and descriptions on academic freedom and autonomy in the Lima Declaration and UNESCO resolutions into consideration the Supreme Court made an unequivocal declaration that any erosion made on academic freedom and autonomy would infringe on Articles 10 & 14(1) g of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. These clauses refer to the freedom of thought (article 10) and the freedom to engage by himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise. (article 14 1g).

As a result of this judgement, practically all clauses in the amending bill including those relating to executive interference in the appointment of VC’s, the appointment of MP’s to University Councils and the inability for a Dean/Head to resign until a successor is appointed were all declared as inconsistent with the constitution on the grounds of eroding academic freedom & autonomy of Universities.

However the dark clouds have still not retreated despite this landmark judgement. During the recent Budget debate, the Minister reiterated his intention to amend the Act in order to obtain more control over the Universities. We were told that the administration of the Universities has many flaws that must be rectified with more Ministerial control. What the Minister should do is to remove the government’s and his political control over the Universities and ensure that, at least in the future, academic rather than political considerations will predominate so that always persons with high academic calibre and scholarship will be appointed as VCs. Can you believe that under the present unsatisfactory system the post of VC at the University of Moratuwa was kept unfilled in 1966 for one year since the Council’s nominees were not acceptable to the political authorities.

The entire University community and the public must be very vigilant to ensure that the proposed Act will not enhance the present politicisation in the Universities. The government has to be compelled to respect the concepts of academic freedom & autonomy so clearly clarified by our Supreme Court in its land-mark judgement.

Middle Level Educational and Training Opportunities

Side by side with Universities, there should also be institutions specifically targetted to provide technical training for Certificates and Diplomas lasting 1-2 years of study. There should be adequate avenues to produce middle level personnel who are required in large numbers to support the work of graduates. The Affiliated University Colleges (AUCs) that were planned and set up in the early nineties in many districts were intended to meet this need. Unfortunately without remedying the birth-pang problems that arose as a result of the production of AUC Diplomats, all the good work, time, energy and money that went into the planned development of AUCs were thrown into the dustbin of Sri Lanka’s educational history by a political Committee, which in 1995, recommended the overnight transformation of AUCs to Universities, as required and decided by the new government. This unplanned transformation has presented to date even more problems than what was intended to be solved. You can imagine what the quality of the academic staff that was appointed to such half-baked universities would have been. However, at the Rajarata University science faculty, created in 1996 and based in Polgolla, Kandy, even now they have very few students well below the numbers the University has told the UGC that it can accommodate. Very shortly this University proposes to start Special Science Degree Courses despite having only a single Professor and 6 Senior Lecturers in all the 5 science disciplines of study they have there. This is the state of University Education in Sri Lanka today! It is also sad to note that the UGC has amended the recruitment schemes for senior academics by making them much less stringent than earlier. Fortunately, the Science Faculties were able to maintain a united and principled stand on this matter and consequently retain double cream standards while other faculties have to be content with single or even half cream standards.

Tourism and Sustainable Development

by Chandra de Silva
President, Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL)
Member of the Advisory Board, The Ecotourism Society (TES) US.

In 1965 Rachel Carson published ‘Silent Spring’, considered a turning point on environmental concerns. ‘Earth Day’ uprising in the United States on 22nd April 1970 became an annual event celebrated worldwide. An estimated 500 million people from around the world, joined by the bonds of satellite television, celebrated ‘Earth Day’ on 22nd April 1990, drawing global attention that the resources of our planet are fragile and finite, and waging war on mother earth must stop.

Influenced by these global concerns there are those in the world today who have taken heroic positions in the protection and conservation of the environment. These campaigners emerged during the 60’s and 70’s. Not long ago environmentalists were considered eccentrics if not subversive. Now the environmental ethic is becoming part of almost everyone’s thinking.

An appraisal of the world’s mad rush for development to raise the Gross National Product (GNP) in every country and more particularly in the developing world, found that such development initiatives by all nations were found to have done considerable damage to the environment. On the other hand, if the stance of the hard-liners for total protection were adopted, development would have been stymied and economic growth in every country would have come to a grinding halt. In this scenario the provision of food, clothing, shelter and employment to the teeming billions resulting from the population explosion would be impossible.

Thus, a compromise was conceived — a delicate balance between economic growth and environmental preservation. This is now known as Sustainable Development.

The compromise is careful planning to conserve the integrity of Natural Systems by mitigating adverse impacts. We hear this phrase "Sustainable Development" constantly over the mass media. Many of us, I reckon do know what it means. This is how this term came into being. In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development (WECD) comprising some 23 world experts on development and the environment, whose individual backgrounds were rich in practical, political and business experience, published a landmark report ‘Our Common Future’. This is also called the United Nations Brundtland Commission Report 1987, as the Chairman of this Conference was Madam Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and presently the Head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

This report emphasized the magic term "Sustainable Development" and clearly defined it as follows:

"Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

This is a benchmark definition accepted worldwide. The report concluded that "Human survival and well-being could depend on success in elevating Sustainable Development to a global ethic." A former president of the World Bank, Herman Daly, in his farewell speech stated: "Expressed in financial terms, ‘sustainable development’ implies living off the earth’s interest and not its capital."

There were numerous International conferences prior to and after the Brundtland Commission, commencing from 1950. The concept of environment vis-a-vis the protection of the environment was a relatively recent idea to the world. It was only in 1970 that a Dutch journalist was alarmed at the discharge of poisonous liquid in the North Sea that killed thousands of varieties of marine life.

Within a couple of years his voice of protest orchestrated by environmentalists prompted 125 countries to meet for a dialogue in Stockholm in June 1972 to find a way out from the impending destruction of the environment. Extinction-prone countries focused their attention on protecting the world’s beings from destruction and extinction. This was the most important conference prior to the Brundtland Commission report of 1987, and was called the United Nations Conference on Human Environment 1972, which became the pacesetter for Sustainable Development. In the same year the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) was launched.

Thereafter, in June 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) popularly referred to as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro. This was a landmark meeting of World leaders - 165 Heads of State or Government. At this conference it was considered how the World could move towards Sustainable Development and adopted Agenda 21. Two important Conventions on big-diversity and on climate change were signed during the Earth Summit by the majority of countries including Sri Lanka. This led to the reemphasis of a National Environment Action Plan to provide a policy framework for sustainable development and a forestry master plan, coastal zone management plan and a national biodiversity action plan in Sri Lanka. However, as at present the real commitment to Agenda 21 is lacking and lack of real progress is alarming according to leading environmentalists.

According to Professor Kader Asmal, Chairman, World Commission on Dams, and a former Professor of Law in Dublin University ‘sustainable development’ is not a new concept in Sri Lanka. During the meeting on World Commission of Dams held in Sri Lanka in December 1998 he stated: "However, before the present generation takes the credit for having ‘invented’ sustainable development, we should consider just a few examples of projects undertaken hundreds of years ago which today would constitute good examples of sustainable development. Being here in Sri Lanka we do not have to look too far for these examples.

"In this country I had the pleasure of visiting an amazing system of waterworks — giant storage tanks, erosion control tanks, including provision of water for wild animals dating up to 2000 years. This included some 25,000 to 30,000 minor reservoirs which were developed together with an intricate network of canals. Sustainable development was already consciously practiced over two millennia ago with much success. The proponents of sustainable development have been greatly assisted by the respected Jurist from Sri Lanka, Judge Christopher Greggory Weeramantry, who as Vice President of the International Court of Justice presented a separate opinion on the Danube Dam Case 1997 (Hungary vs. Slovaka).

‘In his judgement Justice Weeramantry pointed to the ancient irrigation system of Sri Lanka which recognized the need for development but which specifically articulated the need for environmental protection and ensured that the technology it enjoyed paid due regard to environmental considerations. Sustainable development is thus not merely a principal of current wisdom, it is one of the most ancient ideas in the human heritage. It has rich insights that can be gained from millennia of human experience and therefore has an important part to play in the service of International Law. He further observed that recognition among Governments of the need for sustainable development for it to be practiced as an obligation, thereby giving the principle of sustainable development the nature of customary law.’

The manufacturing industry is responsible for serious environmental problems including global warning, air and water pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain, destruction of the rain forests and a host of other environmental problems.

The worst environmental offenders include oil, coal, chemical and motor vehicle industries. It is estimated that in 1998 the rich countries used 75% of the world’s resources and produced 75% of the world’s waste. The hottest year on record was 1997. 1998 witnessed the largest ever ozone hole forming over the Antarctic. Evidence mounted in the early 80s that the ozone layer which protected the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer, damage marine life and lower agriculture yields - was being depleted by chlorofluro carbons (CFCs). In 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion was signed which was adopted in 1989. In 1990, 93 nations agreed to stop CFCs altogether by 2000. The treaty to protect the ozone layer is widely hailed as a Landmark in environmental diplomacy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the emission reductions called for by the protocol would prevent 1.2 million cataract cases, 137 million cases of skin cancer, and 27 million skin cancer deaths - a significant achievement by any measure (State of the World - A World Watch Institute Report, 1992). However, no such success has been achieved by the world community with regard to global warming and other environmental hazards. According to Ute Collier, a World Wild Life Foundation (WWF) expert on climatic changes’ summer sun-seekers may shy away from the beaches as the temperatures rise. People love their holidays and want to feel comfortable - but our favourite destinations may soon be too hot for comfort’.

These serious problems of industrialization are causing growing concern to the international community. Few would disagree that there should be limits to growth and in this context the Brundtland Report which stimulated the initial discussion on Sustainable Development contains no reference to tourism. However, sustainable development principles are now applied to all industries including tourism.

Sustainable development has therefore assumed global dimensions and needs high levels of cooperation and policy consideration among the international community to deal with the aforementioned problems. All these problems must be taken seriously by the Tourism Industry. The tourism industry has a special stake in all this, as more than most industries, tourism depends on clean air, pure water and nourishing soil for its own health.

In this context the following Joint Declaration of Tourism and the Environment made by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and UNEP over a decade ago is relevant.

"The protection, enhancement and improvement of various components of the man’s environment are among the fundamental conditions for the harmonious development of Tourism. Similarly, rational management of Tourism may contribute to a large extent to protecting and developing the physical environment and cultural heritage as well as to improving the quality of human life."

Impact of Tourism on the Environment

Physical Impacts - According to a report by the Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Physical impacts are largely related to tourist infrastructure development (including resorts, hotels, coastal zone management activities) inducing erosion, land slips, sedimentation and water-quality impacts. A range of site preparation and construction activities, such as land clearing, grading, dredging, road building and installation of utilities have caused soil erosion leading to sedimentation of streams, was courses and ultimately coastal littoral zones. According to the report such construction related impacts are particularly visible where tourist development is large-scale or unplanned resulting in significant changes to the landscape and physical process. These environmental impacts are amply demonstrated in Hikkaduwa.

Over-exploration of marine resources, sand, mineral and over-extraction of lime by the poor in coastal areas have caused the depletion of these resources and exerted undue stress on these ecosystems. It is necessary to provide alternative sources of income to the poor to wean them away from over exploration of these resources the Samurdhi Program was launched as a State intervention to assist the poor to embark on alternative employment to mitigate this problem.

Ecological Impacts - According to the same report, ecological impacts are associated with loss of habitat such as coral reefs, mangroves and other forest resources. Coral reefs which are primary tourist attraction in Hikkaduwa are destroyed by coral mining exacerbated by excessive visitation by tourists beyond the carrying capacity. The ESCAP report also states pollution associated with excessive waste water discharge in coastal waters as a further major cause of reef degradation resulting in reduced oxygen levels and increased turbidity. Improper garbage disposal has also caused reef degradation. Water quality impacts, the ESCAP report stated, is primarily associated with sewage and solid waste disposal, particularly in coastal areas.

Hikkaduwa is again an example for these ecological impacts.

Sri Lanka has regulatory bodies such as the Central Environmental Authority, Coast Conservation Department, to monitor the aforementioned impacts. However, enforcement needs strengthening free of political interference.

Social - Cultural Impacts - The ESCAP Report stated that the degree of cultural impacts on a given area is dependent on the number and type of tourists visiting the area and the size of the host community. Sri Lanka should not concentrate on increasing the number of visitors to more than acceptable levels which have to be determined by sociologists and planners. It is prudent to control numbers and concentrate on high-quality tourists who will spend more and cause minimal social and cultural impacts due to their higher educational levels and interest in culture and nature rather than hedonism.

It is also regrettable that the construction of hotels has not incorporated or been influenced by the rich cultural heritage of the country. According to Conservation International (CI) based in Washington "taking advantage of local architectural styles and the local ecology can provide important benefits by minimizing resource use and disruption of the visual environment, and creating a more authentic experience for guests" (the Green Host Effect 1999) published by CI.

Environmental management in hotels

Hotels approved by the tourist board should be encouraged to pay attention to environmental management. In order to stay in business, we need to integrate environmental consideration into business strategies and long-term planning. There has been a gradual shift from limiting pollution and waste in compliance with government regulations towards one of preventing pollution and waste. The international community is embracing ISO 14000 series of international standards on environmental management system, which has been endorsed by 110 countries, has now become a sine quo non for environmental protection around the world. It is therefore prudent that ISO 14001 for star category hotels be made a mandatory requirement in the long term. The National Environmental Action Plan ( 1998-2001 ) of the Ministry of Forests & Environment states thus: "Industry - promote private sector State regulation and motivation through measures such as environmental audits, ISO 14000 environmental management systems...." Although the initial cost is involved the bottom line improves and in the medium and long term, in addition to the recovery of costs, savings are demonstrated.


In Sri Lanka, tourism is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner. However, there are concerns on the cost tourism and its impacts on culture, society and natural resources.

The challenge facing countries with attractive natural and cultural resources like Sri Lanka is how to plan for the development of those resources without degrading them in the process.

According to the World Tourism Organization, Sri Lanka has the advantage of having 49 sites classed as unique attractions, 91 as rare attractions and 7 world heritage sites. Of 300 ancient monuments in the world, Sri Lanka has six - (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy and Galle) and with the Sinharaja Forest, we have seven world-heritage sites.

The World Heritage lists result from a global treaty that seeks to identify and protect places that are of "outstanding universal value". In contrast to natural heritage sites which were formed by natural forces, cultural heritage sites contain the physical evidence of outstanding examples of human creativity or of important historic events. (Cultural Tourism, International Scientific Committee, 10th General Assembly).

Pollution has also caused great harm to the built heritage which is of great importance to Sri Lanka with 7 World Heritage sites. Neither time, war nor nature could destroy the Parthenon in 2500 years. But pollution threatens that world treasure in our own life time.

Most of the tombs in the valley of the Kings in Egypt are closed to the public or open in rotation, as visitors by their breathing and sweat could damage the colours and inscriptions on the walls inside the tombs. Closer home, the Taj Mahal, the 17th century monument in Agra - one of the seven wonders of the World built by Shah Jehan in memory to his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal is getting degraded as a result of over-visitation by tourists who cannot resist the temptation to touch the costly inlay work. Some 10 million people visit the mausoleum every year. Their collective breathing inside the monument has raised humidity levels resulting in the iron clamps holding the marble in place corroding, according to reports.

It is also important for Sri Lanka to manage the resource base for ecotourism carefully to ensure that the majority of impacts are positive; too much growth can lead to diminishing social and economic returns. Indiscriminate growth by the industry has too often spoilt the very natural and built qualities that have made travel destinations attractive to visitors in the first place.

Sri Lanka is blessed with numerous natural eco systems and has the highest unit area of biodiversity in the whole of Asia. Further Sri Lanka is one of the 25 big-diversity hotspots in the world. Despite its relatively small size (65,200 sq. kms) among its flora and fauna 23% of the flowering plants and 16% of the mammals in the island are endemic. Of the 435 birds, 23 are endemic and within a short period birders will be able to see a large number of birds. Thus Sri Lanka is an ecotourists paradise as 1/3rd of ecotourists are birders.

A.U.S. National Survey on recreation and the environment showed that in 1994/95, 54 million people took part in bird watching. (The Ecotourism Society - first quarter 1998 Newsletter)

Any visitor to Sri Lanka can discover his or her own little paradise. Be it sunny beaches, cascading waterfalls, mountains, exotic flora and fauna, ancient ruins depicting an illustrious culture and heritage - contemporary to that of the Greeks and the Romans - or nature. At its best Sri Lanka has a multitude of attractions that can enthral any visitor.

The above vividly demonstrates that Sri Lanka has an ecotourist resource base, both nature and man-made sites, also referred to as cultural or historic sites, second to none in the world.

A heavy responsibility rests on the Ceylon Tourist Board and other relevant government agencies together with the tourism industry to protect these exotic and ancient resources some of which are considered a part of the human heritage. This can only be achieved by practising the principles of sustainable use - the primary component - of sustainable development and thereby protecting the resource base on which the tourist industry depends for its survival and long term growth.

Consequently, tourism development in these fragile areas must be strictly based on the principles of ecotourism, which has an in-built conservation ethic coupled with the welfare of the local people. These two components are lacking in nature and cultural tourism, which is now prevalent in the island.

A Ministerial Task Force appointed by Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake, has completed identifying the ecosystems which are deemed scenic resources of Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Provincial Councils, and Local Government bodies - a comprehensive program aimed at promoting ecotourism.

Since ecotourism to protected areas tends to occur in peripheral and non industrialized regions, it may stimulate economic activity and growth in such isolated rural areas.

Mainstream tourism requires a high level of investment to supply luxurious hotels, whereas ecolodges need less investment and are designed to blend with the natural and cultural environment.

Ecotourists are generally more accepting of conditions different from home than other types of tourists. In many cases, ecotourists do not expect accommodation, food or nightlife that meets the standards of comfort or luxury held by other groups of tourists. For ecotourists, living with the local conditions, customs and food will ‘enrich’ their vacation experience. For these reasons ecotourism will result in fewer leakages than mainstream tourism. However, though ecotourists are less demanding in terms of accommodation and food etc., they are more demanding in seeking information sources about their destinations. They want to read material and learn from professional guides about the flora, fauna and culture of the area, they are in at any given time.

To promote Sri Lanka as an ecotourism destination, attention should be focused on developing the infrastructure facilities and re-focusing Sri Lanka’s marketing strategy to promote it as an ET destination.

At the national level, there are two ways in which Sri Lanka can encourage ecotourism. The first is to begin a campaign to lure tourists to the country specially for ecotourism. This is a long term strategy with promotion to the target market. The second strategy, which is the short-term is to promote as an "add-on" to the tourists who are already visiting the country. For example, tourists who primarily want a "sun and surf" vacation may extend their visits for two to three days for ecotourism. Business travellers may also be willing to add days to their trips for a unique vacation. Of the 400,000 tourists visiting the country at least 5% could be interested in nature and culture.

Recognizing the significance and importance of ET, the United Nations is to proclaim the year 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism. Enhanced global awareness for environmental conservation has also made ET a tourism product with a significant and increasing demand. Sri Lanka has also formed a society recently - The Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL) a "not for profit organization" to assist in the development of ecotourism on a scientific basis.

Around the world, ecotourism has been hailed as a panacea, a way to fund conservation and scientific research, protect fragile and pristine ecosystems, benefit rural communities, promote development in poor countries which makes ecotourism the most sustainable form of tourism.

Mihintale, guardian of the memory of Mahinda

by Derrick Schokman
It was at Mihintale that the apostle Mahinda met King Devanampiyatissa on a full moon day in the month of Poson and officially introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

Mahinda resided at Mihintale, finding the hustle and bustle of the royal city of Anuradhapura unsuitable for monastic life. King Tissa created 68 rock cells at Mihintale for Mahinda and his retinue.

Throughout King Tissa’s rule of 40 years, Mahinda Thera engaged in propagating the faith, setting an inspiring example by his own life.

He died eight years after the King, and ever since his name has been held in reverence for having introduced the bhikku sasana and the cult worship of stupa and Bodhi Tree as a constant reminder of the Buddha’s teachings.


During the Poson season, thousands of devotees ascend the 1840 stone steps from the bottom to the top of the Mihintale hill to pay their respects to Arahat Mahinda, whose relics are said to be enshrined in the Ambasthala stupa.

This stupa was created by King Mahadathika Mahanaga on flat land just below the peak where apostle and king were supposed to have met and talked.

The Ambasthala dagaba or "mango-tree stupa" got its name from a riddle that Mahinda is said to have posed to the king to test his capacity for instruction.

Pointing to a tree close at hand, the Thera asked the king for its name. The king replied that it was a mango tree.

"Are there any other mango trees besides this?"

"There are many mango trees," replied the king.

"And are there any other trees besides this mango tree and other mango trees?"

"There are many other trees," replied the king, "but they are not mango trees".

"And are there besides these mango trees and those which are not mango, yet other trees?"

"There is this mango tree", said the king.

"Thou hast a shrewd wit, O Ruler of Men" said the Thera.

The spot where this Socrates-like dialogue took place is marked by a rock slab enclosed by a railing. Mango trees have been grown in the vicinity to commemorate that event.

More than two centuries after the construction of the Ambasthala, King Kanitha Tissa added two circular wooden roofed ambulatories on stone pillars and converted it into a Vatadage. Only the stone pillars are left.

Mahinda’s cave

From the Ambasthala, opposite the point of entry, a path will take you down to a steep sheltered rock overlay, within which is a flat rectangular slab of rock.

This place is called "Mihindu-Guha" or Mahinda’s cave, where he is said to have spent much of his time in meditation.

What thoughts did he have of the people he was instructing to counteract greed, malice and inordinate desire, the arch enemies of an enlightened mind?

Was it there that he conceived the idea of asking King Tissa to request Emperor Asoka of India to send some bodily relics (saririkadhatu) and associational relics (paribhogiakadhatu) of the Buddha to be enshrined and worshipped as a constant reminder of the Master’s teachings?

His sister Sangamitha Theri subsequently arrived with the relics. A collarbone of the Buddha was enshrined in a hastily put together stupa in Anuradhapura using the mud of the Abhayawewa.

In time this stupa — Thuparama was given a firmer structure and finally converted into a Vatadage.

A sapling of the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha received enlightenment while meditating at Gaya was also brought by Sangamitha and planted in the royal Mahamegha garden, where it still exists today as the oldest historically recorded tree in the world.

Maha Seya

Another relic of the Buddha — the "uma-roma" or a hair that grew between the eyebrows signifying a "maha purusha" or "great being" was also enshrined in the Maha Seya at Mihintale.

When excavation and restoration work was begun by the Archaeological Department in 1934 under the direction of Senerat Paranavitana, the Maha Seya was found in a collapsed condition.

Under its debris was discovered a small stupa which Paranavitana identified as the Mihindu Seya built by King Devanampiyatissa’s brother King Uttiya to enshrine Arahat Mahinda’s ashes.

Several golden relic containers were found inside the stupa. Also a small polished black earthernware container.

In the black container was a reliquary in thin gold foil in the form of a miniature stupa containing beads, trinkets, fragments of bone and ash.

Kanthaka Chaitiya

Relics were also enshrined in the Kanthaka Chaitiya halfway up the hill, but there is no record of what they were.

During excavation, there was ample evidence of the relic chamber having been vandalised for buried treasure.

Several stupa-shaped stone containers, very likely to have contained the expensive offerings of the pious, were found scattered in the debris.

The highlights of this stupa are the restored "vahalkadas" (altars) and flanking stelae which display some of the earliest examples of the plastic arts.

They are profusely ornamented with friezes of dwarfs (gama) geese (hamsa) animal figures, floral motifs and niches in stucco or terra cotta with fragments of figures of deities.

In the words of Professor Paranavitana:

"When it was in its pristine glory covered with a coating of white plaster, with its gilded pinacle and its elaborately carved four vahalkadas at the four cardinal points, it must have presented a spectacular sight of singular beauty".

Even in its truncated form today the chaitiya is a wonderful sight under a westering sun.

In the soft evening air, one is able to experience the spell of antiquity and the spirit of Arahat Mahinda, Apostle of the romantic coming of Buddhism to Lanka in King Tissa’s bygone day.

Narad Center

(International Buddhist Research and Information Center)
The International Buddhist Research and Information Center [IBRIC] which is presently located at the Narada Center at 380/9 Sarana Road, Colombo 7 was started under the aegis of the Most Venerable Aggamahapandita Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera several years ago.

Almost at its inception, it gave to the world the first computerized version of the Pali Tipitaka. This also includes several post-canonical Buddhist texts in Pali as well as several Sri Lankan anthologies in Pali like the Mahavamsa. In the area of literature on Buddhism in English, IBRIC has two web sites: http://www/transmillennium.net/IBRIC/ and http:/www.metta.lk/IBRIC/ with items such as The Word of the Buddha and Buddhism for the Younger.

Lessons for beginners in Pali studies are also provided on the web site via Narada Mahathera’s introduction to Pali. Supplementary tutorial Pali lessons [prepared by Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari) are also at these websites.

Very soon a Buddhist Archives will be set up, storing up a vast collection of articles and monographs on many areas of Buddhist studies including religion, philosophy, history, art and architecture. To this will be added a miniature museum, including items of Buddhist art like paintings and sculpture from different countries of the world.

The latest in our development project is the establishment of an auditorium on the fourth floor of the building. This is to bring before the public, both Buddhist and non Buddhist, as well as present to the visitors to island, a panoramic vision of Buddhism, covering its early history in India, its spread across eastern and western Asian from Iran, Iraq in the west to China, Korea and Japan in the east. Special emphasis will be laid on the impact of Buddhism on different world cultures, specially of Asia.

At this stage, we need the installation of an electric elevator at the Narada Center to operate up to the fourth floor. A smaller-size lift, conveying about six persons would be deemed adequate. A well-wisher’s generosity in this direction, individually or collectively, will be highly appreciated. It would go down in the history of the Narada Center as a commendable appreciation of the services rendered to the cause of Buddhism by the late Venerable Narada Mahathera.
Wg. Cdr. Noel Fernando
Sasana Sevaka Society
(Colombo Branch)
Siri Vajiranana Dharmayatanaya

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