Swaminathan to skip Sri Lanka till Tamil issue is settled

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS,

New Delhi : Internationally renowned Indian agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has put off plans to visit Sri Lanka to help it revive its farm sector until the Tamils there get their due. But New Delhi is determined to help Colombo.

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Swaminathan, 84, who visited Sri Lanka and met President Mahinda Rajapaksa in June, said he now felt that there should be a political settlement of the Tamil grievances in the island nation first.

“I don’t plan to go immediately (to Sri Lanka) unless there is some kind of political settlement,” Swaminathan told IANS here as he prepared to leave for Sikkim in India’s northeast.

“There are people who feel that unless Tamils in Sri Lanka can live in dignity, other things are subsidiary. This is a viewpoint. I have no plans to go to Sri Lanka in the immediate future,” he said.

“There are a lot of people who are displaced. As soon as conditions are conducive, I will see,” said the father of the Green Revolution that radically improved India’s food output in the 1960s.

Swaminathan is one of the most respected figures in the field of agriculture. He has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and the World Food Prize in Washington.

His change of mind follows criticism in Tamil Nadu against his reported plans to help restore agriculture to its original glory in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority north.

The critics argue that Colombo needs to first rehabilitate the several thousands of Tamils displaced by a war that ended in May when the military crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Tamil activists in Chennai have alleged that Sri Lanka plans to settle soldiers and their families from the majority Sinhalese community in the island’s fertile but now battered Tamil areas of the north.

In June, when Swaminathan visited Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa told him that “the need of the hour” was to revitalize agriculture and allied occupations for the people of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar districts in the Tamil-majority north.

Swaminathan, however, pointed out that he had given his ideas regarding Sri Lanka’s agriculture prospects to the Indian external affairs ministry.

“My plan is already there. They (Indian authorities) can do the necessary things. They can do what I have suggested. There is no need for me to go.”

The Indian government is, however, determined to help Sri Lanka revive agriculture in the island’s north, whose economy is in a shambles after some 25 years of ethnic conflict that left over 90,000 people dead.

New Delhi is preparing to send a team of officials and experts to Colombo to study its needs and formulate plans that will cater to the needs of the population in the north.

Colombo says that rehabilitation of the displaced people will become easy only when the economy gets a boost in a region that has known nothing but violence for years and years.

The Indian delegation, which will include scientists from the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), is expected to visit Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar, ICAR sources said.

When Swaminathan was in Sri Lanka in June, President Rajapaksa informed him that his government had a strategy to resurrect agriculture and urged the scientist to study the plans.

Swaminathan is the second prominent Indian to decline what could have been a high profile role aimed at rebuilding Sri Lanka post-LTTE. In February, N.R. Narayana Murthy, the Infosys Technologies chief mentor, declined to be the IT advisor to the Sri Lankan government citing personal reasons.