Blow to Sri Lanka’s first on-line workers

ECONOMYNEXT, Sri Lanka’s government Tuesday slapped severe restrictions on the country’s first on-line workers — the toddy tappers — saying that the move was to plug revenue leaks from the manufacture of alcoholic drinks.

"No toddy shall be drawn or lowered from coconut or palmyrah trees without a license issued by the department of excise or by the respective Divisional Secretaries," the finance ministry said in a statement.

The number of toddy tappers had reached over 100,000 a few decades ago, but in recent times it has dropped to 7,000 according to industry estimates.

Tappers were also the first to use a fibre network to move from one tree to another to download sap without going down from each tree top.

It is not clear how the new licencing regime is going to be implemented unless the police and excise officials keep a hawk eve on every coconut tree in the country.   With the licencing, the government hopes it will be able to regulate the sale of toddy which is used in the manufacture of arrack and reduce revenue leaks.

Finance minister Mangala Samaraweera brought back licencing that was abolished by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The former leader may have removed the restrictions on toddy tappers as a sign of gratitude for their service to national security. Tappers kept an eye on the sky for any Tamil Tiger aircraft violating Colombo’s airspace to stage attacks between 2007 and 2009.

Hands-free technology allowed tappers to multi-task and call the police emergency number if they saw an intruder in the air while balancing on-line and  gingerly tapping coconut flowers to extract the sweet sap which eventually turns to toddy.

The networked tappers were thought to be more effective than the 2D radar system the Sri Lankan airforce possessed at the time. The conventional radar failed to detect low-flying Czech-built Zlin 143 aircraft of the Tigers.

From their birds-eye-view from coconut tree tops, tappers were considered a more effective way of detecting the single-engine planes of the Tigers. (COLOMBO, October 31, 2017)





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