Acts of gods or acts of Lankans?

In most Third World countries, gods are conveniently placed in the skies above to be blamed for calamities that are essentially the work of man. The recent earthquake that struck Gujerat, in India, was attributed to be an Act of God or gods—depending on one’s particular beliefs. But even though the earthquake could be attributed to divine intervention or nature itself, the deaths caused—tens of thousands and the final tally still not known—were the work of man. Indian news reports say that most of the people were killed in homes that were unauthorised structures. In Allahabad alone, it was found that 80 per cent of the buildings that had come down had not been approved by the authorities or built in violation of the laws of the Urban Development Authority.

Sri Lanka has been fortunate not to be struck by a powerful earthquake but if such a misfortune does happen, there would be absolute chaos and disaster because like our brothers across the Palk Strait, violation of the laws of municipal bodies governing construction of buildings and getting them approved by bribing officials is a time-honoured tradition here, too. Homes may have been constructed by the best of construction firms and architects, but once completed most Sri Lankan housewives want to contribute their own unauthorised extension to gain a little more space.

Right now, we are in the midst of another crisis which has been caused by the weather gods, we are told. The rains have not come and Sri Lanka, which is very much dependent on hydropower is faced with this power crisis, we are told. But that is not the full story.

‘Dry weather is NOT the cause for the crisis,’ says Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, former Chief Planning Engineer of the Ceylon Electricity Board. Dr. Siyambalapitiya also exorcises another bogey attributed to high prices: high oil prices.

The CEB during the worst ever power crisis in 1996, drew up a plan for generation of electricity for the future. The plan projected that by the year 2001, the demand for electricity will be 8000 million units and specifically named thermal power plants that should be operational by the end of the year 2000. Some of these projects have not been implemented and the country is short by 250 MW from the target specified in the CEB plan drawn up in 1996. That, says Dr. Siyambalapitiya, is the reason for today’s power crisis and NOT the weather gods.

He says : ‘No one should blame the weather for the present crisis because weather patterns are known very well. The problem is the non-implementation of the power plant projects in time. There may be many reasons for the delays in implementation, but it definitely appears that the decision-making process on new power plants is long. In most cases, decisions are not made or the CEB is not allowed to make decisions.’

Dr, Siymbalapitiya also cites the stalling of the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power project by environmentalists and also the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant, which would have been ready by 2004. A total of US$ 1,100 million were to be invested for these two projects and the funds had already been pledged and the designs ready for years. So do not blame the weather; the real culprits are elsewhere says this engineer who held a key post in the CEB.

Where is the ‘elsewhere’ that this engineer speaks about? Perhaps, another letter published in the opposite page under the heading: "CEB—Please Answer", may reveal where ‘elsewhere’ is.

The Minister of Power and Energy, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, may not be having much time to devote himself to generation of power and energy having battled and having been battered by the terrorists for six years. This is in addition to the electoral battles he has to contend with.

But power and energy are not subjects that are to be set aside for another day or left to the vagaries of the weather gods.The country can grind to a halt.

The gods overseeing this resplendent island may be somewhat displeased with the inhabitants of the island constantly blaming them for rains, droughts, floods, power crises and calling upon them to settle the internecine clashes that have been going on for so long.

The gods can help themselves by asking Sri Lankans to settle their own disputes without looking heavenwards or even over the seas.

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