18th April 1999
By Faraza Farook
Drunkenness was one of the main reasons for the disturbing increase in the overall number of New year casualties this year, an official said.
Hospitals were packed and nine deaths were reported, including four in one incident at Kosgoda as excessive boozing turned the Avuruddha into one of the worst in terms of misbehaviour.
New Year revellers were brought in numbers to the National Hospital during the week suffering from fractures and other injuries.
They filled all the wards and corridors of the hospital leaving no room even for the staff to move around.
This year's New Year casualties have unexpectedly increased by 200 — more than the normal casualty figures received, in addition to many transfers made from other hospitals, National Hospital Acting Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe said.
He said no specific reason could be given for the rise in the casualty rate, but it was noted that a large number of them were under the influence of liquor.
Cracker injury victims who were common during the season were far fewer compared to previous years. Dr. Weerasinghe said, "a few years ago we used to receive cracker injury victims in hundreds but now it has turned the other way around with most of the cases reported being either accidents due to drunken driving or brawls".
From April 13 to 16 the hospital received 887 casualties out of which 269 were admitted while five deaths were reported. Transfers which were unusually high amounted to 106. There were nine cracker injury victims of which four had to be admitted due to the seriousness of the cases.
"Many victims said they had been careless and had lighted the crackers in their hands," Dr. Weerasinghe said. "The impact of the exploding crackers had not only left burn injuries but dislocated fingers and fractured their hands. Some people had even lost their fingers," he added.
Dr. Weerasinghe said, "Many patients were given OPD treatment and sent away while others who had to undergo operations were admitted and later transferred to other wards or sent back to the hospital they were transferred from in order to accommodate new victims".
On the 14th alone, 74 persons had been admitted to the National Hospital having met with accidents while another 40 were victims of assaults, cut and stab injuries. Among the admissions were 23 children, most of them accident victims.
Apart from the patients transferred to Colombo, another 200 were sent to Galle of whom 80 were cracker victims. Four of the seven admitted to the National Hospital are said to be in serious condition. Of those treated in Colombo, 414 have left after treatment.
A Buddhist monk from Badulla was among the cracker victims. He had four of his fingers burnt after lighting crackers.
On April 14, twelve-year-old Mahesh Kahawatte had been knocked down by a motorist who is suspected to have been drunk. Mahesh lying on a mat in a corner with two others of his age with similar injuries said, "I was walking by the side of the road when suddenly this bike knocked me down". He suffered a fractured limb and dislocation of the ankle.
"He won't be able to use his legs for a few months and it would be at least an year before he could completely recover to walk normally without the use of crutches," a nurse said. Mahesh is the only son in his family.
Roshan Cooray, (13), an eighth grader also suffered a fractured leg having met with an accident while crossing the road.
With only 47 beds, the hospital found it extremely difficult to accommodate the new admissions. Having no alternative, extra patients admitted were compelled to lie on the corridors of the wards.
A nurse who led us along the corridor cramped with patients said, "we feel sorry for them but there's nothing we can do. There is hardly any space for us and the doctors to move because of the overcrowding in the wards".
Meanwhile, many of the patients brought to the hospital as well as their companions being drunk, the work at the hospital was also disrupted. Police had to intervene to stop the pandemonium in the hospital premises where the friends of the drunks misbehaved not allowing the doctors and nurses to attend to their work.
Some patients with serious head injuries and some heavily drunk were not fully conscious of their conduct. Even after two to three days some men were stammering as they spoke. Because of the restlessness of certain patients, they were tied to the beds. A ward nurse told The Sunday Times that they feared that some patients might even jump out of the windows because they were too drunk to be aware of their conduct. Some of them were seen throwing away sheets and screaming. Treating these patients had indeed been an arduous task for the hospital staff who had to work round the clock depriving them of the opportunity of celebrating the New Year. Because of the heavy casualty rate, the work usually done by two or three nurses had to be carried out by just one.
Dr. Weerasinghe said, "transfers had been one of the reasons the wards were heavily crowded". Some of the areas the transfers were made from included Kandy, Ratnapura, Karapitiya and Badulla. Most of the patients transferred from Kandy were suffering from head injuries.
In Galagama, in the Kosgoda area in the south, four people died and ten injured in a bomb throwing incident, after an argument between two parties at a New Year celebration on April 14, Elpitiya police said.
Police said two of the suspects are in their custody while one who is said to be an Army deserter has been hospitalised. Others injured were those who gathered to witness the row. The victims and the suspects are all said to have been drunk.
The police who went to quell a row between two drunken groups at Kah-atagasdigiliya had been stoned and the HQI had suffered injuries. Two policemen and two women were among the injured while police vehicles were also damaged. At Siya- mbalanduwa, a dispute between a drunken husband and his wife on the eve of the New Year, ended with the son stabbing the father and surrendering to the police. The mother has been warded at the Badulla hospital.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
With Sri Lanka Telecom again raising its rental and telephone call charges, consumers say the hike is unreasonable.
For those who consume more than 500 units, call charges will increase from Rs. 1.65 to Rs. 2.25 per minute — a 25 percent increase. Business and official phone monthly rentals have been increased from Rs. 180 to Rs. 300.
To cushion the blow, the Telecom has offered an additional hour for calls at concessionary rates. But consumers say this is inadequate. At present the so-called off-peak time for calls at concessionary rates is from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. From next month it will be from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
"Most of our personal and business calls are made during the day. We cannot put off such matters till 8 p m to take calls. SLT can't fool us with such concessions," said Champika Liyanarachchi, a bank employee.
Although further concessions are made for those who consume less than 500 units a month, some consumers say it won't be of much use.
Premachandra Pathirana, who heads an association of telephone users said the quality of the service should have been improved before increasing call charges.
A spokesman for Netcomm Pvt. Ltd., an internet service providing company, said the increase was unreasonable and a blow to the company and clients.
He feared clients would spend less time on internet and think twice before signing up for an account.
On April 13 and 14, Telecom gave a widely appreciated New Year gift to all its subscribers — free unlimited calls to any part of the country and a 50 percent discount on international calls.
A spokesman for Telecom said they had set apart as much as 50 million rupees for the Avurudhu gift. Telecom has some 450,000 subscribers and tens of thousands of calls are known to have been made on April 13 and 14, leading to hours long Telecom jams in several areas.
But overall, customers were appreciative of such gifts.
Though there were enough and more buses to take the festive crowd to their destinations on April 12 , there had been a commotion of sorts at the Galle-bound inter-city bus station.
A Sunday Times staffer who was in the queue with his family related that the private inter-city bus stand was full of commuters while there were many buses too.
"While there were hundreds of people patiently awaiting their turn to get into the bus, a lot of service personnel in civvies who were not in the queue were standing at the entrance to the bus, and when it came to our turn these service personnel jumped in ahead of us. Noticing this, some people in the queue started to object. A CTB official them came and told the commuters to shut up," he said.
Adding insult to injury, some of the inter-city buses were taken outside the parking lot and loaded with people at Rs 100 per head, double the normal rate of Rs 50.
As commuters protested at this haphazard way of loading, CTB officials suspended loading passengers for about one hour.
The official's height of cheek was when he told the passengers the hour's delay was due to the protest they had made at the service personnel getting into the bus, breaking the queue and for protesting against the charge of Rs 100.
What a way to get back to work and also to pay visits to relatives after the Aluth Avurudhu.
For those who travelled by the inter-city train from Galle on Thursday, it took nearly six and half hours to reach Colombo Fort.
In it were passengers who were to take the onward trains to Kandy, Anuradhapura and Vavuniya and still others who were to visit their elders and relatives after the festival.
They were all angry and annoyed at the delay which occurred between Kalutara and Wadduwa due to an engine failure.
An interesting scene was that of the drivers of the engine W3, 669 browsing through a manual to see what the defect was in an attempt to rectify it. But all the browsing couldn't help until the Galle Kumari arrived and pushed the inter-city upto Wadduwa.
However, pushing from behind was of little use and as the commuters were also beginning to feel the heat not of the temperature outside but at the delay, the authorities decided to get the Galle Kumari to tow the inter-city to Fort, which ultimately reached at 1.30 pm .
Some who were reporting to work after the Aluth Avurudhu were the ones who were really angry, as they could not be on time to begin work at the auspicious hour.
A legend that King Kashyapa had a telescope with which he could keep an eye on his harem referred to by Dr. Paranavitana in his writings on Sigiriya has aroused the interest of Sir Arthur C. Clarke to call for any evidence that confirms this.
Sir Arthur in a statement said if this was true it would be a revolutionary discovery and if it was a legend it would still be equally interesting and he wished to know how such a story arose.
Those who kept to the National New Year customs, got a rude shock when they visited state commercial banks for 'Ganu Denu' only to find the doors locked because of trade union action.
While many condemned this move by the bank staff, in certain areas, specially in the outstations, it was not taken lightly.
The Galle People's Bank branch was stoned because the workers refused to open the doors. The incident occurred around 10.45 am where a large crowd had gathered outside the bank hoping to fulfil the custom.
The customers who lost their patience agitated and stoned the building causing severe damage to the building.
It was only after the police arrived at the scene that the situation was brought under control. After discussions with the police Bank officials decided to take in 50 customers at a time and conduct the 'Ganu Denu.' Although it took hours to cater to all the customers, the most affected were the pensioners who were expecting the Rs. 5000 bank loan.
Similar incidents where customers were inconvenienced during the New Year were reported from several areas.
Meanwhile an official of a private Bank told The Sunday Times that although they had threatened to go on strike, it was not done because of a Court order.
By S.S.Selvanayagam and Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Tamil political parties are divided over the holding of elections in the east, while the major Muslim party has called for polls to be held there on a staggered basis.
While the main Tamil party TULF is insisting that the situation in the east and especially Batticaloa is not conducive for elections, other Tamil parties hold a different view.
EPRLF General Secretary Suresh Premachandran said they would join other Tamil parties in a campaign to demand elections, leaving out the TULF which was basically toeing the government line. The EPRLF leader described the appointment of special commissioners as illegitimate and unjust.
TULF Batticaloa District leader Joseph Pararajasingham said some areas in the district were declared as cleared and others as uncleared, showing the uncertainties and problems that would arise if they tried to hold elections.
The terms of office of municipal, urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas in the districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara districts ended early this month and the government appointed special commissioners to run the districts.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has called upon the Elections Commissioner to hold local polls in the Eastern Province, at least in areas where the terrorist threat is minimal.
SLMC General Secretary Rauf Hakeem told The Sunday Times other parties like the EPDP were also making similar requests. He said the SLMC had sought a meeting with the President to discuss the issue.
Mr. Hakeem charged that the government which showed great enthusiasm to hold Jaffna local polls was offering flimsy excuses on the eastern polls.
"We are mindful of the security threats and perhaps the best way out would be the district basis election. If it is only a temporary measure we will play along, but we want nominations to be called soon after the Southern Provincial elections" he said. Mr. Hakeem warned that the party would take legal action if its request went unheeded.
Local Government Minister Alavi Moulana said the matter was being reviewed by the government and the polls might be held in August. Meanwhile, the opposition UNP is also considering filing action against the postponement of local polls in the East, Digamadulla district parliamentarian P. Dayaratne said.
By Chris Kamalendran
Three weeks after the sensational kidnapping of a top company director in Colombo comes another case where a wholesale vegetable dealer was allegedly abducted and a ransom of Rs. 200,000 demanded in a Colombo suburb.
Police in mufti were able to bust the case and arrest four persons involved in the alleged abduction while the mastermind surrendered the following day, Mirihana Police Inspector Anura Randeniya said. The main suspect, a business partner of the vegetable dealer, claimed he had only demanded money his partner owed him. But police have dismissed this as false.
Inspector Randeniya told 'The Sunday Times' that Police acted on a complaint made by the victim's brother on New Year's eve.
The businessman from Nuwara Eliya had come to Colombo in a van driven by his brother after his business partner wanted him to come down for a transaction, according to police.
The businessman was seen being driven away in a trishaw accompanied by his partner. But he did not turn up and the brother then called the police the next morning.
The abductors allegedly used the businessman's cellular phone to call his brother and demand a ransom of Rs. 200,000. They wanted the money paid at Kaduwela.
On Tuesday the victim's brother accompanied by a police party in civvies went to the arranged place expecting to meet the kidnappers.
Three persons came in a three wheeler and spoke to the businessman's brother.
They wanted him to accompany them to another area in Nawagamuwa, Inspector Randeniya said.
Accordingly the brother had gone to the next location, but the abductors did not turn up with the businessman. The police team then ambushed three of them and after grilling them found the location where the businessman was being held. The businessman who had been held in three locations was rescued by the police team.
The main suspect who surrendered to the Mirihana police on the following day claimed that the victim owed him a couple of lakhs and therefore he was abducted, but police believed this is a false claim.
All suspects have been remanded till April 27.
Many parts of the southern coastal areas of the island have gone under water due to heavy rains.
Gales too caused havoc with a falling tree crushing the Southern Province Governor's new vehicle, while it was parked in the garage. The vehicle is estimated to be worth almost Rs 5 million.
About 100 houses in the Karandeniya area were damaged by the intense winds on April 13, Galle district secretary P Hewawasam said. In Ambalangoda, rains caused the Madampe river to overflow due to the river being blocked by boulders used to make the new bridge. More than 40 families affected have been provided with dry rations for a week, Divisional Secretary K. Samarasinghe said.
New chief ministers, new faces in cabinet
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Shelani de Silva
The chief minister designates of the five provinces where the Provincial Council elections were held are scheduled to resign from parliament and take office within days but there is continuing uncertainty over the leadership and balance of power in provincial administration.
In the North Central Province where the People's Alliance won an absolute majority, Jayani Tissera Dissanayake who headed the PA list is expected to be nominally sworn in as chief minister but will resign within days to make way for her husband and cabinet minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake to take over.
In Uva Province , Nalini Weerawanni who headed the PA list is expected to be nominally sworn in as chief minister and then step down within days for her husband and deputy minister Samaraweera Weerawanni to take over.
Some PA members are known to be opposed to what they see as the 'parachute jump' by Mr. Weerawanni into the top post in Uva and among the alternative candidates mentioned is parliamentarian Dilan Perera.
But other political sources said the young Dilan Perera was among those tipped to be appointed as deputy ministers in a cabinet reshuffle soon.
In the Central Province, Sarath Ekanayake, who heads the People's Alliance list is to be nominally sworn in as chief minister and then make way for his brother and cabinet minister Nandimitra Ekanayake to take over.
But insiders in the province say there is considerable opposition in the party to Minister Ekanayake's appointment.
In the Sabaragamuwa, the PA hierarchy is known to be promoting former deputy minister Athauda Seneviratne as chief minister though he did not contest.
Elected candidates were, however, said to be reluctant to step down in favour of Mr. Seneviratne and the PA's Sabaragamuwa's group was said to be in turmoil.
But PA General Secretary D M Jayaratne told The Sunday Times the problems had been settled now, indicating the way had been cleared for Mr. Seneviratne to move in.
Mr. Jayaratne also confirmed reports of a cabinet reshuffle but said he did not know any details.
Reports in recent days speak of at least four new cabinet ministers and four deputy ministers. Some reports said PA Mulberry frontliner Dalas Alaha-pperuma would also be appointed as a deputy minister but others named him as the PA's possible chief ministerial candidate in the Southern Province.
In UNP circles, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene appears to have emerged as the front-runner for the chief minister's post in the South, setting the stage for a tough battle between two widely respected young MPs with the JVP coming in strongly from a third front.
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