President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “SAY NO TO COAL” is a decision that has to be welcomed unreservedly. This is what he told the Ceylon Electricity Board officials when he met them a fortnight ago. Unlike his controversial but determined policy to say “No” to chemical fertiliser, which is fraught with dangers of low yields and predictions [...]


Killer coal not for Lanka


President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “SAY NO TO COAL” is a decision that has to be welcomed unreservedly. This is what he told the Ceylon Electricity Board officials when he met them a fortnight ago. Unlike his controversial but determined policy to say “No” to chemical fertiliser, which is fraught with dangers of low yields and predictions of food shortages, his pursuit of clean energy is in sync with worldwide trends largely linked to climate change.

Climate change has already left a devastating footprint in many parts of the world with extreme and uncharacteristic weather patterns ranging from floods to droughts, cyclones to forest fires. However, unlike in the immediate ban on chemical fertiliser, the Presidential directive on coal is a phased out exercise, a policy that extends to 2030, and rightly so, lest any sudden changes leave the country sans an existing source of energy in the short term, and without alternate sources of energy in place.

The President has ordered the shutdown of any further coal plants and vowed to shift towards RE (renewable energy). This decision will have an immediate impact on the ‘dead duck’ – the ‘always breaking down’ Chinese-built Lakvijaya coal power plant at Norochcholai that was dumped on Sri Lanka under suspicious circumstances, and plans for its extension without tenders to add more power to the national grid. The entire local population in the Puttalam/Kalpitiya area is up in arms against any expansion of the Norochcholai plant.

Internationally recognised environmental groups have said that nearly 80 percent of the women of child-bearing ages between 18 and 44 in the vicinity of the plant had high mercury levels in them due to the pollutants in the air, the fly ash and the coal dust, and even from consuming the fish from the seas nearby. It is a textbook case for a class action for damages against the plant. The famous US (West Virginia) case DuPont involving chemical pollution of a village is an example to follow.

Sri Lanka’s overall energy policy has a carbon neutral target by 2050. The earlier energy generation plan contained 55 percent of RE sources. When it has to be raised to 70 percent as the President wants done, some thermal plants planned for 2030 will have to be replaced. An LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant at Kerawalapitiya is already under construction; though LNG is not an RE, there will be no way to stop this.

Most of the world is moving away from coal, much cheaper though it may be in the short-term. Supporters of RE, however, challenge the cost-benefit factor in coal. They argue that coal, unlike clean energy sources like wind and solar power, is an imported product for which foreign currency has to be incurred. With the local Rupee weakening, costs are bound to rise. Another plant earmarked at Foul Point (Sampur near Trincomalee) as part of the country’s electricity generation plan does not gel with the President’s goal of 70 percent RE by 2030, if the plan is still on the drawing boards.

The world is also targeting to be carbon neutral by 2050 and for a reduction in the world’s temperature by then. Coal is a prime culprit in generating greenhouse emissions. The UN Secretary General recently made a plea to stop building any more coal plants. Sri Lanka would not want to be among the non-compliant states in a greener world for the generations to come.

Another push for a Contempt of Court Law

At a time when the subject of contempt of court has led to increased public discussions in Sri Lanka, a private member’s Bill by an opposition parliamentarian to ‘define and limit the powers of certain Courts’ in punishing for contempt, has been tabled in Parliament.

The Bill also provides for the regulation of procedure in this regard. Some clauses are similar to a draft Contempt of Court Act prepared by a team of public interest attorneys and published by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in 2004, which draft was thereafter revised in 2006 and adopted by the Bar Council. Though it was formally presented to the Government at the time by the Bar Council, no action was taken on it thereafter.

But departing from previous consensus, this Bill has several additions grafted to the text that are undeniably controversial. Notably, it includes ‘scandalising’ the court as part of the contempt offence, despite this long becoming obsolete in common law jurisdictions. Lawyers familiar with this area of jurisprudence would know that, as far back as the 1980s, Lord Diplock in delivering a ruling of note, (Defence Secretary v Guardian Newspapers, 1985), observed that, ‘the species of contempt which consists of scandalising the judges is virtually obsolescent in England and may be ignored.’

We may look closer at home in understanding these dangers. Though India has had a contempt of court law for some decades, that has not prevented abuse of contempt provisions. Just last year, the Indian Supreme Court found that a senior advocate had ‘scandalised’ the Court in criticising the Chief Justice. Faced with a serious backlash, not only from the Bench but also from retired judges and the public, the Court then backtracked by limiting the sentence of contempt to one Indian rupee.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Bill appears to have also dropped the clause that a journalist may not be held guilty of contempt of court for refusing to disclose sources of information. In the United Kingdom, a 1981 law prohibits courts from ordering media personnel to disclose confidential sources except when disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime (Section 10). These are standard protections that a 2021 draft on contempt of court should surely contain.

In line with previous drafts, this Bill, however, protects fair and accurate reports of judicial proceedings, fair comment and limits the sentence on contempt to simple imprisonment of six months and/or a fine of Rs 10,000. Certainly, these are good developments.

The need of the hour is for its contents to be suitably amended and for Sri Lanka to enact a good Contempt of Court law that benefits the judiciary as well as citizens of this land.



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