Recall potential time bombs waiting to trigger tragedy from homes forthwith The spate of gas explosions in the nation’s households has gripped the public with fear, leaving many to wonder with alarm whether it will be kingdom come for them next time they switch on the kitchen light. It was a flashback to the dreaded [...]


Lankan households gripped by ‘gas blast’ fear psychosis


Recall potential time bombs waiting to trigger tragedy from homes forthwith

The spate of gas explosions in the nation’s households has gripped the public with fear, leaving many to wonder with alarm whether it will be kingdom come for them next time they switch on the kitchen light.

It was a flashback to the dreaded days when terror bombs exploded on the streets, and people who left their homes in the morn never knew whether they would return coffined home in the evening. It has been made worse now, despite having a government elected to power with pledges made to protect the safety of every citizen, with the public fearing death by gas explosion inside their homes, finding that the gas cylinders issued by a government entity to fire their stoves are potential time-bombs.

The sudden wave of explosions last month began on 3 November at a restaurant in Weligama, injuring two men and a woman. “I heard a loud bang and I saw fire,” said an eye witness. A second explosion took place on 15 November at a bakery outlet in Ratnapura. A third explosion rocked McDonalds at the Race Course Building in Colombo 7 on 20 November. The following day, the Government Analyst confirmed that the explosion was due to a gas leak.

While the first incident may have been considered an accident and the second explosion passed off as a coincidence, the third in Colombo should have alerted the authorities that something was amiss and spurred them to take serious action to minimize its recurrence.

MORN BLAST ROCKS MCDONALDS: Government Analyst confirms explosion on Nov ember 20 due to gas leak

It took over a week for the State Minister Co-operative Services and Consumer Protection, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, to respond to public demand to provide answer and when he finally did on 29 November, all he had to tell parliament was that, while he admitted ‘there has been an unusual increase in the incidents of gas explosions recently,’ there had been ‘a total number of 233 incidents of gas explosions reported since January 2015 to October 31 this year’.

It was gallingly clear that the state minister had spent a good part of the week not in figuring out ways and means to stem the oncoming tide of explosions but in scraping the history barrel to catalogue the number of similar incidents which had occurred during the previous government’s 5 year reign.

Further galling was the comment made by SLPP MP Sanath Nishantha when he stated, ‘so what, when gas is available in plenty now, there maybe one or two gas explosions. The danger is no different to lighting a lamp at home to the gods and risk setting the house on fire,’ with similar sentiments brashly echoed by SLPP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara giving chorus. A Litro spokesman, representing the Government owned company responsible for selling defective gas cylinders, had the nerve to say on national TV, ‘it’s the same with having a car. If you have one, you may meet with an accident.’

Whilst the entire nation is reeling in shock and despair over gas explosions at home, these insensitive snide comments by Government MPs and Litro officials   despicably serve to add insult to injury and attempt to belittle the magnitude of the crisis

Last Saturday, the State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna announced that he was expecting the report on the gas samples sent to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) to test for composition of the domestic gas cylinders by 5pm that day. But, despite Opposition clamour for it to be presented to Parliament, the Minister has not yet obliged.

Instead he shifted the responsibility for the explosions away from the Litro Gas Company and placed it squarely on the public, telling the Ministerial Consultative Committee when it met in Parliament on Wednesday, that the considered opinion of experts was that ‘gas explosions may take place if the strength of the regulator and other equipment were not increased to the change in the gas composition.’

The Minister, however, was merely parroting the text of a newspaper advertisement placed by Litro Gas that same morning which claimed, the recent incidents and confusion that have occurred has been caused by the use of inferior quality regulators, hoses, cookers, and user negligence.

So the public had been negligent, eh? That’s rich, isn’t it, coming from a Government company enjoying near monopolistic status, which is in the public dock charged with negligence by a livid people?

Rich, too, isn’t it, for the State Minister for Co-operative Services and Consumer Protection, Alagiyawanna, under whom functions the Consumer Affairs Authority, set up under a Parliamentary Act in 2003 and statutorily charged with protecting the consumer, should mindlessly mouth the impudent claims of a government owned company which does not give a tosh even for its moral responsibility, let alone its legal obligation, to immediately recall the offending gas cylinders it has sold to an unsuspecting public but instead has the gall to blame the people for the spate of gas explosions caused?

However on Thursday, with gas explosions on the increase, with 6 reported on Monday, 14 on Tuesday, 13 on Wednesday, and an overall official figure of 80 incidents, Minister Alagiyawanna was compelled to order a halt to further sales of Litro gas forthwith.

The State Ministry of Co-operative Services said, in a statement, ‘the decision was due to the recent gas explosion incidents reported throughout the country’. The statement further said, the distributors have been advised to suspend their distribution until they brought the Ethyl Mercaptan volume up to standard.

Ethyl Mercaptan is described as a yellowish liquid or a gas with a pungent, garlic or skunk smell and is used as an additive to odorless gases like butane and propane to alert the public of their presence.

This was the first time the Government admitted that the indispensable Ethyl Mercaptan which gives out its filthy odour to indicate a gas leak had not been raised to the required level in Litro gas cylinders

Obviously, fancy expensive equipment or scientists are not necessary to check its odious presence or absence. One’s nose will do the job. Was the absence of Ethyl Mercaptan, a willful act of omission to cut costs or gross negligence? No doubt, a future court of law will decide the issue and determine who bears the responsibility?

Apart from this, all that has come out so far in a month of explosions and inquiry, is that Lanka does not have a competent lab to determine the composition of the gas in the cylinder despite using gas for 30 years and more. There have been calls to establish one now but that can wait. The Presidential Committee, set up on December 2, to probe the gas explosions has been given two weeks to find the reasons. That, too, can wait. They bring us no nearer to the call of the hour.

The task before the Government is to immediately recall the gas cylinders so far sold. Remove the potential time bombs from the nation’s households.

Lacking Ethyl Mercaptan, to give by its foul odour prior warning of a gas leak, the gas cylinder’s presence at home portends a tragedy screaming to happen.

As the Buddha said, first remove the arrow, then find the one who shot.

Marie plucks her blooms that sing in hues drawn from Pierian SpringFinal day of ‘impressionist’ exhibition at WendtThe Lionel Wendt Art Gallery’s staid white soulless walls danced in rapturous joy this week, when Lanka’s renowned artist Marie Alles Fernando unveiled her creative canvas to present her new art collection ‘Colours that Sing’.After the collection was first premiered Wednesday evening to a select gathering of special invitees, it was presented for public viewing the following 4 days from 10am to 4pm, ending today Sunday at 7pm.

MARIE ALLES: Artist unveils her new canvass

The exhibition, which features 50 paintings done in oil and 16 in pastels, is a celebration of Marie Alles’ long artistic voyage which began in her childhood years when she showed a precocious talent in the use of colours. Encouraged by her mother, herself an artist, she attended various art classes and ended adjudged the winner of the first prize for expression drawing at the St. Bridget’s Art Club by the then Government Chief Inspector of Art William G. Beling.

Leaving school she began to study different techniques and styles of art under renowned mathematician, pianist, poet, dramatist and artist all rolled into one, the versatile Professor Douglas Amarasekara. After an eight-year tutelage under the mentor, he told her one Sunday, as she later recalled: ‘Marie, I have taught you all I know and it’s time to let you go, to break free from traditions learnt and wander out, discover for yourself, as every artist must, your own journey in art, to find your own style and genius. You have mastered the techniques. Now go give full bloom to your talents.’’

The path she chose lay in the way of the French impressionists. After having been first inspired by 18th century English watercolourist William Turner’s masterful depictions of landscapes, where freely brushed colours blurred lines and contours, she turned to the 19th century French art movement which, following suit, gave prominence to the visual effect rather than to the detail.

This soon became the medium she most pursued to give full artistic expression to her exquisite sensory impressions. As Marie has said of her style and technique:  “I have tried to evolve something synthesising all the elements of European culture that I have been exposed to, with my reactions to colourful landscapes I have seen.”

After a whirlwind romance led to the altar, in 1967, to wed Cyril Fernando — a tea planter by profession, who gave new impetus to her art and proved to be a supportive force until his demise three years ago — young mother of three, Marie resumed her art with renewed vigour.

Apart from holding a few exhibitions in Lanka — the first was in 1972 when she held a joint exhibition with her artist mother with President William Gopallawa as Chief Guest — her artistic works took flight abroad. In 1975, her paintings were selected to represent Lanka at the 3rd Triennial in New Delhi. She had held exhibitions in Singapore, Bangkok and in Fukoka, Japan but her crowning moment came when, in March 1986, she exhibited 40 paintings at the prestigious Ring Gallery in the world‘s art capital, Vienna, as part of the United Nation’s Tear of Peace celebration, becoming the first Asian female artist to do so.

As Marie Alles says, as she paints her favourite blooms that sing — the fertile lily, the virginal violet and the spiritual lotus — in colours drawn from the Pierian Spring, “in the midst of both storm and calm, I find in the solitude of my soul, the untold charms sages beheld. My art is influenced by what I read and by the experiences I have had in my life. I try to paint in light and shade. Life is full of it and is defined by it. Light symbolises joy and shade, the sadness.”

Along with her present exhibition, Marie Alles also launched her ‘Colours that Sing’, a new updated edition of her first 2017 ‘Visions’ a full colour illustrated retrospective collection of her artistic endeavors spanning over fifty years.

But, to paraphrase the Bard of Avon, it was not ‘to paint the lily or throw a perfume on the violet or add another hue unto the rainbow’ to an art trove already rich, it was simply to renew life’s abundant joys and see in winter, a new spring.

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