We have been witnessing during the past years, the constant opposition by some sections of our society to any kind of large development project being carried out citing the reason of damage to the environment. The opposition to power generation projects is prominent among them. First of all let us understand that any form of urban living will result in some form of damage to the environment and if we are to eliminate environmental damage completely we might as well go to the jungles and live inside caves totally in harmony with environment, as it was done in stone age. What we have to do today is take all measures to minimise the damage to environment and come to a compromise whereby the development projects can go ahead.
If we look at the case of power generation there is no doubt that for a country to develop let alone survive, electricity is essential and there cannot be any development without electricity. Therefore it is necessary to supply the increased demand for electricity as well as give supply to areas that have not been provided with electricity so far. As we have already harnessed all our hydropower resources, we have to look at the other alternatives to fulfil the demand for electricity. The available option for commercially viable large scale electricity generation is by thermal generation using coal or oil/gas.
If we look to oil or gas it also causes pollution. Oil/gas need expensive and specialised transport and storage facilities and the upward price fluctuation in world market is rather unpredictable. Oil/ gas resources of the world will also run out in 50-100 years time and thereby prices will tend to increase substantially. It has the added danger of fire and explosion and is quite vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
If we consider coal, it does not require expensive and specialised storage or transport facilities and there are adequate coal resources in the world to last for over 300 years and price increases also will not be substantial as in oil. Furthermore over 60 per cent of world's electricity is generated using coal and state of the art modern coal power plants are now built to international safety and environmental standards with minimum environmental pollution.
So the question is, if we do not use thermal generation what is the alternative method for power generation in large scale that will cater for the increased demand in our country? None of those who oppose these projects give an answer to this question. Some ignorant people propose solar/wind power and ocean wave electricity generation projects.
The main opposition to coal power project is regarding the location of selected sites. A coal power project has to be located in a coastal area because it must have access to ships to transport coal to the site without trouble. It is a fact that whatever site is selected in a coastal area some people will have to be relocated because there will not be any large area in Sri Lanka that does not have any inhabitants. Several families will have to be moved out in an area of about 300 acres and of course they have to be given new land and compensated adequately and it must be ensured that they will have better living conditions than before.
The opposition to these projects are mainly the result of instigating local people by various NGO's, mostly funded by foreign sources. It is time that the government investigates who is funding these and there can be an invisible hand because as long as Sri Lanka remains undeveloped there are others who will benefit by attracting foreign investments etc. for themselves. Also the officials of the NGO's are known to be doing these mainly for personal benefits like funds and foreign trips for various conferences etc.
These so called environmentalists usually go into hiding during the era of power cuts because they know that if they continue their campaigns there will be public outcry.
If Sri Lanka is to march forward to next Millennium with a clear determination of becoming a newly industrialised country we have to clear out what our priorities are. Some people may have to do some sacrifices for the greater benefit of the whole country. Are we to stay in darkness in citing various silly unfounded reasons most of which are highly exaggerated and untrue or are we ready to make some sacrifices and go ahead with these major development projects like the coal power generation project?
If the debate in the eighties centred on the private medical school, the 90s have seen an equally spirited debate on the relative merits and demerits of employing foreign medical graduates. The only difference seems to be that the aggrieved party in the case of the private medical schools were the local graduates from state medical schools who came from lower middle class backgrounds while now the aggrieved party is the so called rich and politically powerful. As a medical school teacher who has examined both local and foreign graduates, I would like to present my views based on my experience. There generally is an opinion in the medical circles that the foreign graduates have received poor training. On interviewing these students it became clear to me that they had three handicaps when training in foreign countries.
(a)Their command of the foreign language was not all that good despite claims of intensive language training courses they undergo.
(b) They were not given clinical responsibility to the extent that the students are given in local hospitals. Often they followed specialists, without actually handling their patients.
(c) They have not learned about locally relevant medical conditions such as malaria and typhoid.
Having made these observations, it is important to bring the issues into the correct perspective by adding the following observations .
(a) Not all foreign graduates are poor in their knwoledge and skills. For example, some medical schools in India are superior to our medical schools and their graduates are better than many local graduates.
(b) There are many local medical undergraduates who are as bad as their counterparts from foreign medical schools. The difference seems to be that over the ten years they are allowed to stay in a medical school they learn to scrape by!
c) Many foreign medical graduates make up for their lack of knowledge and skills with good attitudes towards the patients. It has to be said though one cannot make out a case for giving employment even as interns for foreign medical graduates. However, an exam like the Act 16 examination will help to sort the good doctors from the bad ones.
The U.G.C., Health ministry and the medical schools have taken steps to bring some kind of standardization to our own medical schools. All will have to sit for a common MCQ paper before they start internship. Foreign medical graduates too would sit for the same MCQ paper which could decide their merit in comparison to local graduates. Next, a pass at this exam could be the required barrier for both local and foreign graduates to start internship training. Thus foreign graduates who pass this common MCQ test could complete their internship before sitting for the Act 16 examination.
The comment made by the Food Minister is the best which had ever come from someone who had gone in to the House of Parliament; "What they had for meals was never revealed before, yet I have made good guesses regarding the issue by seeing the occupants getting heavier and going out of shape after becoming a member of the House. Our nation is sick. Three heavy meals a day, all are prepared by the females, and they toil in the kitchens to make food day after day. Why on earth should we eat rice all the time? What is wrong with fruits? On the one hand there is the cost to provide the meals and on the other hand the time spent on preparing them.
Another factor is the quantity we Sri Lankans consume. I have often observed the rice mountains eaten by well dressed office staff members in hotels within their short break. I would understand if a dock worker eats like that because of the type of work he does. Looking fat is not a sign of prosperity, not any more. So the time has come to rewrite the menus. Health is wealth but weight is not health.
Finally I wish to thank Mr. Wickremaratne for coming up with a meaningful remark.
I feel sorry for the 'Disgusted Undergraduate' who wrote on November 16 to The Sunday Times about ragging in our universities. He/she is sensitive to the suffering of others and is also angry at the irresponsible behaviour of university staff. Some one must stand upto terrorism and until then terrorism will prevail.
I also feel sorry for her/him for not having been properly instructed at both school and university. What he/she calls 'free education', was in fact state financed education in English, introduced way back in 1944.
I entered university as a student whose education was entirely paid by the state, but for which benefit, I would have been no more than a gardener in that Eden like place in Peradeniya.
I was ragged by those 'decent children', then a majority at the university. I never ragged any one ever. We are responsible for our actions.
It is a fashionable myth that fee paying children, for some mysterious reasons, would not rag. Fraternities and Sororities (and now Eating Clubs) in the most expensive private universities in the United States of America are notorious for hazing and not infrequently a young man was killed in the course of these rites.
God be merciful to us! What does this undergraduate know of military rule? Ask any one from Jaffna about military rule under Prabhakaran, read about life in Chile under Pinochet or in Paraguay under Stoessner and you will learn a great deal about it.
More letters to the editor * Discarded spectacles * Reply to 'Azdak flies to Melbourne' * Quick action by Moratuwa Police * Basking in reflected glory
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