Letters to the Editor

17th October 1999



Surely, these people can say 'no'

I read with interest the various letters that have appeared on the Noraichcholai coal power plant.

Some people who are taking the opponents of this project to task had taken cover under pseudonyms. Moreover, there was quite a crop of those critical articles appearing almost simultaneously and using similar arguments. One can draw one's own conclusions on those.

An argument put out by the protagonists of Noraichcholai is that a great deal of money had been spent on feasibility studies there - and therefore it should be implemented. One is reminded of the man who said, "I know this medicine will kill me. But I have spent so much money to buy it that I should take it." In any case, the government can only blame itself for this state of affairs. The CEB began by telling the locals that surveying was being done to widen the roads.

When the people saw through and protested, the reply of the authorities was simple: shoot them! A father of six was mowed down and two others seriously injured (to this day no compensation has been paid). Then the officials began a spending spree for a "feasibility study". The whole exercise is severed at the very roots due to lack of transparency and fairplay.

The campaign mounted by the promoters is based on a number of presumptions. The first is that people opposed to this project are anti-national and selfish. It is easy for them living in comfort to give advice to poor farmers and fishermen who have to depend on the sea and cultivable land for their livelihood. We can rest assured that there is no selfishness or lack of patriotism on the part of these poor people. They are intelligent enough to understand what impartial experts without vested interests - with no thought of commissions and contracts - have had to say on the choice of this site.

Environmental scientist Hemantha Vithanage has after discussing funding of projects said, "Therefore one should consider whether it is correct to carry out unsuitable projects just to utilise this ill-gotten money although it will only further increase our foreign debt.... It is clear that the funding for these projects comes from the developed nations, and two-thirds of the funding goes back to their countries for consultants, equipment etc. They dump all the old technologies and sometimes conduct experiments in our countries. We have to repay the loan even if these experiments fail. They also dump their non-energy efficient electrical equipment here and then we build more and more power plants to meet the necessary demand created by equipment".

Would those people who preach broadmindedness to others, like to have these projects of dubious value come up near their homes and their venerated shrines?

The second presumption is that if the Noraichcholai project is not executed, then the lights will go out by the year 2004. This is a crude attempt to create sensationalism and popularise a slogan. Many knowledgeable persons have contradicted this prediction. The door is always open for alternative modes and sites.

The remedy is not to create a psychosis of fear, and then proceed with a project that, besides having many serious disadvantages, can also be a sitting duck to bombers who are determined to ruin our economy. The remedy is to produce clean electricity in safe ways. Ironically, the CEB officials may prove to be right.

Presumption number three is that electric power produced in Noraichcholai is going to be the cheapest. For the sake of argument, let us grant that coal power is the cheapest. But coal power generated electricity from Noraichcholai can be a different cup of tea. In an article on an alternative to coal power, Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri states, "The Environmental Impact Assessment report admits that the coal power plant would cause damage to the environment, and suggests many mitigatory measures. These measures would add to the operational costs (cost of recovering coal dust from stockpiles; handling and transport; cost of treating waste water containing coal dust; cost of mitigating emission of pollutants and closely monitoring their levels at those sites; cost of disposing fly ash and bottom ash; cost of fresh water for steam turbines). The findings of the EIA report with respect to controlling the spread of coal dust and their compliance with the standards are rather vague....." Add to this the enormous costs in providing special security - deploying ships to patrol the area etc.

Let us not forget that the Japanese money envisaged is not a gift, it is a loan with interest. Our poor country could well be burdened with a bombed-out coal power plant, polluting the sea all round, and a huge national debt to boot.

The fourth presumption is that the Noraichcholai site was recommended by the Japanese agency that carried out the tests. This is totally false. The choice of Noraichcholai was the result of a political decision by the powers that be. It did not receive any kind of priority as a suitable site from the experts.

So many fair-minded citizens and distinguished experts have come out strongly against the Noraichcholai project. Surely there should be something in what all these people have to say. No! Those who oppose this project are not anti-national. They are not selfish.

W. Peter Lowe

Thank you Sir Arthur

The article entitled 'Man on the moon' (Sunday 3/10/99 Times) should not be allowed to pass without comment.

It was a derogatory article on Sri Lanka in general and on one of Sri Lanka's most distinguished residents.

Arthur C. Clarke is one of the best known science fiction writers in the world today. He has published dozens of books. The film 2001, A Space Odyssey' for which he co-wrote the screenplay, has won worldwide acclaim. During his heyday Sir Arthur contributed articles on Sri Lanka to reputed foreign newspapers and journals.

He has made generous donations to public institutions and private individuals. The Arthur C. Clarke Institute of Technology is a good example.

It is indeed a pity that in the evening of his life, various unsavoury motives are unfairly insinuated to him. It is sad that a prominent journal like the UK Observer magazine thought it fit to publish this article.

I am sure I speak for the vast majority of Sri Lankans when I say to Sir Arthur, " Thank you for making Sri Lanka your home."

Dr. V.P.H. Rajapakse

Don't harass poor widows

This is with reference to the article, "Waiting for compensation" by Hiranthi Fernando (The Sunday Times, September 26) on the plight of Chithra Piyaseeli of Eheliyagoda who has not been paid compensation after her soldier husband's death.

I have studied her case and wish to state that the report covers all aspects of regulations, Cabinet and Treasury decisions to establish her legitimate claim for both compensatory and terminal benefits, if they have not been amended or rescinded subsequent to his death.

What the Army says cannot be an authoritative statement, as the minimum time of 10 years and 22 years for gratuity and pension does refer to her claim for death and dependent's pension. Any doubts on this matter can be cleared by reference to the instructions issued by the Director of Pensions on January 5, 1999 on the computation and payment of pensions to Army personnel.

The Army's latest contention that she is not entitled to compensatory benefits as he had died while he was engaged in normal duties, is a challenge to the recommendations made by the Preliminary Court of Inquiry, his Commanding Officer and the Divisional Brigade Commander. The Defence Ministry Secretary's definition of death under extraordinary circumstances as stated in the Treasury decision reads thus: "as death in the brave performance of duty or while on duty in operational areas." From this decision it is evident that those in service detachments in terrorist-infested areas are not deployed on normal duty but on operational and law-enforcement duties.

It appears from all these contradictory statements and decisions conveyed to Chithra Piyaseeli that an attempt had been made by someone in a responsible position, to advise the Army Commander to make the erroneous decision of October 15, 1993.

It is time the defence authorities took serious note of such matters and ensured that responsible officers took unbiased and judicious decisions in cases like this. Otherwise this type of harassment of poor widows of soldiers could demoralise serving personnel.

- Retired Lt. Commander (SLN) H. Banagoda
Armed Services Ranaviru Welfare Foundation


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