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As gas cylinders explode, who else but the Government to blame?



by Rajan Philips

Who would have thought Litro Gas and Laugfs Gas (not quite the Laughing Gas with Lankan typos), will light up Sri Lankan politics for all the wrong reasons? President Rajapaksa should fire his current clairvoyants and get new diviners who can at least smell leaking gas even if they cannot find missing water. But monsoons are making sure that no one is missing any water, which will become dear when the climate change cycle turns to the other extreme of drought, come next year.

For now, it is all about cooking gas leaks and kitchen explosions. And the news report (Daily Mirror, December 2) that “Experts point out measures to be taken to avert gas explosions,” raises the obvious question as to why these measures could not have been announced weeks earlier, either by the government or the two suppliers, or both. And what is the point in communicating to users of LPG cylinders for domestic cooking, the applicable standards for accessories: for Regulators, SLS – 1180; and for hoses, SLS – 1172.

Why could not have anyone in the government or from the suppliers hollered from their podiums what the Experts Committee is now saying, that “if people suspect the domestic LP gas cylinder(s), it needs to be immediately placed outside and consumers need to contact their sales agents or reach relevant officials.” Or that “the recommended usage period for a regulator is five years and for hoses is two years.” But no indication, however, of the age of the accessories in the recent instances of kitchen explosions, or as a matter of general use in the country.

Do either of the suppliers know any of this? Do they make it a point to insistently inform their customers of necessary safety measures – including the usage period not only for the accessories, but also for the cylinders. Is this information printed and pasted on the cylinders, and given to customers to be posted on kitchen doors and walls? Hopefully, providing this information will now become a standard practice for the suppliers and will be enforced by local civilian authorities. Not the army, or the police, please.

Better Safe than Sorry

Still there is no explanation for the spate of explosions within a short period. According to a reported statement by State Minister (Co-operative Services, Marketing Development, and Consumer Protection) Lasantha Alagiyawanna, 213 gas explosions have been reported between January 2015 and 31 October 2021. 131 of them, more than half, have been this year from 1 January to 1 December. Last week there were reports of eleven incidents within a 24 hour period. While domestic gas explosions are not uncommon, the frequency of incidents this year, and in November alone, required much quicker and more comprehensive responses by the government and the suppliers than what has been on offer so far.

The use of LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas) gas in portable cylinders for cooking, is quite common in several countries. They are also a hazardous appurtenance prone to accidents if not handled with due care. For this reason, in many western countries it is illegal to use gas cylinders inside a house. They are only permitted to be used for outdoor – barbeque (BBQ) – cooking. Indoor cooking appliances are either electrical or based on natural gas supplied through pipeline infrastructure.

In other countries, big and small, where electricity costs are prohibitive and there is no natural gas and pipe infrastructure for supply, the gas cylinders have provided a convenient alternative to traditional firewood and biomass cooking. LPG gas cylinders have become ubiquitous in upscale kitchens as well as shanty dwellings – from Brazil to China and hundreds of countries in between.

Although they are both crude oil products, LPG and natural gas are different in composition, heat energy content and density. LPG is either propane or butane, or a mix of both. Natural gas is primarily methane. Natural gas is also lighter than air and more safely dissipates when leaked, unlike LPG which is heavier and fills up in lower, confined spaces. One advantage LPG has over natural gas is in storage and portability. LPG can be stored and moved in tanks or cylinders. Natural gas requires special cryogenic tanks for storage and pipeline for consumers.

In a recent scientific journal article on domestic gas explosions in India, its academic authors identify Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) as a cleaner source of cooking fuel. The use of firewood and biomass for cooking by hundreds of millions of households has been a major source of pollution in India. The increasing use of LPG gas cylinders is seen as a welcome change. Registered LPG users in India have more than doubled from 106 million in 2008/09 to 263 million in 2017/18.

Similar to the practice in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the domestic LPG supply in India is provided in 14.2 kg and 5.0 kg cylinders. According to the article, the gas supply in India is given a faint but foul smell by adding Mercaptan (foul-smelling Methanethiol) to help its detection when leaked. In addition to settling down, the heavier LPG also “condenses the water vapor in it to form a whitish fog,” making it easy to identify. While there have been cases of LPG explosions in Indian households, the journal article reviews the case of a rather horrendous blast when two women were trying to refill in their kitchen, a 5 kg cylinder with gas from a 14.2 kg cylinder, while cooking was going on. Both died on the spot and their burnt remains were ghastly.

Hopefully, no one in Sri Lanka will attempt refilling cylinders (among neighbours), or tamper with gas supply accessories when the cooking fire is on. There are also basic safety tips while using domestic LPG gas cylinders: keep all accessories and knobs out of reach for children; and shut the cylinder valve off before turning the burner off, so as to burn of all the gas released from the cylinder. What might be more difficult to achieve in many households is to ensure that the kitchen or cooking areas are well ventilated and facilitate through-air flow.

Safety education is important and should pervade all levels of communication – from schools, to media, and advertising. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka like so many countries where the use of LPG gas cylinders is widespread, does not have functioning safety and fire/emergency agencies at the local level. In such absence, it is fair to expect the suppliers of LPG gas to take the lead role in ensuring safety with government support. I am not sure if Mercaptan is added to the gas supply in Sri Lanka as it is done in India to give it a foul smell for detecting leaks. If not, it would be worthy of consideration.

No Regulators, Only Rumours

The most rumoured allegation is that there has been a change in the proportions of Propane and Butane in recent LPG supplies to an even 50-50 split from the regular 70 (butane) to 30 (propane) ratio. And that is the reason for the recent explosions. Both Litro Gas and Laugfs Gas have vehemently denied this and have also contended that it would be uneconomical for them to increase the proportion of propane which costs more than butane. State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna has also confirmed this. The Government Analyst and the Consumer Affairs Authority would also appear to be in disagreement with the alleged change in the proportions of the two gases. The Experts’ Committee has also made no reference to it in its first public statement from as reported in the media. Whether anything different will come later on, we know not.

What is mystifying is why this allegation (about changing the gas mix) cannot be put to rest promptly and authoritatively by the government. Or, of course, if the allegation is correct it should be confirmed promptly and addressed without delay. As if it does not have enough worries on its plate, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is reported to have done tests on the gas composition and its report, which has not been publicized, apparently “confirms that if the gas composition is 50% propane and 50% butane, there is a higher risk of gas leaks.” This is academic, the real question is about the actual proportion of gases in the two samples that CPC is reported to have tested.

While the CPC’s findings have reportedly been sent to the University of Moratuwa for review, the gas suppliers are rejecting CPC’s credentials to make this determination. Litro Gas has even said that CPC has a conflict of interest as a potential competitor planning to enter the LPG cylinder market on its own. That will be some competition between two ‘State enterprises’ – if you will pardon the oxymoron. Still after one year and 131 explosions, the country is nowhere closer to a plausible explanation. Everyone is going round in circles, if not circus.

There is also great deal of confusion about the applicable standards and regulations for the LPG gas industry. According to State Minister Alagiyawanna (who seems to be carrying on his shoulders all the political cylinders on the LPG matter), Sri Lanka has no regulations to deal with the industry and there are no designated agencies to supervise them. “We have no legal laboratory in Sri Lanka to check the quality of domestic gas,” the Minister has specifically said. The Minister’s worry is supported by Chairman Janaka Ratnayake of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). According to him, a standard for the Liquid Petroleum (LP) gas has already been formulated by the Commission, but “the PUCSL does not have the legal powers to enforce the standard.” Who does, who will, and when?

Until then, the country will be put through multiple rumour mills and conspiracy machines. A convoluted theory seems to be that the same masterminds behind the Easter bombings are at work again – for the benefit of whom, God only knows. But this is a dangerous game, more dangerous than the fallopian fantasy, or the Trincomalee corridor that Americans were supposed to create through the now aborted Millennium Compact. The ever creative SJB MP Harin Fernando, is seeing “foul play between Litro and the government.” According to Mr. Fernando, the spate of explosions is all a ploy to make the gas industry unpopular and use it as justification to sell off Litro to financially benefit the government – which is fast running out of badly needed foreign currencies and is printing away valueless local monies.

Lesser mortals like yours truly are not good at conspiracies and these theories are a tad difficult for us to understand. What is not difficult to understand is the government’s lack of quick response to these sudden eruptions. The government has many other serious matters to worry about, and we have become all too familiar with its inability to respond to them quickly and substantively. As a parting shot, I will pose this question unrelated to today’s topic, but a topic that I was planning to write on this week. With everything going wrong and nothing going right, why on earth is the government insisting on foisting on the country a new constitution? And why is the opposition waiting to react to a draft after it is tabled, instead of rejecting it out of hand before it is brought to parliament. The country deserves to be free not only of LPG explosions, but also from another bout of constitutional inflammation.


From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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