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

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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.



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Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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