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Building collapse in Kandy due to foundation on unstable slope: National implications

Published

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By Dulip Jayawardena

The recent collapse of a five-storey building in Kandy has caused much concern among the residents around the district, especially those who have built houses around slopes which are now speculated as unstable by an expert geologist who has rung alarm bells indicating that all those who reside on hill slopes should vacate their houses during heavy rains.

The Governor of the Central Province has gone on record as saying there are over 200 buildings, including houses, at risk of collapse, and it is pertinent to question whether that conclusion was reached after conducting relevant investigations.

 

HISTORY OF FOUNDATION

ENGINEERING IN SRI LANKA

The origin of the Geological Survey Department (present GSMB ) can be traced to 1904, when Dr Ananda Cooramaswamy was the Principal Mineral Surveyor appointed by the Colonial government. The Mineral Survey was converted into the Mineralogy Department in early the 1940s and, with the appointment of the first Sri Lankan as Head of the Department, in 1948 this vital state institution was renamed the Geological Survey Department (GSD) in 1961.

With the reorganisation of the GSD, an Engineering Geology section was created and the first Engineering Geologist was my former Director, the late D. B. Pattiarachchi, who underwent extensive training at the US Bureau of Reclamation, which was founded in 1902.

The GSD had a very efficient Engineering Geology Section, headed by Pattiarachchi and all the foundation investigations for major buildings, power plants hydro electric dams, reservoirs, etc., were undertaken by it. Some of the foundation investigations that I was involved in were the construction of the proposed Urea Plant at Sapugaskanda by Kellogg Inc of USA at a cost of US $ 117 million in early the 1970s and the Electro Smelting Plant at the Oruwela Steel Corporation also in the early 1970s with the assistance of the former Soviet Union.

Following the establishment of the GSMB in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992, the earlier functions of the GSD, in engineering geology were dropped (See Para 12 (a) to (e) of the Act). However, the Mines and Minerals (Amendment )Act No 66 of 2009 was amended to undertake projects in regard to engineering geology and advise and recommend remedial measures in case of geological hazards and disasters.

The question is whether there is an effective engineering geology division at GSMB with trained engineering geologists.

In order to educate the readers and the so-called experts, I would like to quote from a publication titled “Engineering geology: Principles and Practice” Publisher Springer Authors D.G. Price and Michael Freitas, etc., where the Abstract reads as follows “Provides the reader with the basics of engineering geology illustrates how geology is related to calculations of stability, deformation and groundwater flow. Specifically written for those first degree is not geotechnical engineering. Shows how to identify, investigate and define an engineering response to problems arising from ground conditions … The text is directed at the heart of Engineering Geology where geology is used to identify potential problems arising from ground conditions. It describes how to investigate those conditions and to define an engineering response that will either avoid or reduce related calculations of stability deformation and ground water flow ….” This applies to shallow foundations in residential areas, especially in the hill country of Sri Lanka.

 

THE NATIONAL BUILDING RESEARCH ORGANIZATION (NBRO) AND LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS

The NBRO is now designated as the prime organisation specialising in landslides and formulating effective policies and strategies to effect risk reduction.

It must be stressed that the GSD was earlier involved in these functions that have been assigned to NBRO. It is incorrect to say that according to NBRO landslide studies date back to only 1980, ignoring the extensive field and research studies done by the GSD from the early 1960s.

A paper written by me titled “Analysis of Devastating Landslides in Haldumulla – Koslanda Areas ( -lands) I have stated that landslides up to 2002 were considered as minor disasters and from 1974 to 2002 the incidence was 10 to 60 per annum. However in 2006 this number shot up to 360.

It was recognised by GSD that from the 1980s that the Haputale scarp including the devastating landslide that occurred at Haldumulla on October 29, 2014, causing a huge of loss of lives and property proved that the area from Haldumulla and Koslanda as well as the Poonagala Valley up to Ella is unstable. It is interesting to find out whether the NBRO has done any detailed studies in this area recently.

The seasonal distributions of rainfall were during the south west and north east monsoons and the months were January, May and October that experienced highest rainfall. It appears that this trend has been affected due to climate change; Sri Lanka has not placed emphasis on carrying out research in this regards.

I have also stressed that the Meteorology Department should analyze rainfall data since 1956 up to present and compare them with the data from the Hunting Survey Corporation of Canada, in which past records indicate rainfall data from 1907 to 1956. A Monograph titled “Hydrometeorology of Ceylon” was compiled and copies were available at the relevant Departments including GSD. The temperature variations were also published.

Any change in rainfall during the period October to January identified as the autumnal period may be directly attributed to climate change.

 

LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS AND NBRO

The NBRO, established in 1985 to conduct building and geotechnical research, was involved in Landslide Hazard Zoning Programme (LHZMP) to compile Landslide Hazard maps with funding from the UNDP, in 1990, and initially covered the Nuwara-Eliya and Badulla Districts. This programme was eventually extended to 12 other landslide prone districts namely Kegalle, Matale, Kandy, Kalutara, Galle, Hambantota, Moneragala and Kurunegala. Three hazard zones were identified as High, Medium and Low by analyzing relevant data related to geology, hydrology, inclination of slopes, landform, soil characteristics and its thickness and land use. Public and stakeholder awareness programmes were initiated in effected landslide areas. Conflicting land use by stakeholders due to land development, building and relevant construction activities were not recognised. Further identification of zones related to these development activities would help avoid conflicting land use, especially in the areas with high population density.

 

TESTING GEOTECHNICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL

The Standard Penetration Test (SPT) is an effective test to check the geotechnical engineering properties of soil. ( https: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_penetration_test ). The procedure helps determine relative density of soil which can vary from very loose, loose, medium dense and very dense. In house building, the bearing capacity determined by the SPT will depend on the foundation load factor, namely number of floors, concrete columns, including reinforced steel beams, etc.

 

TYPES OF FOUNDATIONS IN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

There are many types of foundations in building construction .

I quote from an article, “Foundations in Building Construction- Understanding Building Construction” as follows “In this article we will discuss the common types of foundations in buildings. Broadly speaking all foundations are divided into two categories: shallow foundations and deep foundations. The words shallow and deep refer to the depth of soil in which foundation is made. Shallow foundations can be made in depths of as little as 3 ft. (1m) when deep foundations can be made at depths of 6 -200 ft (20-65m) shallow foundations are used for small light buildings while deep ones for large heavy buildings” ( http://www.understanding construction.com/types-of-foundations.html ). The types are (a) individual footings (c) strip footings (d) raft or mat foundations and (e) pile foundations.

Another common type of foundation is the floating foundation (Ref Floating Foundation – Principles, Suitability and construction Difficulties – quoting “a floating foundation is a type of foundation constructed by excavating the soil in such a way that the weight of structure built on the soil is nearly equal to the total weight of soil excavated from the ground including the weight of water in the soil before construction of structure. Floating foundation is also called balancing raft and caused zero settlement to the structure”

However, in most of the lowlands, especially around Colombo, the soil in underlain by laterite (weathered hard rock) and some areas are identified as soft laterite. Accordingly, if a floating foundation is anchored in hard laterite and if some areas have soft laterite it will result in differential settlement which will damage the building due to differential settlement.

 

DEVELOPING BUILDING CODES FOR SRI LANKA

It is encouraging to note that the NBRO with the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) has initiated action to formulate building codes with financial assistance from the World Bank which has appointed an expert team, led by the University College London, to conduct a Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment in Sri Lanka. This team will carry out the following tasks:

 

“(1) to evaluate the current Building Regulatory capacity in Sri Lanka. (2) To facilitate discourse and consultations with local stakeholders in Sri Lanka to determine their aspirations for an improved system of building Regulations and identify barriers and opportunities for their implementation (3) Provide tailored recommendations for implementation of an improved Building Regulatory system.

Further, a Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) had been held on 7 March 2019 with the team from the University College London and consisted of the following organizations (1) Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management (2) Ministry of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs (3) National Building Research Organization (4) Construction Industry Development Authority (5 ) Urban Development Authority (6) National Physical Planning Department (7) Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance and (8) Disaster Management Centre .

A Workshop held on 8 March 2019 on Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment (BRCA) to identify the views of the stake holders on the following (a) National level legislation and institutions (b) Building code development and maintenance (c) Local level implementation

(Ref Building Codes for Resilience <http:www.nbro.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=a…>

It is interesting to find out about the progress of this Expert Group in identifying and formulating the relevant Building codes covering the entire Island.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, I have highlighted the collapse of a five-storied building used as a residence in an unstable slope in Kandy. It has now resulted in the law enforcing authorities taking legal action about the construction and the owner of the building has made statements that all approvals were obtained from the regulatory agencies and the construction was supervised by the State Engineering Corporation.

I also highlighted the past activities of the Geological Survey Department (GSD Present GSMB) and the extensive work carried out by the Engineering Geology Section in foundation investigations as well as the landslide investigations by the highly qualified and experienced geologists with a limited staff of only 13 geologists. However in 1992 with the conversion of the GSD to GSMB both a legitimate functions of GSD namely foundation investigations as well as landslide studies was dropped but again in 2009 with the Amendments to the GSMB Act those functions were restored. It is queried whether the GSMB is now involved in these functions.

I also briefly described the various foundations and also the initiation of identifying procedures for formulation of appropriate building codes.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) The NBRO, which has prepared landslide hazard maps covering the 14 districts should make these maps available to local government authorities and building plans should be approved with the recommendations of NBRO.

(2) The GSMB should also actively get involved to identify landslide prone areas as well as foundation investigations for residencies and buildings.

(3) The NBRO should demarcate safe zones in the High, Medium and Low Risk areas for housing and other buildings including factories for relevant industries by foreign and local investors.

(4) The government should study the creation of effective entities that would have expertise of civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, representatives from NBRO and Disaster Management Center, Ministry of Environment Central Environment Authority (CEA) etc to approve building plans for dwellings and the industrial activities. Such entities could be on a district basis.

(5) To expedite identification and appropriate building codes for construction in the three areas namely High, Medium and Low Risk areas and legislate such Codes expeditiously.

(6) Include the Ministry of Environment CEA and the GSMB to participate in the Steering Committee for developing building codes for the entire Island.

(7) The NBRO and GSMB should actively coordinate in exchange information of landslides that had occurred prior to 1992 and past foundation investigations by the GSD and create a depository of such information and data for the use of relevant agencies.

(8) The appointment of a Presidential Task Force to regulate building activity in Sri Lanka with all safety precautions and eliminate loss of life and property to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

References

1. Landslide Danger Risk Reduction Strategies and Present Achievements in Sri Lanka by R.M.S.Bandara and Padhmakumara Jayasinghe National building Research Organization Geosciences Research Vol 3 No 3 August 2018.

2. Standard penetration test –Wikipedia

3. Developing Building Code for Resilience – NBRO

(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and former Director Geological Survey Department form 1983 10 1985 (Present GSMB) Professional Geologist for over 55 years and can be contacted at ?)

 

Building collapse in Kandy due to foundation on unstable slope: National implications

 

By Dulip Jayawardena

 

The recent collapse of a five-storey building in Kandy has caused much concern among the residents around the district, especially those who have built houses around slopes which are now speculated as unstable by an expert geologist who has rung alarm bells indicating that all those who reside on hill slopes should vacate their houses during heavy rains.

The Governor of the Central Province has gone on record as saying there are over 200 buildings, including houses, at risk of collapse, and it is pertinent to question whether that conclusion was reached after conducting relevant investigations.

 

HISTORY OF FOUNDATION

ENGINEERING IN SRI LANKA

The origin of the Geological Survey Department (present GSMB ) can be traced to 1904, when Dr Ananda Cooramaswamy was the Principal Mineral Surveyor appointed by the Colonial government. The Mineral Survey was converted into the Mineralogy Department in early the 1940s and, with the appointment of the first Sri Lankan as Head of the Department, in 1948 this vital state institution was renamed the Geological Survey Department (GSD) in 1961.

With the reorganisation of the GSD, an Engineering Geology section was created and the first Engineering Geologist was my former Director, the late D. B. Pattiarachchi, who underwent extensive training at the US Bureau of Reclamation, which was founded in 1902.

The GSD had a very efficient Engineering Geology Section, headed by Pattiarachchi and all the foundation investigations for major buildings, power plants hydro electric dams, reservoirs, etc., were undertaken by it. Some of the foundation investigations that I was involved in were the construction of the proposed Urea Plant at Sapugaskanda by Kellogg Inc of USA at a cost of US $ 117 million in early the 1970s and the Electro Smelting Plant at the Oruwela Steel Corporation also in the early 1970s with the assistance of the former Soviet Union.

Following the establishment of the GSMB in terms of the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992, the earlier functions of the GSD, in engineering geology were dropped (See Para 12 (a) to (e) of the Act). However, the Mines and Minerals (Amendment )Act No 66 of 2009 was amended to undertake projects in regard to engineering geology and advise and recommend remedial measures in case of geological hazards and disasters.

The question is whether there is an effective engineering geology division at GSMB with trained engineering geologists.

In order to educate the readers and the so-called experts, I would like to quote from a publication titled “Engineering geology: Principles and Practice” Publisher Springer Authors D.G. Price and Michael Freitas, etc., where the Abstract reads as follows “Provides the reader with the basics of engineering geology illustrates how geology is related to calculations of stability, deformation and groundwater flow. Specifically written for those first degree is not geotechnical engineering. Shows how to identify, investigate and define an engineering response to problems arising from ground conditions … The text is directed at the heart of Engineering Geology where geology is used to identify potential problems arising from ground conditions. It describes how to investigate those conditions and to define an engineering response that will either avoid or reduce related calculations of stability deformation and ground water flow ….” This applies to shallow foundations in residential areas, especially in the hill country of Sri Lanka.

 

THE NATIONAL BUILDING RESEARCH ORGANIZATION (NBRO) AND LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS

The NBRO is now designated as the prime organisation specialising in landslides and formulating effective policies and strategies to effect risk reduction.

It must be stressed that the GSD was earlier involved in these functions that have been assigned to NBRO. It is incorrect to say that according to NBRO landslide studies date back to only 1980, ignoring the extensive field and research studies done by the GSD from the early 1960s.

A paper written by me titled “Analysis of Devastating Landslides in Haldumulla – Koslanda Areas ( -lands) I have stated that landslides up to 2002 were considered as minor disasters and from 1974 to 2002 the incidence was 10 to 60 per annum. However in 2006 this number shot up to 360.

It was recognised by GSD that from the 1980s that the Haputale scarp including the devastating landslide that occurred at Haldumulla on October 29, 2014, causing a huge of loss of lives and property proved that the area from Haldumulla and Koslanda as well as the Poonagala Valley up to Ella is unstable. It is interesting to find out whether the NBRO has done any detailed studies in this area recently.

The seasonal distributions of rainfall were during the south west and north east monsoons and the months were January, May and October that experienced highest rainfall. It appears that this trend has been affected due to climate change; Sri Lanka has not placed emphasis on carrying out research in this regards.

I have also stressed that the Meteorology Department should analyze rainfall data since 1956 up to present and compare them with the data from the Hunting Survey Corporation of Canada, in which past records indicate rainfall data from 1907 to 1956. A Monograph titled “Hydrometeorology of Ceylon” was compiled and copies were available at the relevant Departments including GSD. The temperature variations were also published.

Any change in rainfall during the period October to January identified as the autumnal period may be directly attributed to climate change.

 

LANDSLIDE HAZARD MAPS AND NBRO

The NBRO, established in 1985 to conduct building and geotechnical research, was involved in Landslide Hazard Zoning Programme (LHZMP) to compile Landslide Hazard maps with funding from the UNDP, in 1990, and initially covered the Nuwara-Eliya and Badulla Districts. This programme was eventually extended to 12 other landslide prone districts namely Kegalle, Matale, Kandy, Kalutara, Galle, Hambantota, Moneragala and Kurunegala. Three hazard zones were identified as High, Medium and Low by analyzing relevant data related to geology, hydrology, inclination of slopes, landform, soil characteristics and its thickness and land use. Public and stakeholder awareness programmes were initiated in effected landslide areas. Conflicting land use by stakeholders due to land development, building and relevant construction activities were not recognised. Further identification of zones related to these development activities would help avoid conflicting land use, especially in the areas with high population density.

 

TESTING GEOTECHNICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL

The Standard Penetration Test (SPT) is an effective test to check the geotechnical engineering properties of soil. ( https: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_penetration_test ). The procedure helps determine relative density of soil which can vary from very loose, loose, medium dense and very dense. In house building, the bearing capacity determined by the SPT will depend on the foundation load factor, namely number of floors, concrete columns, including reinforced steel beams, etc.

 

TYPES OF FOUNDATIONS IN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION

There are many types of foundations in building construction .

I quote from an article, “Foundations in Building Construction- Understanding Building Construction” as follows “In this article we will discuss the common types of foundations in buildings. Broadly speaking all foundations are divided into two categories: shallow foundations and deep foundations. The words shallow and deep refer to the depth of soil in which foundation is made. Shallow foundations can be made in depths of as little as 3 ft. (1m) when deep foundations can be made at depths of 6 -200 ft (20-65m) shallow foundations are used for small light buildings while deep ones for large heavy buildings” ( http://www.understanding construction.com/types-of-foundations.html ). The types are (a) individual footings (c) strip footings (d) raft or mat foundations and (e) pile foundations.

Another common type of foundation is the floating foundation (Ref Floating Foundation – Principles, Suitability and construction Difficulties – quoting “a floating foundation is a type of foundation constructed by excavating the soil in such a way that the weight of structure built on the soil is nearly equal to the total weight of soil excavated from the ground including the weight of water in the soil before construction of structure. Floating foundation is also called balancing raft and caused zero settlement to the structure”

However, in most of the lowlands, especially around Colombo, the soil in underlain by laterite (weathered hard rock) and some areas are identified as soft laterite. Accordingly, if a floating foundation is anchored in hard laterite and if some areas have soft laterite it will result in differential settlement which will damage the building due to differential settlement.

 

DEVELOPING BUILDING CODES FOR SRI LANKA

It is encouraging to note that the NBRO with the Construction Industry Development Authority (CIDA) has initiated action to formulate building codes with financial assistance from the World Bank which has appointed an expert team, led by the University College London, to conduct a Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment in Sri Lanka. This team will carry out the following tasks:

Building

“(1) to evaluate the current Building Regulatory capacity in Sri Lanka. (2) To facilitate discourse and consultations with local stakeholders in Sri Lanka to determine their aspirations for an improved system of building Regulations and identify barriers and opportunities for their implementation (3) Provide tailored recommendations for implementation of an improved Building Regulatory system.

Further, a Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) had been held on 7 March 2019 with the team from the University College London and consisted of the following organizations (1) Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management (2) Ministry of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs (3) National Building Research Organization (4) Construction Industry Development Authority (5 ) Urban Development Authority (6) National Physical Planning Department (7) Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance and (8) Disaster Management Centre .

A Workshop held on 8 March 2019 on Building Regulatory Capacity Assessment (BRCA) to identify the views of the stake holders on the following (a) National level legislation and institutions (b) Building code development and maintenance (c) Local level implementation

(Ref Building Codes for Resilience <http:www.nbro.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=a…>

It is interesting to find out about the progress of this Expert Group in identifying and formulating the relevant Building codes covering the entire Island.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, I have highlighted the collapse of a five-storied building used as a residence in an unstable slope in Kandy. It has now resulted in the law enforcing authorities taking legal action about the construction and the owner of the building has made statements that all approvals were obtained from the regulatory agencies and the construction was supervised by the State Engineering Corporation.

I also highlighted the past activities of the Geological Survey Department (GSD Present GSMB) and the extensive work carried out by the Engineering Geology Section in foundation investigations as well as the landslide investigations by the highly qualified and experienced geologists with a limited staff of only 13 geologists. However in 1992 with the conversion of the GSD to GSMB both a legitimate functions of GSD namely foundation investigations as well as landslide studies was dropped but again in 2009 with the Amendments to the GSMB Act those functions were restored. It is queried whether the GSMB is now involved in these functions.

I also briefly described the various foundations and also the initiation of identifying procedures for formulation of appropriate building codes.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) The NBRO, which has prepared landslide hazard maps covering the 14 districts should make these maps available to local government authorities and building plans should be approved with the recommendations of NBRO.

(2) The GSMB should also actively get involved to identify landslide prone areas as well as foundation investigations for residencies and buildings.

(3) The NBRO should demarcate safe zones in the High, Medium and Low Risk areas for housing and other buildings including factories for relevant industries by foreign and local investors.

(4) The government should study the creation of effective entities that would have expertise of civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, engineering geologists, representatives from NBRO and Disaster Management Center, Ministry of Environment Central Environment Authority (CEA) etc to approve building plans for dwellings and the industrial activities. Such entities could be on a district basis.

(5) To expedite identification and appropriate building codes for construction in the three areas namely High, Medium and Low Risk areas and legislate such Codes expeditiously.

(6) Include the Ministry of Environment CEA and the GSMB to participate in the Steering Committee for developing building codes for the entire Island.

(7) The NBRO and GSMB should actively coordinate in exchange information of landslides that had occurred prior to 1992 and past foundation investigations by the GSD and create a depository of such information and data for the use of relevant agencies.

(8) The appointment of a Presidential Task Force to regulate building activity in Sri Lanka with all safety precautions and eliminate loss of life and property to achieve sustainable economic and social development.

References

1. Landslide Danger Risk Reduction Strategies and Present Achievements in Sri Lanka by R.M.S.Bandara and Padhmakumara Jayasinghe National building Research Organization Geosciences Research Vol 3 No 3 August 2018.

2. Standard penetration test –Wikipedia

3. Developing Building Code for Resilience – NBRO

(The writer is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and former Director Geological Survey Department form 1983 10 1985 (Present GSMB) Professional Geologist for over 55 years and can be contacted at ?)



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Features

Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective

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by Harshana Rambukwella

Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).

Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.

Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.

Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.

But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.

Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.

However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.

Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

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by jehan perera

The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.

There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.

The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.

In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.

In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.

DEATH BLOW

Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.

It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.

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Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity

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By Hema Arachi

T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.

This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.

President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”

A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.

During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.

I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”

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