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

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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

Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy

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Dr Channa Ratnatunga

Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.

In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.

We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.

‘The Reptilian Brain ’

A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.

Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.

All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.

Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.

Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!

As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.

With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.

The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.

Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.

Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!

Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.

Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.

If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.

To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.

As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.

It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.

Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.

The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.

This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.

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What’s the Plan?

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We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.

So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.

Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!

What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.

The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!

The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have

been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.

Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.

Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!

How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.

Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.

My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!

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Executive presidency or premiership?

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Better option:

by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.

On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.

JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.

JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.

All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.

In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.

If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected

The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.

What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.

I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.

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