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CAA reverses decision to file legal action against Litro Gas

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For introducing controversial hybrid LPG cylinder

by Suresh Perera

The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has backtracked on moves to file legal action against Litro Gas Lanka for launching 18-litre premium hybrid domestic LPG cylinders in contravention of consumer laws.

The Chairman was not in favor of moving court on the matter due to political pressure, a senior CAA official said.

The move to desist from legally challenging Litro’s launch of the new hybrid cylinder to the market without the regulator’s approval comes in the backdrop of State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna’s intervention to allow the controversial product to be sold to consumers at its introductory price of Rs. 1,395.

“What’s the purpose of a regulatory body if politicians can interfere with CAA’s legally mandated functions to protect the interests of consumers?”, the official asked.

The selective application of the law will boil down to seeking approval from politicians on whether legal action should be instituted when even a grocery store is raided for violating regulations, he said.

“The law is the same, and if are to take punitive action by favor, then the CAA will be a dead duck bowing down to political dictates”, he opined.

Litro Gas has come under fire for introducing new hybrid domestic cylinders for Rs. 1,395 in spite of the weight being reduced by three kilograms in comparison to the regular 12.5 kilogram cylinders priced at Rs. 1,493.

“We have already received hundreds of complaints about a shortage of 12.5kg cylinders in the market as Litro is trying to push its new hybrid cylinders”, the official said.

“This is unethical”.

A resident of Kirillawala in the Gampaha district complained that only hybrid LPG cylinders were available over the past few days.

“I was told by the Litro dealer in the area that stocks of 12.5kg regular cylinders will not be received for some time”, he said.

However, Litro Gas Chairman/CEO, Anil Koswatte assured that there was no dearth of LPG in the marketplace.

When told that technically there may be no shortage of cooking gas, but on whether regular 12.5kg regular cylinders were also available apart from the new 18-litre premium hybrid product, he said that there may be delays in deliveries due to the prevailing situation, but both domestic cylinders are freely available.

Consumers can also order online or by calling 1311 for delivery, he said.

The LPG production process is continuing uninterrupted despite many challenges posed by the pandemic. Workers adhere to health safety regulations and are regularly screened and provided accommodation to prevent contact with outsiders who may be infected, he continued.

With ballooning global LPG prices, Litro Gas Lanka incurs Rs. 300 to 400 million in losses per day as the government has turned down an appeal for a Rs. 700 price increase on domestic cylinders.

The new hybrid 18-litre domestic cylinder was introduced to the market to cut losses as LPG is now sold below procurement cost.

Asked about the claim in a YouTube video shared on social media that he draws a remuneration of Rs. 3 million per month at a time Litro is facing a financial crunch, Koswatte declined to comment on what he termed as “gossip to sling mud at him”.

The presenter of the YouTube program, Chapa Bandara, claimed that Koswatte draws a monthly salary of Rs. 2 million from Litro Gas Lanka Limited and Rs. 1 million from Litro Gas Terminal Lanka Ltd.

“I am not paid with government funds”, he noted, while pointing out that both are private companies.

“My salary is a matter for the shareholders to decide on”, he stressed, while adding that his salary should not be of concern to anybody as it’s purely a private matter.

The Chairman said that if he responds to tittle-tattle, it will create the impression that he also thrives on gossip.

Presenter Bandara also asserted that a woman who served as the General Manager at the time Koswatte was Chairman of Laksala has been appointed Director (Human Resources) of Litro Gas.

 

 



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After fuel price hike, LPG and milk food price increase now in the pipeline

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by Suresh Perera

With the increase in fuel prices triggering an uproar with an Opposition inspired no-confidence motion against Energy Minister, Udaya Gammanpila also on the cards, the government is expected to decide on the price revision sought by Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) and milk food importers shortly.

Litro and Laugfs Gas have asked for a price revision of Rs. 750 per 12.5kg domestic cylinder, while companies importing milk food have sought an increase of Rs. 350 per one kilogram pack and Rs. 140 on a 400 gram pack.

Speculation was rife that agreement was reached to push up domestic gas prices by Rs. 400 per 12.5kg cylinder, but the Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), Thushan Gunawardena clarified that the regulator has not approved an increase so far.

He said that on milk food also there was still no firm commitment on an increase though discussions were held with importers.

He said that at one such discussion, the representative of one of the companies was asked how much his Managing Director drew as his monthly remuneration and the value of the vehicle he used.

“After checking back, he replied that the MD drew Rs. 700,000 monthly and the luxury vehicle he used was worth Rs. 18 million”, Gunawardena noted.

These companies should be able to prune operational costs in these difficult times without seeking price revisions as a first option, he said.

Trade Minister, Bandula Gunawardena said the government doesn’t import commodities and when private companies which do so seek a price increase on reasonable grounds, it has to be considered to strike a balance.

“If milk food importers are not granted a price revision on the basis of realistic factors, they will stop imports and the products will no longer be available”, the Minister told journalists last week.

He said that global milk food prices have shot up by 32% coupled with enhanced shipping charges and the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar.

Gunawardena noted that 90,000 metric tons of milk food is imported to the country annually.

Asked whether a milk food price increase has been granted, the Minister replied, “that’s a matter for the CAA to decide on”.

The CAA official said that in terms of a gazette notification issued, an action was filed in the Maligakanda Magistrate’s Court to ensure compliance as, in case domestic 12.5kg were not freely available, Litro Gas Lanka as the manufacturer and its respective distributor/trader will be held responsible and liable for prosecution.

He said the CAA has received more than one thousand complaints from consumers about the non-availability of 12.5kg cylinders in the market. This has forced them to buy the new 18-litre hybrid cylinders.

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X-Press Pearl disaster: More 70 turtles, sea birds, dolphins and juvenile Blue Whale found dead so far

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By Ifham Nizam

More than 70 turtles have died so far due to burning and chemical poisoning following the blaze aboard Singapore flagged merchant X-Press Pearl, experts confirmed.

However, they said further studies are continuing with the number of deaths of turtles due to the disaster expected to exceed 200.

The Department of Wildlife said they had received information of more than 70 turtles, many sea birds, eight dolphins and a juvenile Blue Whale found dead.

“We have never seen such a large number of sea reptiles perishing within weeks”, an official said, while adding that a mixture of dangerous compounds seeping into the ocean could have caused the deaths.

Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairman Darshani Lahandapura said there was no bunker oil spill so far from the stricken vessel which is laden with 300MT of oil.

She said three experts from the United Nations are here to assess the damage caused.

Environment Ministry Secretary, Dr. Anil Jasinghe said that it depressing to witness the deaths of turtles countrywide.

Speaking at a discussion on `Looking Beyond X-Press Pearl’ at the Information Department in Colombo, he said Sri Lanka should forward compensation claims by further studying similar incidents in Hong Kong and Norway.

He also said that the danger to the coral, sea beds and mangroves should also be studied at length.

The Environment Department’s Publicity Director, Hasini Sarathchandra said that there is a grave impact due to the pollution killing all five species of turtles found in Sri Lanka – Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle and Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle and Hawlesbill Turtle.

“This is the first time we are experiencing such deaths in large numbers. We fear it is will be far worse,” she added.

However, she said that a sub committee would decide on the compensation.

Samples of the dead animals were sent to the Government Analyst, University of Peradeniya Veterinary Faculty, National Aquatic and Resources Agency (NARA) and the Zoological Gardens in Dehiwela.

She said due to the earlier ship incident, only Olive Ridley Turtles were affected and 20 deaths reported.

The Environment Department believes that the number may be higher going by the species found dead within a short period.

All turtles and their products are fully protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Anyone found guilty of committing an offense is liable to a jail term and a fine.

Under International Law also, sea turtles are protected. Sri Lanka has banned international trade in sea turtle products.

The cause of deaths of the marine creatures could be determined soon, said Government Analyst  Gauri Ramana.

Investigations were also launched to determine the impact of the ship disaster on the seawater as well as its chemical composition.

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Artificial reefs: Sri Lanka minister dismisses Indian concerns, says ban bottom trawling first

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ECONOMYNEXT – Dismissing objections raised by Indian fisherman against Sri Lanka’s artificial reef project, State Minister of Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekara said India must ban the destructive practice of bottom trawling instead.

Fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu have objected to a Sri Lankan initiative to submerge discarded buses in the island’s northern waters in an effort to create an artificial reef. Twenty such buses were submerged near the Delft Island off Jaffna on June 11. The New Indian Express reported July 16 that experts in India have called the move irresponsible while fishing communities have expressed fears that the buses would drift underwater into India’s territorial waters affecting their fishing industry.

Defending the project, State Minister Wijesekara said it was the result of years of study.

“It is not irresponsible project but one that is globally proven and practiced. We don’t accept their claims or the statements they are making,” he said.

According to Wijesakara, this is the fourth phase of a project initiated about six months ago by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to cultivate artificial reefs around Sri Lanka.

The first phase was in Trincomalee, while the second and third phases were carried out in Galle and Matara respectively. The fourth phase, this time in the country’s northern waters, is ongoing.

Marine research in Sri Lanka is carried out by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), which is currently dealing with the aftermath of the X-Press Pearl shipping disaster, one of Sri Lanka’s worst ecological disasters in history.

“For about two to three years, NARA and the Department of Fisheries have been studying how we can develop artificial reefs for fish spawning. That is the main idea behind this project. Similar projects have been done all over the world, even in developed countries. Sri Lanka is the first country in the region to do it,” said Wijesekara.

“We did a couple of underwater museum galleries as well,” he added.

Responding to claims made by the Indian fishermen and experts, the minister said they’re  probably baseless, as artificial reef building has been tried globally.

Marine conservationists worldwide have, indeed, attempted to construct artificial reefs with varying degrees of success. Large steel structures such as shipwrecks are considered suitable, while smaller unsecured structures are considered less so.

“If a scientific agency is saying this is an irresponsible move, then they probably don’t have scientific research to back it. The most irresponsible act of the Indian marine research institute is not banning bottom trawling. This is a banned and illegal practice globally which damages marine environment and reserves,” said Wijesekara.

Indian fishermen encroaching into Sri Lankan waters in the north has been a long-drawn issue, as has the alleged robbing of Sri Lanka’s marine resources thanks to bottom trawling.

Fishing vessels from South India had got into the habit of straying over the Indo-Lanka maritime border during a 30 year civil war when Sri Lanka fishermen were banned from entering the Northern waters – a practice that didn’t quite end with the war.

Wijesekara said that despite requests made on numerous occasions to stop bottom-line trawling by Indian fishermen, nothing has been done to minimise it, while Sri Lanka banned the practice entirely in 2017.

“I don’t know who these fishermen are that are objecting to [the reef project], but I assume they engage in bottom trawling. Their concern might be that the submerged vehicles would affect their fishing gear.  But this is a 100% scientifically proven method; it doesn’t cause any damage to the sea bed,” he said.

“This will create more artificial fish spawning spaces and coral beds so I urge our Indian counterparts to make a move on banning bottom trawling instead and to consider its impact to the ocean,” he added.

According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an artificial reef is a manmade structure that may mimic some of the characteristics of a natural reef.

These are often made by submerged shipwreck, oil rigs, gas platforms and other offshore structures.

Marine resource managers also create artificial reefs in underwater areas that require a structure to enhance the habitat for reef organisms, including soft and stony corals and the fishes and invertebrates that live among them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on its website.

Materials used to construct artificial reefs have included rocks, cinder blocks, and even wood and old tires. Nowadays, several companies specialise in the design, manufacture, and deployment of long-lasting artificial reefs that are typically constructed of limestone, steel, and concrete.

 

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