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Chitrananda Peiris: Extraordinarily talented lecturer who didn’t work to earn a professorship



By Prof. Kirthi Tennakone

Malwattage Chithrananda Peiris, a former senior lecturer in physics at the University of Sri Jayewardhanapura passed away on 30 May 2022 at the age of 71. He was a student of mine and a research collaborator who I approached when I encountered difficulties in mathematics.

Born at Udahamulla, close to Nugegoda, Chitrananda rarely moved beyond a radius of a few miles from his home. After attending nearby schools, Wijerama Maha Vidyalaya and Pannipitiya Dharmapala College, he entered the Vidyodaya (present day Sri Jayewardhanapura) University in 1970 to pursue a science degree and continued to work there as a lecturer until retirement.

He loved thoughtful scrutiny of everything in a home environment and abstained from extravagances to the extreme. Yet, having lively blood and flesh and a superb brain, he wasn’t a recluse, but a man full of intellectually motivated pleasures and desires.

Some referred to him as eccentric, because he stood astronomically above the average in understanding. Many ignored him as he was not pretentious. He was tolerant, but sometimes stubborn because of strong conviction and avoided distractions.

Never been to Kandy, he did not respond when I invited him to visit the Institute of Fundamental Studies – perhaps thinking the reply would offend me.

His father was a workman at the Railway Complex, Maradana. A curious man who admired locomotive machinery and told him stories about engineering marvels of the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR). Father wanted his son to be a technician at CGR. Having passed G.C.E (A-Level) earning distinctions more than sufficient to enroll in a faculty of engineering, he opted to follow a physical science course at the Vidyodaya Campus – a stone throw away from his home.

As a student, Chithrananda, did not present himself as an enterprising individual. However, teachers at the University noticed his unusual originality in solving mathematical problems and experimental innovations. When I joined Vidyodaya in 1972, he was a third year student. Generally shy, but eager to engage in discussion, he gave precise answers to questions confidently. Prof P.W. Epasinghe, Chair, Mathematics, told me Chithrananda derived a formula for iterative calculation of a trigonometric function, superior to all methods reported in literature. In such calculations, mathematicians refer to a criterion termed the fastness of convergence. I was amazed to learn how Chitrananda as a novice succeeded in grasping an involved concept independently. Dr. Mahendra Wijesinghe who introduced electronics to Chitrananda, described him as unique and incomparable.

All of us, knowing very well the capabilities of Chitrananda, wished he gets a permanent position at the Department of Physics. Initially, he was appointed as a temporary demonstrator and worked with me and Dr. Wijesinghe assisting laboratory classes. Unfortunately, as per Grants Commission regulations, appointment to a permanent position required a four-year special degree with first or second class honors. Vidyodaya didn’t offer special degree programmes at that time. With a first class three-year degree plus outstanding accomplishments, Chitrananda would have easily obtained a placement in a foreign university to qualify, but he declined to go abroad. Instead, proposed to register for a post graduate degree at Vidyodaya, with me as the supervisor. Late Prof. P.C.B. Fernando, then the Head of the Department of Physics told him, if you are unwilling to do studies abroad, you at least go outside Jayewardhanapura for a while and engage in research to earn a higher degree. You require that kind of ‘away from home’ experience and advised him to meet Dr.S.Gnanlingam at the Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISIR), Colombo. Dr. Gnanlingam, a strict personality normally insisting Cambridge style credentials, was not impressed by Chitrananda. Nevertheless, he instructed Chitrananda to see him again after two weeks. When Chitrananda met him for the second time, he assigned him the problem of designing a receiver to capture weak echoes of radio signals from the ionosphere, instructing him to work in the CISIR laboratory for at least two-three days a week. After about a month later, Dr. Gnanlingam complained Chitrananda is not coming to CISIR, he cannot undertake any responsibility. When Prof. Fernando angrily inquired, Chitrananda said, he has already done much work and plans to finish it soon. Few weeks later Dr.Gnanlingam telephoned informing Chitrananda met him for a third time and presented an astounding solution to the problem and a prototype receiver he fabricated. Chitrananda had been working at home to build the receiver at his expense, when all of us believed he was in CISIR. That is how Chitrananda obtained his Master of Philosophy.

After theappointment as a lecturer, Chitrananda devoted his entire time to teaching and hobbies. For him hobbies and research were synonymous. He never worked for reputation or profit, but self-satisfaction and curiosity. Every now and then he came up with something novel, either an experiment or explaining a concept. He monitored his health as an ongoing experiment with electronic instrumentation he had improvised, and infrequently visited doctors with an understanding of the condition. Indulged in music for artistic pleasure as well as a scientific investigation. He invited students to his home and discussed physics and philosophy while playing the violin and singing.

Many times he pointed out repetitive errors in textbooks used for generations. When I was a student at the University of Colombo; the experiment given to me for a practical examination was to measure the density of iron using a sonometer- a familiar instrument in used in elementary physics laboratories, resembling a guitar. The answer I got was half the actual of the density of iron. Knowing very well the result I got had been wrong, without manipulation I wrote it down in the answer script. The professor gave me 13 marks out of 100, and I failed the exam. When I mentioned this to Chitrananda, he immediately conducted an accurate measurement using his electronics knowhow, proving that the answer I got originated from a textbook error overlooked for years and not my fault.

The smartest people love music. Chitrananda was not only a fan of music, but deeply understood physics behind and possessed the technical skill to improvise musical devices. From his school days, he had been meddling with electronic circuitry to catch Doordarshan. His unconventional approach to electronics and precision in calculations attracted the attention of students and teachers.

I was struggling with a mathematical problem that cropped-up in my research – searching literature and consulting qualified mathematicians. When I asked Chitrananda whether he could solve it. He said, I will try it once I go home for lunch. Routinely, Chitrananda leaves for lunch around 12 noon and punctually returns after about an hour. That day he returned to the campus two hours late and gave me three sheets of paper wherein an elegant solution to the problem is neatly written. What I couldn’t do after weeks of contemplation, hours of referencing at the library and discussions with mathematically competent colleagues; Chitrananda finished in one stretch during his lunchtime!

Chitrananda contributed so much to the furtherance of the University of Sri Jayewardhana for nearly half a century. Three years as an inspiring student and forty odd years a teacher par excellence, but ignored personal advancement. Not interested in writing papers, neglected collecting material necessary for obtaining quick promotions.

Generally, persons who gain faculty positions; being overly conscious of promotions devote a large portion of time in writing papers and getting them published. Today, the quality of research is fashionably judged by citations, statistically analyzed in databases; Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Knowledge. A print- out from these sources, recognized as a measure of research credibility, is sometimes a stepping stone to work less and earn a higher wage. Also, the details extracted from the databases can be manipulated to boost one’s image – some delete the name of the leading author, from list of co-authors. Chitrananda never resorted to build an academic record that way. His contribution, if evaluated without counting numbers was certainly sufficient to grant him a professorship. When Prof.Dhammika Tantrigoda, Chair of Physics, persuaded him and asked why he is not claiming the due promotion. He has said, I do things for my satisfaction and don’t want to get distracted.

The case of Chitrananda points to a delusion in the promotion schemes of our universities. The schemes should have the provision to waive rigid rules under exceptional circumstances. A challenging problem could take years of concerted effort to find a solution. One single finding of this category, published once in a way, counts more than hundreds of ordinary papers.

Exceptionally brilliant persons also have weaknesses. To achieve, the talent alone wouldn’t be sufficient. Hard work to face challenges and engagement with the competitive world drives people towards success. Chithrananda lacked this quality, he did not wish to expand his domain, interact with the world and move to the frontier. Being a man who had grasped statistics and probability theory to the fullest; Chitrananda maintained the view that good and bad (including sicknesses) one encounters are largely random and not attributable one or more specific causes or karma. Possibly because of this philosophy, Chitrananda didn’t plan for future prospects. And because of modesty and honesty, he did not go for short-cuts.

The inexhaustible knowledge gets exhausted and what remains, although inexhaustible is harder and more involved to disclose. While working as a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office, Albert Einstein revolutionized the world of science. Today, it would be impossibly difficult even for an exceptionally brilliant person, working in isolation to make groundbreaking discoveries-the reason why Chitrananda couldn’t reach his inherent potential to fullest extent.

Truly talented persons who didn’t tune their positions for fame or material benefits and not recognized by the average minded establishment, need to be remembered and appreciated.

The author can be reached via email:

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Becoming a water-wise citizen



By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

According to current demands and availability, potable water resources are rapidly depleting in Sri Lanka. Finding new potable water sources has become increasingly challenging due to the competition between irrigation water and drinking water needs in many areas. Population growth, industrial demand, pollution, and climate change exacerbate water scarcity more than ever. Despite this, society often overlooks the importance of water conservation, with water waste remaining widespread. As responsible citizens, it is high time to adopt effective water management practices at household and industry level for its sustainability. On the other hand, doing so will reduce the energy requirements for water treatment and distribution, helping lower greenhouse gas emissions.

According to NWS&DB only about 46% of the population in our country are supplied with pipe-borne water. Therefore, wasting water deprives others who really deserves fresh water but currently lack access.

Here are several common ways water is wasted presumably by users due to ignorance, along with effective strategies for reducing waste at the household level.Following are some other practical measures to save water.

Standard plumbing

Using standard pipes and fittings and skilled workmanship are crucial for preventing water waste, especially in embedded areas where such leaks are hardly noticeable. PVC pipes should not be exposed to the sun as that will deteriorate the quality of pipes over time leading to water leaks. Properly installed systems are often devoid of leaks and ensure efficient water distribution minimizing maintenance costs.

Selecting water-saving fixtures

There are many water-saving fixtures available today as low-flow showerheads, taps, and dual-flush cisterns having two flushing options. For instance, kitchen taps with fine mesh give the feeling that more water runs through it than the actual flow. Replacing the existing fixtures with these advanced items will reduce water usage significantly.

Fixing water leaks

If there are leaking taps or pipes in the house or business premises they should promptly be rectified. In addition, it is wise to have regular infections to identify such defects so that possible water wastage can be minimized.

Mindful showering habits

One mode of heavy water consumption at the household level is showering. Even small reductions in shower duration such as reducing the shower time by a few minutes can save many litres of water. Any habits of keeping the shower running while applying soap and shampoo should be avoided.

Using domestic appliances only for full loads

Making a habit of using washing machines and dishwashers only for full loads not only saves water but also reduces electricity consumption. Operating appliances at full capacity also enhances their efficiency and prolongs their lifespan while reducing repair costs.

Harvesting rainwater

Rainwater can be used for many household activities, especially for gardening, landscaping, and washing vehicles. Currently, treated water is often used for these purposes, which results in unnecessary treatment costs. Rainwater can be used even for drinking if properly collected, treated, and filtered for better hygiene. However, rainwater can be used for drinking after boiling if it is collected through a clean roof exposed to sunlight. Avoiding early rain is advisable to minimize the risk of impurities mixed with rainwater.

Gardening and landscaping

For hotels, public parks, playgrounds, and similar venues with extensive gardens growing native and drought-tolerant species that require less water can lead to massive water savings. This approach not only conserves water but also enhances landscape resilience during times of water shortages. Further applying mulch to retain soil moisture and installation of drip irrigation systems and garden sprinklers for watering can minimise water requirements. Watering the lawns should be done in the morning or late evening to minimise evaporation losses.

Water Recycling

Water from sinks, showers, and washing machines which are called “grey water” can be used for toilet flushing and gardening. By diverting grey water away from the sewer system and integrating it into these activities, freshwater requirements can significantly be reduced.

Awareness and Education

Making children aware of water conservation is crucial for fostering responsible water usage habits. At the domestic level parents and elder family members can be role models by demonstrating water-saving habits. As organization-level initiatives, educating children at schools, public awareness campaigns, promoting and giving incentives for water-saving appliances, and formulating sustainable water management policies are vital.

Adopting simple, yet effective methods as discussed can save water to ensure the sustainability of this scarce resource. As the adage goes, “Water is life”, every citizen has to be water-wise by understanding its value and actively taking steps to use water efficiently and responsibly.

(The writer is a chartered Civil Engineer specializing in water resources engineering)


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Key takeaways from British election



PM Keir Starmer

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The fact that political parties splintered by internal strife, culminating in open warfare, would be punished mercilessly by the electorate at the first available opportunity is, perhaps, the key takeaway from the UK parliamentary election held on 4th July. Conservatives, who held power for 14 years were humiliated and reduced to only 121 seats, 9 fewer than even exit-poll predictions. However, exit-polls predicted the landslide for Labour spot-on, missing the mark by only two; Labour ending up with 412, prediction being 410. This Labour win was second only to the massive victories by Tony Blair in 1997 and 2001. Terms used by news media to qualify this Labour victory, tsunami and earthquake, perhaps, are inaccurate as both are unexpected events whereas this win was not. What surprised most, however, was not the Labour victory but the scale of the humiliating defeat of the Tories, losing 251 seats. This to a large extent, was self-inflicted!

Conservatives ended 13 years of Labour rule in 2010, but as they did not have an outright majority, winning only 306 seats in a house of 650, were forced to form a coalition government with Liberal Democrats who won 57 seats. In the subsequent election in 2015, Conservatives won 330 seats, just clearing the threshold of 326. David Cameron, who was PM from 2010, resigned in 2017 when the UK voted for Brexit in a referendum, which he forced on the country, hoping to get the opposite result. Conservative divisions bloomed following the referendum disaster and Theresa May, who succeeded Cameron, went for a snap poll hoping to get a larger mandate but was unsuccessful getting only 317 seats, forcing her to continue with a minority government. However, she too, had to resign in 2019 as the draft withdrawal agreement with the EU, she negotiated, was rejected by the parliament. Boris Johnson, who succeeded her, went for an election in 2019 and was able to secure a comfortable victory with 365 seats and it was the worst defeat ever for the Labour Party, which got only 202 seats. This catastrophe resulted because of Labour being out of tune with its own supporters, majority of whom were for Brexit whereas the party policy was to remain in the EU. This was a unique event in British political history where Labour supporters switched in droves to Conservative. Worsening internal strife in the Conservative Party and the blatant breeches of Covid rules, led to the ouster of Johnson in 2022, which resulted in the disastrous 45-day tenure of Liz Truss, shortest in British history. She had to resign in disgrace when the British economy tanked with the drastic economic policies she rushed through. Not surprisingly, she could not even retain her seat, which she won with a huge majority of over 26,000 in the previous election in 2019.

Most political analysts opine that the Conservatives lost the general election in October 2022, when their acknowledged economic competence was thrown into question with the antics of Liz truss. Rishi Sunak, who took over under the most difficult of circumstances, in addition had to face frequent backstabbing, mostly from a colleague also of Indian origin. He had the unenviable task of leading a badly divided party, on top of attempting to repair the massive economic damage caused by his predecessor. Although he could have gone on until December, he called a snap election and, ultimately on 4th July, faced the inevitable!

Perhaps, the humiliating defeat suffered by the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has its origins to the demand for Scottish independence, was even worse than that of the Conservatives. SNP once exercised virtually a dictatorship over Scotland, winning almost every parliamentary seat. It was humbled down to having only 9 seats, a loss of 39 seats, in spite of stoking the fire of nationalism by campaigning that this would be a vote for the demand of a second referendum for independence. The first independence referendum held in 2014 was lost, 55% voting against independence. Therefore, the most positive takeaway from the 2024 election is that it ensured the persistence of the union between England and Scotland. This clearly illustrates that a single-issue party like the SNP has a limited lifespan, a valuable lesson for some of the communal parties of Sri Lanka.

This election is remarkable in that, rather than being a Labour win, it was a Conservative defeat, as a detailed analysis of statistics clearly show. It had the second lowest turnout with only 59.9% of registered voters voting, the lowest with 59.4% being the 2001 election where the outcome, of re-electing Tony Blair’s government with a massive majority, was never in doubt leading to voter apathy.

In 2019, Labour got 32.1% of the vote, winning only 202 seats, which is considered Labour’s worst defeat. However, five years later, the share of the vote increased only to 33.8%, the increase being mostly due to a 19% increase in Scotland whereas there was hardly any change in England. Conservative share of the vote dropped from 45.6% to 25.7%. How can a mere increase of 1.7%, lead to a gain of 211 seats, Labour ending up with 412 of the 650 seats? The main reason for this is that Nigel Farage’s Reform party siphoned off a fair share of the Conservative vote in many electorates enabling Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates to win with small majorities. Reform got 14.3% share of the vote, a remarkable achievement for a new party. Farage, who started the chain of events that led to Brexit, took over the leadership of the right-wing Reform party immediately after the election was declared and threatened to take over the Conservative party ultimately. He may well do it unless Conservatives work out a robust strategy for revival! Wonder whether Farage got letters of thanks from the leaders of Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

This is not the first time that the ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP)electoral system, used in the UK, has produced paradoxical results. As Liberal Democrats were regularly getting fewer MPs compared to their share of the vote, one of the conditions for the formation of a coalition government in 2010 was a referendum to change the electoral system. However, the ‘Alternative Vote referendum’ held in 2011 ensured the continuation of FPTP as the Alternative Voting (AV) system was rejected by 67.9%.

Another big paradox of the 2024 election is Liberal Democrats gaining 64 seats, increasing their tally to 72 with only a 0.6% increase in the share of their vote from 11.6% to 12.2%. This probably will make them lose their enthusiasm for a change to a Proportional Representation (PR) system!

By far, the biggest paradox is Reform, which polled 14.3% got only 5 seats while Liberal Democrats, who got a smaller share, 12.2%, secured 74 seats! Reform is bound to clamour for change of the electoral system, with other minor parties, but the question is whether they would have a sufficient clout to bring about changes to the electoral system?

All parties in opposition clamour for a change but when they get power, completely forget about it, especially if they muster massive majorities. It is just like our Presidents, who promise to abolish the presidency during the campaign but, once elected and having savoured power, stick to it like leeches! Politicians, wherever they may be, behave the same way, subjugating everything to self-interest.

It looks very unlikely, in spite of all the anomalies, that the newly elected Labour government, which has a two-thirds majority in spite of having only minority support, would be interested in changing the electoral system, unless they start losing support quickly. This is not an impossibility, as they promised a lot which seemed almost impossible to deliver. They rejected Sunak’s Rwanda plan, which would have been a deterrent to illegal immigration and are now looking for a ‘Chief’ to solve the problem! PM Keir Starmer wants closer ties with the EU, which however is demanding free movement for the young but that would lead to an increasing number of immigrants; a very thorny issue. He has made some backers of his as ministers by appointing them to the House of Lords, in spite of having 412 elected members to choose from. The Lords is the chamber all parties never abolish despite their promises to do so as it is the place to accommodate cronies! I do hope, if a second chamber ever becomes a reality in Sri Lanka, it would not be like the Lords.

Even if politicians want to change the electoral system to PR or AV or even the French system of two-stage elections, which seems to have created a huge problem with the latest election, will the voters opt for change? Perhaps, not. After all, the best way to mercilessly punish politicians, in spite of all its disadvantages, is FPTP!

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A different take on wind power projects in Sri Lanka



A representational image

by Eng. Col. N. N. Wijeratne
Secretary General / CEO

Chamber of Construction Industry of Sri Lanka

Saudi Arabia aims to utilize her vast arid lands to harvest renewable energy resources and to increase her share of renewables to around 50% by the year 2030. This is similar to Sri Lanka’s stated goal of 70% renewable energy usage by 2030. However, sadly this is where the similarity ends.

Recently, the Saudi Power Procurement Company entered into two agreements with Marubeni Corporation of Japan to purchase wind power at a staggeringly low rate of 1.566 U.S. cents per kWh. Now compare this with Sri Lanka and the power purchase agreement with a foreign investor Adam Green Energy Ltd at 8.26 US cents per kWh. True, the government states that this will be the single most significant foreign investment in the country with a price of 1 billion US dollars and Sri Lanka will have uninterrupted electricity for the next 20 years, etc., and makes the convoluted argument that it is cheaper than thermal power which is 26.99 US cents per kWh and that the Ceylon Electricity Board purchases wind power from 9.67 to 13.99 US cents per kWh. Additionally, the power bought from Odamwadi solar project is higher in that it is 8.75 US cents per kWh unit. Be that as it may be, if competitive tenders were invited even in Sri Lanka a more competitive rate could have been possible keeping with the global norms. But this was an unsolicited bid negotiated by the Government high ups. Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda has pointed out that for newly commissioned onshore wind projects, the global weighted average internationally for wind power is between 3.5 US cents per kWh to 3.3 US cents per kWh (2022 figures) and falling. In fact, in India the levelised tariff for wind power is 3.8 US cents per kWh. The very same investor is supplying wind power to the Indian power grid at this competitive rate.

This shrouded price has spurred Transparency International Sri Lanka to file no fewer than 11 Right to Information applications about this now cabinet-approved project that will come into fruition 2 years down the line and has questions regarding the legality, transparency, evaluation process, pricing, government involvement, and the environmental impact assessment related to 250 MW wind power plant in Mannar and the 234 MW wind power plant in Pooneryn. Additionally, it strongly raises an alarm about the ecological feasibility of these projects which are located in an ecologically sensitive zone and one in a Ramsar declared wetland sanctuary. The Right to Information has elicited a stony silence by the authorities and it is petitioned that the sovereignty of the people has been violated. If we take the pricing factor in isolation, it behooves the government to answer this call at least, keeping aside the energy policy and investor friendliness that the government talks about for this sector. Next question is do we need to buy wind energy in US$ for next 20 years? What justification is there to pay in US$ for our free wind. Capital investment by the developer could have been treated as a loan repayable at a reasonable interest rate.

Geopolitical considerations may have influenced India to be involved in our power sector in order to ward off Chinese intrusions, but there are questions both big and small that require answers for it appears that the people’s sovereignty is being trampled and they have a right to know.

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