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Improvements to Kelani Valley Railway – A response from a laymon

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BY Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

This piece is written in response to a letter published by a former General Manager of Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) in The Island of 29.10.2020 under the heading “Improvements to Kelani Valley Railway”, highlighting a difference of opinion as to whether the stretch up to Homagama should be elevated or not.

PREVIOUS PROPOSALS FOR IMPROVING THE KV RAILWAY

In response to an Island Editorial titled “Ailing Railways” which appeared on 02.12.2015, the writer wrote a piece proposing a solution to ailing railways which was published in The Island of 08.12.2015. This piece may be accessed via: http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=news-section&page=news-section&code_title=49. In the Budget for 2016, the government has allocated a sum of LKR 1.5 billion to modernize the Kelani Valley (KV) railway line. The writer proposed that once the KV line is modernized, it could be leased to a private party to provide an upgraded railway service as a public-private venture.

He also said in this piece that “With the increase of frequency of trains, one problem one could envisage is the congestion that could be created due to frequent closure of railway crossings. The solution for this is to build fly-overs at every point where a major highway crosses a railway line. The government could get the assistance of the private sector here too by getting them to build metal flyovers similar to what has been erected at Nugegoda and Dehiwala. They have to just copy what is installed”. However, there was no news that any action was taken to spend this money for improving the KV line.

 

BROADGUAGING THE KV RAILWAY LINE

In the writer’s piece referred to above, he said that “A few decades ago, the narrow gauge of KV line was broadened to the standard gauge at Sri Lankan Government expense but the service was not improved concurrently. Only the dilapidated aged coaches and power sets operate on this line which run infrequently. According to the railway schedules posted in the Railway Dept. (RD) website, only four trains operate from Avissawella to Fort daily, three in the morning and one in the afternoon, while five trains operate from Fort to Avissawella, three in the morning and two in the evening. It takes about two and half hours to cover the distance of 61 km, which is running at an average speed of 24 km/h.

At such operating conditions, it is not surprising that most passengers, except those travelling on cheap government season tickets, prefer to travel by bus despite they are crowded and the service is poor. The High Level Road (HLR) is almost saturated with buses and there is no room to increase their number plying on this road, without slowing down the existing traffic further. Hence, shifting of bus commuters to railway is necessary. However, even after any modernization of the track envisaged after spending the allocated Rs. 1.5 billion, there is no guarantee that the KV line will be provided with additional rolling stock and a better service to the commuters”. This situation has not improved during the last five years.

 

CURRENT PROJECT FOR IMPROVING RAILWAYS

Sri Lanka sought a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2016 for assistance to modernize the Colombo Suburban Railways covering stretches from Colombo up to Rambukkana, Kalutara, Negombo and Awissavella. The ADB agreed to lend USD 160 million on concessionary terms and the agreement was signed in July 2016 to undertake feasibility studies and detailed design of the system.

Already a sum of USD 10 million has been mobilized for preliminary work. The segment on the KV line included rehabilitation, capacity upgrade, modernization, and electrification of the KV line between Maradana and Padukka with double tracks in this section. After studying several options, it has been decided to have the section of 20 km from Maradana to Malapalla elevated. The section between Padukka and Avissawella will remain as a single track, following mostly the existing track. (See https://www.csrp.lk/kelani_vallay_line.php?id=3)

Under this programme, the design of infrastructure including railway stations, tracks and other facilities including electrification and communications are underway according to a video clip available in the above site. The preparation of detailed designs and bid documents are expected to be completed in December 2020. A copy of the final feasibility report of the project is available on https://www.csrp.lk/backend/documents/Kelani%20Valley%20Railway%20Final%20Feasibility%20Study%20Report%20-%202019-04-11.pdf.

Further, a detailed socio-economic survey has been conducted to identify affected families living on railway reservation land between Maligawatte and Malapalla and their resettlement is planned including construction of multi-story housing for them, both in Colombo and in Malapalla. The Cabinet approval was granted for the project on 17.10.2017 and to set apart houses built by the Urban Development Authority to resettle the families encroaching the lands to be used for the development of the KV Railway Line.

 

PROPOSED OPERATION OF THE NEW SYSTEM

According to the above feasibility report, electric multiple units (EMU) will operate during peak hours at seven minutes intervals between Maradana and Makumbura North (a new station) and at 14 minutes intervals between Makumbura North and Padukka. Diesel multiple units (DMU) will operate at 30 min intervals between Padukka and Avissawella until such time this section is electrified. The travel time from Padukka to Maradana during peak hours is estimated to be 64 minutes with stopping at all stations.

Each coach could accommodate 200 passengers, but only 40 seating capacity will be provided in each coach. Seats are fitted longitudinally leaving more room for standing passengers. Each EMU will comprise 10 or 12 coaches, with capacity of 2,000 and 2,400 passengers respectively. So, most passengers will have to keep standing during their entire travel. There is provision to operate express trains with stops only at a few major stations.

For the regular traveler, a more desirable option is to have a combination of coaches with longitudinal seats and transverse seats. With the latter, seating capacity will be increased but overall capacity reduced. The coaches with transverse seats could be offered at a higher fare in a different class. Passengers may not mind paying extra fare if they are assured seating for over an hour-long ride from Padukka to Maradana.

The EMUs will be powered by electricity supplied through an overhead catenary system (OCS) operating at 25 kV connected by a pantograph to the coaches using rails as the return path. The project proposes to feed power to the OCS system from the 132 kV grid substations at Pannipitiya and Kosgama. During day time, the national grid has adequate capacity to feed the EMU operations. However, one risk factor is the unexpected power failures in the national grid encountered occasionally, in which event the EMUs will get stranded until power is restored. Perhaps the CEB may be asked to give priority to these two GSSs when restoring power.

 

IMPROVEMENTS TO THE TRACK UP TO AVISSAWELLA

The original KV line was built mostly following the contour of the highlands and hence comprised many bends with short radius of curvature. This is unlike the HLR built in late forties by American contractors which was mostly a cut and fill exercise. If one examines the present trace of the KV line up to Makumbura, there are several places where the track could be straightened. According to the Final Feasibility Report, the curves at many of the places seem to have been straightened or curves realigned with larger radii of curvature.

In addition, straightening the stretch between Hokandara Road crossing and Athurugiriya Road crossing will avoid several bends and reduce the distance from 1.83 km to 1.56 km. Further straightening the stretch between the Malabe Road crossing and Makumbura will reduce the distance from 1.56 km to 0.85 km, resulting in an overall reduction of about one km distance.

The stretch between Padukka and Avissawella is supposed to follow the existing track. The railway line between Kosgama and Avissawella crosses the A4 highway at four places. Since it is expected to run trains at 30 min intervals during peak time in this stretch in one direction or at every 15 min if both directions are considered, there will be congestion on the highway unless fly overs are built at these crossings. Alternatively, the track could be re-laid to avoid the crossings altogether.

There is also the ambiguity with regard to the section to be elevated. The Final Feasibility Report says it is up to Kottawa in some places and as Makumbura North in other places. The project website gives it as Malapalla. The former GM says that the railway line to be elevated is up to Homagama.

 

OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE NEW LINE

Once the new system is built by the foreign contractors, it has to be operated and managed by a competent organization. Being the owner of the project, SLR may want to do that, particularly because all trains operating in Sri Lanka are required to be driven and guarded by SLR staff according to the law. However, the question is are they the most suitable for the job? The archaic rules and regulations, the attitude of staff, lack of interest in passenger care, low level of maintenance and neglect of existing tracks, dominance of trade unions in operative matters would necessitate the government to rethink on who should be entrusted with the task of operating and managing the new system.

The SLR is dominated by Mechanical Engineers. Their inability to operate and maintain electronically controlled trains was amply demonstrated in the case of the 10 Locomotives from Alstom of France imported in 2000. After a short spell of operation, they developed various problems and efforts made to get them attended to by the manufacturers were not successful. Though the manufacturer trained the SLR staff in maintenance and gave them maintenance kits, it was reported that they did not have the background knowledge to assimilate the training given and as a result most of the locomotives had to be taken off service (Ceylon Today, 08.02.2014). Although SLR found these locomotives unsuitable here, India entered into a contract with Alstom to manufacture 800 locomotives in India, delivering 100 units annually.

It is therefore imperative that the new train system be leased to a private party to operate jointly with SLR drivers and guards, and the private party given the full responsibility for its operation and management including maintenance. The private party could be even a foreign company having the experience in managing similar railway systems in their own countries. This could be tried out at least initially until such time a local company staff are trained and ready to take over.

 

PLANS FOE FUTURE EXTENSION OF KV LINE

The former GM speaks about “the new infrastructure provided should be able to be utilized for any future extensions beyond Avissawella”. The website of the Colombo Suburban Railway Project (https://www.csrp.lk/about-us.php) has described several new railway lines to be built in the foreseeable future. One is the construction of a railway line from Kurunegala to Habarana via Dambulla, a distance of 81 km, for which the Feasibility Study has been completed. Another is the extension of KV line from Padukka to Nonagama via Ingiriya, Ratnapura and Embilipitiya to link with the Southern railway line. It is noteworthy that this trace bypasses Avissawella.

The KV line was first built from Colombo to Yatiyantota via Avissawella during 1900–1902 to serve the plantation community in Sabaragamuwa. It was branched off at Avissawella and extended up to Opanayaka via Ratnapura in 1912 (Wikipedia). Hence, today there is no necessity to retrace the old track to Ratnapura via Avissawella when there is a shorter route available via Ingiriya.

Furthermore, this stretch is heavily encroached and it will be a difficult task to claim it back. Even the Ruwanpura Expressway is planned to traverse via Ingiriya to Ratnapura. However, such investment on building new tracks is justified only if investments are made to acquire the necessary rolling stock to maintain a regular service.

 

FUNDING OF THE PROJECT

The project feasibility report gives the estimated investment required for the project as USD 1,424 million (M) comprising USD 700 M for track construction, USD 250 M for rolling stock, and USD 300 M for other infrastructure development and feasibility studies. Financial analysis of the project shows that project cash flows are not sufficient to fully recover the investment cost of USD 1.42 billion or LKR 263 billion.

According to the feasibility report, even though the Project cash flows are not sufficient to fully recover the total investment and associated cost of funding, it could recover approximately 21% of the investment cost and related cost of funding under 30-year analysis and it can go up to 27% with 50-year financial evaluation. Recovering the rest of the investment costs and paying the related cost of funding could not be made with project cash flows generated thus the government needs budgetary allocation from common public funds for the same which is the usual case with public sector railway projects in many countries.

On the other hand, the project operational and maintenance costs and replacement costs can easily be recovered with railway tickets and other income of the KV line. Accordingly, the project does not require government subsidies for meeting operating costs. It is also expected to generate wide economic, environmental and social benefits which cannot be monetized directly. It is therefore envisaged that funding could be raised through loans from commercial financial institutions and multilateral agencies in addition to government contributions.

 

RESERVATIONS EXPRESSED AGAINST THE PROJECT

Some independent consultants, including the former GM, are now questioning the desirability of elevating of the stretch from Maradana to Malapalla. It is surprising why these professionals are now making objections for elevating the track up to Malapalla at this late stage. He seems to be concerned about the high cost of the project, “the return on investment, and the impact of the solution to the country as a whole, in relation to financing of foreign loans”.

 

The former GM says “I believe there were two main excuses to recommend elevation; one was the acquisition of land or let me mention in a more prudent way, it is relocation of encroachments presently occupying railway land, and the second is the number of level crossings presently at-grade”. He goes to great length explaining how level crossings could be built economically in the event the tracks are laid on the surface including building fly overs and under passes quoting practices in other countries.

One excuse he gives against elevated line is that elevation “requires the provision of escalators and elevators for stations in the elevated sections required to be maintained, and in case they are not maintained, the general public will suffer when they have to climb 7m (the height of two floors of a building) to the station platform”. Escalators are used world over for mass transport of people between different elevations, though the former Railways GM thought they are not good enough for Sri Lanka. That may be the reason why none of our railway stations have any escalators installed.

Some experts are of the view that the electrification of sections on the main and coastal lines should have been given priority rather than developing the KV line. See http://www.themorning.lk/railway-project-on-hold-rs-40-b-dent-on-state-coffers/. The lobby against the project is so strong that they were trying to influence the ADB which certainly does not sound ethical for professionals. A more appropriate course of action would have been to get it sorted out internally (http://www.themorning.lk/after-jica-govt-removes-adb/). It appears that these moves have resulted in getting the project stalled.

 

CONCLUSION

A loan of USD 160 million from the ADB has enabled the SLR to study modernization of its suburban railway lines including their electrification which has been long overdue. Under this project the KV line up to Makumbura North will be elevated, with double tracks up to Padukka. The track beyond Padukka up to Avissawella will remain single track without electrification but with improvements. Detailed designs are being carried out including resettlement of displaced families. It is expected that the project will be implemented soon despite objections raised by some professionals on frivolous grounds.

It is also important to hand over the operation and management of the new railway to an experienced and competent party until such time the local personnel are trained and ready to take over. With objections raised against the project by certain quarters, it is sincerely hoped that the government will not abort the project, the way the Light Rail Transit project was aborted recently. It is expected the government will be able to secure funding for the project through offers made by foreign ambassadors from friendly countries and various visiting foreign dignitaries for assistance to develop the country.



Features

Port City Bill Requires Referendum

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by Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne,PC

The Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill was presented in Parliament on 08 April 2021, while the country was getting ready to celebrate the traditional New Year. With the intervening weekend and public holidays, citizens had just two working days to retain lawyers, many of whom were on vacation, and file applications challenging the constitutionality of the Bill in the Supreme Court within the one-week period stipulated in the Constitution. One wonders whether the timing was deliberate.

Special economic zones are common. They are created mainly to attract foreign investments. In return, investors are offered various concessions so that their products are competitive in the global market. Several negative effects of such zones have also been highlighted. The sole purpose of this article, however, is a discussion on the constitutionality of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to establish a high-powered Commission entrusted with the administration, regulation and control of all matters connected with businesses and other operations in and from the Colombo Port City. It may lease land situated in the Colombo Port City area and even transfer freehold ownership of condominium parcels. It operates as a Single Window Investment Facilitator for proposed investments into the Port City. It would exercise the powers and functions of any applicable regulatory authority under any written law and obtain the concurrence of the relevant regulatory authority, which shall, as a matter of priority, provide such concurrence to the Commission. The discretion and powers of such other authorities under the various laws shall thus stand removed.

The Commission consists of five members who need not be Sri Lankan citizens, quite unlike the Urban Development Authority, the Board of Management of which must comprise Sri Lankan citizens only. One issue that arises is that the vesting of such powers upon persons with loyalties to other countries, especially superpowers, would undermine the free, sovereign, and independent status of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 1 of our Constitution. It would also impinge on the sovereignty of the People of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 3 read with Article 4.

The removal of the discretionary powers of the various regulatory authorities is arbitrary and violative of the right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by Article 12 (1).

Under Clause 25, only persons authorized by the Commission can engage in business in the Port City. Clause 27 requires that all investments be in foreign currency only. What is worse is that even foreign currency deposited in an account in a Sri Lankan bank cannot be used for investment. Thus, Sri Lankans cannot invest in the Port City using Sri Lankan rupees; neither can they use foreign currency that they legally have in Sri Lanka. The above provisions are clearly arbitrary and discriminatory of Sri Lankans and violate equality and non-discrimination guaranteed by Article 12. They also violate the fundamental right to engage in business guaranteed by Article 14 (1) (g).

Under clause 35, any person, whether a resident or a non-resident, may be employed within the Port City and such employee shall be remunerated in a designated foreign currency, other than in Sri Lanka rupees. Such employment income shall be exempt from income tax. Clause 36 provides that Sri Lankan rupees accepted within the Port City can be converted to foreign currency. Under clause 40, Sri Lankans may pay for goods, services, and facilities in Sri Lankan rupees but would be required to pay a levy for goods taken out of the Port City, as if s/he were returning from another country! The mere repetition of phrases such as ‘in the interests of the national economy’ throughout the Bill like a ‘mantra’ does not bring such restrictions within permissible restrictions set out in Article 15.

Clause 62 requires that all disputes involving the Commission be resolved through arbitration. The jurisdiction of Sri Lankan courts is thus ousted.

In any legal proceedings instituted on civil and commercial matters, where the cause of action has arisen within the Port City or in relation to any business carried on in or from the Port City, Clause 63 requires Sri Lankan courts to give such cases priority and hear them speedily on a day-to-day basis to ensure their expeditious disposal.

The inability of an Attorney-at-Law to appear before the court even for personal reasons, such as sickness, shall not be a ground for postponement. These provisions are arbitrary and violate Article 12.

Clause 73 provides that several Sri Lankan laws listed in Schedule III would have no application within the Port City. Such laws include the Urban Development Authority Act, Municipal Councils Ordinance, and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. Under Clauses 52 and 53, exemptions may be granted by the Commission from several laws of Sri Lanka, including the Inland Revenue Act, Betting and Gaming Levy Act, Foreign Exchange Act, and the Customs Ordinance.

The Commission being empowered to grant exemptions from Sri Lankan laws undermines the legislative power of the People and of Parliament and violates Articles 3 and Article 4 (c) of the Constitution.

Several matters dealt with by the Bill come under the Provincial Councils List. They include local government, physical planning, and betting and gaming. Article 154G (3) requires that such a Bill be referred to Provincial Councils for their views. As Provincial Councils are not currently constituted, passage by a two-thirds majority will be necessary in the absence of the consent of the Provincial Councils.

The exclusion of the Municipal Councils Ordinance from the Port City area is not possible under the Constitution. When the Greater Colombo Economic Commission was sought to be established in 1978 under the 1972 Constitution, a similar exclusion was held by the Constitutional Court not to be arbitrary. Since then, under the Thirteenth Amendment under the 1978 Constitution, local government has been given constitutional recognition and included under the Provincial Council List. Under the present constitutional provisions, therefore, the Port City cannot be excluded from laws on local government.

The writer submits that in the above circumstances, the Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill requires to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum. Quite apart from the constitutional issues that arise, such an important piece of proposed legislation needs to be widely discussed. It is best that the Bill is referred to a Parliamentary Committee before which the public, as well as citizens’ organizations and experts in the related fields, could make their submissions.

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Features

Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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