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Mystery power failure: PUCSL begins public hearing

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‘It has taken this step as CEB is not cooperating,’ says expert

By Rathindra Kuruwita

For the first time in its history the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) will hold a public hearing, on 27 May, as part of its investigation to find out what caused the countrywide power failure on 17 August, 2020. PUCSL Chairman Janaka Ratnayake said the session would commence at 9.30 am.

 It was the first time that such a massive power failure had occurred in the country and no room should be left for another one.

 “Because of this power failure, the CEB was unable to serve a total energy demand of 27.5 GWh, which is estimated to be around Rs. 4 billion. In addition, there were other consequential losses due to the failure. This public hearing will be to figure out what happened.”

Ratnayake said that a public hearing was akin to a commission and those who testify before it would do so under oath.

The PUCSL has asked stakeholders, including the general public, to send in written submissions to the ‘Chairman, Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, Level 06, BOC Merchant Tower, 28, St. Michael’s Road, Colombo 03.’ These submissions can also be faxed to 0112392641 or emailed to consultation@pucsl.gov.lk. These submissions should be sent within 28 days from 28 March 2021.

An energy sector source said that the PUCSL had taken the step as the CEB had not provided it with data and a report that the regulator had asked for.

The Committee appointed by the Minister of Power to probe the power failure had only handed its report to Minister Dullas Alahapperuma in the third week of February, but it had not been made public or any action taken based on the recommendations of the Committee.

 “In fact, the report was finished by the end of December but the CEB representative and another member didn’t sign the report until February. So, there was a deliberate delay in submitting the report too.”



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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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Gas prices up

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State-owned Litro has increased the price of domestic gas with effect from midnight yesterday.

Chairman of Litro Company Muditha Peiris said the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder would be increased by Rs 334, the price of a 5 kg gas cylinder by Rs 135 and the price of a 2.3 kg gas cylinder by Rs 61 .The 12.5 kg cylinder is Rs 4,743.

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Court moved against construction of highway across wetland

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By Ifham Nizam

A case had been filed against the construction of the 3.15 km Orugudawatta-Athurugiriya highway, running through the Thalangama-Avarihena wetland, the Centre for Environmental Justice legal team said.

The construction of roads through a wetland was to be carried out under the National Environment Act 1487/10 Gazette. However, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report has not been submitted for the project’s second phase. This is an unauthorised practice as per Schedule II of the Gazette.

The suit was filed on 11.02.2021 by two petitioners, including the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), under the powers conferred by Sections 24 C and 24D of the Environment Act No. 47 of1980.The proposed highway is to run through the Talangama/Avarihena wetland, which was declared by Gazette No. 1487/10 dated March 2007 as an Environmental Protection area.

The petitioners have requested the Court to issue a writ of prohibition against the respondents for allowing the construction to pass through the Talangama Wetland.However, the respondents have argued that Gazette No. 1487/10 has been amended by Gazette No.2237/7 issued by the Minister, and since the case has been filed based on Gazette No.1487/10 there is no need to maintain this case further.

After considering the facts, the Court of Appeal ordered, on January 19, 2022, that according the Third Schedule (n) of Gazette No. 2237/7, the construction of the expressway in question should not harm the ecologically protected area.

Since the petitioners have been able to prove their case prima facie that the minister changed the original order to the environmental protection zone, the court allowed the petitioner to continue the petition. This was followed by a petition filed by the Road Development Authority and its Chairman on 25 February 2022.

A petition was filed on December 23, 2020, by the Centre for Environmental Justice and Senior Advisor/Director, Hemantha Withanage regarding the illegal activities around the Muthurajawela Sanctuary. The Muthurajawela North Swamp area has been declared as a wetland sanctuary as per the Special Gazette No. 947/13 and its induction zone has also been declared an “Environment Protection Zone’ in 2004 under Sections 24C and 24D of the National Environment Act Gazette No. 1466/26 dated 13 Oct 2006.The petitioners request an interim restraining order to stop activities in the vicinity of the

Muthurajawela Sanctuary violating the Agricultural Development Act No. 46 of 2000, for carrying out activities related to the Extraordinary Gazette No. 772/22 dated 24.06.1993 without an environmental assessment report, carrying out activities that are prohibited in a sanctuary under Section 7 of the Wildlife and Flora Protection Ordinance. They also request to mark the physical boundaries of the Muthurajawela Sanctuary and to issue a writ of mandamus to implement the National Policy on Wetlands.

In the petition, the petitioners sought a writ of mandamus to act in terms of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in relation to the damage caused. Giving the order dated 04 April 2022, the Court of Appeal directs the Director General of the Survey Department and the Inspector General of Police to mark the physical boundaries of the Muthurajawela Sanctuary and the Environmental Protection Zone. Also, the Central Environment Authority and the Department of Wildlife Conservation have been ordered to install notice boards in those zones and the Police Commissioner has been ordered to take steps to protect the relevant boundaries and boards and to take steps to prevent illegal activities from taking place in the Muthurajawela Sanctuary and the Environmental Protection Zone.

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