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Sri Lanka’s gas tragedy: the untold story

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By Deshai Botheju, Ph.D.
M.Sc.Tech.(Norway), M.Sc., B.Sc.Eng. (1st Hons., UoM), AIChE, AMIE(SL)
deshaibotheju@acses.org

Recent explosions and gas leak accidents related to domestic LP gas cylinders have created an environment of fear, anxiety, and social unrest throughout the country. More than 400 explosions and gas leak incidents have been reported during the first week of December 2021. In addition, a large number of observations have been made with respect to leaking gas cylinder valves.

The reported accidents and incidents can be divided into four major categories: (a) Sudden gas explosions inside houses and building, (b) Sudden explosions associated with the gas cooker, (c) Major gas leaks and resulting damages associated with the regulator and the hoses, (d) Minor gas leaks from the cylinder valve, regulator, or the hoses. The number of accidents reported during a single week has far exceeded the typical gas-related accidents happening within a typical year. Something must have gone terribly wrong for Sri Lankan LP gas consumers. Unconfirmed reports now indicate potential deaths, associated with some of these gas explosion accidents.

What is LPG?

Liquefied Petroleum Gas, abbreviated LPG, is an energy carrier derived during crude oil refining or natural gas processing. In petroleum industry terminology these are called gas condensates and are byproducts often generated during the production of liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel, and kerosene) or natural gas (methane). The key components of typical LP gas are propane (an alkane gas containing three carbon atoms – C3H8) and butane (an alkane gas containing four carbon atoms – C4H10). In addition, small amounts of propylene, methane, pentane and other minor constituents can be present. LP gases do not originally have a clearly recognizable distinct odour. Therefore, in order to identify any gas leaks, methyl mercaptan (CH3SH), or a similar odour generating component, is added to LP gas before commercial use. Table 1 provides a useful comparison between propane and butane, with respect to key physical or chemical properties.

Depending on the refinery process, or intended use, LP gas can have a widely varying propane and butane composition. Under normal atmospheric pressure, butane has a higher boiling point of minus 0.5 degrees Celsius (-0.5) compared to propane’s minus 42 degrees Celsius (-42) boiling point. That means in colder climates, where the ambient temperature could go below 0 degrees Celsius, the LP gas must mostly contain propane in order to use that as a fuel gas (otherwise it wouldn’t flow as a gas, as butane would remain in the cylinder as a liquid). Therefore, the butane content is greatly reduced in LP gas used in colder climate countries, typically less than five percent of the volume. For tropical countries, like Sri Lanka, having a high butane content is just fine, as the year-round temperature is almost always above zero degrees Celsius (except for some rare occasions in locations at higher altitudes). Further, butane is a much safer gas to use. This is due to its much lower vapour pressure (31 pound per square inch) compared to that of propane (124.5 psi). Therefore, the containment integrity requirements shall be much stricter for propane use, compared to butane. (figure I)

Composition changes and pressure effects

Unlike compressed gas cylinders, LP gas cylinders are not filled with 100 percent gas. Instead, a new cylinder would contain the liquids, hence the name LP gas, to about 85 percent volume. Only the remaining 15 percent ullage volume (the volume left empty in a tank for the liquid to expand) contains actual gas. These two phases (liquid and gas) are in equilibrium. The pressure within this gas filled ullage is the equilibrium pressure of the corresponding liquid mixture (of propane and butane). This equilibrium pressure can be predicted based on the ambient temperature and the composition of the liquid phase. Table 2 provides the values of these equilibrium pressures (in pounds per square inch gauge or psig) for different propane-butane mixtures at the temperature of 32 degrees Celsius (which is quite close to the typical ambient temperature in Sri Lanka). (Figure II)

As can be seen from Table 2, at 32 oC temperature, a mixture of 80 percent butane and 20 percent propane has an equilibrium pressure of 53.6 psig. This was the composition used in Sri Lanka for a long time. All appliances (including gas cookers), pressure regulators, hoses, hose connectors, gas cylinder valves and cylinders have been accustomed to this pressure condition. In other words, our consumer gas utility system has been calibrated at this pressure condition. Nevertheless, gas cylinders themselves are manufactured to tolerate a much higher pressure.

If the butane-propane composition is suddenly changed to 50 % butane and 50 % propane, now the increased propane content leads to a much higher equilibrium pressure of 89.4 psig. It is obvious that this is a very significant pressure increase from the previous condition.

Containment integrity

Increased propane content leads to a significant increase in gas pressure inside the cylinder. This is because propane has a much higher equilibrium vapour pressure compared to butane (see Table 1). Now, the whole utility system on the part of the customers faces a containment integrity problem. In other words, gas leaks are likely to happen from many of the system components. Table 3 elaborates potential impacts of this pressure increase on different system components. Figure 1 further illustrates potential leak sources and pathways associated with the gas cylinder valve. (Figures III and IV)

What happens during a gas leak?

Propane and butane are flammable and combustible gases, when mixed with air (or oxygen). Within the approximate volume percentages of 2 to 10 percent (within LEL- Lower explosive limit and UEL – Upper explosive limit), these gases can create an explosive gas mixture when exposed to air; see Table 1. Outside of this volume percentage range, the gas would not ignite. However, at higher gas concentrations, the gas cloud can still pose an asphyxiation hazard to humans as it displaces breathable oxygen in air.

Even a minor gas leak in the cylinder valve, regulator, or any other component (see Table 3 and Figure 1) can lead to the accumulation of the gas inside a building, over several hours. Note that both propane and butane gases are higher in density compared to air (heavier than air; see specific gravity values shown in Table 1). Which means, when a gas leak occurs the explosive gas cloud accumulates close to ground level (rather than moving upward and dissipating). This situation is more likely to occur at night when doors and windows are closed, with consequently little or no ventilation. If the leaked cloud of gas reaches the concentration of LEL within that surrounding (for example a kitchen), then it is a bomb waiting to be triggered at any time. The only thing required is a small spark, which may occur when an electrical switch makes contact (on or off), or even due to static electricity present in the atmosphere, or due to an actual flame such as lighting a match. At that moment, an explosive combustion reaction occurs within the flammable gas cloud and the energy released is transmitted as a pressure wave accompanied often by a fireball. This is a typical atmospheric gas cloud explosion. Secondary damage can occur due to projectiles (broken glass for example), prolonged fires, collapsing roofs and walls.

Change management failure

Changing an existing LP gas composition without a detailed safety assessment is an act of sheer negligence bordering on absurdity. It’s a fundamental process engineering principle to follow a comprehensive Management of Change (MoC) protocol before making this kind of, or even far less consequential, change to a product, process, or an operating procedure. Even a Process Engineering Trainee can explain this to production management. As part of an MoC process, it is absolutely necessary to conduct a dedicated risk assessment or a standard safety study such as ‘HAZards and Operability’ (HAZOP). Had such HAZOP been conducted in this case, many of the problems we have indicated in Table 3 could have been identified in advance, avoiding calamity in consequence.

Cost factor and energy contents

The heat energy contents of propane and butane are respectively 49.58 and 47.39 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg). However, the density of liquid propane and butane are 0.51 and 0.58 kilograms per litre (kg/L) respectively. That means due to the lower density of propane compared to butane, propane has a slightly lower energy content when based on volume (25.3 and 27.5 MJ/L respectively). Propane burns with a slightly higher flame temperature compared to butane (1980 vs 1970 oC). In certain gas burners, propane could burn with slightly higher efficiency compared to butane (with less deposition of carbon).

If calculated based on the heat energy content delivered (measured by BTU-British Thermal Units), propane is often a cheaper energy commodity compared to butane in the world energy market. Therefore, an LP gas mixture rich in propane can be cheaper. LP gases with more propane are also easier to procure. While per BTU price is cheaper, if calculated based on metric ton price, one can be misled to believe that propane is more expensive than butane. This becomes a false assumption if all gas pricing and market economics are based on the value of BTUs (energy) delivered to the customer (customer is made to pay for the heat energy content delivered to them, and not for the weight of the gas). Also note that the exact price of a certain LPG shipment can be very different from the typical spot prices prevailing in the world energy market.

Safety culture issue

Every organisation has a certain safety culture. Without going into detailed academic definitions of the safety culture concept, we can still try to understand different characteristics of good (positive) safety cultures in comparison to bad (negative) safety cultures.

In a good safety culture Management of Change protocols are always followed; when an accident or an incident occurs, it will always be investigated to the fullest extent and all lessons to be earned are extracted; transparency and honesty are always maintained; instead of finger pointing, their own faults are admitted; no attempts are made at concealing information; safety is always given priority over marginal economic gains. In contrast, the complete opposite of these is to be expected of an organisation with a negative safety culture.

Investigation and compensation

Any investigation into the recent series of unfortunate gas related accidents in Sri Lanka must not stop at merely identifying plausible physical causes. Such investigation must definitely look deeper into related organisational factors, and make necessary recommendations to bring about much needed organisational reforms in the form of enhancing safety culture. In addition, more systematic safety management requirements and stricter regulatory reforms must be recommended to avoid repetition of this kind of ‘organizationally rooted accidents’. Failing to do so may lead to greater disasters of higher magnitude in future. Prompt compensation to those who faced harm must be a priority. Even more urgent is to recall every single gas cylinder delivered with hazardous pressure conditions, irrespective of whether the gas has been used or not. As explained before, LP gas cylinders will retain the same high pressure condition until the last drop of liquid is vaporised. Therefore, unused as well as almost fully used gas cylinders will pose the same level of leaking hazard.

(Facts presented in this article are based on information available on the public domain. The analyses and opinions are based on the author’s experience in the industry, and do not reflect the opinions of any institution.)



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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy

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US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he arrives at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea May 20, 2022

US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.

The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.

However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.

While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.

Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.

Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.

The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.

President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.

However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.

The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.

There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.

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A Majoritarian Constitution

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1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II

By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.

The unitary state

Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.

Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.

In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.

However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.

Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”

Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.

Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.

It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.

Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.

The place of Buddhism

According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.

Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’

Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)

Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).

Language provisions

Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.

Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”

Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.

That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.

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