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The Elephants in the Room – Electricity and Transport Energy



by Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

(Council member Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka Solar Industries Association of Sri Lanka  Sri Lanka Forum for Sustainable Consumption and Production Forum )

There have been many arguments and discussions on the future of our electricity sector and more importantly the state of finances of the CEB, which continues to bleed the national economy. While this does remain a matter of grave concern, there is a need for a rational approach on all energy challenges.

Although the electricity sector is an elephant in the room there is a much larger mammoth lurking. This is the tremendous drain on foreign exchange due to the complete dependence on imported fossil fuels for our transport. Sri Lanka spent some 7.5 Billion Dollars for the import of oil, back in 2010. But although the import bill in dollar terms came down to 4 Billion Dollars by 2020, the rupee equivalent remains at Rs 760 Billion, due to the continued depreciation of the rupee which appears to be inexorable. The trap mankind and Sri Lanka in particular has fallen into, remains just that, a trap, in which we are wallowing.


The reality, which seems to escape the relevant authorities is illustrated here (Illustrations: Mankind’s use of fossil fuel)


Whereas, electricity which provides only 11% of our primary energy need, fortunately has some contribution from our own indigenous sources of energy, down to 35% now, from a high of 95% in the 1990s, the transport sector is 100 % dependent on imported oil. The faint silver lining, if I may say so, of the Covid pandemic affecting the whole world, kept the oil prices low and gave some measure of relief to the beleaguered rupee up to now. But looks like the honeymoon is over, with the oil prices on an upward trend already past $ 56. Naturally, if this trend continues past the $ 60 mark per barrel, then the plans and programmes of the Central Bank to hang on to the dwindling foreign reserves and be able to meet the debt payments , will get completely awry.

The highly volatile nature of the world market price of crude oil over which Sri Lanka has absolute no control is shown here (Illustrations: Cost of Oil Imports).

Isn’t it unwise to make plans and forecasts for a most important national need, based on such a variable and uncontrollable input? This viewed, along with the change in parity rate, which with minor fluctuations is on an inexorable upward trend, tells the story.

Fortunately, we are now offered an alternative which was not available even a few years ago.


Are we ready to accept this challenge?

The wartime Prime Minister of UK, Winston Churchill once said “Never let any Crisis be wasted”. One may add the more familiar saying”Behind every Crisis lies an Opportunity”. I contributed an article, back in March 2020, when the oil prices were quite low, down below $ 30 per barrel, suggesting not to be complacent and make plans for a paradigm shift in the Transport Policy and make use of this opportunity. But no one took much notice.

The whole world is moving away from the use of petrol and diesel for transport, (even General Motors which killed the first Electric Car in the early 1960s, has plans to go all electric by 2025). So have all the major automobile manufacturers and governments with firm plans to totally electrify transport within this decade itself. Sri Lanka, however, puts up a factory for the manufacture of petrol driven vehicles and considers it a great achievement. There are also moves to spend 2.5 Billion dollars to construct a refinery in Hambantota. These decisions would have been highly appropriate and visionary moves if taken and implemented at the right time, which was at least a decade ago.

But the world has changed drastically during this past decade, particularly in the energy sector, and the transport vehicle technologies. Due to the great efforts of some committed individuals and private sector companies, the electricity sector still remains to some measure protected from this total dependence. But the transport sector has not moved an inch in the right direction, to ensure protection from the vagaries of the world market prices and deteriorating rupee to buy the dollars needed to pay for the oil.

The overdependence on imported sources of energy, in the recent decades, would definitely lead to problems of supplies, even if we have the funds to pay for them. The benefits of any price reductions are now past and the wisdom not to expect such uncertain bonanzas in the future, should dawn on us at least now. In the meanwhile, what is important to the Sri Lankan economy and the consumers is the price per liter in Sri Lanka Rupee terms, which will continue to go up, irrespective of the world market price in US Dollars. The huge import bill on oil itself is largely responsible for the continuing depreciation of the rupee to a very large extent, no

w exceeding over 6% annually.

Although the Yahapalana government effectively scuttled the baby steps being taken for the electrification of the light vehicle fleet, the advent of the Covid has at least led to the wise decision to curtail the import of vehicles, making a virtue of necessity. It is prudent to retain this policy for some years to come. However, it must be noted that the last energy policy published by the previous government in August 2019, includes a target of reaching 25% electrification of the light vehicles by 2023. A good enough starting point.

Why Electrify Transport

No doubt Sri Lanka has a back to the wall battle at this point of time, due to the double whammy of increased price of oil and the depleted rupee, to try and reduce the dependence on imported oil, purely on monetary grounds at present. But there are very valid scientific, environmental and commercial reasons why electrification of the transport is the wise and obvious way for the future.

As already mentioned, all the major automobile manufactures have plans for total departure from the use of Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) using petrol or diesel in their future vehicles. As such, before too long Sri Lanka would have to depend on the laggards who will continue with the ICE engines and face the many problems that would ensue, such as higher costs and lack of spares supply, etc.

But the basic thermodynamic reality of the much higher overall efficiency of the conversion of the input energy in the fuel or electricity to useful energy for driving the vehicle itself is a compelling reason for this change over as illustrated. The reality of gaining from this wonderful boost of efficiency was denied until now till the cost and durability of batteries and the overall cost of the electric vehicles came down to the present values. This change has been rapid and continues on the down ward trend.

The Way Forward.

The starting point, of course, is a firm national policy, made mandatory for compliance. Even the institutions under line Ministries often ignore such policies in their day-to-day programmes. Therefore if at this late stage Sri Lanka is to wake up and see a little beyond the collective nose, the following steps are recommended, if Sri Lanka is to covert this Crisis to an Opportunity.


Declare a policy and time targets to reach 100% electrification of transport sector with intermediate target levels and time frames. Make it a mandatory requirement for all state agencies to abide by and to provide facilitation to achieve same.


Accept the policy statement “4.5 Enhancing Self Reliance Section 5f” in the National Energy Policy Gazette No 2135/61 of 9th August 2019, as a national target and assign responsibilities of achieving this target to the relevant agencies. CEB/LECO to set up Charging Stations and RMV to limit registration of ICE driven light vehicles.


Remove the punitive duty rates imposed on the import of Electric Vehicles which came in to force on the 1st April 2019. These nearly doubled the price of the EVs coming into the country destroying the small growth seen till then.



Remove the punitive duties and taxes on the import of deep cycle batteries, imposed on the erroneous notion of protecting local battery industry, which does not manufacture any deep cycle batteries, suitable for EVs or for Solar Energy storage.


Levy a charge on all imports of fossil fuels at point of import and use this fund to offset the loss of income to the treasury by action items 3 and 4 above, and to assist the private sector to install charging stations

The (Illustration: Potential Savings…) chart points to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

These are approximate values based on assumed rates of registrations extrapolating historical data.

Visit for details of calculation.

The many ways that this change could benefit the Sri Lankan economy, environment and health is far too many to be included here. But even without such detailed analysis anyone with common sense can readily understand the timeliness and the value of embarking on this change without any further delay.


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Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?



By Maduranga Kalugampitiya

The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!

While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.

What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.

Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.

Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.

Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.

In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.

If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.

In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.

(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Selective targeting not law’s purpose



By Jehan Perera

The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.

Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.

But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.


The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.

Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.

In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.


The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”

Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.

The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.

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Girl power… to light up our scene



Manthra: Pop, rock and Sinhala songs

We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!

The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.

Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.

It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.

Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).

Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).

Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.

They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).

Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.

The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.

Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.

Hiruni Fernando: Founder and leader of Manthra

She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.

“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”

With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.

“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.

Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!

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