From darkness to light | Daily News

From darkness to light

Electricity consumers, no doubt, will have a huge sigh of relief in the wake of the pledge made by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to do away with the ongoing power cuts once the new tariff rates come into effect soon. It is the prolonged power cuts during the tail end of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency that brought even the rich and the Middle Class onto the streets which eventually snowballed to force his exit from power.

At one stage, the power outages lasted for four hours in the night at a stretch, which could not be endured by the folk in posh Colombo residences who took to the streets with candlelight vigils - an unprecedented happening. The suffering endured by those nursing the sick, the aged and the feeble during that time could only be imagined.

Although the power cuts have now been drastically reduced to a mere two and half hours, difficulties still persist, especially at present when the GCE (A/L) exams are on. Candidates sitting for the exam and their parents spoke of the inconvenience and hardship in TV interviews. Not only A/L students, the public at large cannot plan an event with any certainty due to the sudden blackouts, most often unannounced in the night or at intervals contrary to the announced scheduled times.

Shops also have to switch off their deep freezers during the power cuts causing damage to the refrigerated items. The worst-hit has been the television industry which has had to cancel sponsored programmes due to withdrawal of teledramas, musical and quiz programmes etc. while the viewership was literally being kept in the dark. There was also a general dislocation of normal life with nighttime schedules having to be changed as a result of the power cuts.

Perhaps the most distressing experience has been when someone after a hard day's work, after a long wait for buses and a cramped journey walks into his/her home only to be greeted by a blackout lasting one and a half hours. As already stated studies too are disrupted with schoolchildren unable to attend to their home work or having to stay up late to do so. Hence, the decision to do away with the power cuts is a welcome step although the increase in the tariffs is not going to endear the authorities to the people.

However, the tariff hike has turned out to be a necessary evil as a result of the present economic quagmire. The Government is left with no other alternative but to increase tariffs, if the power supply is to continue uninterrupted. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) after much hemming and hawing too has finally agreed to an electricity tariff hike perhaps after realizing that there is no other alternative. Besides, one cannot envision a Government committing political Hara Kiri by jacking up electricity bills by as much as 70 per cent on top of the tax imposed on salaries, unless this had become a fait accompli.

Cabinet Spokesman, Transport, Highways and Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena made this clear at Tuesday's Cabinet briefing when he said the IMF wanted the salary ceiling for the tax to be placed at Rs. 45,000 and it was only as a result of appeals by the Government that the ceiling was raised to Rs.100,000. The US$ 2.9 billion bailout package would not have been forthcoming if the Government refused to abide by the IMF conditions which would have altogether sunk the economy, he explained.

The Government in the meantime should explore all avenues for cheaper energy sources. We are still only in the initial stages of exploiting solar and wind power with an almost total reliance on thermal and hydropower. Dilly-dallying over the years, plus obstacles placed by interested parties for pecuniary gain had been chiefly responsible for the power crisis we face today. Bold decisions will have to be taken by the Government if they are to avert continued blackouts in the future. Investors are not going to come here if there are periodic power breakdowns and investors who are already here might take their business elsewhere, which is already happening.

Meanwhile, when the full supply is restored, the public should also be urged to eliminate the wastage of electricity since there is uncertainty over the regular supply of coal to fire the thermal power plant in Norochcholai possibly leading to yet another period of blackouts. Government institutions themselves are responsible for their callous disregard for power conservation. State buildings are illuminated till daylight the next day. Street lights in the vicinity of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) are sometimes on during day time, as reported in the media. When Karu Jayasuriya was Power and Energy Minister he launched a well-planned power conservation programme to be followed by households. Needless to say, these guidelines and advice were disregarded by a highly spoiled, gadget-oriented society who only cared for their creature comforts. At least the present blackouts and the suffering endured will teach the public to act with more responsibility, taking into account the larger picture.


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