A pain reliever with terrible side effects
Monday 3rd January, 2022
A series of explosions led to the defeat of the yahapalana government in 2019; people feared to visit churches, hotels, etc., because that administration had not taken any action to prevent the Easter Sunday blasts. Ironically, today, on the watch of those who came to power by making the most of the political fallout of the Easter Sunday tragedy, people are scared of entering their own kitchens due to explosions.
Instead of taking prompt action to recall all unsafe cylinders of gas and replacing them with safe ones expeditiously, the errant gas companies are dragging their feet on the process of replenishing supplies as if to retaliate against protests by irate consumers. The government does not seem to care, and its leaders’ public statements on the ‘burning’ issue smack of a desire to protect the culprits.
People, especially city dwellers, are undergoing tremendous hardships due to the prevailing cooking gas shortage. Many eateries have put up the shutters. It has been a one-two punch for the urban people who cannot either cook at home or buy meals. There is also a kerosene shortage, and those who switched over to kerosene stoves owing to kitchen explosions and the current cooking gas shortage are in trouble. Most houses, especially apartments, are without wood stoves, and the use of firewood is therefore out of the question. Only the super-rich can afford to use electricity for cooking purposes.
There has been a growing black market in cooking gas. The state-owned Litro Gas has told the media that it will take about three more weeks to restore the gas supply due to production difficulties. But chances are that the gas shortage will go on until the cows come home. The government does not seem keen to make an intervention to help the public.
The Opposition claims that disruptions to the cooking gas distribution are part of a secret plan to facilitate the entry of a new gas company, owned by someone close to the powers that be, into the local gas market. Whether this claim is true or false, one may not know, but it has, together with the government’s callous disregard for public woes, incensed the hapless gas consumers beyond measure, and sometimes their resentment finds expression in public protests such as hooting at VIPs who happen to go past people waiting in long queues to buy gas, etc. It will be interesting to see what the government has got to say to the Opposition’s claim.
People are angry that no Litro Gas official has been held accountable, much less punished, for having exposed the lives of gas consumers to danger by changing the butane-propane ratio. When it was pointed out that a change in the gas composition had resulted in explosions, the knee-jerk reaction of the gas company fat cats was to try to deny responsibility; they insisted that the gas composition had remained unchanged, and explosions were due to substandard hoses, regulators and cookers. But they have been exposed for lying. A special presidential committee that probed the gas-related incidents has determined that the change in the composition of gas is the main cause of leaks and explosions. Curiously, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a recent meeting with newspaper editors, sought to cast doubt on the conclusion of his own committee; he asked how come there had been no explosions for months following the reported change introduced to the gas composition.
The gas explosion issue will have a significant political fallout. Perhaps, there cannot be a bigger insult for the present-day leaders, who consider themselves omniscient, than to be told by the UNP, which epitomises failure, how to govern the country!
If immediate action had been taken against the errant gas company officials, public ire would not have been directed against the government to the extent of people jeering at the ruling party grandees. It is only natural that the people have turned against the government, which is seen to be shielding the culprits, and doing precious little to ensure a steady supply of cooking gas. Let the government be warned that it is playing with fire. It cannot be unaware of the power of the so-called kitchen vote, which can either make or break governments.
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