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Fatigue testing Dams

Sri Lanka's proud hydraulic heritage is facing bad times.Earthen dams were built from the time of Pandu wewa in 503 B C. Its hey day was during the reign of the great tank builders King Mahasen and King Agbo in the sixth century AD. They bequeathed the country with many reservoirs held by earthen dams. But today these ageing dams are not given the reverence or attention they received during British times.

'Human intrusions are rampant both on the embankment itself as well as on the downstream and upstream of the dam. Many have forgotten the Kantale dam failure on the morning of 20th April 1986. The dam breached near the left bank sluice just 170 feet from the pump intake constructed on the embankment where the dam was subject to steel sheet piles being driven by the contractors for the Trincomalee water supply scheme. The vibrations from the hammering on sheet piles followed by intense traffic with containers of capacity 30.5 tons to and from Prima factory almost sealed the fate of the Kantale tank bund built by King Agbo II in 614 A D.

The disaster caused a loss of Rs. 525 million in 1986 apart from the official death toll of 30. The Institution of Engineers took stock of the situation in the form of a seminar held 8th July 1988 at the ICTAD auditorium in Colombo. The late Prof. A. Thurairaja, then Dean of the Engineering Faculty, Open University and President of the Geotechnical Society, analysed the causes for the failure of the Dam and warned " engineers should learn not to let their judgement be affected by outside factors like politics, bureaucracies or environment lobbies".... The seminar recommended banning of all traffic from ancient bund tops, limiting passage only for inspecting officers jeeps and service vehicles.

Alternate routes located at the downstream bund too will help maintain the embankment and deter encroachers as well as assist in easy surveillance of any seepage egress. An English daily in 11th July 1988 carried this message under the headline "Hand off our Dams and Reservoirs" Prof. Thurairaja.

We in this country have short memories. History is so downgraded that it finds no place in the school curriculum! The restoration of Kantale dam was given over to the River Valley Development Board and a committe was appointed, commissions granted and a foreign team invited to study the disaster.

As RVDB assembled the machinery for the repair, it was stalled and a foreign firm was entrusted with the task. Meanwhile all the traffic that went over the Kantale dam was routed downstream in a service road.

With the repair completed this traffic reverted to the bund road. Then Prima expanded its fleet to include 62 ton containers and sought permission to use them. This has been granted by the road authorities little realising the mammoth vehicles are to go over an earth embankment built in the sixth century.

The continuous pounding, braking and impact forces on the ageing embankment became a virtual Fatigue test of the ancient dam and as is to be anticipated, resulted in a leak from the Right bank Montana sluice., Back to square one! Foreign consultants are back. A committee will be appointed and a Commissioner, will be assigned. History will be repeated.
S H C DE SILVA, Past President IESL.

Death penalty and human rights

Article 12 (1) of our Constitution decrees "that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection under the law".

In a sense, it means that people should be protected from the ruthless hands of the criminal. Nowhere it is stated in our Constitution that murderers should be protected from death penalty, under the provisions of the law, nor that they should be indemnified from such crime, under the declaration of human rights.

The human rights discussed at the 41st Session of the Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva in 1985, considered "torture, disappearance, arbitrary executions and mass exoduses" as a gross and flagrant violation of human rights.

But, no discussion was made on the thematic subject of execution of criminals under the law. It is, perhaps, our interpretation to save criminals from the gallows.

Everyone in Sri Lanka is well aware how frequently people are being shot, butchered, stabbed to death etc., either under grave provocation or as an act pre-planned. From what we hear, most of the homicides seem to have been politically oriented and backed by politicians to achieve their ends. It is, perhaps, for this reason that there is no political support to the re-imposition of death penalty.

When we speak of human rights, the murderers go on rampage, with no milk of human kindness. Why cannot those who oppose death penalty, advise criminals not to kill others? Some have suggested to have a referendum to ascertain the public views.

Why all that waste of money, at a hard time like this? The Members of Parliament are the representatives of the people, and they can give their verdict.

Cultural music

Priya David's review (Daily News 28 April) of a recent music education programme organised by the Arts Council and Department of Cultural Affairs induces me to add a bouquet for the particular event reviewed, and also to throw some brickbats at Culture on more general matters.

The bouquet is to say that the violin and viola playing of Lakshman Joseph-de Saram and his two students at the Alliance Francaise on 29 March was brilliant; it made the programme not merely educational but also aesthetically valuable. As for brickbats, may I ask why the Arts Council's Committee for Western Music seems to be more asleep than awake. The programme was the only one presented by them in March - and the only one for January-May this year. The Committee never fails to meet once a month and we might expect them to present at least two programmes a month.

If the problem is that they don't have enough funds to present more public programmes, how do they have funds, like in all other Committees of the Arts Council, to pay each member Rs. 500 for attendance at a Committee meeting? Has the public ever been told what the Arts Council's aims are? If they have any, do they monitor anything to see whether the aims are achieved? Why is it that a public presentation is always a joint event between the Arts Council and the Department of Cultural Affairs - and does anyone from the Department ever attend them?
O. D. SOORIYAPALA, Colombo 4.

Tea slopes and landslides

The sliding of steep slopes carrying with them swathes of tea bushes during the recent deluge (May 17) in Ratnapura, Deniyaya, Elapatha and surrounding areas can be attributed principally to the cultivation of VP tea on precipitous inclines without adequate safeguards.

VP (vegetatively propagated) tea bushes, have no tap roots to penetrate the soil and anchor the bushes, and bind the soil unlike the old seedling tea bushes which are hardy and drought resistant though comparatively low-yielding.

VP tea is grown in contoured hedges, which unquestionably arrest soil erosion, but may on the other hand dam the free flow of water from continuous heavy downpours resulting in the bushes and earth sliding downhill.

The construction of drains on tea lands introduced by the pioneer tea planters is now an obsolete practice. Drains especially on slopes did serve a useful purpose in that they broke the free run of water downhill and led the excess into ravines and watercourses. They also trapped the chemical fertiliser leached by the rains from running into streams and rivers.

Gliricidia (Thanni maram - Tamil; Ginisooriya - Sinhala) trees if grown on VP tea lands will definitely help to reverse this trend because they have deep penetrating roots and the trees last for ages. Frequent loppings also provide green manure for the tea.

Those who have observed tea plantations in the central hills would have noticed that old tea bushes (grown from seedlings) still thrive on hillsides of about 80 degrees from the horizontal. This is proof that they have a good grip on the soil and will not let the soil slip easily. The TSHDA is the authority for tea smallholders and advises them on tea cultivation. They seem to have, however, overlooked many aspects of tea cultivation, save planting, tending and harvesting.

The apex tea advisory body in Sri Lanka, the Tea Research Institute at St. Coombs, Talawakelle would do well to venture into the field of grafting VP tea to seedling stock and kill two birds with one stone. I believe this is being done in India.

Tea has been grown on steep hillsides ever since it was introduced by James Taylor but then unlike now they were concerned about the need to keep the land intact with sensible practices like growing trees.
L. K. DE ALWIS, Kandy.

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