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Three-wheeler taxis and the fuel subsidy scheme

Action is being taken to introduce a fuel subsidy scheme for the three- wheelers with the intention of protecting the travelling public from the unconscionable fare increases by the three-wheeler fraternity, every time the fuel prices are revised locally to reflect international prices of crude oil.

Currently the crude oil prices have passed the US$ 70.00 mark per barrel. It is expected to rise further and even reach 80.00 dollars a barrel before coming down if at all. In any case the days of cheap oil are seem to be over; we cannot expect the price of crude oil to come down below 50 dollars even at the best of times in the future.

In this scenario one wonders whether giving a subsidy of Rs. 300.00 per month for three wheeler taxis is going to be a lasting solution against the ever increasing oil prices. It is also unlikely to have any impact on the exorbitant fares charged by the three-wheeler operators at present. With the last fuel price increase these people have already raised their fares very steeply.

The minimum fare has been increased by Rs. 10.00 with correspondingly steep increases on long distance journeys. It is unlikely these fares would come down just because a fuel subsidy is given now. On the contrary the authorities will be compelled to increase the subsidy with every future fuel price adjustment.

This is a bad precedent likely to trigger demands from other quarters too for a similar subsidy; I mean school vans, private bus owners and lorries engaged in the transportation of essential items like rice, flour and vegetables, practically everybody other than private car owners.

Thus the authorities will find itself caught up in a fuel subsidy scheme from which it would find escape impossible. In fact there would be no escape.

Trying to hold down taxi fares artificially by giving subsidies may not be the right solution. Instead the people must be taught to resist unreasonable fare increases by using three-wheelers as sparingly as possible and resort to other modes of transport or even walk short distances without jumping into a taxi at the slightest excuse.

When the cabmen realise that there is resistance on the part of the public against high fares their charges would automatically come down to a reasonable level without the necessity of a subsidy or any other incentive.

With the number of three-wheelers on our roads increasing daily, it would not be long before the normal law of supply and demand begin to operate and affect the fare structure of these taxis to the benefit of those who use this mode of transport in getting about.

Reservoir in danger?

Recently the mass media brought the present situation of the Rajangana reservoir to the notice of the authorities. The reservoir, which is one of the largest reservoirs of Sri Lanka supplies water to a vast area of Rajangana left and right bank for the tillage of paddy fields. Now the massive concrete dam of reservoir bristles with leaky cracks and water leaks through these cracks that are clearly visible in it.

The cracks that have appeared in the dam with thirty sluice gates may be in fact, warnings of impending disaster to come. The Rajangana reservoir has been a very attractive place among local and foreign visitors since a long time and crowds of visitors repairing to feast their eyes on the beauty of the reservoir can be seen especially during the time of opening of sluice gates.

Likewise, the road on the dam along which a lot of light and heavy vehicles run, especially the road that runs up to Thambuththegama area is also in a bad condition and is in need of urgent repair. All agricultural activities of the agrarian community of the Rajanganaya area depend completely on the reservoir and the time is ripe for the relevant authorities to take immediate action in this regard.

A presentation in tribute

It was after reaching the Brisbane Airport on August 13 morning that I came to know about the tragic death of our Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. I was shocked and dismayed but not surprised.

For, didn't we all know that he had been a prime target of LTTE for over a decade and they had to succeed only once to achieve their target? I went to Brisbane to attend an International Conference held there and I had submitted a paper on 'Engagement of Communities in Crisis: Post-Tsunami - the Case of Sri Lanka', to be presented at the Conference.

It so happened that I had included a passage from Late Foreign Minister's speech at the Tsunami Conference held in Jakarta in January, in my paper. Making use of this, in the presentation of the paper on August 17, I dedicated it to the memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar and placed the responsibility for this dastardly act squarely on the LTTE, which I described as "twin brother or the first cousin of Al Queda".

I also observed a few seconds' silence in honour of the Late Minister. I think this was well received by the international audience at the Conference.

This was my humble tribute to a great son of our soil.

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