Jaffna International Airport

Jaffna International Airport

Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was ceremonially opened yesterday (October 17, 2019.) JIA becomes the third international airport in Sri Lanka with the first being the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake and the second being the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA.) This was a long due project. Longstanding Civil War in the North and the East delayed the expansion of the then military airbase, the Palali Airport into an international airport this long. They say it is never too late, don’t they? And one good sign is that the airport was not named after any present or past political leader. Naming it Jaffna International Airport – JIA – promotes the district than a mere yet another stupid politician dead or alive.

JIA might have a better fate than the now ‘almost defunct’ Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) as it is situated in a commercially viable location and also in a strategically important location of the country. Majority of the Tamils in the North prefer to identify themselves with South India or Tamil Nadu for that matter than with Colombo or the rest of the country I guess. Tamils relate to South India socially, culturally, religiously and politically than the South of Sri Lanka. The long run Civil War also contributed to this distancing of the Northern Tamils with the rest of the country. The end of the Civil War helped reduce the misunderstanding between the North and the East for good. Yet for all, it practically cost a lot of money and time for someone in the North to come to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake. it is very uncomfortable journey for people from the North to travel to the BIA, as the full journey takes 8 hours to complete the 350 kms.

Now that the Alliance Air, an Indian regional airline a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India has agreed to operate 3 flights a week to Chennai, Trichi and Kochi cities from Jaffna, Jaffnites will find it easy to travel to South India and catch a connecting flight to any other destination. Depending on the demand of the number of passengers, there will be more flights from Jaffna to the rest of the world.

At the moment JIA can handle less than 80-passenger flights and with its expansion plans, the runaway will be extended to 1.5 km which will enable bigger planes to land in here. It is said that the Palali Airport has had a 45-minue flights from Palali to Chennai in 1960s and 1970s but the outbreak of the Civil War had forced the Sri Lankan government to discontinue the flights due to security reasons. Let’s hope that everything will be okay and the JIA becomes a commercially successful airport in Sri Lanka.

The JIA has cost the government more than sixteen million USD to complete the phase I of the airport. Phase II and III are also on the cards while there are plans to build a 4th international airport in Batticaloa in the Eastern Sri Lanka. Let’s hope that these new international airports will succeed and help develop the country.

Photos and videos are from the Internet

Does e-ticketing in Sri Lanka Serve its Purpose?

A Railway Ticket in Sri Lanka

A Railway Ticket in Sri Lanka

Printed e-Ticket the Railway Department Issue to the commuter

Printed e-Ticket the Railway Department Issue to the commuter

The message you get once you buy the e-ticket through your mobile phone.

The message you get once you buy the e-ticket through your mobile phone.

Does e-ticketing in Sri Lanka serve its purpose? In the first picture you see a regular paper ticket issued for train commuters by the Sri Lanka Railway Department (more commonly known as Sri Lanka Railways (SLR)), which is littler than a credit card. in the next picture you see a printed version of an e-ticket the same department issues at the counter once you show the e-ticket details that is sent to the commuter’s mobile phone by the said department. It is bigger than an A5 paper!!! The very purpose behind the e-ticket system is to reduce the paperwork and make the ticketing process faster and more efficient. Not to mention the ease for both the department and the commuter. There shouldn’t be any paper work at all since there should be a way that the department can confirm the authenticity at the railway station itself with using technology. If they still insist on the papers, shouldn’t the e-ticket be reduced at least to the size of a credit card?

(Also see the image below and read the paragraph below it.)

Railway Department's Train Schedule with False Information

Railway Department’s Train Schedule with False Information

Above is the screenshot of the Train Schedule published online by the same department in its website. Here it says the Intercity Express train (number 4022) has first, second and the third-class tickets. But this is false information misleading the unsuspecting commuter. There is no 2nd or 3rd class compartments in this train. I checked and double checked with the department a short while ago. See how a tourist feels once they trust the department website and go to the station with the false information.

As far as I know, it is the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), the apex government body for ICT-related developments, that spent huge amounts of monies granted by the World Bank and the South Korean government for creating, maintaining and updating these government institutions’ websites. But it looks like that money was wasted than invested.

ICTA was a well-planned institution established by the then U. N. P. government which came to power in 2002 for a very short period. It had a vision, goals and a well-thought-out plan which was designed by the professionals and experts in the field. Unfortunately, once SLFP-lead coalition government came into power in 2005, things changed. When Mahinda Rajapaksa became the Prime Minster and took the ICTA under his office, things went worse and once he became the President of Sri Lanka and took the ICTA under the President’s Office, things even deteriorated. President Rajapaksa changed the original master plan designed by the experts and started interfering into the ICTA’s domain. He ensured the race, religion and the allegiance to the ruling party are the criteria to the staff selection, funds disbursement and what not? Professional staff members were replaced with the ruling party’s henchmen (and henchwomen for that matter.) The utter waste and the lethargy became the norms at the ICTA to stay. The ICTA was formed with a young CEO in the capacity of Mr. Manju Hattotuwa with the right qualifications and an open mind towards the constant changes in the field of ICT. But, the ruling party installed a very old, cunning and vile carnivorous dinosaur whose knowledge in the field in question was obsolete as a result of old age and utter incompetence, as the Chairman of the so-called apex government body for ICT-related developments. Earlier it was the CEO of the agency who ran the agency productively and the post of the Chairperson was more of a formality if not ceremonial. But the obsolete dinosaur first got Manju out of the ICTA and changed the agency from a private sector-model efficient organization to a lethargic government department. (Not to mention the couple of buffoons installed as CEOs of the agency from time to time who came nowhere close to Manju in terms of public relations, efficiency and productivity.)  So, when the dinosaur died of old age, the position of the Chairperson went to a lady who new anything but ICT. The dinosaur reduced the ICTA to rubble but this ignorant lady ensured the rubble became dust.

The SLR website is only one tiny example when it comes to incompetence. Almost 99% of the other government institutions’ websites are equally obsolete and hardly serve the very purpose of launching them at the expense of the taxpayer. Those websites are also obsolete with eons-old information, email accounts that are not checked, contact numbers that don’t exist anymore and links that don’t work from the very day of creating those websites. Most of the responsible officials in the said institutes use Yahoo! Email IDs let alone Gmail IDs if not for the email IDs with domain names of the institutions! Furthermore, you have to call those officials and tell them that an email has been sent and it is high time they checked them. That is “e-Sri Lanka” or “Digital Sri Lanka” for you and your tax rupees are at work!!!

Professor Rohan Samarajiva, the Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka

Professor Rohan Samarajiva, the Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka

At least now the agency is chaired by a non-corrupt, efficient and experienced futuristic visionary in the capacity of Professor Rohan Samarajiva who won’t be fooled by flattering or sycophancy. So, Sir, it is your time to make things right at the ICTA if it is not too late as yet.

A Cleaner Colombo

Colombo has become cleaner. That is a fact. One has to accept it. But a long way to go too. This is not sufficient. We are better than Indian cities but there is no point in comparing with the worst and boasting. But this is a good start. We don’t see the empty yoghurt cups, milk packets, shopping bags, etc. anymore by the road side. They directly go to the dust collectors. This is a good move because this change was done without introducing punishment. Only convincing the people was enough. No wonder we have 90+% literacy rate and people can understand the message. The advert run on TV where a big worm follows a person who dumps dirt by the roadside was effective.

When we heard that the Defense Secretary was the man behind making Colombo clean we expected him to use force and take some drastic actions like on the spot punishments, well… etc. I am not sure whether people started collecting garbage and dump them in assigned places out of fear or just thinking it a national duty. Anyway, Colombo is becoming better. So are the suburbs.

Obviously, the villages in Sri Lanka were cleaner than cities whereas in India both are equally dirty. Towns in the outstations also are becoming better these days. I usually don’t even drop the bus ticket on the street but take it to the dustbin at the office or home and I don’t think I’m the only one who does so. There are more people who do care about the environment. They should be encouraged and rewarded.

Urban councils don’t have a sound plan to collect garbage. They should keep garbage bins in proper locations so that people could drop their garbage in to these bins. Nobody wants to make a street unclean.

Colombo is greener these days due to the plants and trees grown by the roadside. Vihara Maha Devi Park, canals, and the beaches are cleaner. Parliament area is like a park now.

The other main area the authorities should look at is the public toilets. There should be more public toilets and they should be kept clean. I don’t mind even private sector companies coming in and offering better service for a bigger fee. Even though some toilet signs are displayed in fuel stations only very few of them have toilets. This should be made compulsory for fuel stations and roadside hotels.

Sri Lanka Police take 146 years to issue copies of the complaints within minutes

I have been to police stations to get copies of the complaint I made regarding lost documents several times as I kept losing my valuable documents due to constant changes of residences. Getting a copy of the complaint is a long process. First, you have to wait in the queue to make a complaint. While you wait, you can hear a number of stories from domestic violence to distilling illegal alcohol to practicing incest by fathers on daughters. Since there is no room for take one complainant at a time in a closed room, the others also hear all these which is embarrassing to the complainants.

Then you are asked to request a copy of the complaint you made from the Officer in Charge of the police station. Only at this time you come to know that the police have no blank paper to provide for you and you have to buy them yourself. You will be extremely lucky if there is a stationary shop nearby, if not you have to go back to the closest town to buy the blank paper. What I do is I take 50-blank paper packet with me and hand it over to the policeman and ask him to distribute them among the disabled and older people who come without a blank paper. I use one paper and 49 papers are for charity.

Next you have to write down the request to the OIC as dictated by the police officer. Then you give it to the officer with 25 LKR and when you provide a 100 or 50 rupee note, the officer might say he doesn’t have change. You might have to go to the police canteen to get it changed. Even if I ask the officer to keep the change he won’t accept. Once you come back with the change that the relevant officer has gone for lunch, etc. Again you have to wait.

Once the officer comes back after a good one hour or two, you have to give him 25 LKR in change and then he gives you a yellow color receipt and you are advised not to lose this at any cost. Then you are asked to come back after a few days with the receipt to collect the copy of the complaint. This is because they do not have anybody to typeset the copy of the complaint and till they find an officer for this, you need to give them time.

When you go to the police station to collect the copy of the complaint you will be asked to get the already typed copy of the complaint signed by the OIC. You will be lucky if you find him in his seat and even if he is there, he will be on the phone having an endless chat or busy talking to someone in front of him.

With the curiosity of why it takes this much of a delay at a police station, I asked an experienced police officer (a friend of mine) the reasons for it and why not the police reduce the delay. His answer was, “You are delayed and hassled at a police station to discourage you to come to a police station. If the police station is a luxurious place you will be inclined to visit it and will not care about the minor things of losing an identity card or a driving license and will come to the police to collect it easily. But now you know what it takes to go through the mill at a police station, you won’t lose any of the valuable documents anymore.” he said.

Coming back to the story, once you get the signature and the rubber stamp of the OIC, you are issued with a copy of the complaint. It takes several days and you feel pissed off.

But, to my surprise, when I went to the Kahathuduwa Police Station to make a complaint and get a copy of the complaint as I had lost my university record book (I am doing an external degree) the police took only few minutes to deliver it. I was surprised how fast they did it this time. The reason was that the officer had a book with carbon copy papers and once you write a complaint in the original paper, it automatically copies it in another paper! My question is why did the Sri Lanka Police take 146 years to do that? (See Police history at http://www.police.lk/index.php/police-history)