The Sunday Leader

Use And Abuse Of Science And Technology

When the subject of abuse of science and technology comes up in discussions, our mind goes back to the tragic occurrences in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, Fukushima and other places of human tragedy around the world.

When reference is made to the abuse of science and technology in Sri Lanka our minds go to much more mundane occurrences such as: weddings in five star hotels, TV ‘teledramas’, talk shows late into the night, ‘music’ blasted on radio and TV and even to religious ceremonies at places of worship where it is assumed that piety is directly proportional to the volume of noise blasted that threaten to wreck our ear drums. Last but not least are non-stop chattering women  (rarely men) on cell phones who go on for hours be it at work places or at home. It is hard to name the geniuses who invented these means of communication because the instruments we use today are progressive developments through millennia but it can be safely said such abusive uses were certainly not
the intention of the inventors. For example the origin of the computer is traced back to the Greeks, probably Archimedes himself or the Chinese, the Abacus, still in use being considered the precursor to the computer.
Whoever would have imagined that their creations would be used to project 21st Century middle class Sinhala culture with irate wives berating their errant husbands in teledramas or dense and stupid politicians trying to prove that their mind-boggling ‘chintanayas’ are infallible?
For decades Sri Lankan leaders have been telling their dumb audiences that ‘science and technology’ is essential for the development of the nation but now it appears to have ceased because little or no money is spent on ‘research and development’ and even the education vote in the budget has been cut to the bone. Communication is not used now in this country for education and development but for cheap entertainment and preaching to the convinced that what they have been told before and told again that it is the absolute truth.
Enter the Space Age But hold it. You will be told that what we are saying is absolute poppycock. Didn’t you read in the newspapers this week that Sri Lanka is about to enter the Space Age? On Thursday at 3.43 local time (auspicious time?) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China a Sri Lankan Satellite would be stationed at a longitude of 87degrees East. The next satellite is to be launched in December 2013 and the other, two years later in December 2015. All this will cost $320 million (US) and it will be owned by a Board of Investment Registered Company, Supreme Group, while the design, manufacture and launch operations are being assisted by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation.
Dr. Tissa Vitharana, Scientific Affairs Senior Minister, announcing the launch said the satellite would assist all sectors that depend on satellite services. The technology will also be integrated into the Geographic Information Service (GIS), remote sensing and global navigation systems, which will assist in obtaining instant weather conditions, navigating and researching of natural resources available in the country. All sectors that use space technology are currently obtaining their services from foreign owned satellites and are subscribing to their services at huge cost, he had said. However let us not start gobbling Kiributh and Kavun to celebrate Sri Lanka’s entry into the Space Age.

Cold Water

Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Sri Lanka (TRCSL) Director Anusha Palpita, the day after the ministerial announcement, poured cold water on the project noting that even if the company had applied to get a ‘local footprint’ (the ground area to be covered by the satellite) approval had to be obtained from the International Telecommunications Union and other neighbouring countries prior to reserving a foot print. It would take at least two to three years before such approval was granted. The company had applied for a downlink anduplink services licence from the TRCSL and approval had not yet been granted, he had said. Under the proposed project a space station/space academy valued at US$ 20 million is on the cards on 10 acres of land at the BOI Export Processing Zone at Pallekelle.
Satellites serving individual countries are a developing trend. India, Pakistan and Thailand are some such countries. Satellites however can be used and abused to serve interests of various countries. Last week the BBC World Service warned of the jamming of transmissions of international TV channels by some countries. Some of the countries, which are alleged to have jammed international TV channels, are Iran and China. Both countries have however denied such jamming. A satellite can also be used as a spy in the sky to watch development on the ground in certain areas. That is perhaps why the International Telecommunications Union requires the consent of neighbouring countries for placement of geostationary satellites in orbit. How India would react to a satellite if it covers a region of India would not be positive given its hypersensitivity on security matters. It will be recalled that India objected to 3-D Chinese built radar being installed in Sri Lanka to watch Sri Lanka’s skies and instead made Sri Lanka accept Indian built 2-D radar during the times when the LTTE was flying aircraft even over Colombo.
Sri Lankan governments, which considered scientific affairs as airy-fairly stuff, have now been forced to give serious attention to it. There is the Koodankulam Nuclear reactor in Tamil Nadu only about 250 km as the crow flies over which New Delhi has not given much consideration to Sri Lankan concerns. India has not consulted Sri Lanka over the widening of the Palk Strait on the Indian side, which could have serious environmental impact on this island. Quite apart from strategic matters there are aspects that are affecting the lives of the people. The widespread kidney disease in the Dry Zone, the arsenic and red algae that entered the kohila vegetable served in the parliamentary canteen and now the allergic reactions of batches of school children who are requiring hospitalisation. The good doctors have reached a consensus that this is an emotional reaction, hysteria, among school kids. It may be so but try telling kids who are scratching themselves furiously or their parents that it is a kind of hysteria! Nonetheless these common or garden ailments cannot stop the progress of the country racing towards the miraculous economic development at hand.
Let the Lamborghinis commence roaring and let us enter the Space Age.

2 Comments for “Use And Abuse Of Science And Technology”

  1. Patriot

    Dr.Thissa Vitharane is no space scientist to praise the launch of this space Sattelite. Sri Lanka,s TRCSL Director knows best and he has distanced himself from this enterprise. The amount of money spent on this pie in the sky scheme to satisfy the whims of a Presidential offspring who calls himself a Space Sys tems Engineer is Laughable. . This is like the failed Commonwealth games Bid that made Sri Lanka eat humble Pie.. Another brain wave of the older sibling.. Lets get those Bullock carts out of the way before we enter the space race.

  2. This is a topic which is near to my heart… Take care! Exactly
    where are your contact details though?

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