Fuel crisis and ‘Essential Services’ | Daily News

Fuel crisis and ‘Essential Services’

The Government’s decision to issue fuel only for Essential Services predictably has raised criticism from several quarters. Who can determine what an Essential Service is? Television showed a 12-year-old boy meeting with his death due to the unavailability of a three-wheeler to take him to hospital due to the lack of fuel. The weeping parents claimed that if only they had the means of transporting their son to hospital in time he would have been spared. Similarly, a pregnant woman was forced to deliver her baby at home due to the unavailability of transport to take her to hospital. This is despite doctors’ warnings that home delivery was unsafe.

How are schoolchildren going to attend school if only SLTB buses are provided with diesel? The State-run buses are woefully inadequate to cater to the demand. TV showed children precariously clinging to buses, on the footboards and even on the roofs of SLTB and private buses. Doctors and health workers are more in fuel queues than at hospitals leading to an extremely dangerous situation where patient welfare and safety is concerned. Even though the health sector has been declared an Essential Service making it entitled to fuel supplies, given the present chronic scarcity will the available stocks be sufficient to cater to the demand? How are hospitals going to function if doctors cannot report for duty? For the first time, we see doctors and specialists languishing in fuel queues in a vain attempt to get fuel for their vehicles. What the future holds for the country is anybody’s guess at this rate.

Today, there cannot be an exact definition of what constitutes an Essential Service. Life and life’s needs and demands have expanded to such a degree in this modern age for such definitions to be ironclad. Fuel has become part and parcel of life and livelihoods so much so that a nation could come to standstill without this precious commodity as is now being witnessed. For how long can the Government continue to cut down on the work hours in the public sector and curtail school sessions without causing irreparable damage to the future generation?

This alone shows the importance obtaining fuel at any cost. Therefore the only solution lies in the Government going all out in this exercise if it does not want to see the nation being crippled with chaos and anarchy. Already the public is showing growing signs and restlessness and protests and agitations are staged even by the least expected quarters such as by professionals and intellectuals. There is no knowing where things could end up. The situation has reached a stage where even powerful Ministers dare not show themselves in public. The reception received by a former top Cabinet Minister in Pelawatte while travelling in his vehicle sums up the current state of affairs in the country. Today, fuel is everything to most people. Their livelihoods revolve around the availability of fuel. Fishermen cannot go out to sea due to the unavailability of diesel and vegetables cannot be transported to the Economic Centres for the same reason. The farmer, the fisherman and the trader are in a bind unable to eke out an existence. On the other hand, the people are burdened by the soaring Cost of Living –a direct result of the fuel crisis. Today everything has turned out to be an Essential Service crying out for fuel. The poor are unable to light their home fires for want of fuel including Kerosene.

All avenues should be explored to obtain sufficient fuel stocks to cater to the local demand. We are not devoid of friendly countries who will come to our aid at this hour of peril. A July 10 deadline has been announced for things to return to normal, but what guarantee is there that this will indeed be so?

Two Ministers have been dispatched to Russia to lobby for fuel. Neither of them is connected to the subject of petroleum. One is the Education Minister while the other holds the Environment portfolio. How will this be viewed by the Russian authorities? It is not known if they are at least carrying a letter from the President. Sending inconsequential Ministers on such an important mission was a wrong move. Hopefully, this lapse would be overlooked by Russia and assistance would be forthcoming for the country. How this would be viewed by the West which has imposed trade sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and particularly the IMF whose delegation is currently in Sri Lanka to negotiate an aid package is unclear. But desperate situations call for desperate solutions.

Besides the US and a host of Western countries have expressed their desire to help Sri Lanka to overcome the present crisis and aid is already streaming in from these quarters. Hence, there is no doubt that Sri Lanka’s plight will be appreciated by those countries hostile to Russia in order to give this country some breathing space.


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