The spiralling Lotus Tower is on its way to becoming South Asia’s tallest building, dominating the Colombo skyline. This 350 metre tall structure will serve as a transmission tower for several TV and FM broadcasting stations.
This towering structure which commenced its construction during the previous regime was quite an over-priced deal and halfway through, its construction was halted.
While the land it stands on belongs to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), there are allegations that the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure hasn’t paid a cent for this transaction. In an attempt to shed light on this project and to uncover its current status, the Dailymirror spoke to a few individuals of varied expertise
Do you think the Lotus Tower is the need of the hour now that it seems to be a waste of public funds?
This Chinese EXIM bank-funded US $ 104.3 million project was commenced on January 20, 2012 and was expected to be completed within 912 days as per the initial plan, but by the said finishing date only the concrete structure was completed. Although its main function is that of a telecommunication tower, it will be designed to serve as a multi-functional building. Its three-storied tower base will house various shopping centres, food courts and possibly even a walk-through museum. The tower itself will house banquet halls and an observation deck on the eighth floor. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) estimates that its petals will be in place by August of this year. The TRC also has plans of building an interactive app to improve visitor experience in the tower. This app will enable users to, for instance, check the availability of seats for a movie and make immediate bookings or remotely reserve seats at a restaurant. According to the original plan the construction should have completed by 2014.
However, a recent media report indicated that it is expected to be completed by October this year.
The SLPA didn’t receive a cent for the land
- Arjuna Ranatunga
In his comments to the Dailymirror, former Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said the constructions were going on and the project was done on land belonging to the SLPA. “We never received a cent for it. I’m still trying to get some money from the Telecommunications Ministry. I feel most of the decisions taken by the previous government were bad and we had to face many inconveniences because of that. Even the H’tota Port could have been built at a lesser cost than what they have spent. They should have done a feasibility report and even projects such as the Port city could have been done in a proper way. Some of the contracts cannot be changed and we don’t want to antagonize some of the countries. When a massive project comes in, governments from other countries get involved and we don’t want to cause issues with them. They have started to build friendly ties with the new government and we want to strengthen these relationships.”
We never received a cent for it. I’m still trying to get some money from the Telecommunications Ministry. I feel most of the decisions taken by the previous government were bad and we had to face many inconveniences because of that
We need to move into digital broadcasting
-Prof. Rohan Samarajiva
The also contacted telecommunications expert Professor Rohan Samarajiva to find out whether this costly tower will serve its purpose in this digital era. Prof. Samarajiva is also the founding Chair of LIRNEasia, an ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia-Pacific region, “The age of satellites was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Now we are in the age of smartphones. There are emerging trends in technology and we need to keep up with them. Satellites could be used for purposes such as remote sensing and GPS. This symbol of modernity was established after various other structures around the world. Although it was established as a solution for TV broadcasting tower many more additions will be done to it. Speaking in terms of broadcasting, we are using analogue broadcasting methods which are highly inefficient. This is mainly due to the interference in frequencies between towers. Once you get a conventional antenna, you need to adjust it to pair with the tower in either Depanama or Pannipitiya. Still you will not get a clear view of the channel you need to watch. This is old technology and we need to look at implementing digital broadcasting instead. If we auction the 700MHz band used for analogue broadcasting and instead use it for digital broadcasting it will be more convenient for the users and will generate more revenue as well. We also don’t have people watching TV on big screens anymore. They watch TV on their smart devices. People are stuck in the thinking of the analogue age. On the other hand, Colombo is still not a very interesting city to tourists. There should be more restaurants and attractions to make it an interesting place to visit. The need of the hour is to move to digital broadcasting. There is a limited number of channels in advanced economies and they all use digital broadcasting. We are trying to find a solution through a method used back in the ‘60s. We could call in private broadcasters to buy frequencies and some frequencies will yield enormous benefits. Therefore we need to consider this option rather than investing on mega-scale projects such as this Lotus Tower.”
Now we are in the age of smartphones. There are emerging trends in technology and we need to keep up with them. Satellites could be used for purposes such as remote sensing and GPS
There was a problem with the technology
The Dailymirror also learned that Rosmand Senaratne, the former Chairman of Independent Television Network (ITN) was one of the key persons who had requested for a tower of this nature during the previous regime. Speaking to the Daily Mirror Mr. Senaratne said that there was a need transfer telecommunication signals to a central point. “In order to receive signals we had to turn our antennae in all directions. But in developed countries they have a central point in which they house a tower to transmit signals to all television channels. Therefore we too had to implement such a system. Through this the viewers will be greatly benefitted. The cost factor of course is a different topic.”
When asked as to why they wanted to go proceed with an analog system in the digital age, Mr. Senaratne said that there was a prevailing issue about which technology they would implement. “The Germans had one plan, the Chinese had another and the Japanese had their own system.”
In order to receive signals we had to turn our antennae in all directions. But in developed countries they have a central point in which they house a tower to transmit signals to all television channels
The project is now under the purview of the President
Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, Harin Fernando said the Lotus Tower Project was now under the purview of the President. “The proposal was to establish a telecommunication tower, facilitating 50 TV channels and 35 FM radio stations. It will also house a shopping mall, restaurants and eventually develop into a tourist attraction. Since it was too costly, the construction was halted for a while but is now underway.”
The proposal was to establish a telecommunication tower, facilitating 50 TV channels and 35 FM radio stations. It will also house a shopping mall, restaurants and eventually develop into a tourist attraction