By Emil van der Poorten –
I just had, from a friend who has a sterling record in the matter of ecological concern, an email informing me of the plans that are afoot to open a major highway into Kandy city through an irreplaceable little piece of truly beautiful forest – Udawattakelle Sanctuary.
There aren’t too many urban settings that could boast of such as this wonderful little forest with its little lake surrounded by giants of the jungle.
As someone who spent his entire youth in a school immediately adjacent to this sylvan setting, I have always had wonderful memories of it even though I was not among those who ran along its footpaths during Trinity College’s annual cross-country competition!
Udawattakelle has been reduced in size over the years by urban encroachment of one description or another, but what is proposed will certainly constitute the final tolling of that particular bell.
I understand that some years ago, there was a similar initiative launched and a man I consider one of the privileges of life to have called a friend, that great pillar of Kandy society, Dr. Nihal Karunaratne, spearheaded the opposition to that bit of potential desecration and, with the aid of the President of Sri Lanka at the time, J. R. Jayewardene, spiked the guns of those promising the destruction of this last little bit of forest within the Kandy Municipality.
The recent initiative has been advertised as having the avid support of Minister Lakshman Kiriella who has already given ample evidence of his readiness to buy insurance from those who his government claimed to have pledged to prosecute and castigate: those who were well on their way to destroying the fabric, both moral and financial, of this country.
As background, I am compelled to provide some information that some of the readers might not be aware of. It is one of the Central Province’s less well kept secrets that the Nilanga Dela Bandara who achieved the position of Diyawadane Nilame (DN) “exerting influence” of a financial nature to ensure the electoral college responsible for choosing the DN picked him, had made it very clear that the road that passed close to the Dalada Maligawa (and, coincidentally I am sure!) Mr. Dela Bandara’s official residence would not be re-opened even long after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s truly dastardly effort to destroy it by one of their typical suicide bomb attacks and when there wasn’t the chance of the proverbial snowball in hell of anything similar happening. In this he had the unstinting support of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President at the time, who certainly would not do anything to displease one of his sycophants (Apey Minissu). Not pandering to one’s sycophants was something that no self-respecting Rajapaksa would ever indulge in, after all! In fact Mr. Dela Bandara Junior was particularly well looked after by Mr. Rajapaksa Senior and Mr. Dela Bandara Senior didn’t do too badly for himself either, being the recipient of a not-inconsiderable contract for massive road construction in the north no sooner the war was over, long before it became evident that this was the favoured route to unbelievable riches for the fortunate few. This was followed by a sinecure in the form of appointment as Sri Lanka’s primary diplomatic representative in the Maldives. Due to obvious constraints of space, I am not able to document, at greater length, the complete litany of the benefits that have accrued to the Dela Bandara clan during the Rajapaksa Reign. Mr. Dela Bandara, DN, had no intention of letting the peace and quiet of his mini-palace be disturbed by a road that was closed purely and simply as a consequence of an act of terrorism that had no chance of ever being repeated. That heinous crime and the consequent closing off of a primary entry point into Kandy proved to be another of those instances of the fates working in strange and mysterious ways. Mr Dela Bandara was not going to let some silly thing like reducing the the highest pollution level of any city in Sri Lanka stand in the way of so much as a miniscule threat to his pristine peace!
Every study of Kandy’s horrendous congestion and its even more horrendous pollution has recommended the re-opening of the road skirting, at some distance, Mr. Dela Bandara’s official residence. With the assistance of Mr. Rajapaksa and the Mahanayake of Asgiriya, this was prevented. Incidentally, the Mahanayake of Malwatte, sadly no more among us, went on record supporting the re-opening of this road for the very simple reason that it would was in the public interest because it would have significantly reduced the traffic gridlock which has become part of the Kandy reality at any and every time of the day and reduce a deadly health hazard that cannot be combatted by any other means.
Now, with the active support of the Hon. Lakshman Kiriella who has already given ample evidence of his readiness to cosy up to those who were part of the Rajapaksa Regime, a road is to be slashed through Udawattakelle which is unlikely to make any serious impact on the situation created by the closure of the road that had been closed purely and simply for reasons that cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be considered likely to repeat themselves.
What is least surprising about this whole sordid business is who is leading the charge in our Yahapalanaya Government for this act of desecration. However, if Ranil Wickremesinghe and the rest of the UNP entourage couldn’t see the significance of some of Mr. Kiriella’s previous purchases of insurance in the event that the Rajapaksas and their Kandyan allies returned to power, they certainly should now. Or is this yet another instance of our current rulers applying their collective telescope to a collective Nelsonian eye? In fact, it appears that increasingly, rather than resort to the removal of the beams that obscure their vision, they simply pick at the motes in the eyes of those who are, in fact, acting in support of the principles they espoused when they first galloped in on their white steeds to rescue us from the hell that the Rajapaksas were throwing us into!
It’s bad enough sucking up to those who might return to power and performing various gyrations on their behalf, but coupling such behavior with the desecration of a national treasure certainly should not go unpunished. (Kandyan) blood might be thicker than water but even in that communalistic enterprise, Mr.K is skating on pretty thin ice because the Dela Bandara’s hail from Sabaragamuwa, rather than Kandy and its environs! Oh well, as they used to say, any port in a storm, though, in this instance it seems to be in anticipation of some kind of coming political one!
This is simply sleazy behavior and, at least, in this instance, considering that there is no proof (yet) of some other senior UNP functionary being complicit in the deed, the government should, despite its increasing commitment to some version of sleazy “realpolitik,” be able to divest itself of this man who will, undoubtedly, do even more damage to what people still think – present company included – could be a basically reformist government, devoid of the crass opportunism of the Rajapaksas.
God forbid that we should be in for more of the “same old, same old!”
 When last Kandy’s pollution level was measured – more than three years ago – it was THREE TIMES AS HIGH AS COLOMBO’S!