28 September, 2020

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Bigger ISN’T Better – The Unholy Pursuit Of Grandiose Schemes

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

In everything from “mega city” projects through high-speed highways to wresting land from the Indian Ocean in order that the Chinese build some gleaming, high-rise-covered new enclave for themselves, this nation is caught up in a national inferiority complex that is predicated on, no matter what we are dealing with, the belief that “bigger is better.”

This is ironical because the “developed world,” at least the thinking elements in it, are re-examining the whole business of “economies of scale” because the problems that have arisen from trying to construct everything on the basis of a simplistic application of that philosophy are beginning to prove insurmountable.

Take the rape of the land in the south-west quarter of Sri Lanka: the attempt to add to the dry land west of the city of Colombo. The stories of sea erosion farther south on the coast of that city directly attributable to this ill-conceived effort are only now beginning to seep out despite the attempts of the current government and its predecessor to hush up such bad news. In fact that consistency in concealing facts of enormous importance is the commonality shared by the Rajapaksa horde and the Yahapalanaya bunch.

Insofar as the port project is concerned our neighbourhood has been directly affected because of the removal of massive quantities of granite and the emergence of sand mining as a major problem in one of the two primary source streams of the Deduru Oya.

Below where we live are five separate granite quarries which have been in operation since the flurry of highway building and dry land expansion began in the ocean adjacent to Colombo. To this number has now been added what seems like, far and away, a much larger operation. Local gossip has it that, while this operation is marginally outside the province in which all of us reside, the Central Province, and is on the edge of North Western province, it seems to be seriously affecting water sources on our slope of that particular mountain range. The most dramatic evidence of this is the fact that spring water sources that had diminished to the point of near-disappearance during the extended drought experienced here recently had not picked up with the recent showers and, in fact, the flow of water in the few springs still showing signs of life had diminished! We were informed that there had been massive protests at the time this particular quarry began operations, supplying aggregate for the construction of the “Kandy highway.” However, it seems like the situation was defused by the subterfuge of moving the crushing element of the operation to another location in the Central Province. The fact that the owner(s) of the quarrying operation are either politicos or attached to them does not hurt their efforts to avoid prosecution for one of the most serious crimes against humanity there is – depriving people of a potable water supply (or water of any description for that matter.) 

The explosions that emanate from this Gommunawa/Ambatale mountain range quarry are massive, several times louder than those we hear from any of the quarries below us. Word of mouth has it that the regulations restricting the size of a charge to break up the huge granite masses are observed in the breach and are, in fact, several times the permissible size. Certainly, the explosions are reminiscent of large bombs dropped by military aircraft.

For some time now, the residents of the neighbouring “colony,” in fact a squatter settlement, have used water from storage constructed by us on my land in anticipation of the droughts that threatened our water supply. However, while this storage helped tide everyone over the worst water shortage ever experienced here, the reduction in flow after the recent rains, has created something close to panic. Bad enough running out of water during a drought but losing even a much-reduced supply AFTER the rains began?!

I have, perhaps, the unfortunate distinction compared to my neighbours, of having spent a significant part of my life in a jurisdiction where a particular segment of big business called the shots.  Alberta, the Canadian province known as the “Land of the Blue-eyed Sheikhs” because of the abundance of fossil fuels under it – oil, gas, the oil sands and huge coal deposits – was, basically, controlled by the energy sector who did whatever they chose with complete impunity for several decades. Among their exploration activities was “fracking” a process of sending a charge of explosive deep into the bowels of the earth, exploding it and determining from the measurements of the explosion, the nature of the soil strata and, from that determination, whether there was fossil fuel below the surface.  In vast swathes of prairie and Rocky Mountain foothills, the energy exploration companies were entitled, by law, to enter any land on which they had a surface lease from the government and, literally, do what they pleased there.  I have a clear recollection of a rancher who had reached the end of his tether in the matter of these trespassers and used his game-hunting rifle to put one six feet under! Unacceptable frontier justice, perhaps, but understandable in the circumstances. 

Anyway, one little foothills town that was famous throughout Canada for the quantity and quality of its spring water suddenly had that fame wrenched away from it. 

The residents of little Nanton, Alberta woke up one morning to find that, probably the most famous spring in the second largest country in the world had run dry! What is of significance in this context is that this  spring had, up to then provided the supply of H2O that justified a bottling plant, the only one of its kind in Canada. The fact that Fracmaster, one of the largest and best-known fossil-fuel exploration companies, was active in the area was downplayed by a government that absolutely dominated the politics of the province for more than three decades primarily because of the support provided it by the oil companies.  

Today, fracking has become one of the most contentious practices in the world and widely opposed everywhere.

Does Sri Lanka, in the interests of the robber barons who control our destiny have to go through a similar experience where, virtually overnight, residents are deprived of their supply of one of the absolute essentials to their very survival before people wake up?

Yes, it is as serious and dramatic as that!

Who does one turn to in these circumstances?

Since, by all accounts, there are “politicos” involved in the business that is causing this life-threatening situation, appeals to the local “movers and shakers” would be a futile exercise.  

Direct, violent, action is, obviously, not an option either.

Perhaps, what might be the only straw available for clutching could be media exposure of this truly unbelievable state of affairs.  However, even here, given the Nelsonian behaviour of the Sri Lankan media which seems to turn a blind eye on transgressions of this kind, particularly if it involves the conduct of powerful politicians, irrespective of their stripe, it seems but a forlorn hope.

Divine intercession is not, by choice, the refuge of an atheist or an agnostic. However, that seems like the only dim, distant light at the end of this particular tunnel, an indication of the desperate predicament in which we have been placed in this part of our “land like no other.”

So much for democracy and its practice in the interests of the citizenry!

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Latest comments

    • 2
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      Thanks for the link which took me to view some wildlife on and by the wayside while approaching a tottering white elephant.

      • 0
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        you welcome…what you saw was real elephants. roaming around Mahinda’s white elpephant

  • 6
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    Excellent topical article by EvdP. Still, the truth remains that large projects offer big opportunities for self-enrichment, and this will always be the guiding factor that determines the choices our enterprising politicians make.

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      Spring Koha:
      Thank you for that. However, we need to do something about the problem because simply identifying it is only the start.

      • 1
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        EvdP, You are the only one who can provide leadership to ‘do something about’ the problem. Why don’t we start an Internet based movement to protest against all this corruption and wastage? There are millions in this country who will stand right behind you. Come on, let us stand up.

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          Joshua Jansz:
          While I am flattered by your kind words and as much as I’d like to “do something about this,” the decrepitude that comes with age makes that more than a little difficult.! That said, if there is any support I can provide from a background of more than half a century of political and social activism, I will certainly give of whatever skills I have in those areas!
          If you are interested in continuing this conversation you can find my email address on the ‘web.
          I would also suggest that you recruit motivated people with a good knowledge of electronic communication because very few of my generation have adequate skill in that area.

          • 2
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            How nice! the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ should be changed to ‘foreign’ blood is thicker than water. How many mainstream Sri Lankans would back Jansz’s generous invitation to his uncle to lead an Internet-based movement. Needless to say, his movements are known to often spoil the Internet, leaving an awful stink. But knowing of his ‘five decades’ of experience in Alberta, I would n’t be holding my breath.

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              Commentator:
              Suffice it to say that bafflegab doesn’t quite conceal vicious racism and that who you are is patently obvious and doesn’t require indulging in racist rhetoric in return. One of these days, when you come out from under the cowardly cover of a pseudonym, we’ll be able to observe your yellow skin, the result of conduct not racial antecedents.

    • 1
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      Sad!

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      Emil,
      Totally agree with you. Sri lankans and their governments suffer from a HUGE inferiority complex. Probably due do the huge neighbour.
      We could very well have done without all these expensive highway/airports/ stadiums etc. (mostly named after one person ; even Yahapalanaya didn’t have the guts to at least change the name-boards) .
      15 years ago, I could get to Colombo in 20 minutes. Now it takes an hour of sweating along with occupants of luxurious limos clogging the road.
      Why is it that many of us want huge limos, even on credit, when a Nano would serve the purpose? Do highways HAVE to be so beautifiul and expensive to maintain?
      We have only to look next door to see how the Indians build their highways- wide, CHEAP, and no fancy stuff. Even bicycles are allowed. They don’t take loans to build them either.

      • 2
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        old codger

        “Why is it that many of us want huge limos,”

        Most men believe Limos are extension of their manhood, especially those who suffer from p***s envy.

  • 2
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    Thanks so much for a wonderful write up of the real ground situation in a country going from the dogs to maggots.

  • 1
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    Does anyone know the current situation with the Uma Oya project. Another disaster of the previous regime. The President promised action, but as usual NATO – no action, talk only !!

  • 2
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    Sri Lanka, quo vadis ? Our future is spoiled and bleak. Good article.

  • 2
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    MS is the Minister of Mahaweli Development and ENVIRONMENT. The granite quarries is the last thing he ever worries.
    He was in the previous GoSL which indulged in this “The Unholy Pursuit Of Grandiose Schemes”

  • 0
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    Infrastructure is built for the future, generally with a 50 year vision. 50 years ago that is in ’68-70 how many cars were on the Colombo Roads? There are probably 100 times more vehicles now but on the same roads (albeit widening of a single lane on major arteries). The root cause (pun intended) is the expansion of the middle class. Too bad comrades! I am all for improvement of public transport through a light rail system, which would connect to the circular expressway, and that also should be done with a 50 year projection, and would cost a massive amount. That comrades how Capitalistic system works. As for granite mining, I agree it is ugly and noisy, but most of the mere mortals in this island do not want to be share croppers for the few rich, as it used to be, and so development cannot be avoided. Granite mines can be re-mediated in to beautiful parks and forests, the author may be familiar with one very popular such park in BC.

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      Wannihami:
      I wouldn’t want to suggest (yet) another pseudonym for you based on your truly unbelievable statement that “granite mines can be re-mediated in to beautiful parks and forests.” If you hold such a secret, you should patent it because it is truly unique. As for my being “familiar with one such park in B.C,” perhaps you would care to explain what on earth you mean by that.

    • 1
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      wannihami

      “The root cause (pun intended) is the expansion of the middle class.”

      The expansion of middle class started in the late 70’s and early 80s as the economy was liberalised along with foreign exchange control under UNP.

      Earlier under weeping widow’s despotic rule the economy shrank in stagflation.

      You should stop making sweeping statements when you are typing.

  • 0
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    The corruption king, Gamini Dissanayake is the one who introduced the mega project menia into this country and he earned billions as commision. The trend has continued since then, no one in the world could surpass the corruption of the Rajapakse tensome (MR, Gotabaya, Basil, Chamal, Namal, Sashendra, Yoshitha, Shiranthi, Rohitha, Udayanga and Nadesan.

    Now the Sirisena, Kiriella, Kabir Hashim, Faiz Musthapa, Malik Samarawickrama and John Amarathunga clans have taken over.

    This country is finished.

    • 0
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      I’m not against mega-projects and massive infrastructure per se ……… when there is the need ………

      A visitor to a city like Shanghai can see this ………. I was told that the size of the entire population of a country like Australia lives in that one city ……….. and things seems to be running quite well ………

      SL needs an efficient transportation system no doubt ………. how to implement such a system is left for competent experts ……… the productivity of a country will improve – perhaps not in SL :)) – if the time to and from work is cut-down significantly

      “Gamini Dissanayake is the one who introduced the mega project mania”

      There was a large project before that; Galoya-Walewe ……….. one of my old uncles led the team that designed it ……….. the whole shindig was designed in-house at the irrigation department and he was sent to get the designs checked by the famous ‘Dam Designer’ – Dr. Savage of Denver ……….. with a half a million dollars in his personal bank account to select a suitable firm and negotiate a contractor to build the two schemes.. ……… Dunno if the old devil pilfered any of it …….. came back with a Buick ……….

      btw ….. Dr. Savage is supposed to have said they were some of the most comprehensive set of plans/designs he has ever seen ……… a good compliment to the Irrigation Department of the day ……………

  • 0
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    SL unfortunately, has not produced any visionary parliamentarians in the past few decades. Although JR, Athlathmudali & Gamini Dissanayaka come to mind, they too, were not without unblemished character. Premadasa’s vision was flawed &, if at all, in the short term, while Wijethunga & much hyped CBK were ineffective leaders who contributed nothing but the Rajapakse regime takes the biscuit as the worst, corrupt regime with grandiose ideas, which were actually money making schemes for the ruling elite & their cronies. The rot continues in the form of Sirisena, who seems to be trying to topple the Rajapakse family as the wealthiest political family in SL, surrounded by a whole lot of uneducated yobs in support.

    Sirisena is, if I am not mistaken, is responsible for the environment but I doubt if he has the education or the mental capacity to run such an important Ministry. Maybe he will learn how the City of London, as well as, many European cities are combating pollution, congestion, etc during his many jaunts abroad.

    SL needs a good public transport system, combing rail & road networks with links to town centers & the airports as established in, practically, all countries in the world but thanks to another yob of a Minister in the past, Wijepala Mendis, the CTB was killed off & a genie in the form of an unregulated private bus system was introduced. While Mendis had no vision at all, Rajapakse had the vision of motorways for the emerging rich (those benefiting from duty free & concessionary vehicle permits) but not a good, affordable public transport system for the less fortunate. Today, we have a vehicle import tax system based on engine capacity & an annual emission test which is joke ( a blanket system covering old bangers & new cars) with no penalty for high polluting vehicles in the form of increased road tax as in other developed countries.

    We need educated, competent &, preferably, non political professionals, heading important Ministries & Institutions, not yobs & thugs who get elected into Parliament dubiously & we nee them quickly.

    .

    • 0
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      Raj:
      Thank you very much for that comprehensive analysis of the status quo in the matter of transportation needs.
      It was such a breath of fresh air to read something that wasn’t a pile of irresponsible rubbish!
      The irony of the status quo is that the vast majority of Sri Lanka’s citizenry, persist in placing in office those whose conduct drives what is completely antithetical to their (the majority’s) crying need!

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        “It was such a breath of fresh air to read something that wasn’t a pile of irresponsible rubbish!” Looks like you need to stop reading what you write in your ‘columns’, pronto!

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          Tickler:
          I understand that there are millions of wannbe comedians in the ranks of the unemployed. Do you REALLY have to join them or is it that your obsession is beyond repair?

          • 0
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            Mr. Putin: I read at least one comment that I liked. so, I thought to write. Are you a Spy agency or you are paid by the 2015 Common Candidate project.

            • 0
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              Jim softy:
              One of these days you are going to write something comprehensible. In the meantime, one better not hold one’s breath because death by asphyxiation would be inevitable!

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