By Mass L. Usuf –
For the Sinhalese and Tamils, it was their New Year day. A day of joy and celebration. While around the country pots were overflowing with boiling milk ushering in the New Year, in Meethotamulla the saga was somewhat different. Many of people living there were literally buried under the decomposed, rotten and toxic garbage mountain that broke loose. It was unbearable to hear the heart-rending wail of the bereaved family members some of those who had lost their little children.
According to the Central Environment Authority about 7,500 tonnes of waste is produced in the country every day. Residents say that nearly 1,000 tonnes of garbage is added daily each day at Meethotamulla. The height of the garbage dump has now reached more than 300 meters. These people did not go to where the garbage was. The garbage was brought to where these people were living. A dereliction of the government’s duty and a gross violation of the basic constitutional rights of the people affected.
These people have been living here for several decades in inhuman conditions breathing in foul odour every day. The feeling is inexplicable. It stinks. They have been in this unimaginable and horrendous state all these years. Most of them have developed various medical complications. Where are the human rights activists? Where are the Politicians? Where are the environmentalists? Someone quipped, “The environmentalists are more concerned about fauna and flora than human beings”. The planned alternative landfill site at Aruwakkalu, North of Puttalam, about 170 kilometres away from Colombo did not take off the ground because they were unhappy. They said that the site is within the one mile buffer zone of the Wilpattu National Park.
Mr. President, you are also the Minister of Environmental Affairs. Around the second half of 2015, you spoke about having a National Strategy for environmental conservation and identified areas like deforestation, environmental damage, environmental degradation, natural resource damage and soil erosion. What you seem to have failed in doing is to identify the priorities in your list in the National Strategy? The garbage dump is not an issue that came up after you assumed power. It was very much there while you were with the previous government. Why did you not accelerate the implementation of your plan?
Way back in 2013 during the Rajapaksa regime some houses were damaged when the dump collapsed. Former MP Duminda Silva held a discussion at the Kolonnawa Municipal Council on issues arising from the garbage dump at Meethotamulla and promised to provide a solution to the problem within a month. He never did that.
As a citizen, I humbly ask you on behalf of the many who have been silenced by death, have you mismanaged your priorities? If your National Strategy is a long-term plan what have you envisioned for the short and medium term? On one stroke of the pen you deprived thousands of IDPs from returning to their ancestral homes and livelihood in Musali and adjacent areas. This was done in a mighty hurry.
In Meethotamulla while death and destruction was staring on the face of the departed souls and their bewildered kith and kin, you apparently did not have enough ink in that same pen to issue an order regarding the Garbage Dump issue. Or, was it a case where there was not enough pressure by the vested interest of the pseudo environmentalists and the self-serving politicians to look into the garbage problem?
Mr. Prime Minister
Mr. Prime Minister in February 2015, when you met with ‘The Peoples Movement Against the Kollonnawa Garbage Dump’, it is alleged that you had promised a solution within 6 months. Is not your six months too long, Mr. Prime Minister?
“Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha yesterday warned that stern legal actions would be taken against those who failed to segregate garbage in order to dispose it properly from November 01”. “In terms of section 272 (5) of MCO, the penalties for disregarding by-laws on garbage disposal are included a sum not exceeding Rs. 1000 for the first time offenders and the second or third time offenders will be fined a sum not exceeding Rs. 2000. Offenders who repeatedly disobey the by-laws will be fined a sum not exceeding Rs. 250.00 each time”. (The Island, October 29, 2016).
Other pieces of legislations threatening action are Section 261 of the Penal Code on public nuisance, the National Environmental Act, No. 47 of 1980, disposing garbage which can harm the environment is illegal. In the same Act Section 23, if the garbage disposed in a public or private place is harmful to the health of people, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) holds power to take appropriate measures.
Mr. Minister which law is applicable to the following :
- To the incident that happened in Meethotamulla?
- The dereliction of duty on the part of all those who were responsible?
- The failure to avert a disaster which was imminent and foreseeable?
“The Minister of Mega polis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka: He has said his ministry has already gone through a tender procedure and shortlisted seven projects for the management of solid waste at Meethotamulla (mountain) garbage dump, long an ecological problem and eyesore in Colombo”. (Sunday Times, July 24, 2016).
Mr. Minister, this is April 2017 what have you been doing for the past eight months? Did not you know that this was a ticking time bomb, the consequences of which would be calamitous?
What Do You Call It As?
Earlier this month the residents living near the Meethotamulla garbage dumping site took to the streets demanding an end to the torturous life they were subjected to. I do not know what to call it as – hypocrisy, irony, political gimmick or sincerity – when United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian S. M. Marikkar led the demonstration. He is part of the machinery. He represents these people. He is supposed to find solutions and not to demonstrate. Did he demonstrate because he cannot garner enough support with the powers that be? Then, dear Member, I suggest you resign. If you call yourself the servant of the public. Of what use is it, in continuing to be part of the government which does not help you to solve the problems of the people who trusted you and voted for you to represent them?
Can any of these institutions and the Ministers in charge of these – the CMC, Urban Development Authority (UDA), Western Province Waste Management Authority (WPWMA), Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Kolonnawa Municipal Council, other local authorities plead ignorance of the garbage problem?
The people are disappointed and deeply saddened at the prevailing state of affairs. Those of you who are responsible will carry the guilt if you have some semblance of morals in you.
All those who died, died in vain.