By Emil van der Poorten –
Dear Honorable Members:
I have on several previous occasions, in the newspaper columns which I contribute to The Sunday Leader and other publications, made passing reference to incidents of political victimization which could have had serious repercussion on me and my spouse and which appear to be continuing unabated.
The brother of the Senior Cabinet Minister who happens to be our Member of Parliament, a retired army officer, who serves as his “aiyya’s”“Point man” in this area and appears to have a “hands-on” relationship with men and matters in this constituency, will, I am sure, vouch for the fact that I have, times without number, brought the very serious situation that prevails in our neighbourhood in the matter of road access, to his attention. However, it seems that all of our complaints and entreaties have been of no avail and he has not been able to exert any influence on the local Pradeshiya Sabhawa to have anything done about a very grave situation. I am, therefore, reduced to doing something I am very loath to do: make a public appeal to all those who control our lives in this neck of the woods, about a situation that is well on its way to achieving life or death importance. It seems that we have reached this point simply because a Pradeshiya Sabhawa, controlled by supporters and members of the governing party, has taken upon itself the chore of making an example of someone whom they view as a “political enemy.”
Very recently, the road I refer to was closed to all vehicular traffic for a period of five days and it was only my refusing to be fobbed off with an assortment of excuses and lies by the Pradeshiya Sabhawa and its Chairman that prevented it from being closed for even longer! In case there is any doubt about the importance of this public thoroughfare, it is the SOLE means of access and egress for several hundred people living in this area, men, women and children who do not have ready access to helicopter travel!
I will not mince my words as to why I believe this state of affairs prevails: it is because I am seen as a critic of your government and preventing me and my spouse from even living here, leave alone make a living off our paying-guest operation which caters primarily to tourists, appears to be a matter of some priority for those wielding authority in this area. There have been previous instances of vandalism directed at our little operation, among other acts of lawlessness, signage damaged which, fortunately, the local police chose to deal with appropriately. However, the deliberate neglect of the only vehicular access to our home goes beyond simply ensuring that we are deprived of a livelihood. It constitutes an absolute threat not only to us but to the other residents of estates and the villages who use this road as their sole means of getting in and out of their homes. This right-of- way being closed to vehicular traffic means a trek of a minimum of one-and-a-half kilometres, up to four for some of those served by it. This attempt at “getting” me has far wider ramifications than simple revenge on a single person and has ended up becoming a matter of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” if one considers how dozens of other people are being adversely affected!
As will be transparently obvious from the reams of “official” correspondence that I have copied to a plethora of government functionaries from the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabhawa through the Divisional Secretary to the Senior Cabinet Minister who represents us in parliament, the single cause of the massive damage to this road has been the havoc wreaked on it by a Pradeshiya Sabhawa tractor traversing this road 5 or 6 times a day, hauling garbage to a COMPLETELY ILLEGAL dump situated outside its own boundaries! Two drinking water springs have been completely contaminated by this arrangement, not to mention the poisoning of one of the headwaters of the Deduru Oya. Despite every effort that we, the residents of the area, have made in this regard, this criminality has continued for better than ten years now. To compound the crime, the Tumpane Pradeshiya Sabhawa refuses to so much as attend to ‘crisis repairs’ to this right of way. In fact the impassability of this road is not the problem here, it is but the most obvious symptom of a gross illegality that has been carried on by an agency of government for better than a decade!
The surface of this road has been damaged to an extent that it cannot even be described as a cart track. This is in addition to a bridge and a culvert being very close to total collapse and, when that happens, the repair might rival the construction of that famous crossing of the River Kwai!. Three wheeler drivers are now charging Rs.500 to come up this hill when, a while back, they charged less than a third of that. Some of them refuse to make the journey at all because they are aware of what it costs to replace tires that are slashed beyond repair by the “dragon’s teeth” that constitute the surface of this “road.” The local police have, on several recent occasions, left their motorbikes at the bottom of the hill and walked up to conduct inquiries into crimes committed in the area.
There has been a patch of this one-and-a-half kilometre road that has had a little ribbon of concrete poured over it and some lock-stone pavement has also been installed, separate from the concrete surface. Both these pavements total perhaps two hundred feet. Interestingly, these “improvements” serve the newly-constructed home of the son of one of the ruling party’s local “organizers.” In fact, that “organizer,” in what I can only assume was an attempt to display his authority told someone who inquired why the PS was not doing even a minimum of maintenance of the road that he was “opposed to any repairs to a road serving a garbage dump” when he and his supporters didn’t have a paved road serving them. This was simply a malicious act by one of our local elite intent on demonstrating his power and “pull.” As stupid as this might have been, it did put another nail in the coffin of our attempts to ensure one of our basic democratic freedoms: freedom of movement.
This criminality has extended into the realm of access to our homes in one direction and access to medical aid, to livelihoods and a plethora of other activities on the other.
Will it take a death, several deaths or something similarly dramatic to have this monumental injustice dealt with?
I hope that, by some miracle, this appeal catches the eye of the Senior Cabinet Minister who attended the same school as I did and shared the same values in the matter of justice, fairness and equitable treatment of those over whom one might exercise authority, even though this might have been a long, long time ago! If it does, I hope that he still subscribes to the same values that we espoused and supported on our school’s debating team and that he, at least, will take the steps that his brother valiantly, but without success, strove to take in trying to deal with a basic requirement for life in the 21st Century in Sri Lanka – freedom of movement.
Emil van der Poorten