14 August, 2022


Is “Bigger” Better?”

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

Being a rural resident of Sri Lanka at a time of massive construction in the name of “megapolises” and goodness knows what else, gives one a slightly different perspective in the matter of “development,” the Holy Grail of people bereft of anything resembling a wider view of the fate of Sri Lankans than “economic opportunity” for them and their friends.

In our neighbourhoods there are about six operating granite quarries, one a truly huge one which, though out of sight, produces the most and the loudest explosions every afternoon.

While some of the smaller quarries have been shut down from time to time the humungous one over the crest of the Gommunnawa-Ambatale hill continues apace despite what we were told was a major protest by residents of the area. The reason they did not succeed in having blasting operations cease was the fact that the owner/operator is some politician with “clout.”

The sand mining in one of the two source- streams of the Deduru Oya continues apace. Local protests, while initially successful in “extra-judicially” preventing this obscenity, fizzled out when fissures developed on religious and caste divisions were promoted by those benefiting from this most despicable of practices.

And all of this for what?

For projects that run contrary to every tenet of sustainability and maintenance of a lasting healthy environment! The bottomless pit for all the sand and granite – both clearly finite natural resources the permanent decimation of which will have catastrophic consequences, is the “megapolis” project that will simply provide the Chinese with a way-station on the route connecting them with the oil-producers of the Middle East. This will be infinitely more than a re-fuelling point on the journey of their oil tankers. It will, more important, provide an essential part of the bulwark in their competition with India to establish hegemony over the rest of the Asian world.  Not only do they have this Sri Lanka-government driven obscenity in Colombo, they now have control over our newest port, Hambanthota, thanks to our practitioners of “Good Governance.”

And the Indians? They will extract their own pound of flesh, that flesh being flavoured and spiced by Sri Lankan financial and other resources in the oil tanks of Trincomalee, the airport in Hambanthota and goodness knows what else.

What are the practical implications for those of us living out in the boondocks of Sri Lanka?

Accurately put, it is environmental degradation with immediate and future implications that are mind-boggling.

For instance, in our neighbourhood, the quarrying that is going on has already resulted in springs that were never known to run low, leave alone run dry, ceasing to supply water for people’s personal consumption and for their ablutions.

During the last dry spell, thanks to having spent an inordinate amount of money in husbanding the meagre spring water supply we had, we became the providers of water for our neighbouring “colonists” not only to have their evening bath but to take plastic bottles of water home to drink and make tea. Delving into the history of this area did not produce a situation even close to this.  While I have no doubt that climate change contributed to this state of affairs, there is no gainsaying that the endless detonations we’ve experienced from the granite-extractors could be deemed to be the primary villains of the piece. I spent several decades in the “Land of the Blue-Eyed Sheikhs” where oil and gas and those controlling it ruled the roost.  Even before fracking achieved front and centre status internationally as the most destructive of oil-patch related activities, I recall the devastating effect of fracking on the only spring in all of Canada that produced commercial quantities of bottled drinking water.  One day it just dried up. At least the “developing countries” have learned from those bitter lessons and there is organized opposition to such practices. In Sri Lanka we appear to have adopted a completely fatalistic attitude to the obscenities being visited upon us.

Adding insult to injury, the end result of these “megapolis” and similar projects is that it is only going to worsen the currently unacceptable situation with regard to urban congestion and its attendant woes.

Want some icing on that particular cake? Look at the construction of “super highways” to bring more people more easily into the urban centres. Kandy is a classic example of this kind of folly. A superhighway (by Sri Lankan standards, at least) is being constructed at enormous cost to achieve this objective for the hill country capital which, for obvious reasons, cannot expand laterally. Allegedly, in order to deal with the problem of the unbelievable congestion in Kandy town, it is proposed – without anything resembling the requisite environmental studies – to build six tunnels under Kandy town and, without doubt, under the lake, to reduce the congestion in the hill capital. Among the simple means of ease the problem of traffic tie-ups in Kandy, in the short term at least, would be to open the road coming in by the Maligawa which was closed after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) tried to blow up the Temple of the Tooth.  It is beyond belief that this bogeyman, the LTTE, is still being trotted out as one of the reasons for keeping that road closed. Among the other reasons that the Custodian of the Tooth Relic has advanced is that if that road was opened again, cattle destined for illicit slaughter and kasippu would be passing by the Maligawa. I will not even dignify that rubbish with comment! Why is the simple fact that it is not “through” traffic but traffic bound for Kandy town that is the cause of the congestion not addressed?

All kinds of other schemes, not only for tunneling under Kandy but for building highways through Udawattekelle, the hill capital’s forest reserve, have also been advanced.

All of these solutions of Kandy’s traffic problems have one thing in common: they have potential for significant corruption and large amounts of money changing hands in the form of what are usually referred to as “commissions.”

The original traffic plan for Kandy also envisaged long distance buses not coming into the town but for a shuttle service to take commuters out of the town to the location(s) in which they would be situated. In fact, I do recall an award-winning Police Traffic Inspector suggesting a reversion to this arrangement a while back. His reward was that the public never heard from him again, presumably banished to some isolated hamlet where bullock carts are the primary means of transportation!

Open the road past the Maligawa and if you want to stop Kasippu and stolen cattle passing by it, check vehicles coming in. After all, one product has a significantly strong odour and it isn’t really possible for some lorry driver to conceal a cow in his trouser pocket.

Since Kurunegala doesn’t have mountain ranges through which to burrow mega-tunnels and is fast approaching the Kandy level of traffic congestion, may I suggest to the people who will soon turn their attention to road transportation in the capital of the North Western Province that they begin planning for enormous flyovers, east to west and north to south, which could well promise as much baksheesh as the Kandyan tunnels?

To describe all of this as absurd would be to significantly understate the case.  Rural folk in the Kandy area cannot harvest anything arboreal which is even vaguely edible because they have no means of protecting such produce from the giant squirrels or the monkeys who have got to it first; nothing growing on the ground is safe from the self-same simians who share that largesse with the wild pigs while the porcine horde is joined by porcupines in respect of anything growing below ground level.  And just in case the wounds of rural Sri Lankans haven’t had enough chillie powder rubbed in them those of us living in the Kandy area have been blessed with yet another high powered Ministerial Committee to “co-ordinate initiatives in the Kandy region.”

The absurdity of “Ministers fiddling while the Hill Country and its inhabitants burn” would be funny beyond words if it wasn’t so tragic.

And, on that note, over (in Kurunegala), under (in Kandy) and out!

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Latest comments

  • 2

    What is the gdp of somalia now it is less than 10 billion usd. What was the gdp during the petiod of 1977- 1994 in srilanka, it is less than 16 billion usd .when chandrika got this economy and gave this to mahinda in 2005 it was only less than 25 billion usd. Mahinda made this economy of 25 billion in to closer 80 billion usd in 2014. This performance of 300% economic growth just in 10 years . Modern slfp led by rajapaksas are the architects of this huge neo liberal economy.they are the architects if huge infrastructure and urban development projects in srilanka and made the srilanka fastest growing economy in asia.what happend to unp , they people like jr , premadasa , lalith, gamini never handled or build economies more than 16 billion usd So do not have even a basic ability of handling huge neo liberal economies of rajapaksas modern slfp.now the unp is also like jr or premadasa or lalith or gamini who does not have ability even to thinki about this huge neo liberal economy. Apart from this unp does not have the support of the business community the business community always in rajapaksas modern slfps hand.unp doesnot have any support of government mechanisum .this machanisum is always supporting rajapaksas. Rajapaksas modern slfp is dictators. Very powerful. Have all kind of support but architects for this huge srilankan neo liberal economy and excellent managers in doing liberal economies. They have the support of entire media the media always rejecting unp. Unp is very sin and innocent they do not have any power even they are in govenment.they do not have money, they do not have business community support. They only have 27 lacks vote base. They allways depends on small parties to contest in elections.we can sympath about unp wht we cn do.

    • 0


      Oh dear ! What an analysis ! Any idea of an IMF $1.5 billion bailout
      in the form of a loan on April 2016 ? Central Bank was planning to
      ask for $5 billion after 1.5 billion . Srilanka is reported to be possibly
      in a debt trap that it can’t get out of .This ending year we owed $4
      billion to foreign lenders .Between 2009 and 2014 total govt debt
      grew three times and external debt doubled due to country’s
      unbearably expensive undertakings like jungle airport and sea port
      in an attempt to build a city in Hambantota jungle . Have you ever
      heard of ghost cities Chinese have made in their country ? Match
      your GDP growth rate of Mahinda’s days with those projects that
      have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and with the
      cost to the environment . Tell me , how many in the country travel
      on the southern expressway paying Rs 500 to Matara from
      Maharagama in public transport after about 5 years of opening ?
      Mattala airport is empty !

  • 8

    you are a voice crying in the wilderness
    this govt. cannot make anything happen

  • 1

    Just a few days ago I met a young British guy of early twenties , the son of a
    client family of mine who toured Vietnam on a holiday and he shared with
    me his tour experience in Vietnam and a couple of days in Cambodia . He
    still sees Vietnam as a communist country with communist culture clearly
    seen and felt everywhere . His face lightened up with amazement when he
    described about a restaurant where blind waiters served him ! And he was
    laughing when he was kind of complaining about being overcharged
    everywhere he went clearly because of his colour(common disease in the
    third world).And another topic he took up is what is relevant to this article.
    He was disappointed about being unable to stay away in his tour from
    modern technologies and concrete jungles !

    Now , we do a lot in the name of tourism promotion . The whole of southern
    beaches are , from Gall Face to Tangalle and beyond flooded with Hotels
    of modern building materials with a heavy loss to rural set up . We now
    almost don’t have a rural life and people are being influenced by the trend
    of modern buildings coming up everywhere . It is now like a mad cow
    disease . The West is desperate to escape from this life and run away at
    least on short holidays to rest disconnected from that world. But we are
    just running after mammoth building projects in order to gain political
    mileage at the cost of environments and economy . I recently travelled
    from Colombo through Ammbilipitiya to Rakvana . Unbelievable , the
    size of houses that have sprung in villages and the size of township that
    have extended more than double ! We want to call this development ?
    Development of what ? As a result of what ? At the cost of what ?
    Bigger is better is in our culture and the race in politics and religions is
    to push it to new heights at any cost ! Big houses , Big buildings , Big
    roads , Big cars , Big jobs , Big marriages , Everybody’s dream is Big but

    • 0

      I couldn’t agree more!
      Do we have to perform the same stupidities of which the west has been guilty?
      “The more you do what you’ve always done, the more you’ll get what you always got.”

      • 0

        Emil ,

        Your write-up is an eye opener to many wandering in the dark
        in the name of development . This is the result of a culture
        that builds mansions while starving in order to gain social
        recognition through show off . The epidemic has exploded
        out of control into nation building ! If no one speaks out loudly ,
        the destruction this will cause to the country will be
        unimaginable . Politicians do it with a purpose and not without
        knowledge .

      • 0

        You both are right. I think our people regardless of their race have been suffering from psychological disease of rarity. I have met with Camerun and Ghana people, they too have been suffering from the same psycho problems. People like in Thailand or several other like minded countries, our people have not learnt to give a value to local things.
        They have become just followers no matter they could afford themselves or not.
        Just focus on their phone purchases. No matter the smart phone would not be needed to their day today work, they spend for them, just their friends are used to have them.
        Unlike in other part fo the world, lanka and other countries have been introduced Face book by americans. That has been a commercial trick played by them to decieve countless numbers of users. But in German yor many other countries, they are not used to be users of Face book as is the case in SL. Why ?
        Why the poor folks of our nature get caught by every trick being played by those industry nations ?

        Emil I wish you Merry christmas even if this comes too late !
        I will visit you when travelling to lanka next month.
        God bless !

    • 0

      Wonderful observation. 40 years ago almost every town of Sri Lanka had an identity at least in the building structures, with clay roof tiled traditional looking houses and shops. Some would say its portugese style architecture like what you see in Galle Fort. its serene looking and very well blended with the surroundings consisting empty grass patches and coconut trees and other trees and plants adding to the beauty of the total view. And look at it now….. almost 90% of our towns and cities are ugly with modern art-less structures plus with so much of ugly hordings and advertisements destroying the aesthetic view…..and it looks no more than those ugly Brazillian, Philippines etc shanty cities where you will see mismatches and riot of colours strewn everywhere that has killed the nativeness or the ideal local culture that was prevalent before the local criminal ruling elites took over reign of power to destroy the countries from the colonial criminal masters. The odd old buildings that anyone rarely finds within these ugly modern structures still gives cool to the eyes with a message saying that those olden masons and building contractors were really artistic compared to the modern dodos who build shanty structures just make some buck that do not add any value to the country as a whole in protecting an identical identity to say that this is Sri Lanka … the Paradise Isle…. a term mistakenly coined by some blind bat…..

      • 1

        Radical Ideas,

        this is common not onyl to srilanka right ?

        If you would travel across Europe, some cities with older building look very beatiful while modern cities like Frankfurt and Leipzig look ugly.

        At the time, my elder brother decided to modify our old house- that was over 100 years old, then ( in early 80ties) I felt it was very wrong tthing to do. Even today after 40 years I feel the same. I do also love older buildings than any new structures.

  • 1

    Yeah Evdp…..you are the good guy……..the only thing left is for you to sacrifice yourself up on the cross for the future of humankind and the environment……..no other way around it……

    • 0

      ramona therese fernando:
      I would guess that that comment was meant to be described as “wry!”
      One of these days you are going to discover that there is a difference between being a wit and a half-wit. I am not holding my breath until that happens.

      • 0

        Aww……Merry Christmas anyway, Evdp.

  • 0

    Emil Vander Pooten is one crying out loud for Issues. but, there so many problems in the system which needs to be corrected Without correcting the messed up system,. tell us how you can correct issues.. If you complaining about one particular individual, then that is another something personal Think about the PM who is lost and a president making moves avoid falls, I suppose.

    • 0

      Jim softy:

  • 0

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  • 0

    I think this article titled “Is Bigger Better” must receive the attention of all the people of this country, notwithstanding of any individual standing. Although, painfully short, the MESSAGE it conveys is huge and very appropriate for the present day lead that the country is directed at. In my opinion, all of us have, misunderstood and misconceived some of the popularly spoken and “advertised” subjects, such as “GDP”; “PCI” (Per capita Income); “Standard of Living”; “Gap between Haves and Havenots” etc…..etc….. The result of interpretation of these terms has been to blindly copy what is available out in the world and to PLANT whatever that we SEE as PROSPERITY in different and varying environments, without or scant attempt at RADICAL RESTRUCTURING of those economies and technologies. One simple example that the writer points is the effect these so called “Development” has had on the drinking water resources of Kandy. In a more MASSIVE and a DESTRUCTIVE development project termed “Uma Oya Project” is another . The time has come for ALL to understand and conceive that “SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL” and in this regard please read the book by E.F.Schumacher, one time the Chief Economist of National Coal Board of England, titled above quoted. More appropriately there is an essay therein titled “Buddhist Economics” that which could be used more meaningfully to achieve that happiness in life. In a passing remark, I would ask “thilan” who wrote the first comment to explain what relevance the contents of it relate to the subject matter of this essay. Of course, I only know the DESTRUCTIVE nature of his hero’s “DEVELOPMENT” that which is being followed even at present.

  • 0

    Is bigger better? I suggest that you familiarise yourself with a basic economic concept commonly known as economies of scale!

    • 0

      You are now derailed. Put the question as “Is bigger Cheaper”? and get back to track. Then you can change over to “Is bigger Practical” and after that “Better”. Did you hear about micro loans? It is because the biggest is chapter for banks and the smallest is cheaper for consumers.

      The Western world is 300 years ahead of these South Asians. Culturally and habitually they are evolved and adopted to these developments, though mistakes happen. With so many thousands harbors and airports are built, I hear only one or two are white elephants. The word “white elephant” i came to know from Chinse construction in Myanmar. While world trade is moving through the computer wires and the Shopping mall have to redesign to packing ware houses, the China’s world largest shopping mall still need to lease out. In that case why somebody would invite China to plan and build them an airport. There are so many model villages are yet be occupied by residents in China. They keep on building because that adds to employment and GDP temporally. But the Detroit residents sold their homes to $1, to get out of complying of the legal obligation arise of owning a home.

      Some big projects turned into white elephant only because the sudden change in industrial norms of that area. But the 2nd Airport and 2nd Harbor, naturally so needed ones for alternate use, went as white elephants only in Lankawe. For example anywhere in Lankawe would have been good for a 2nd Airport other than Hangbangtota. That means nobody would in Lankawe may have made a mistake in selecting a site for an airport other than Old Royals. You are one in one or two left alone owls hooting for Old Royal and Champika in the night, hoping for Old Royals’ comes back. All others are have changed their hi-flying wings to land walking legs.

    • 0

      Is that comment meant to be yet another expression of the “erudition” that, unfortunately, appears too often in CT.
      I expect there are “Economies of scale” in the matter of siphoning off public funds in the name of “collateral costs” or some similar concept. Would yo care to expand on that?

      • 0

        Yes siphoning of public funds on a scale never seen before?you must be referring to to THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY OF ALOYSIUS/RANIL? Don’t know of collateral costs which may be minimal. Collateral damage was substantial in the form of RAVI Karunanayake who is still being carried aloft like stinking dead meat to attract more gunfire. Talk of political strategy – nothing can be more dumb than carrying the maggot ridden RAVI to the polls.

        • 0

          The problem you have appears to be a compulsion to defend one bunch of thieves against another!
          Believe it or not, there are many like me that believe that theft from the public purse is a crime irrespective of who is responsible. In fact, on one occasion, I went on record as being prepared to suspend my opposition to capital punishment in order to appropriately punish those who were stealing from the entire population.
          Have I made myself clear or do your blinkers compel you to believe that everyone is a sycophant of either the current regime or the murderous one that preceded it, no exceptions?

  • 1

    The problem with Sri Lanka is that the country is, by some misfortune, or by some trickery or by some evil spell, being locked up by an evil set of Super Criminals by the identity they proudly call themselves as the GOVIGAMA ELITES. This set of Psychopathic, Racist, Thieving scums have been forcibly holding onto the leadership of the political power that controls everything else in the running of the daily affairs of the state. By being in that higher positions where no challenge is to be seen that threatens their hegimony, they started to corrupt the system in a fashion that no other citizen who has some civic responsibility will ever do the way these Criminals are doing it. From DS Senanayake to Bandaranayake (Telungu Nayakkar origin) Jayawardenes, Wijewardenes, Wickremasinghes, Wijetunges, Rajapakses, Sirisenas, Kotalawelas, Premadasas, Ratwattes, Don Carolis family, Gamini Dissanayakes, Athulathmudalis, Ranjan Wijeratnes, Cyril Maththews etc, etc…are some of the infamous criminal names that belong to this criminal Mafia enterprise. They started the system of corruptions soon after the Independence they got from the British to control the system. Still, the people are yet to enjoy the so called fake independence they say that the general public got from the evil British. All pseudo developments were brought in to the system by these criminals to begin their Super Thefts and loots which have become the curse for the populace as it is they who have been burdened to pay the bills. 70 years of corruption….still going strong!!!

  • 0

    The practice of ‘baksheesh’ is ingrained in our political/administrative culture and it will not go away anytime soon. The ‘haves’ in our society will continue to demand more at the expense of the ‘have-nots’ and there is little chance of anyone doing anything about it, as long as there are the blessings of those at the top of the food chain. Those hoping for a tranquil urban Shangri-La had better accept that (short of a miracle) they are doomed to suffer the rape and pillage of our land.

  • 0

    What Srilanka need is rapid development of agriculture followed by infr structure development like in Newzealand . We don’t need highways but development of the rail way system at a rapid pace . Construction of highways and high rises will destroy the evviorenment.We cannot achieve this with the present set of corrupt senile politicians.

  • 1

    What a load of garbage! At a time a mad, bad Donald Trump is taking the whole world (128/9) to a war against his Hymie friends in Jerusalem, and another nuke war against North Korea, do we have time to worry about rock blasting in the neighbourhood? We should be worrying about the real issues of the world that affect all of us, without screaming like a white rhesus monkey with his tail on fire, like Pooten is doing here. Get real!

    • 1

      Sanatana Dharma:
      I suspect you’ve even got the first word of your pseudonym spelled wrong (And that comes from a “white rhesus monkey” who was, at least, part of an evolution that you obviously missed out on).
      You better tell my neighbours that they should be worrying about Kim Jong Un and his nuclear capacities before they begin worrying about not having water to drink!
      I don’t know about theories of evolution but I would really be interested to know on which planet you dwell.

  • 0

    The size is in the eyes of the beholder.
    The ‘take’ in a ‘big big’ projects is worth it although the going rate as a percentage remain same.
    For example who in proper sence will go for patrol boats instead of a second-hand freighter?

  • 0

    What i have mentioned in previous comment was truth and the exact situation of srilanka.of course i agree rajapaksas modern slfp are dictators and authontorians. People like jr premadsa and unp are powerless and innocent. But if the authontorians are great managers and architects of huge neo liberal economy we cant hide that truth by scolding them in a situation that the innocent unp people are utterly fail in neo liberal economy.below mentioned are some small economic tips how rajapaksas modern slfp build and handled this huge economy.1. They made the economy in to 75 billion usd from 25 billion usd in just ten years,2.they enhanced per capital income from 1000 usd to 3700 usd. The debt when they took the country in 2005 the debt ratio against gdp was 102% but the neo liberal specialists modern slfp brought down the ratio in to 73%.this not means that rajapaksha government lend money but they have enhaced the gdp very tactfuly. The foreign direct investment before 2005 was less than 200 billion usd but it eas an tramendus increase after 2005 and it came up to 1650 million usd in 2014. Slfp government lend money and done huge infrastructure development and urban development.srilanka became the best share market in the world and colombo became fastest growing city In the world. Now after this unp government got this country now the debt ratio has increased. No investment are coming. Business commubity in totaly against the unp. Unp does not have government machanisum. You know how poor the unp is in handling liberal economy is they have sold the hambanthota port and show that as invest ment.

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