By Sarath Wijesinghe –
Water is only next to air for the living of the Human Being. Contaminated water will cause diseases and even death if precautions are not taken to purify water for human consumption. Animals too need water for existence but the degree of purity differs. They are more resistive on contamination. Today water is purified in large scale with modern technology and preventive measures are taken to purify water Rivers, Lakes and other catchment areas providing drinking water. Rivers and water resolvers are constantly purified by the State or the agents and monitored to provide pure drinking water to the citizen. Water is State property unless privatized. In Sri Lanka people have resisted attempts of privatization of water which is the most important, beautiful and productive National wealth. “Kelani” River is the main catchment natural water for the Greater Colombo consumers.
Water from “Kelani River”
There were recent disturbing reports of contamination water from “Kelani” River which is one of the most beautiful and the most polluted major river in Sri Lanka. Water is contaminated due to large number of factories and industries around and on the banks of the river releasing by products and dangerous chemicals freely to the river. Despite the stringent regulations and requirements to obtain certificates from the Government statutory bodies such as Central Environmental Authority, Water Board, Local Authorities, Consumer Affairs Authority, Police Grama Sevakas, Human Rights and Non-Governmental Organizations campaigning for human rights, and many other statuary/Government bodies contamination/pollution continues undisturbed and uninterrupted. Recently it was reported that Coca-Cola, one of the major powerful and rich multinational organizations was responsible for the contamination of the river with chemicals, factory by – products and oil patches resulted in pollution of water in the Greater Colombo area. It was further reported that the Central Environmental Authority has imposed a fine of One billion rupees for the damages caused to the filters and machinery amounting to billions and large scale contamination violating the agreement, environmental requirements and regulations. It is a criminal offence to release s large or small amounts of poison to the river. To date no precautionary measures have been taken to arrest the situation which is hazardous to the health of the citizen. We are not aware of steps taken by any statuary body under Criminal or Civil Procedure, Environmental Authority Law or any other law regulation for practices to date to arrest/correct the situation. The news is that the companies have been given a mere warning letter seeking an undertaking to be cautious in future. Had this taken place in a western country or even in India results would have been disastrous to the accused companies. Ironically the offence is continuing to be committed to date. Amounts involved are billions of rupees / dollars and there are suspicions on series of events steps taken/not taken and statements issued on this major disaster which involves the health of the consumers depending on the statute bodies for pure drinking water.
Dead Silence by Media
Strangely there is a dead silence in the media on this issue except some websites fearlessly giving some publicity for the disaster. Local news and the electronic media has not considered this disaster important and of news value. There are only few news and articles on this subject in English media whilst there is a self-control in the Sinhala electronic and print media. According to reports Coco – Cola launched a vigorous media campaign on the disaster initially and agreed to compensate and reparations to the State and the citizen. The machinery was badly damages and the cost of repairs and replacements appear to be colossal and in millions. But this process apparently has ended with a natural death apparently due to obvious reasons. There was gossip news at “Hulftsdorp/Courts” that a politician was busy on the successful settlement process with the companies and the Statuary bodies. The amounts involve billions of rupees/ dollars. Coco Cola and other over 70 companies responsible for contamination are back at business as usual. Contamination and releasing of waste and by products continue. The Ministry of Environment come under the President who is taking a special interest on the subject.
Arsenic in drinking water
There is a controversy of presence of Arsenic in drinking water in the Greater Colombo due to contamination by the accused companies. Central Environment Authority (CEA) has announced that there are no traces of Arsenic or heavy metals in the drinking water supplied through the National Water and Drainage Board has given an assurance that water is free from arsenic. Mr K.H. Muthukudarachchi /Director General Says that he can claim with certainty (Nation 19/9/2015) that water is suitable to consume and free from arsenic. According to Nation – “We have launched an investigation into the matter and CEA can say with certainty that there are no traces or presence of Arsenic in the “Kelani River”, as claimed by some.” He claims he can vouch for CEA reports with personal responsibility because authorities have been aggressively following up on the claims and have found none to date. Coco Cola and the companies are aggressively launching their media campaign for the companies with enormous sums in rupees / dollars and invisible and visible local as well as international powers behind them. CEA has admitted over 70 companies are in violation of their environment protection licences. It is now understood that the suspension of the licence is cancelled and company is now allowed to carry on mealy subject to a warning letter. It is not known whether one billion rupee fines are paid or the millions of damages for the repairs of the machinery are recovered. We hope to believe the fine is paid, damages are recovered and steps are being taken not to repeat contamination and pollution.
Comments by statutory bodies
Alahudeen Answer – Chairman of the National Water Board supply and damage Board has categorically denied reports by the Centre for Environment and Nature studies that there exists a level of 4 mgs per litre of arsenic in several areas of “Kelani River”. Head of GENs Ravindra kariyawasam made a startling claim that their studies which were confirmed by the tests result affirm that there exist u acceptable amounting to 4.00 milligrams of arsenic per litre of water.( Nation 19/9/2015). Citizen/ Consumers are in the dark to find the real truth on the water they drink everyday risking the lives of the entire family. Views are different and conflicting. It is our view that the statutory bodies should be careful in taking the lead on making statements which is subject to challenge and controversy especially in favour of questionable companies.
We do not know who to believe. If the news reports are authentic it is unprofessional for heads of statutory bodies to give personal guarantees on controversial matters involving billions – the health and future of the Nation. Statutory bodies and NGOs must take extra care in dealing with matters of public interest and health care. Their statements and steps taken should be transparent and with authority based on tests and experiments. They should be as white as white and should not leave room for suspicions and not allow the companies to pressurise the public bodies and the officials should not be pawns of rich and powerful. Media must be more proactive and act in the interest of public interest as in other countries as the forth pillar of the state – on behalf of the citizen. It is time the relevant authorities take notice of the situation and take preventive measures forthwith. We hope this message will reach the highest echelons of the system.