By Emil van der Poorten –
I have, sporadically, over the years during which I’ve written for publication, referred to the shenanigans of the Tumpane Pradeshiya Sabha’s dumping of garbage in land that belongs in the jurisdiction of the adjacent Poojapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha.
Let me take you, briefly, down memory lane with regard to this little saga for a beginning. And if your memory is better than mine (not a great feat!) forgive me but I think we need context clearly established for what I am about to relate.
Shrouded by the mists of time there was the brief interregnum of Ranil Wickremesinghe when, while he occupied the Prime Ministerial chair, Chandrika Kumaratunga was President.
This brief period was preceded by a time when one of the most corrupt of politicians ruled the roost in Tumpane. He discovered some land which was owned by the Land Reform Commission and decided to establish a ”Middle Class Housing Scheme” for the benefit of his buddies who would only have to build their new homes on land supplied free together with such infrastructure as water supply already in place. However, before the houses could be completed, leave alone the new residents of the Samarakoon Housing Estate move into occupation, Ranil and his cohorts began their (brief) occupation of the seats of power. One of the first acts of vengeance of the new regime was the dumping by the tractor-load in the very centre of what was to be a “housing scheme” of the garbage collected from the Tumpane Pradeshiya, notwithstanding the fact that some infrastructure, inclusive of very large concrete reservoir which still exists, being constructed. I would be only too pleased to take anyone interested in verifying my story on a conducted tour of the place if they can find gas masks appropriate to the occasion!
This not only put handing over of public resources to private individuals, at no cost to the recipients on hold, but effectively destroyed two drinking-water springs that several households depended on for their daily needs.
The real plus, though for those responsible for the ecological despoliation was the fact that, due to its location, this was, literally, out of sight of the real “beneficiaries” of this abomination: the people of an adjacent (third) rural jurisdiction depending on the water from the Dik-Oya one of the headwaters of the Deduru Oya into which these springs emptied their waters. The people of Weuda and its environs, among others, literally could not see up to ten loads of garbage – heaped up agricultural tractor trailers – going into this place every day right up to now.
Initial efforts by the local population, more than a dozen years ago to put a stop to this were brushed aside and the travesty has continued unabated.
THIS WAS A COMPLETELY UNAUTHORISED GARBAGE DUMP WITH, CERTAINLY, NO ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT EVEN BEING CONSIDERED PRIOR TO ITS ESTABLISHMENT.
While this abomination was relatively distant from where I lived, I sought to have the Department of the Environment, headed at the time by the Hon. Pathali Champika Ranawaka, intervene. I was given the run around and nothing came of that effort save a personal attack against me in a newspaper to which I then contributed a column!
I then took what was considered the most Quixotic of Quixotic steps and launched legal action against the Pradeshiya Sabha for destroying the access road to, literally, dozens of homes when not even a three-wheeler could traverse the track to reach anyone needing medical attention or in some similar urgency. That case is still before the courts and the Pradeshiya Sabha has counter-sued me for a half million rupees in damages for what they claim is libel/defamation (for having the temerity to accuse it of such a misdemeanor!)
There is one constant here, the Cabinet Minister who was in those upper reaches of government at the time the crime was begun continues to occupy a position in that same hallowed circle! In fact, he told me and my partner, on two separate occasions, that he had allocated ten million rupees (Rs. 10,000,000) out of his own Ministry’s budget to fix this section of road. Lo and behold, when I spoke with the contractor engaged in the work, he told me that at most, after a senior engineer had inspected the completed work, he would receive four million, seven hundred thousand rupees (Rs. 4,700,000). If my arithmetical skills are even partially intact, that would suggest that more than half the allocated funds had evaporated before they hit the road. It might also interest readers to know that, with the “encouragement” of a legal action, what wasn’t done in ten years was completed in one week!
The worst of it? The Pradeshiya Sabha has let the tall grass on the sides of the road reach, again, a height of several feet and let the side drain silt up completely so that, again, the road becomes a river in rainy weather. Within the next month, 4.7 million (I’m sorry 10 million) rupees of road renovation will, literally, be down the drain.
You want some icing on this particular cake?
Several years ago, when I had occasion to visit the Pradeshiya Sabha within whose jurisdiction this garbage dump is located and within the jurisdiction of which I live, I spoke with the Chairman about that abomination. He ruefully informed me that, not only was he aware of this travesty but that his own (Poojapitiya) PS’s garbage was being dumped in an adjacent jurisdiction, that of Akurana, as well and he could not, therefore, in good conscience, raise a fuss about the matter!
Residents within the boundaries of the Kandy Municipal Council might be interested to know that while their garbage is being dumped across the Mahaweli river in an adjacent rural jurisdiction might constitute “good news” there is a “bad news” part to that story. While the “good news” might be that they are getting rid of their garbage outside their boundaries, the “bad news” might well be the fact that the garbage dump drains into the Mahaweli river, the waters of which are dammed at this point and from which, I understand, Kandy residents draw their water supply. It might also interest readers to know that the vast majority of CFL bulbs, the most commonly-used electric lighting and containing mercury, are dumped with the rest of domestic detritus and that the garbage piles on the banks of the Mahaweli are compacted with heavy equipment because those piles would otherwise assume the proportions of little mountains. I expect that I need hardly dot any “i”s or cross any “t”s for the implications of the foregoing to register. Anyone doubting what I have to say may check out these facts with a currently-sitting MP, Buddhika Pathirana, who has taken a particular interest in issues of environmental pollution and, in fact, visited this “waste management” site a few years ago before he stopped over for lunch with us.
After that geographical diversion let me get back to back to my local narrative.
Yesterday, when two of the workers here went down to the turn off to the local garbage dump to clear the side-drain before the road washed away completely again, they were greeted with what can only be treated as an unholy stench close to the final stretch of approach road to the Tumpane Pradeshiya Sabha’s garbage dump.
It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to identify the cause: the offal from a slaughterhouse!
The story appeared to be that, initially, at least, the Tumpane and Poojapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha’s had some kind of secret deal for the former to use the latter’s land for this despicable dump. Also, if my informants had it right, the latter was also going to have access to the dump.
As Robert Burns once said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley,” and this was one of those times and the Tumpane PS decided to renege on whatever deal there was and install a steel gate preventing vehicular traffic from reaching the garbage dump proper. Whoever couldn’t reach the dump with his load of slaughterhouse detritus decided that he would get rid of the muck by simply dumping it in the drain, still outside the sight of anyone in the neighbourhood. And so he* did!
Of course, here again, the “locals” had to clean up after a local government that supposedly exists to supply a service to the public.
While all of this began during a previous regime, if one doesn’t include the original Ranil Wickremesinghe interregnum in the equation, isn’t it time that the Yahapaalanaya dispensation steps in and, perhaps, directs the local constabulary to take action against the destruction, at minimum, of people’s drinking water supply and road access, not to mention contributing to the dumping of filth on a road that the public must use?
Or is it again going to be “The more things change, the more they remain the same” and we are reduced to responding to inquiries about our health by simply resorting to the time-honoured Sinhala,
*I have used male gender identification here because I don’t think any female of the species would descend to this level of behaviour!