By Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda –
The garbage issue has surfaced a discussion in the social media which in my view is a positive sign. I believe, the politicians who rule the country during the last decades bungled the garbage issue, due to their negligence and selfish motives. It appears that our country’s policy and decision makers never saw it as problem that had to be urgently resolved.
On the contrary, during the last decade they saw garbage as an industry, that had to be developed in a manner, to increase a regular flow of income, to politicians and their stooges.
When the Meethotamulla garbage mountain exploded with loss of life, these politicians happily put the ball on one another’s courts and exploited the situation, to take political advantages.
The citizens should not be duped and be carried away by their polemics but ought to engage in constructive discussions and resolve this major problem.
There are several issues that needs clarification. Undoubtedly, the collapse of the garbage mountain at Meethotamulla created an emergency situation. The government was faced with the huge responsibility of swiftly clearing up the garbage piling up in the streets of Colombo.
Let us grant for a moment that the Executive President on account of the constitution, has the authority to declare garbage clearing as an essential service.
We believe, however, that the response of the government in this matter entails unresolved issues. One question is why the decision to dump garbage was taken in Colombo, without consulting the people who will be affected by this, living outside Colombo.
Even at a time of emergency, some degree of consultation with the affected people cannot be ignored. If constructive discussions had taken place with the people concerned, then this chaotic situation would not have arisen.
The President and the Prime Minister may have sought the views of some district parliamentarians and they may have given the ok. However local people now strongly believe, as it was in the past, even the present parliamentarians are not the true representatives of ordinary citizens.
Some even have criminal records and others known to represent members of the underworld, selfish land grabbers and crooked businessmen.
Had they genuinely represented the interests of the ordinary citizens, how on earth could they recommend Muthurajawela as a dumping ground? This is an environmentally protected site by Gazette notification (detailed below).
Another important issue that needs clarification is whether the government was morally correct in depriving the people their right to defend their human rights in protesting, when garbage was dumped where they live, in areas such as Piliyandala, Dompe and Jaela. The Government had not published any health and safety guidelines.
I need to confess that I am not very familiar with Piliyandala or Dompe but possess some knowledge about the villages in Delatura and Bopitiya. These are towns located in the proximity of Muthurajawela, which is a very environmentally sensitive area.
It is of common knowledge that Muthurajawela is a sanctuary declared by a gazette notification No. 947/13 in year 1996. As this is made a protected area, causing any harm to the flora and fauna was punishable offence.
Accordingly, many ordinary citizens have been taken to task on several occasions for minor violations of this Act, such as cutting down a branch for domestic purpose or even taking a basket of sand etc.
Therefore, in my view the decision taken by the government to dump garbage in these areas is a violation of the decree promulgated by the government itself.
Was the recent gazette notification of the President in accordance with the constitution? The constitution has given the people the right to protect their livelihoods and their material sources such as the rivers, lagoons and land.
Have the scientists at the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and National Aquatic Research Authority (NARA) all financed by the taxpayer, advised the Government Minister of the Environment who is also our President on the resulting impact of dumping 300 tons of garbage on a daily basis, on this marshy land?
Any person with common sense would know that garbage dumped will seep into the water streams, wells and the lagoon. Unavoidably, it will cause numerous health hazards to the people living in these neighborhoods. Isn’t this a violation of human rights?
The affected people in this case are two Catholic communities. The involvement of the two parish priests of Delatura and Bopitiya was and is commendable. Both stood firmly with their communities throughout their period of protest. Their protest was frequently supported by visiting priests and nuns and the Buddhist monk of a nearby temple. These leaders guided their communities to express their opposition peacefully without having recourse to violence.
For three days the clergy; the priests, nuns and Buddhist monk, supported the peoples’ protest it was a towering source of strength and much appreciated by all residents. The clergy’s presence amidst the local people prevented party politics from entering and causing unnecessary divisions in the community. Nobody could bring about any accusation that the Rajapaksha loyalists were instrumental in organizing this protest to embarrass the Yahapalanaya government. The whole activity in my view was in line with “people power”. In fact I identified two local level rival politicians working quiet harmoniously. In that sense the spirit of solidarity among people was remarkable. That is the kind of spirit that should prevail always in people’s struggles.
The Catholic Church ought to be in the forefront of struggles aimed at protecting nature and the environment. She ought to always follow the path of Creation Care in keeping with the wise teachings and guidance of Pope Francis. For some reason, the Church could not mobilize its resources against the construction of Colombo Port City which is continuing to destroy the sea by sand mining and the interior of the country by rock mining.
Pope’s recent encyclical “laudato Si” invites the Christians and also others all over the world belonging to various religions and philosophies, to collaborate in protecting nature.
Pope Francis urgently appeals for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all”.
He wants us to recognize the harm we have already inflicted on nature,“by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed”.