By Emil van der Poorten –
I have been, probably justifiably, taken to task for not specifying the names of those I’ve made thinly-veiled reference to in a recent column.
Unfortunately, for practical reasons driven by journalistic practice in the country, I do not find it possible to deviate from that practice.
As one who is compelled, from time to time, to deal with the permanently nose-to-tail nature of Kandy traffic, I continue to take strong exception to being poisoned by the result of the never-ending traffic jams that are a feature of this metropolis.
We have had a couple of ludicrous suggestions from a man who, obviously, if the current situation is to be understood, has the power, to the extent that human beings can wield such authority, to at least alleviate this state of affairs and CHOOSES NOT TO DO SO.
It is one of the less well-kept secrets of the hill country that a man who, literally, bought two elections to continue as the custodian of the most sacred of Buddhist relics simply calls the shots in this regard. His reason for ensuring the (air-conditioned) comfort of his official residence is that he doesn’t want the peace and quiet of that abode to be disturbed by the peregrinations of the hoi-polloi compelled to live in Kandy and to travel back and forth to a UN-declared Heritage City and Sri Lanka’s acknowledged hill capital. Up to the time that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched their very ineffective attempt to blast the Dalada Maligawa, traffic moved freely up and down what was then Malabar Street without let or hindrance.
Since the advent of the monumental corruption of the Rajapaksa regime (MR1) when “anything went” as long as you were prepared to pay obeisance, literally and metaphorically, at the feet of our plump potentate from the South, it suddenly became almost a capital offence to object to this new routing of traffic.
About six years ago, the last time Kandy’s air pollution index was checked, it was determined to be something like four times as high as Colombo’s. It is anybody’s guess as to what a similar comparison would yield today.
What is the reason for this state of affairs? ONE man deems it his privilege to live in quiet, air-conditioned comfort which hardly fits into the whole business of example in the matter of Buddhist practice.
Bad enough? Think the next step. The Minister deliberately involving himself, on more than one occasion with this controversy comes up with “solutions” that would place the term “ludicrous” up there with the efforts of his hairdresser to restore this particular Minister to the time of his (misbegotten) youth.
One of his proposed “solutions” was to construct a diversion that would put the final nails in the coffin of the only urban forest reserve of its kind in Sri Lanka – Udawattakelle – by constructing, as many of us understood it, the hill country’s replication of that “super highway” that the MR1 regime constructed down south. I don’t know whether an airport akin to Mattala’s was also envisaged but I did see a facility to land aircraft farther downriver on the Mahaweli, across from used to be Pallekelle Estate, which looked like it could cope with small private aircraft (carrying ministers of the government and their minions, perhaps.) It certainly had a sturdy enough base being blasted out of what looked like a good quality granite base. Another first for Sri Lanka if not the world!
Yet another alternative proposed, more than once, was a bridge spanning the Kandy lake, not simply across it but lengthwise. At the time this proposal was mooted – one which has been repeated – there was barely a whimper from a public that appears to have simply given up on any hope of sanity entering the upper cranial orifice of this particular individual. However, as insane as the expectation of anything resembling sanity issuing from this individual, one has to be on guard insofar as any scheme, no matter how hare-brained is concedrned, when the prospect of massive corruption marches in lock-step with such efforts. After all, the crazier the scheme, the bigger the potential for bribes and an assortment of corrupt practices as the previous MR1 regime has proven.
An attempt by a group of knowledgeable environmentalists and academics to demonstrate in the most peaceful manner possible against the status quo in the matter of air pollution due largely to the power and authority of the custodian of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic resulted in their being met with violence by a group obviously hand-picked for their brawn, their violent conduct orchestrated by the thugs further up the chain of command who were “safeguarding the sanctity of the tooth relic.”
These older and scientifically-knowledgeable individuals who were subjected to assault and battery must have lived in cloud-cuckoo land if they thought that anything that stood in the way of the comfort of the privileged was going to be met with anything less than assault and battery. I can but hope that they have since “learned their lesson” and will not engage in any public efforts to, literally, save the lives of thousands of people who are dying and will continue to die of respiratory ailments in and around Kandy.
Simply put, the opening of the road that has existed for generations until one (abortive) attempt to do damage to the Temple of the Tooth by the Prabhakaran horde is absolutely essential to, at least, reduce the massive automobile-generated pollution of Kandy. NOTHING should stand in its way. Anyone seeking to do so should be charged with a criminal offence because that is precisely what it is. And that includes so called “Senior Cabinet Ministers,” with or without their incompetent hairdressers in tow.
Bad enough for one major town?
We have medical services that, except for the superhuman efforts of a few exceptional doctors and surgeons, belong in the realm of criminal offences. And these are compounded by cross-professional complicity that provoked one very senior member of the Kandy bar to advice against seeking the services of any lawyer among those practicing his profession in Sri Lanka’s hill capital if one were to display the temerity that would lead to seeking some kind of relief from the carelessness and callousness of anyone allegedly practicing medicine in Kandy’s second (and most holy) city. This state of affairs would only be compounded in the higher echelons of a profession whose Hippocratic Oath calls for “doing no harm by word or deed.”
Top that if you will in the matter in the most blatant corruption in the most sacrosanct of professions in what is regarded as Kandy’s most sacred city!