By Emil van der Poorten –
Over the years during which I have written for publication about the predicament of people in our neighbourhood who are having road access denied to them by the behavior of a local Pradeshiya Sabhawa (PS), I have desisted from identifying the person who had the power, authority, “connections” and clout to do something about this state of affairs.
As I have documented more times than I care to remember, a road which is the only means of access to and egress from their homes for dozens of families has been callously destroyed by the Tumpane (PS), for ten years, operating a completely illegal garbage dump located outside its geographical boundaries!
As I believed it would be counter-productive to join the dots leading to the man who seemingly chose not to do anything about this state of affairs, seeing him as the last hope of any kind of justice in this matter, I desisted from doing so. Another reason for my failure to take what might have seemed like the obvious course was the fact that I believed, that he was a person incapable of knowingly participating in a campaign of willful destruction and malice.
However, if he is being kept in the dark about the real state of affairs prevailing in our corner of rural Sri Lanka, what follows should illuminate that darkness.
The basic history of this travesty goes like this:
An SLFP politician, powerful at the PS level and in power at the time, decides to appropriate a block of land owned by the Land Reform Commission and outside the jurisdiction of the Tumpane PS for a (free) housing scheme for his friends.
- Road access from the road already serving other villages, estates etc. is created and, among other things, a large concrete water reservoir is built
- Potential home-builders, chosen at the whim of the politico, begin clearing sites for their new homes
- Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP forms government
- The reach of UNP revenge extends into the Galagedera constituency
- The housing-estate-in-progress is disrupted by the Tumpane PS transporting its garbage (by tractor) and dumping it right in the middle of the proposed “housing scheme,” immediately adjacent to the water reservoir!
- End of “Middle-class Housing Scheme”
- The Ranil Wickremesinghe government falls
- Dumping has continued ever since, despite pollution of two drinking water springs, the destruction of the road from the highway (A 10) by a tractor, shod with lug tires meant for paddy-field operation, hauling six to eight loads of garbage every day and a refusal by the Tumpane PS to maintain that section of the road.
- Petitions, letters of protest etc. are of no avail.
- The Department of Environmental Protection dodges taking any action despite formal written complaints
- Not seeing any light at the end of this tunnel despite appeals without number to the Minister, his executive assistant (a brother who is a retired senior army officer and the father of a young man who is now a Member of Parliament and a Presidential favourite) and the Technical Officers of the PS, I am forced to file a plaint in the District Court of Kandy against the Tumpane PS.
- All my friends and relations question my sanity because one just doesn’t take on the government with only one’s (meagre) private financial resources available for such an exercise!
- However, the fact that the action also sought damages from the Chairman of the P.S. in his personal capacity might have had something to do with the fact that some wheels seemed to have begun turning.
- In March of this year, a large number of truck loads of aggregate (“road metal”) were suddenly trucked up the hill and dumped unceremoniously along the narrow road.
- Since this was before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year of 2014, we were informed that work would commence within a few days of the end of those holidays and would be completed in approximately 5 days.
- That was in April 2014 and I am writing this in late November 2014 and NOTHING FURTHER HAS BEEN DONE. The response of the Technical Officer of the PS, when queried from time to time about when work might be started on the road, is to hang up the phone in one’s ear, “cutting the line” as the current jargon has it.
- The residents of the area continue their desperate pleas and appeals to the PS, the Executive Assistant to the Senior Minister representing the constituency (the retired Major General) and the Minister himself with no result whatsoever. This has included a couple of petitions signed by every resident needing this road to get to and from their homes.
- In addition, no one is prepared to move even some of the road metal now obstructing traffic on an already-narrow road, claiming that they would be likely to be arrested if they did so!
- Needless to add, vehicular traffic has been restricted to the point where no cars can travel up this road. Only one of the local tuk-tuks (three-wheelers) will make the journey and it charges five hundred rupees where the charge used to be about one fifth of that a few years back! There used to be one passenger van driver who used to come up at a significantly high charge but I haven’t spoken to him recently!
- Let me bring events up to date by informing readers that, as of the 18th of November and up to time of writing this piece on the 25th of the month, THE ACCESS ROAD IS TOTALLY IMPASSABLE FOR ALL TRAFFIC EXCEPT, THE PS’S GARBAGE-HAULING TRACTOR and, possibly, heavy lorries and back-hoes. The last we know for a certainty because the garbage-hauling tractor of the PS went off this very road and a backhoe had to be brought in to pull it back on to the track a few days ago. The backhoe, in avoiding the earlier-mentioned piles of metal, did even further damage to the road. Needless to add, if this backhoe had worked for, perhaps, an hour on the worst sections of this road, it might have been made even temporarily usable by vans or tuk-tuks.
This ring of encirclement has been completed by a vindictive and malicious local authority without a semblance, as that legalistic phrase has it, of “let or hindrance.” As for the conduct of those wielding infinitely more authority than this tinpot dictator, one can only hark back to what Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
It is, without a doubt, symptomatic of the status quo prevailing in Sri Lanka today that some vindictive local politician should have the power to destroy access into and out of a whole community, putting rural people at great inconvenience and risk, purely to prove his power over someone he perceives as not sharing his political affiliations. Ah, but then, from time to time, one tends to forget that this is the Debacle of Asia!