Colombo Telegraph

Welcome To The Land Of The Tumpane Modayas

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

I have, on several occasions, referred to a completely illegal, neighbourhood garbage dump which is significantly reducing the life expectancy of several families drawing their drinking water from the springs which it has polluted for the past ten years, not to mention the poisoning of the headwaters of the Deduru Oya river into which this rural sewer empties.

Recently, there was yet another outrage.

We were informed that two tanker loads of raw sewage was hauled up the hill and dumped, not even on top of the piled up garbage on the hillside, but adjacent to it, right into one of the  stream beds.

This was on the 5th of September and the matter was brought to public notice by a member of the only family able to tolerate the stench, mosquitoes and flies of that particular garbage dump primarily because he and his family have nowhere else to go.  Not surprisingly, this individual told me that that the employees of the local body riding on the garbage tractor were very nearly overcome by the stench of raw sewage as hey proceeded up the hill with their loads of (sweeter-smelling?) domestic and hospital garbage!  This was indeed a new low even for a jurisdiction which seems to be determined to write the definitive manual on “Impunity in Rural Sri Lanka.”

Of course, the moment efforts were made to identify the tanker trucks which had had to have been hired because none of the local government entities are known to have any, everyone clammed up and, while admitting, there had been a terrible stench which only dissipated after heavy rain took the sewage downstream, could not recall from where the s…t came!  Had the silence exhibited by these minions of one of the most corrupt and incompetent local bodies around, operating with the obvious protection of senior politicians, one would only have arrived at the conclusion that some strange extra-terrestrial beings had driven two phantom tanker trucks up a lonely dirt track and dropped off those uniquely-scented loads so that they could stink up a whole, (fortunately sparsely-populated) neighbourhood, from where the effluent could make its merry way into the Dik-Oya which constitutes the sole water supply of people in that part of the North Western Province, in the Weudavilli Hatpattuwa of legend, who would consume it while believing in its pristine purity!

When I mentioned this business to the Officer-in-Charge of the local gendarmerie a few days later, his response was that I would be well-advised to get some media attention to it.  While this officer, I have noted before, has given evidence of practicing something that has come closest to community policing in this or any other police jurisdiction in this country, he has apparently given up on the larger criminal issues confronting him and his police unit.  Quite honestly, one can hardly blame the man who is probably doing as much as he can with what is available to him in a situation where every third-rate punk and his uncle can step on his bunions with the support and assistance of local politicos.  This was certainly an unbelievably criminal act done with the knowledge, if not connivance, of our local masters and it seemed that none of the usual investigative steps would be taken nor judicial remedies sought.

In any event, the almost palpable veil of silence which descended upon the employees of the local body when inquiries were directed towards some of them, was understandable given the circumstances of this act of massive pollution which should, under normal circumstances, have provoked very serious consequences.  After all, no one wants to be caught in the cross-fire in such situations.

From behind the veil of silence that prevailed locally, one could only piece together the following sequence of events:

  1. The heavy rain at the end of August and the beginning of September coincided with the septic tanks serving a certain local government headquarters, reaching a condition in which, their contents could legitimately be described as “brimming.”
  2. Two tanker loads of sewage were pumped out of those septic tanks and then transported approximately five kilometers away from their urban location, up a relatively lonely estate road for about three-quarters of a kilometer and then dumped in the streambeds adjacent to and fed by the garbage dump.
  3. When attempts were made at follow up discussions with those municipal employees whose nasal passages must have undergone a truly unforgettable experience only a few days before, it seemed that the stench had affected their memories as well because they had only vague recollections of all of this and certainly didn’t recall the affluent coming from their own headquarters, suggesting, instead, that persons unknown from elsewhere must have been the culprits!
  4. In a matter of days, the evidence and the stench were gone, washed away by the torrential rains experienced in the area
  5. Our local Lords and Masters continue to lead their lives of affluence and privilege!

As I was concluding this narrative, I had an interesting phone call from a friend who lives in Kandy but owns land at the confluence of the Dik- and Kospothu-Oyas where they become the Deduru Oya.  He sought my assistance in drawing up a letter or petition to stop the construction of a dam where the two Oyas met and became the Deduru Oya.  The intention was to build an eighty-foot high dam at this point to create a reservoir for drinking water for the town of Kurunegala, the capital of the North West Province, which is due west of the proposed dam-construction site.

The need for this new source of potable water was, he informed me, that the beautiful, forest-rserve-located reservoir which has served Kurunegala’s residents for aeons had dried up completely subsequent to massive detonations of explosives in the vicinity by “treasure hunters” pursuing “Nidhanayas” supposedly buried under rock in proximity to a spring that had been the source of the water in that reservoir.

The whole business of combining modern explosives with the hunt for ancient, often astrologically-located treasure could well be a peculiarly Sri Lankan phenomenon, but the success or failure of the treasure hunt is beside the point when patently illegal activity leads to destruction of an essential resource and is followed up by environmental crime in order to alleviate that same illegality.

Apparently, this is not the first time that this particular initiative to enhance Kurunegala’s water supply was mooted.  On a previous occasion, mass protests from the “locals” resulted in the project being stopped in its tracks.

On this occasion too, it was stated that the residents of the area had successfully sought the intervention of a Minister who represents the area to put what is now thought to be a temporary stop to this criminal behavior.

A factor that need now be added to this equation of willy-nilly despoliation and exploitation of water resources without any attention to the overall impact on people of the area and the environment is the fact that the water that is intended for human consumption in a provincial capital is being massively polluted by a garbage dump into which even toilet wastes have now been added.

In a country where the rule of law prevails a response to this dreadful scenario would be a “no brainer:”  a court order would be sought and obtained in short order, given the urgency of the circumstances, and any further action put on hold until an appropriate determination is made by the Courts of Law.

Here and now in the Debacle of Asia, rather than it being a “no brainer” it becomes at best a “crap shoot” where there is ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE that justice and the public good will prevail in what can turn out to be, literally, a matter of life and death.

*“Tumpane,” for the uninitiated, is a region in the mid-country of Sri Lanka, in the Kandy District renowned, in myth and legend, for being the home of fools (“Modayas”)

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