The Sunday Leader

Practical Fallout From Malicious Political Machinations

For a significant time after my return to Sri Lanka, I suffered under the delusion that one could, as a citizen of this country, employ those state agencies, organizations and functionaries that existed specifically to redress illegal and anti-social conduct and thereby right blatant social injustices in the community.

Water tank at Dik Oya garbage dump and The Garbage Dump

How wrong that assumption can be is being driven home on every day that I continue to live in my rural home!
One could be forgiven for assuming that the matter of garbage disposal, which appears to be a huge problem in urban circumstances, is not an insurmountable one in the rural parts of Sri Lanka.  However, experience has proven otherwise in my particular neck of the woods, at least.
I have been part of a losing battle to have a totally illegal garbage disposal site removed over the past half dozen years and I have seen documentary proof that other residents of the area had launched their campaign about four years before then. So, for a DECADE at least, citizens of this jurisdiction have achieved no success whatsoever in their efforts to right a wrong that has huge negative implications in a variety of areas. I don’t know whether this constitutes some kind of record, but I certainly hope it does because, if it doesn’t the situation is even worse than these facts prove!
During the Ilangaratne/Kobbedakuwa attack on the van der Poortens in Galagedera after the 1970 elections, the only land of the latter family that fell into the Galagedera electorate was ‘Acquired for a Public Purpose’ through the efforts of that cabal. This was despite the fact that the owners were two lifelong Trotskyists, one of whom had been baton charged for the first time in his life while electioneering for Mrs Tamara Kumari Ilangaratne during her first foray into electoral politics in the late ‘Forties’ in Kandy!
Anyway, after the rout of the Sirima Bandaranaike government in 1977, the man holding Power of Attorney for the two victimized owners filed action and the Courts, in a landmark decision, held that there had been blatant injustice and victimization and ordered the return of the land to the original owners.
In the meantime, Land Reform had kicked in and the acreage in excess of the new entitlement was vested in the government’s Land Reform Commission.
With the subsequent return to power of the SLFP-led coalitions, some bright individual who also had to his ‘credit’ in this area the alienation of miles of protective river and road reserve to his supporters, saw an opportunity for himself and his friends to set up a ‘housing scheme’ with no infrastructure cost whatsoever. They simply walked in and demarcated building lots and even constructed a concrete water reservoir with piping to distribute water for the housing development for a group that could have, accurately, been called ‘Friends of the government in power.’ All the local functionaries jumped on the bandwagon and prepared their house-sites, even transporting building material to them in anticipation of commencing construction. After all, one does have to strike while the iron is hot and you don’t look a gift horse (or a gifted building site for that matter) in the mouth!
Another twist of fate, however, was to place a serious and insurmountable spoke in this particular wheel. There was yet another change of regime and the incoming lot chose to stick it to their enemies, now that the latter were out of power.
Seeing an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone they immediately commenced to solve their landfill problem by dumping all their garbage right in the middle of the proposed ‘Housing Scheme’, thereby dealing their political enemies a not-inconsiderable wallop! The fact that neither those who sought to set up the housing scheme nor those dumping the garbage had any jurisdiction over the land in question mattered not one whit to either party. In fact, the Housing Scheme/Garbage Dump was on land belonging to a totally different PS.
A bit of icing on the cake of the destroyers of the environment was the fact that on either side of the knoll on which the garbage was being deposited were two perennial springs which were the sole source of water for several families farther down the hillside. If you want deliberate pollution of a drinking water source, you have it, in spades in this example.
The ‘locals,’ I am informed launched a protest as vehement as poor, rural folk can in such circumstances, to no avail.
Another piece of this pie was the fact that the garbage was then and continues now to be hauled up what can at best be described as a ‘secondary road,’ by an agricultural tractor riding on ‘mud tyres’ guaranteed to rip up anything but the surface of an autobahn!
But, it could have been even worse, because, fortunately for those affected, a plan to make this a ‘REGIONAL Landfill’ for several jurisdictions had to be abandoned.
Anyway, the devastation of the neighbourhood has now gone on for about a decade. Yours truly has been part of the objecting chorus for the past half dozen years. Letters to the Ministry of the Environment, Members of Parliament, etc. etc. have been met with responses which, at best, I can count as a part of my learning curve in the matter of government by obfuscation and b.s, particularly given the skills in that science displayed by the Minister of Environment of the time!
At one point the Ombudsman decided to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the PS and despite the Chairman of that body uttering a string of lies, the like of which I had never previously experienced, issued directions for resolution of the problem which the PS then chose to disregard totally. When I contacted the current Ombudsman for further action, his response was that there was NOTHING further he could do in the circumstances.
We now have a situation where, for the foreseeable future, garbage will continue to pollute two drinking water springs; where those who CONTINUE to have to drink this water, do so by first simply adding unmeasured quantities of chlorine; where there have been several cases of dengue which can be attributed to this mosquito breeding ground; where packs of feral dogs reside at this source of food with the attendant risk of rabies and hydrophobia to the neighbourhood; where the monkey problem is exacerbated by the presence of a food source for the simians; where the road used by the PS tractor has deteriorated to the point where even pedestrians can barely negotiate it; where three-wheeler drivers have TREBLED their charges to compensate for the damage their vehicles sustain trying to negotiate this stretch of road; where residents in neighbouring houses have an unbelievable problem with both mosquitoes and houseflies, the latter necessitating them having to cover their plates of food with pieces of plastic and then extracting the food from under it, while trying to keep the flies at bay with the plastic!
You want a horror story of environmental degradation and the gratuitous suffering visited on powerless rural people? Drop by ANY TIME and I’ll be only too happy to show you around.  However, you need to bring along protective gear and clothes pins for your nose to keep the stench at bay!

1 Comment for “Practical Fallout From Malicious Political Machinations”

  1. Daya Goda Godage

    Why dont you stop and think as to how the ‘van der Pootens’ come to own vast tracts of land on the Sri Lankan countryside? Mrs B only handed the land back to its rightful owners, correcting the European plunder.

    May be the garbage dump makes us a failed state!


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