Udapussellawa Railway Line
Having abandoned the two domestic airports, Kundasale and Nuwara Eliya due to protests of knowledgeable people and also politicians, the government has now proposed another quixotic project to reconstruct the Uda Pussellawa Narrow Gauge Railway Line to a broad gauge line from Nanu-Oya to Nuwara Eliya.
Originally, this line was constructed by the British mainly to transport their estate produce – tea from Brookside to Nanu-Oya, and also for passenger traffic, especially the Indian labour force. It then served a purpose and was financially viable. With road transport being cheaper, quick and avoiding double handling at Nanu Oya, the necessity to have this line in operation was considered a burden on the Railways. Hence it was scrapped in the latter part of 1945.
Having said that, it is generally the accepted practice that a feasibility study is done by knowledgeable people, experts to assess the socio-economic benefits and if feasible, a project is undertaken. Has the Railway Department or the Ministry of Transport done such a study or is it a fancy idea of a politician or the government?
One need not be an expert to know how many will take a railway ride from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya which would take over double the time than a bus ride. Perhaps those who advocated this wasteful expenditure may have viewed tourism. If so, how many months of the year do tourists, both local and foreign, visit Nuwara Eliya? The maximum would be only three months. Thereafter, the track will remain idle, incurring expenditure in maintenance, including wages. Can the Railway or the government bear this expenditure when the Railway is running at a huge loss?
We have heard and read in the newspapers the projects undertaken in Hambantota and in the South have not brought any useful financial or social benefits. The cricket matches played in the Hambantota cricket grounds did not have even 5,000 spectators, while at the matches played in Colombo the stands were full. The response at Pallekele was satisfactory.
The Hambantota harbour project too is not what the government expected. It is possible the Udu Pussellawa Railway (UPR) will attract the Indian Company that is working on the rehabilitation of the Northern Line, and also the Southern Express Railway Line. Was this express track necessary? The Indian loan was utilized mainly to employ their men, materials and machinery, while our experienced labor force and officials simply looked on. In short, they provide the loan, use the funds on themselves and leave us to repay the loan with interest. Although it is rather late, the government should rethink whether tourism is the answer to economic development at the expense of our culture and heritage, as it is well known as in Thailand, the earnings are mainly on the trade of the oldest profession and with it goes all other vices, kicking away the PANCHA SEELA which our Buddhist country boasts to the world as the only country preserving the Noble Teachings of Lord Buddha.
S. Weerakone Banda
All Signs Are Ominous
The primary responsibility of a just and fair government is to ensure that it runs the affairs of the country equitably to protect its sovereignty and dignity among the comity of nations and to make things easy for its subjects to live their lives happily and comfortably.
For this purpose, the government must ensure certain criteria within its control. There must be peace; absolute peace in the country. Good governance and a good law and order situation are a sine qua non for stability, development and prosperity. The government must create conditions conducive for job creation, economic progression and general well¬being of its citizens.
With much effort and sacrifice by the armed forces, the government has been able to achieve the first objective of peace by ending the long drawn out war that bled the country for almost three decades. The government deserves the kudos of the citizens for this endeavor. The people thus manifested their gratitude by giving the ruling party a carte blanche to bring about lasting peace, stability, development and prosperity. They expected a lot in the last three years but, alas, the government has fallen short of meeting the people’s aspirations by ignoring the other essential criteria needed for their well-being.
The people are despondent and give vent to their frustrations whenever there is a chance to voice their concerns. They cannot be complacent that there is good governance in the country and that the government is on the right path to improving their lots. People are not satisfied with the law and order situation. There are arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and disappearances of political dissenters. Law enforcers have been unable to apprehend the thieves, rapists, murderers and kidnappers. Even when they had been apprehended by the people, the authorities had not taken action against them, thereby lending credence to the belief that the government is hand in glove with such law breakers.
The rule of law is ignored or blatantly violated by those who are supposed to protect it. Police have become a law unto themselves. The government is seen to be exerting a lot of pressure to subvert the process of justice by taking over and interfering into the workings of various independent commissions. A just and fair government does not seem to exist in Sri Lanka.
The cost of living is unbearable with basic essentials to life such as food items escalating to heights beyond the reach of the common man, virtually leading to a hand-to-mouth existence for most of the citizens. It is a common occurrence that during festive seasons most of the day-to-day needs of the people are in short supply and as such prices escalate to levels beyond their reach. On the contrary, during the harvest when there is a glut in the market the farmer does not get a remunerative price for his produce and he is sometimes compelled to dump the fruit of his labour as garbage, due to there being no buyers for his produce. This cannot happen if there is a government at work which is considerate of all aspects of governance.
The people are called upon to pay exorbitant prices for services such as electricity, water and gas because of heavy taxation to fill government coffers. These essential services are provided at a cheaper cost even in our neighboring countries; of course at an affordable price compared to the per capita income of the people. Public sector organizations such as the Petroleum Corporation, the Electricity Board, the Ports and numerous other Corporations which had in the past contributed huge sums to the state coffers, are all today running at massive losses due to mismanagement and the consequent burden is passed on to the citizens.
However much the citizen is taxed in Sri Lanka, it is not enough because the government is engaged in extravagant and profligate spending. A lot of corrupt financial deals and waste of resources are attributed to those occupying the corridors of power. The recent underhand deals at the CSE which came to light and referred to as `only the tip of the iceberg’, whereby the shares of bankrupt companies were sold at above market prices to Government institutions such as the EPF, NSB and other organizations yet to be named, leave a big question mark on the bona fides of those appointed to run such institutions. Have they been asked to do so and share the loot with their appointers?
The free health care system is in chaos as essential drugs, lab tests and modern equipment are not available at government hospitals. Hence, patients are compelled to go to private hospitals where better healthcare is available at an enormous cost. Each consultation and drugs even for a minor ailment go into a few thousand rupees. In case of hospitalization, it costs a fortune for the average citizen.
The free education is also in peril, as a result it will be only the affluent class that can give their children a decent education that has value and is recognized world over. Poor villagers’ children will ever remain poor and under-educated as the rulers have virtually destroyed the noble objectives of the concept of free education.
It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the average citizen is in a position to afford from his income the basics needed for a fair living. He is unable to do this at today’s costs. A certain minister bamboozled that a family of three can live on Rs7,500 a month, which apart from displaying his gross ignorance confirms the fact that government ministers have lost touch with ground reality.
All of these point to the fact that the government has failed in its duty to ensure good governance and to make conditions conducive for the well-being of its citizens. Can we be happy that the government is on the right track and our lot would be improved? Any hope of Sri Lanka becoming the ‘Miracle of Asia’? All signs are ominous. The people are disillusioned as there isn’t a ray of hope for a better tomorrow. It will be the survival of the fittest.
A. C. S. Perera
It is difficult to define a friendship spanning a life time with a much older person without reference to the times and the personalities. When I first met him, Uncle Alston was a senior accountant and a partner of a leading city firm. I was in my early teens. Those were austere days of the confused socialist experiments of the 1970s. But looking back there was also an air of idealism and a system of values prevalent then. The kind of crass materialism and the vulgar cynicism of the philistines which engulfed us later had not yet descended on this land. It is also perhaps relevant that he belonged to one of the last batches of students who studied under the British tutelage.
Undeniably, the years that encompass the period of our swift passing from adolescences to early adulthood leave indelible impressions on later life. We are no longer children wholly dependent on the parents for guidance, which in the main would be resented anyway. But we are yet not adults although eagerly mimicking and awkwardly adopting their ways. Long trousers (with a belt), a neat handkerchief in the pocket, reading of newspapers, joining the British Council library, taking the bus alone, movies with friends (lower the class of seats at the cinema more the macho quality) all seemed very adult and symbolic of the passing of your boyhood and entry to the adult world.
I have known Uncle Alston (A. C. S. Perera) from the time when I was a boy. He lived in the neighbourhood, at Bogala Courts which in those days were considered a haven of upper middle class living. He and his four boys Jehan, Ranjan, Arjan and Hiran were keen tennis players, almost on a daily basis going to the Otters for a game. Although I was playing at the SLTA (It was then called the CLTA) we met regularly at tournaments and other social events. I particularly recall our annual train trips to Bandarawela during the April holidays. The thrill of the train journey, the excitement of the tennis competition, the nip in the air, the grandness of the planters, the melancholic sweetness of the music at the gala dance (we dared not get on the floor) are etched deep in the memory of those years when every event in one’s life seem eternally important.
Gradually my association with Uncle Alston and his sons deepened. Jehan, who was of a studious bent, went to the Aitchison College in Pakistan on a scholarship offered when a team from that famous college came here for a tennis tie. The correctness of their selection was confirmed when he soon after was selected to the famous Harvard University in the United States to study law.
This brings me to an interesting aside which is illustrative of the kind of ethics and standards that Uncle Alston stood for. With Jehan joining Aitchison College, Uncle Alston and Aunty Leonie became regulars at functions at the Pakistani Embassy. This was so until Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (father of Benazir Bhutto who also became Prime Minister and later tragically assassinated), deposed by a military coup was tried by a predictably compliant court on a charge of a conspiracy to murder.
As expected he was found guilty and condemned to be hanged. About the time the death sentence was carried out Uncle Alston received an invitation to cocktails at the Pakistani embassy. But deeply disappointed by the obvious political tone of the conviction Uncle Alston decided to write a letter to the Ambassador politely declining the invitation.
I doubt that in today’s prevailing culture there will be too many Sri Lankans foregoing an invitation to cocktails at an embassy for such reasons.
To know Uncle Alston was to be introduced to many things which make life good and dignified. Instinctively a conservative, denoting thereby; “he nothing common did or mean upon that memorable scene…” You could always expect him to say and do the right thing, the generous thing and the fair thing. I seldom heard him talk of another in a mean manner. The few times he was critical of a person it was well deserved.
Early in his career he had been an Assessor at the Inland Revenue Department. Seeing the quality of the public service now, it is hard to imagine that once people of such caliber served in this utterly politicized, demoralized and degraded sector.
In those days at his home it was rare to see Uncle Alston without a book in his hand. Spiritual writers like Goldsmith, Indian mystic writings, books on self improvement, Ayn Rand to hundreds of other books were bought, read and studied. I was often amazed at the amount of under-lining, high-lighting and the marginalia on his books.
Among his lesser known but important contributions was at the Sri Lanka ‘Sumithrayos’ (Befriend) an organization set up to offer a hand of friendship to the distressed. I was often amazed to learn the numbers that walked through the organization’s welcoming doors. The depressed, the battered, the wronged, the marginalized and the ignored came in their hundreds.
Uncle Alston and other dedicated volunteers gave their time and friendship to each of them, sometimes being with the troubled person in to the wee hours of the night. As I understood its guiding philosophy, the ‘Sumithrayos’ did not offer help in kind or in the form of advice but endeavoured to be a friend to a person who at that moment felt utterly helpless and lonely. Some of these persons became firm friends with Uncle Alston and were regular visitors to his friendly home. His generosity to them never faulted.
However it was as an adult that I came to really appreciate the worth of a man like Uncle Alston. There was never a ‘falseness’ about him, neither anything common nor petty. He had a disarming manner which won him friends from far and wide.
We commonly use the word ‘gentleman’ on persons, only to later, after a longer association, to regret such hasty judgment. With Uncle Alston, after more than four decades of association, I can truly say that with every passing day that judgment was only confirmed.
He was a good man and a firm friend.
“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” - Prophet Micah