The Sunday Leader

Cut-out King Swims in Fish Pond Controversy

by Hafsa Sabry

Prasanna Solongarachchi

The illegal construction of a large fish pond has been identified as one of the contributing factors in the recent flood in Kolonnawa and Kohilawatte areas by residents who allege that Kuma Stickers Pvt Ltd, one of the most well-known advertising companiy’s which displays cut-outs of high-ranking politicians, is behind it.

Even though the residents have informed the relevant authorities about the illegal fish pond construction built blocking the public canal, the waterway which carries water to the Kelani river, there was no action taken against it as the private company is alleged to have links with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, influential politicians and even President Maithripala Sirisena by displaying cut-outs during election times.

It was also revealed that the businessman had bought several lands near the factory and built the fish pond in it. Several nets of different sizes had been put up blocking the canal for fish breeding while a big wall had been built to cover the nets and the fish pond.

People around the fish pond area claimed that even after a little rainfall the water gushed into their houses. Residents charged that the people had to suffer this hardship just because the businessman enjoyed breeding fish. Villagers also claimed that flooding had become a recurring feature in the area after the fish pond was built.

They also alleged that they were at a loss as to who to lodge a complaint with as divisional secretariat and urban council officers were bribed by the company owner whenever they visited the premises for inspection and then the case went unnoticed. The officers however cannot be wholly blamed residents said as they receive calls from high-ranking politicians and made to obey their orders. Residents lamented that they did not vote in politicians so they could work for the businessman but for the people who are now being victimised by the influence of politics and power. Even the good governance administration is yet to address this issue, they said.

“A decade ago the people used to play elle in that ground which has now become a pool as the public canal was blocked to build the large fish pond. This area starts flooding when there is rain as the waterway is blocked,” one resident told The Sunday Leader.

It was revealed that this businessman had erected giant displays of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa around the country during the election and after the defeat of his regime, he had then put up portraits of Maithripala Siresena. Therefore, it was alleged, due to his high political connections the authorities turned a blind eye to the illegal construction.

The residents also said that several letters had been sent and meetings arranged with the relevant authorities but solid action was yet to be taken against the businessman and his fish pond that blocks the public canal. Following continuous pressure by the residents, some officials arrived recently to break down the walls and the nets blocking the public waterway but after a call received from some high-ranking politician they halted the demolition.

“It happened right in front of us; the officials visited the particular fish pond with equipment and machines to break the walls and nets and we were happy that some good would finally happen and that we would be relieved of the flood issue but then they got a call from some politician and left the place,” a resident claimed.

A resident whose house is in close proximity to the fish pond said that recently when the area was fully flooded, the businessman had broken some parts of the wall for the water to recede but they re-built the broken wall in two days after the water receded.

The residents charged that the businessman was in complete violation of the law and was committing a punishable offence by blocking public property for his personal benefit costing the government millions of rupees.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Kotikawatte Urban Council Prasanna Solongarachchi has also been accused of supporting the businessman in his illegal construction of the fish pond.

The Sunday Leader attempted to contact Solongarachchi to get his response to the allegation levelled at him that he has connections with the illegal construction of the fish pond blocking the public waterway. Since Solongarachchi was busy with meetings, his private secretary speaking on his behalf said that neither the chairman nor the urban council had any connections with it and that the fish pond was a private construction.

The owner of  Kuma Stickers Pvt, Ltd. W. Kulatunga speaking to The Sunday Leader said he completely refutes the allegations levelled against him.

“A number of petitions were handed over to several authorities regarding the fish tank that I built in my own land but all the officials who visited the place accepted that there is no blocking of the canal,”Kulatunga said.

Kulatunga claimed that the Chief Minister of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) visited the place recently and said there was no blockage of the public canal and that he could continue breeding fish in the pond.

Responding to a question with regards to breaking the wall for the flood waters to recede, Kulatunga said that the military had broken some parts of the wall with his permission to ensure that there was no difference in the water level even after breaking the wall and that the residents had understood that it was not an issue at all.

“I have built nets around the fish pond to protect it from garbage and to keep it clean and not to block the canal. However, the area is prone to flooding and the government should build a bridge and not a 3 ft canal for the water to flow away,” Kulatunga claimed.

“When there is a flood that rises 7 feet and there is a canal for only 3 feet, the water will try to find another place where there is room for it and that is how that private area was filled with water some years back; it was not due to my fish pond. One of the Sinhala newspapers had written badly about me and the fish pond but there is no truth in it. They even said that I chased the army personnel who came to inspect the canal and the fish pond but the question is how can an individual chase army officials away?” Kulatunga said.

He also claimed that he did not bribe anyone but that the people around the area were jealous of the success of his business and accused him of blocking a public property for his personal benefit which is not a fact.

Kulatunga further said UNP MP S. M. Marikkar had also visited the place following a petition filed by the residents but he too had not found any blocking or issues with the fish pond. He stated that most of the residents knew the truth except for a few who were jealous.

“About 97 percent of the people here understand and do not express concern over the fish pond. It is a private fish pond built in my space which does not block the water flow to the Kelani river or the public canal in the area,” he added.

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