The Sunday Leader

Rathupaswala Victims Still Suffering

by Hafsa Sabry

Rathupaswala shooting is one among the incidents criticized for police’s irresponsible decision making, which resulted in the death of three innocents for asking clean water to drink. Three years have gone past since the shooting took place. However, neither any compensation as promised was given for the victims nor the criminals were brought to book. Yet the factory in question reopened and functions now with no whatsoever troubles.

The water of the Rathupaswala area was completely contaminated with acid and unpurified waste of the glove factory that has been in operation for over 18 years in the area. Only after a large number of people were diagnosed in 2013 with kidney ailments it was revealed that they have become fatally ill as they have been drinking contaminated water from the factory for a long time. Then the villagers began protesting against the company for days. However, the army forces were brought in the protest allegedly by the police who could not control the agitated villagers. In ensuing clashes, many were killed and wounded.

The members of fisher folk associations in the Negombo area, speaking at a media briefing organised by the Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) last week said the killers of the shooting are roaming freely while the relocated company still continues disposing their wastes thereby polluting the environment. They also alleged that the pollution is clearly visible in the area where the company operates. The waste is being dumped even along the road, they said.

They members further said that the government is only concerns about the money and not about the innocent lives of people. The people also should understand that clear water, air and nature are more important than the money. They go after money neglecting all the other factors that people need to live healthily and harmoniously.

Currently, several other companies dump their waste on land and into water resources. The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) should go and check what the industries they gave approval are doing to the environment. Especially, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is reluctant to take action against such companies that they approved, accused Young Lawyer’s Association Central Committee Member Nuwan Bopage.

“The villagers requested that the President as the Minister of Environment must visit the places where the BOI approved companies function. The officials do not have to go into the sea and rivers to get samples and check as they see the waste by roads and everywhere. Why do not the responsible government bodies take action against these sheer pollutions?” asked the members of Fishermen Association.

Several tests were conducted by the Authority to determine whether the water obtained from the underground water resources within the area is suitable for drinking, The CEA reports confirmed that the pH values of water samples secured from wells within the environs of the Rathupaswala factory are not within the stipulated limits. With the tests conducted in 2013 following the protests by the residents of Rathupaswala, show that the pH value of the water samples taken within one kilometer radius of the factory was as low as 3.1.

However, the Hayley’s Group Company, which has been operating for 18 years in the area denied that the treated effluent from the
latex glove manufacturing factory at Rathupaswala is responsible for the low pH in well water reported in the area.

“The government money paid for the officers of environmental protection authorities are a waste of public funds as they do not fulfill their duties. In Rathupaswala, the water will never be good and will never get better. The acids and the chemicals from the company had been contaminating the water ever since they started functioning and are still exist in the groundwater,” said Bopage.

Bopage further in his statement said that neither the police nor the forces were given the authority to shoot at the protestors who were asking for clean water. So the government should expedite investigations into the Rathupaswala shooting and bring justice to the deaths of the innocent youths.

The government has spent billions on unsustainable endeavours like Sri Lankan Airlines, Mihin Lanka, Road Development Authority, Hydro Power plants and so on. They could have used that money to provide pipe-borne water to people who face drinking water issues.

The former government spent over Rs. 45 billion on building the Mattala Airport, taking further loans to granulize the airport, but they did not look at how to fulfill people’s basic needs. Then the Port in Hambantota wasted billions of rupees of public funds, and they forget the issue of water shortage that people have been suffering for years.

When the former government gave away US$ 150,000 for water projects in Uganda, and the Bank of Ceylon provided US$ 28 million to Maldives, the country did not have five cents to provide dire necessities of the people. They donated monies to Uganda and Maldives for their projects, alleged the environmentalists.

“If they had money to provide for other countries, why they could not provide for us? At least the present government should take responsibility and must provide compensation and expedite the investigation into the unjust shooting by the security forces,” they claimed.

The residents who asked for water were given bullets. The students Akila Dinesh and Ravishan Perera and the worker Nilantha Pushpa Kumara lost their lives. This is not the first shooting at unarmed citizens by the security forces. However, Rathupaswala villagers will be recalled forever as heroes who laid their lives for a just cause.



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