Letters to the Editor

14th January 2001

Pave the way for pedestrians

Sri Lanka is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In whatever direction you travel from Colombo, you travel through highly populated towns and villages. 

Traffic is often slowed down by pedestrians walking along the sides of the road for want of a pavement. This is true for many large towns as well as small villages. In some areas where the roads have been widened, the road surface extends right upto the doorstep of many houses, which have been partly affected by the acquisition of land for road widening.

It is true that roads are built or widened to accommodate increasing vehicular traffic, yet, it is equally important that they are built in such a way as to accommodate people who are not travelling in vehicles. 

While in some countries, the steps taken to accommodate pedestrians and others are quite elaborate, the minimum that most countries do is provide adequate walking space on both sides of the road. In this regard, Sri Lanka appears to be an exception. 

Many roads are built or widened with little or no attention being paid to the needs of pedestrians. People are forced to walk along the edge of the road, exposing themselves to all types of vehicles. The risks greater for schoolchildren, the elderly and the disabled.

As is well known most Sri Lankans do not own vehicles. Many people use bicycles for short distances. They use public transport for long distance travel. The development of infrastructure like roads should reflect this social reality. 

In designing roads, planners should make every effort to give priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. This is what is done today even in some of the most affluent countries where most people have their own cars. 

It is ironical that in a country like Sri Lanka where there is not a drop of locally produced oil and most people are too poor to have their own vehicles, scant attention is paid to the needs of millions of pedestrians and cyclists. 

On the other hand, this situation is not wholly incomprehensible given the fact that the first thing that all recent regimes including the present one have done is to provide people's representatives with duty-free cars. 

These so-called people's representatives who are travelling in their luxury cars no longer experience the hardships that their voters are subjected to on a daily basis.

It is, therefore, unlikely that they themselves will persuade the Minister of Highways to build or rehabilitate roads with adequate facilities for pedestrians. 

Given this situation, the least the international development assistance agencies operating in Sri Lanka could do to help the pedestrians is to insist that no roads are built or rehabilitated in densely populated areas without pavements. If our own representatives and leaders do not listen to us, is there anything that we could do besides appealing to donors without whose assistance no regime could balance its budget today? 

It is a pity, but we have no other way until we have our own enlightened and socially-conscious leaders.

Prof. S.T. Hettige
Colombo 7

Thank you

At a time when there is much criticism of the De Soysa Maternity Hospital, I wish to write about my experience and pay tribute to some doctors there. My daughter was admitted to De Soysa on December 18, for the birth of her first child. Dr. N. D. P. Gunaratne, the Visiting Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who saw her earlier on several occasions had told us that she had fibroids in her womb together with the foetus. 

Dr. W. L. Wijedasa who admitted my daughter early that morning rang up Dr. Gunaratne who was on leave. He also got down Dr. Anura Padmasiri who was on leave too. Both doctors rushed to the hospital and saved my daughter although they could not save the child, which liad some deformities.

Malinda Ranatunge

Things are fast on the superhighway

I sat for the competitive entrance examination held by the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology SLITT, after applying for the B.Sc. Degree/Diploma Course in Information Technology - 2001, advertised in the newspapers. 

Later, I received a letter from the Institute that I had been successful and to enrol myself by paying Rs. 30,000 being the first semester fees. This letter was dated December 9, 2000, which was a Saturday and I received it on a December 13. When I sought enrolment on December 18 within 3 working days I was informed that all vacancies had been filled. When I wanted to speak to the Manager, permission was not granted to go inside. 

I wrote to the Institute by registered post immediately but up to date no reply has been received. I have also written to the Ministers of Education and Science and Technology and also to the President and the Prime Minister.

I cannot understand how they could fill the vacancies within three working days. The purpose of holding a competitive examination is lost, if candidates are not selected according to the marks or without giving sufficient time (at least three weeks) to the candidates who have passed to pay the money and enrol themselves.

M. Fauz Thahireen
Colombo 10

Declare the polls unconstitutional 

Elections in Sri Lanka were held peacefully without any bloodshed or grave crime upto 1981 despite impersonations and minor disputes among rival parties.

The people learnt politics gradually and were able to change governments through the ballot and not the bullet.

However, it was the late President J. R. Jayewardene, who cunningly introduced mass-scale election malpractices to win parliamentary seats. He frightened his MPs by getting predated resignation letters to prevent defections and stifle rumblings withen the UNP. 

The situation has worsened now. The general elections on October 10 last year was the worst. It was a disgrace. It will take reams and reams to document the tricks and threats used. A large number of people died. There was mass-scale impersonation, forcible removal of ballot papers and boxes, prevention of voters from going to the polling booths, setting fire to party offices and polling booths etc.

There had been incidents about which some elections officials and law enforcement personnel simply kept quiet or even supported.

It should be recalled that former IGP Osmund de Silva declined to order the Police to bail out an accused who committed a non-bailable offence in the electorate of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959. Mr. de Silva's service was not extended and a civilian was appointed IGP by Mr. Bandaranaike.

Mr. de Silva was however commended in Parliament and by the press for his "unquestioned integrity and responsibility".

Now there are election petitions. It is hoped that justice would be done and the elections declared as unconstitutional.

J.J. Arul Anandam 

Travellers' travails

Torture for commuters

Private buses, govt buses and the travelling public. This is a bizarre triangle in the public transportation system of our country!

Letters in the newspapers carry stories of how travellers undergo severe hardship due to the callous attitude of private bus operators. One of the main problems with private buses is overloading. However, to a certain extent I would blame the public for this situation going from bad to worse.

First of all, let us remember that for every five buses or so, there is a state bus operating. This is so at least in the city but still people tend to get into private buses even though they are overcrowded. State-run buses normally run without much commotion. Most of the crew are courteous and seldom overload their buses. On the contrary, private bus operators use all sorts of tactics to entice passengers into their vehicles and once the passengers are in, push them around. Very often one has to forego his change money as well.

The other day I was in a private bus on route 141 parked near the Wellawatte Market. This bus was already full when an empty RTB bus came and parked in front. Some passengers were trying to get into the RTB bus ignoring the calls made by the private bus conductor and the hired "caller". 

What startled me was the conductor of the RTB bus who kept his foot on the rear footboard thus preventing anyone from getting into it, literally showing (or forcing) them to board the private bus I was in, even though it was now packed to capacity. This is a stark example of how some RTB employees and private bus operators work hand-in-glove. 

In the case of private buses, they only start when the bus is full. The bus pulls out to stop once again after a few yards to take in more footboard travellers. The process is repeated right along the route until the bus reaches its destination. No consideration whatsoever is given to the poor traveller's urgency or convenience. 

It is up to the passengers to resist such attitudes. We should avoid getting into overcrowded private buses and patiently wait for state-run buses.

It is also time ministers and top officials got down from their Benzes and Pajeros and took a ride in private buses during peak hours to have first hand experience of the ordinary citizen's daily torture. For their part, the RTB and SLTB should increase their fleet and improve the quality of their service.

T. B. Kamiss
Colombo 5

Good butů

The new building at the Badulla bus stand is a boon to the public especially during the rainy season. 

However the half kilometre road from the private bus stand, starting opposite the post office needs immediate repair as there are large potholes. Motorists and pedestrians are inconvenienced because the road which is in disrepair is flanked by vegetable stalls.

C. Krishnamoorthy

What's the delay?

Are trains unable to run on schedule due to the dearth of engines? There have been instances where a train could not start its journey because there was no engine. 

There was a proposal by the new Transport Minister to erect main bus-stands close to railway stations. However this will not prevent the delays. 

What the Minister should do is import as many engines and buses as possible with the money to be spent on putting up new bus-stands. In the 1940s and 50s, there were spare railway engines at Matara, Galle, Aluthgama and Moratuwa stations.

The skeletons of the running sheds at these stations can still be seen. 

The railway authorities should also look into the lack of latrines in the powersets.

Danapala Patabendi


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