18th February 2001
By Shelton Hettiarachchi, Nuwara Eliya Correspondent
Health officials and Police in Nuwara Eliya are cracking down on vegetable traders who wash vegetables in polluted water before sending them to markets in Colombo and other areas.
A police officer said they together with Public Health Inspectors began to crack down on this unhygienic practice of washing vegetables in polluted waterways and streams as this could spread various diseases.
They said they recently raided a stream in the Old Bazaar Street and found a stock of raddish being washed there to be sent to Colombo. Health inspectors who examined the stock said it was unfit for human consumption.
Traders usually wash their vegetables at Gregory's Lake, Hawa-Eliya and Mahagastota — waterways with polluted water. Residents say waste water from a hospital and a brewery is released to the Hawa Eliya stream.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Work on a controversial resort project, which was stopped amidst mounting pressure from environmentalists, is to resume soon in the midst of the Sinharaja forest reserve.
Environmentalists said moves were underway to resume work on the 18-hole golf course and a four-star resort hotel at a cost Rs. 680 million in the Ratnapura district's ecologically sensitive Kalawana area within the Sinharaja Heritage Site.
They said the Environmental Education Society had protested over the moves to restart the shelved project but the authorities were determined to go ahead with it in June.
Tourist Board authorities in their defence say the Sinharaja Resort Hotel and the golf course will draw 500,000 visitors annually and the project would be carried out in degraded forest land.
But environmentalists dispute this claim and say a strip of 300 acres of Sinharaja forest land is to be cleared for this purpose.
Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunewardena says to find a degraded land in a rain forest is highly unlikely.
He says birds such as ashy-headed babbler, gray bill and white headed bill — species requiring high forest for survival, and some species once believed to be extinct — are found in abundance in this 'purportedly degraded forest land'.
All this proves the area allocated area was deep forest containing old trees, he says.
"It is a fallacy to believe that high grown forest could be classified as degraded forest, just to prove a point beneficial to the financiers of this project," Mr. Gunawardena says.
Environmentalists also dispute the claims that the project would bring in economic benefits. They say the negative effects of the project far outweigh the benefits.
They say a golf course in the midst of an invaluable Man and Biosphere Reserve (MBR) would eventually cause pollution, destruction of habitat, especially water resources and disturb ecological patterns.
A leading environmentalist claims the water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide to be used in maintianing the turf will pollute the water resources in the area.
The Colombo-Matara proposed expressway has run into more controversy with Matara district UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Yapa Abeywardhane accusing Highways Minister A.H.M. Fowzie of altering the course at the behest of politicians and some estate owners.
Mr. Abeywardhane alleged that the road plan had been altered thrice to appease politicians and estate owners and called for the appointment of a committee to probe whether there was any corruption involved.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB has offered to finance 60 percent of the project provided the road is constructed along the coast to foster tourism industry, The Sunday Times learns. The first proposal, it is learnt, has been rejected by the ADB as the road was to run through several villages and veer away from the coast.
According to the original plan, the road was to run through Akmeemana causing the demolition of about 400 houses. But this plan was altered when a local politician opposed it.
In 1996, based on a study done by a foreign firm, Wilber Smith Company, another plan was drawn excluding Akmeemana. But it reportedly earned the ire of several estate owners who claim that the diversion was affecting them severely.
As a result of these objections, the final plan of the proposed expressway will have many bends.
Minister Fowzie said that there was no reason for further delaying of this long-awaited expressway to get underway and dismissed charges that the plan was altered to please estate owners and politicians.
"These are UNP delaying tactics to prevent the area from being developed. The then government failed to implement the project because it was flawed and lacking a feasibility report," he said.
Mr. Fowzie said the government wanted to implement the project with minimal damage to properties and causing fewer disturbances to the environment. This was the reason that necessitated a third plan, he said.
"An expressway running through hills and valleys leaving a path of destruction is what the UNP wants us to do," he said, adding that the call for special committees was also to ensure the dragging of feet. He vowed the project would get off the ground in July this year.
By S. S. Selvanayagam
Jaffna Myaor N. Raviraj was a dejected man when he said that the municipal council did not get adequate funds to rehabilitate the war-damaged city or pay the salaries of casual workers. He says in an interview that he feels the council is being discriminated against because it is being run by the TULF, not by a government ally.
Q: In the past, several Jaffna-based politicians have been assassinated. Do you see any improvement in the security situation?
A: I don't see any change in the security situation in Jaffna Peninsula. But I feel if one is sincerely committed to serve the people, he should not worry about the security threat.
Q: Your party, the TULF, has had problems with the EPDP during the general elections campaign in October last year. Now the EPDP is part of the ruling alliance. Under these circumstances, do you face any problem in carrying out your official duties?
A: During the last general elections, I had problems with some EPDP members. But in the Jaffna Municipal Council, in addition to the TULF members, there are EPDP, PLOTE and EPRLF members. So far, we have encountered no problem with regard to the activities of the municipality. I hope this harmony will prevail.
Q: Has there been any government response to your complaint that sufficient funds have not been allocated for the council to carry out its activities?
A: I still say the allocation of funds to the council is not adequate. Our income from taxes and revenue licenes is not enough to rehabilitate the city which has been damaged severely to the ongoing war. The Municipal Council building itself was destroyed and we need more than Rs 200 million to rebuild it. We have no place to have our monthly meeting. The Mayor and the Deputy Mayor have no office room to work. Roads, culverts and drainage system have to be repaired. Jaffna Modern Market is damaged due to shelling and bombing. Although it was estimated for Rs 20 million last year for this project, RRAN, the northern rehabilitation authority, has approved only Rs 8 million. I need another Rs 12 million to complete the work. I can prepare a long list. But the council does receive discriminatory treatment because it is being run by the TULF.
Q: You had also complained that the council did not have enough money to pay salaries of some employees. Has the situation improved?
A: We pay the permanent employees from the money we received from the Provincial Council. But we need money to pay the casual workers. The council income dwindled last year as a result of shop closures and people fleeing Jaffna amidst reports that the LTTE was to re-enter the town.
Q: With EPDP leader Douglas Devananda being appointed as Northern Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Minister, what kind of assistance do you seek from him?
A: It is the duty of the Minister to give priority to the rehabilitation of the Jaffna city. We have already submitted various proposals for rehabilitation work through RRAN.
Q: There are claims that several rehabilitation projects have been carried out in Jaffna.
A: Much of rehabilitation work is not done in Jaffna city as claimed by the government. Just look at the Jaffna Public Library, which comes under the Municipal Council. The government has got various grants from foreign countries for the rehabilitation of the library, but the project has made little progress in the past seven years.
Q: What are your plans for the city?
A: My prime concern is to provide the people of Jaffna the basic amenities, including maintenance of roads, better drainage system and other essential services.
As a Municipal Council which has very little income and neglected by the government, I cannot think of any big project.
An official vehicle with a revolving light on its hood was one of the vehicles in the convoy noticed by the victims of last week's arson attack in which the woman who allegedly imitated the President and her house were targeted.
At around midnight on Tuesday the house was attacked, all its items of value heaped together and set alight, while the two inmates fled to save their lives. Petrol bombs had been thrown at the house while gunshots had also been fired and heard by people as far as Raddoluwa.
The couple who sustained losses running into lakhs of rupees, have been left with only the clothes on their backs and the shell which was once their home.
"What I am wearing is the only item of clothing I have left," the victim lamented.
"I have been involved in politics since the age of five," said Kamala Hettiarachchi (37) who last week created news by an alleged imitation of the President as she appeared after being injured in the bomb blast.
She maintained that she had not worn an eye patch to insult the President, but rather to protect her eyes from the sun.
"My eyes grew red and I had a condition in which I was unable to look at the sun," Kamala said.
"I did not join the walk on the 4th because I was not well, nor on the 5th nor 6th. I joined the walk from Weweldeniya on the 7th. When I joined the walk I had the plaster not on the eye on which the President was injured but on the other.
The eyepatch was later worn on both eyes," she said.
"When the President was injured in the bomb blast we were sorry for her.
I did not set out to imitate President Chandrika but when the crowd was reacting so joyfully I also started saluting them," Kamala who is the cluster leader of the party explained.
"If I thought this minicry would lead to such disastrous results, I would have never done it," she said.
"I heard they had said I would be killed because I mimicked Madam," Kamala said, adding "Their intention was to get rid of me."
"They say that under the present Government no one can be abducted and killed. That is why we returned to our homes in the night" she said.
"At about 11.30 p.m. we went to sleep. When we heard a noise we got up. In the moonlight we saw four vehicles approaching with about 20 - 25 people in them. The vehicles had their lights on and there were English letters on their sides", she said describing the night when all her belongings were set on fire.
I had saved Rs. 80,000 by the sale of pigs and by managing with just one meal. All that money and documents were thrown into the fire, said H.A. Kularatne, Kamala's husband who makes a living by selling river fish and rearing pigs.
There are only a handful of UNP supporters in this area filled with PA supporters, he said.
When we visited the place all we found was the debris of burnt household goods and 11 pigs lying weak with hunger in a pen.
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