Twenty-five-year-old Arachchilage Don Appuhamy works as a helper in a bakery on the outskirts of Tanamalwila town in the deep south. During Poson Poya this week, he arrived in Colombo by bus to board a train to Anuradhapura where his family lives permanently.
At the central bus stand in Pettah where he alighted, Appuhamy decided to have a snack before the train journey.
While making his way past the Bo Tree in Pettah, towards a nearby tea kiosk, Appuhamy saw a blue bus manned by police personnel.
|Citizens. lk in operation at the Pettah bus stand. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte
As he passed the bus, a policeman seated in a chair called out to him. He inquired whether Appuhamy had registered with the local authorities in his native village, and if not, he could do it today, they told him.
The bakery helper was not aware if his parents in Anuradhapura had registered him with the local Grama Niladhari. Believing that was a way to stay out of trouble, Appuhamy agreed to cooperate with the policemen in the bus.
The police vehicle was not an ordinary one. It was equipped with the state-of-the art computer technology and manned by trained professionals.
So, the man who had arrived from Tanamalwila, gave his personal details viz, age, date of birth, marital status, last place of residence, current employment, race, religion, family details, etc, which were all jotted down and fed into the computer, to be later stored in the files of the Defence Ministry.
Arriving from Vavuniya was 36-year-old Sivalingam Thurairajah, a former resident of an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, and was in the city to take up employment in the kitchen of an eating house in Colombo Fort.
At first, he was worried, when a policeman beckoned him towards the bus, but was soon at ease, after the approach by the men in khaki was polite and non-hostile.
He told the policemen that there was no necessity for him to register, since this had already been done at the IDP camp in Vavuniya, and again in his native village, on being re-settled, and the matter ended there.
For the past two years, since the end of the ‘Eelam war’, this bus has been stationed at the gateway to the city at two locations - the Colombo Fort railway station and the Pettah bus terminal - compiling personal details of thousands of citizens from across the country.
The authorities say the mobile registration of persons was not compulsory, but optional for those who had not registered themselves or their families with the local authorities where they reside for whatever reasons.
They said that, during the northeast conflict, thousands of persons were displaced from all sides of the ethnic divide, and therefore, they could not register themselves with the authorities in their respective villages.
The mobile service at the gateway to the city, provided a simple opportunity for them to register, and in any eventuality, should an individual go missing or get caught up in some tragedy, fatal or otherwise, the person’s next of kin could be traced and informed accordingly, a senior police official said.
He added that the personnel in the bus did not intimidate, threaten or force any individual, whatever race, religion or caste he/she belonged to, it was purely voluntary.
The mobile service also provided an easy opportunity for those who found it tiresome or tedious, and hence, reluctant to travel to their respective villages and towns and register themselves, the official said.
His views were endorsed by Director- Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, who said that the mobile registration programme was a success, and there had been a good response from the citizenry.
“The main idea was to target those who have not registered themselves with the relevant authorities, and that there was no other agenda,” Mr. Hulugalle said.
Civil rights activists welcomed this mobile registration, so long as it was on a voluntarily basis, and not otherwise.
However, they warned that the presence of uniformed policemen could cause anxiety for those entering the city from far off places, particularly those from minority groups from the north and east.