The Colombo Municipality’s road construction project around Royal and Thurstan Colleges, the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Women’s International in Colombo 07 has been “progressing” at snail’s-pace for the ninth month with completion a long way off. This is adding to the misery of long suffering residents, motorists, theatre goers and school children. In what is [...]


Insight: CMC’s slow; men at work at theatre district

Street drama by CMC in front of Lionel Wendt.

Construction abandoned by noon. Pix by Indika Handuwala and Nilan Maligaspe

The Colombo Municipality’s road construction project around Royal and Thurstan Colleges, the Lionel Wendt Theatre and Women’s International in Colombo 07 has been “progressing” at snail’s-pace for the ninth month with completion a long way off. This is adding to the misery of long suffering residents, motorists, theatre goers and school children.

In what is a bid to pave the sidewalks and collect additional revenue from parents of school going children by day and theatre goers by evening, the Municipality’s plans of narrowing the road to draw parking bays has been done without consulting the local police.

The project got off the ground in December last year and municipal workers do only two hours of work in the morning each day. Municipal supervisors say ‘work gangs’ are deployed, but often they have other assignments, without saying what they are.

Some of the sidewalks which were done up during the Commonwealth Conference hosted by Colombo in November 2013, are being replaced again.

On Friday, when the Sunday Times visited the area, there was a massive traffic jam as usual and the Cinnamon Gardens Police were pasting parking tickets on vehicles parked along the road. The legality of issuing parking tickets when there are no ‘No Parking’ signs is also in question. However, after the Sunday Times made queries from the Cinnamon Gardens police regarding the sign boards, the ‘No Parking’ boards were put up in the area on Saturday. No Municipal workers were present when we visited the area at 11 am.

Broken stones and other rubble, and half –done road-works have made the area a dust bowl with passing vehicles, and elderly persons having to walk gingerly to avoid spraining an ankle.

The project envisages the replacement of paving stones and constructing sidewalks around Munidasa Cumaratunga Mawatha (Thurstan Road), Rajakeeya Mawatha and Guildford Crescent (Premasiri Kemadasa Mawatha) – an area that the Government is learnt to have ear-marked as a Theatre Zone which includes Nelum Pokuna, the John De Silva Gallery and the Lionel Wendt.  Residents said they noticed labourers working from about 9.30am to 12 noon and leaving before lunch. Many of them idling during that period and some of them working without supervision are common.

A mini bridge over a tree trunk

A Guildford Crescent resident, Nuwan Perera (52), said the nuisance of prolonged renovations had created a hazardous environment. He said that twice his water line was damaged during construction work.

“The water line still leaks. Every day they remove the paving stones in front of my house giving different reasons. I can’t even take my car out because the under-carriage gets damaged,” he complained.  He said he had to cover his face by wearing a mask because he got a throat infection by inhaling the dust.One of the main issues of the project has been the narrowing of the access road from Guildford Crescent to the widely used Cambridge Place which is on the main 138 bus route.

“The narrowing of the road is making it impossible for motorist to access the main road, particularly during peak traffic hours. We have to take a risk and hope for the best that there will not be an accident,” a motorist Jinendra de Silva said.

“Particularly if the motorists have to cross from the left to the right side and proceed to Marcus Fernando Mawatha towards the public library side it makes it very difficult as motorists are expected to cross the road within 50 metres,” he said.

A senior officer of the Cinnamon Gardens police station, the local police station facing the brunt of complaints by residents and having to deal with the traffic snarls and parking problems said the Municipality had not consulted them on the project.

However, Police Traffic Chief, Palitha Fernando said their division had been contacted by the Muncipality, but since they had no expertise on road construction they had given the authority to go ahead with the project.  He said that they had instructed the Cinnamon Gardens police station to deploy two traffic policemen during peak hours.

“We have told the Municipality to expedite the project as the school traffic flow was being disrupted with the construction work,” Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Fernando said.

The Sunday Times learns that the road had been narrowed down in order to widen the parking area for which parking fees are to be charged. Similar parking areas have been opened in locations in the city after they decided to privatise the process of collecting parking fees.

Never ending nine- month- long paving of sidewalks

On Friday, an unauthorized person collecting parking fees from motorists was nabbed by the Cinnamon Gardens Police (see separate story).

Due to the slow progress in the project residents are forced to keep their doors closed due to the dust while those visiting the theatre or dropping their children at school are forced to jump over trenches, rubble and stones unloaded for the project.

Lionel Wendt security guard, Thilak Jayasena said it was chaotic during the morning school rush hour and the evenings when the theatre is on. He says that workmen “atha gaagena yanawa” (do little work) each day and that as the area is crowded with people, the Municipality must deploy additional workers to work through the night and finish the work quickly.

The Municipality’s Engineering Works Director, Jayantha A Guruge told the Sunday Times the project in the Colombo 7 areas was dragging on due to several issues including the delay of a drainage project which was awarded by the Municipality to a private company, but was left incomplete due to disturbances during the school rush hour.

This drainage project seems to begin from the top of Munidasa Cumaratunga Mawatha at the Colombo University end. Work begins there only at night.

Asked why work was not expedited during the recent school vacation period, Mr. Guruge said work teams had to be deployed to other areas for renovations including Ward Place, Park Road and Christy Perera Mawatha.  

Mr. Guruge gave an explanation of how the workmen are deployed painting a sorry picture of assigning available staff for the many roads in Colombo left half repaired. “A group of 15 workers collected from different working gangs are deployed for the Colombo 7 road development work. However if needed, we have to send some workers for other work, mostly during the evening hours,”he added.

“This is not the only renovation. We have around fifteen working gangs. They are specialized in separate work therefore setting up a group separately on this has become hard when their expertise is needed elsewhere,” he said.

He says that they have considered working at night, but feared there would be complaints of noise pollution at night and the possibility of accidents due to poor visibility.  The Sunday Times learns that the CMC has a large workforce and withdrawing workers from one project to another was not required. Each of the labourers are paid a salary of Rs 25,000 per month, but some of them engage in private work during work hours. A few years ago an investigation found that hordes of CMC workers only report to Town Hall to sign the attendance register and don’t report to work for the entire day.

The Colombo Municipal Council stands dissolved and is currently run by Municipal Commissioner V.K.A Anura. Mr. Anura refused to answer our questions and in fact sent message to an Engineer at Town Hall to avoid the media.

Over to you Minister of Local Government

T.K.P Jayasena

Nimal Isura Kumara

Worker poses as traffic wardenOn Friday, police arrested a person illegally collecting ‘parking fees’ from motorists parked near the Lionel Wendt. However, on questioning they found that the man was a labourer attached to the Municipality and employed in the road construction project.

Police said he had posed as a traffic warden to collect Rs. 20 each, from vehicle owners while working on the project. He was warned by the police and released.

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