Stop high rise buildings coming up in residential areas The Urban Development Authority (UDA) has demarcated certain areas as residential areas, others as commercial areas and some as mixed development areas. Unfortunately when you look at the unusual rate of high rise buildings coming up in residential areas and marshy lands in Colombo and the [...]


Letters to the Editor


Stop high rise buildings coming up in residential areas
The Urban Development Authority (UDA) has demarcated certain areas as residential areas, others as commercial areas and some as mixed development areas. Unfortunately when you look at the unusual rate of high rise buildings coming up in residential areas and marshy lands in Colombo and the suburbs, one cannot believe that this demarcation is still in force.It is surprising to note that there are about 2,000 unauthorized buildings in Colombo and a good number of them are high rise buildings. Nobody can believe how this has happened.

Colombo’s changing skyline

In most cases the builders have already sold the apartments and vanished and their whereabouts cannot be traced. The UDA is in a dilemma to take action against the current occupants as they are not the culprits. When a building is coming up why do the local authorities not inspect and check the approvals? Without a certificate of conformity (COC) how do these buildings get electricity and water supply? There are high rise buildings coming up with seven, 12, 15 storeys in residential areas where the access road is hardly 20 feet. This is definitely not development. None of these buildings coming up in residential areas is built with foreign investments. They are all on local bank loans.

No institution or authority has done a proper feasibility study to say whether this small country can afford to have so many high rise buildings. Also will there be people to occupy these buildings? Some have built high rise buildings as apartment buildings and rent them out to run commercial establishments with no parking facilities but illegally use neighbourhood access roads for parking. This is a big problem for residents. There is enough land in our country to build houses. Therefore who wanted this amount of high rise buildings in Colombo?

The Central Bank once failed in regulating a number of finance companies and thousands of innocent depositors lost their hard earned money. At least this time the CB should advise the banks whether they are being sensible in allowing loans to apartment builders, before the banks get into serious trouble.

Some high rise buildings are built in cul-de-sac areas (where the access road at one end is blocked off). In an emergency, how can fire engines or ambulances come in ? Is this situation not a threat to the existing neighbourhood ?

In order to put up a high rise building you need to do heavy piling and this causes serious noise pollution and considering the aged piling system we have, no surrounding house or building will escape without cracks. In most cases structural damage is caused to neighbouring houses but seldom do the builders repair them with their money. The poor residents have to go behind whatever the authority to ask for compensation or get it repaired by those high rise builders. If the heavy piling is done and the high rise building is already constructed, still the houses nearby can get affected depending on the strength of the land especially the soil conditions of the area. The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) will not do soil tests before issuing permits.

No one assesses the possible traffic that will be added to the existing traffic of the area before allowing high rise buildings to come up. Garbage collection, sewerage and vehicle parking will cause havoc in residential areas when high rise buildings are allowed.

People built houses in residential areas to live in harmony with the neighbourhood. A good neighbourhood is always like a united family. They have their own neighbourhood watch, recreation, friendship and so on but with high rise buildings coming up in residential areas all that will be destroyed and our decades-old living style in Sri Lanka will come to an end. For generations we lived in the “Garden City of Colombo” but sad to say it will soon become a “stupid concrete jungle city of Colombo” when nobody can prosper.
The situation is very serious. Let the residents of Colombo and its suburbs get together and form an organisation to protect our residential houses and the traditional neighbourhood and ask the Government to stop high-rise buildings coming up in residential areas and also restore the existing residents rights to live in harmony.
Sarath Wickremasinghe
Colombo 5

A special thank you to a role model police officer who came to our rescue
On June 24, at Madangahawatte Lane, Wellawatte, a fairly big branch of a tree got twisted and cracked for the heavy blowing and was resting on the electric wires on the pole across the road that carries distribution lines. No tree cutter could cut this, due to non- accessibility and the wires around.

On the Ceylon Electricity Board’s instruction, the CMC tree cutting section was informed. This section told the subsequent callers that the message was already received and passed onto the relevant parties.By 27th evening with another heavy blowing the branch started cracking further. The CEB breakdown unit responded and agreed to come but could not give a time. In panic of it collapsing and causing injuries or even deaths 119 was called.

With no redress, 119 officer, Jeevan Ratnayake immediately thought of finding an efficient tree cutter. 119 officer Wijekoon who then took over duty, did a beeline, assessed the ground situation, saw children having to pass this point to enter the apartment where their tuition classes were conducted, parents coming to pick and drop them and kids running around playing there rang and told his colleague ‘Wasantha Aiya’ at the Police station to again alert all authorities. However there seemed no quick response. So Officer Wjekoon, saying that there was absolutely no point in watching and waiting promised to come back and dashed away.

Within a few minutes, much to the surprise of all in the vicinity, the CMC Fire Brigade and rescue vehicle from the Wellawatte Training Unit arrived. They in turn called and got down a Bronto Sky lift and also the CEB Breakdown Unit to temporarily disconnect the power supply. The branch was cut and stacked aside.

I feel it’s my duty to thank the Wellawatte Fire Brigade Training Unit staff for immediately coming to the rescue and efficiently completing the job. Then a very special thank you to Officer Wijekoon who stood by calming the panic-stricken people around; he controlled the traffic and averted a possible disaster. He waited till the operation was completed and sent all the by-standers back home. He proved that if there is a will there is always a way.

Officer Wijekoon stood as a role model to prove how a Police officer needs to be and brought pride to the Police. We citizens are blessed to have such duty conscious and dedicated officers. If not for such officers having the ability to anticipate and take action, the Police would be holding postmortems.

Even if the Police construe this as a routine duty yet we residents, commend you for your outstanding efforts and exemplary attention to duty. May the blessing of those who felt desperate, those whom you saved from a possible disaster and the blessing of the Triple Gem always be with you. Thanks to your parents who gave you to serve the people.
Thank you OIC – C I Kapila Wijemanne, for nurturing and detailing sets of such good officers to serve the public and especially be of help in times of need.

A concerned citizen
Via email

Garbage a major problem in this touristic area
On reading your Sunday newspaper one would think the garbage problem only exists in the Colombo area.
Let me tell you that in the area where I have been living for several years – the touristic area of Aluthgama and Bentota (the golden mile), the problem is widespread. Garbage is dumped all over the streets and piling up to enormous amounts.

This not only poses a health problem to areas residents but it also has a negative impact on tourism. The Bentota local governmental garbage dump area is surrounded by houses, a school and a hospital. This not only increases the threat of dengue and other diseases but also emanates a terrible stench and the area is full of flies. The situation could also affect the quality of water in the wells.

If Sri Lanka wants to be seen as an attractive holiday destination, it should find immediate solutions to the ever-increasing garbage problem in this touristic location. Most of the tourists have other cheaper alternative holiday destinations like Thailand and Vietnam and will choose these countries if the garbage problem escalates.

Ron Wilke
Via email

A woman’s verbal consent is compulsory
I would like to comment on Ameena Hussein’s article (ST Plus June 18) titled ‘A marriage contract between two men’. In Islam, a woman’s verbal consent is compulsory in a marriage contract and a forced marriage is illegal. A woman is like a protected species, one who has a male guardian throughout her life. As a girl, it is her father or her adult brother, her father’s father, her father’s brother etc.
When she marries her guardian becomes her husband and later her adult son. I’ve heard the word husband is derived from the Arabic word ‘husbun’ meaing protector.

The Quran consists of a set of divine laws and the Hadees are divinely inspired sayings of the Prophet. He did not speak of his own accord.

N. Saheed

A question of identity and the hope for a more united Sri Lanka
Ascendancy of Western education around the globe since the expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century may be considered by ultranationalists in most Asian countries as a legacy of colonial domination. For many of us this is not so. There are still many of us in the Sri Lankan Diaspora dispersed throughout the globe, who appreciate the values imbued in us through a Western style education, particularly in the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences in the 40s, 50s and 60s. But we continue to grapple with issues of identity as I do.

Looking back I think I grew up in a confused setting for a child. Fiercely nationalistic, my parents who were closely involved in the Buddhist Renaissance in the early 20th century leading up to Independence, were also steeped in Western education. My early reading was confined to Grimms Fairy Tales and even a child’s compendium of Arabian Nights. Encouraged by my father, a voracious reader himself, I soon graduated to his collection of Everyman English classics, English Romantic poets and in my early teens to even D.H.Lawrence. So one could say my cultural fragmentation began early and the vision of English poets was installed in the landscape of my mind. I thought and even dreamt in English and I still do!

Some would say English was a traditional tool of western dominance. The allure of English literature, its aesthetic and moral values served as important tools in shaping the minds and imaginations of colonial minds, binding them to Englishness as an attractive way of life. Parallel to this with the dawn of independence arose a sort of national fervour, a nostalgic desire to look back at past glories and if possible a hope of re-enactment in a post colonial setting. But most of us continued to pay homage to the great English texts and English ways of life. Herein lay a version of the post-colonial predicament.

In the 1980s the unthinkable happened. Though a tiny island Sri Lanka has a myriad traditions and a complex and plural reality. Through the centuries more than a veneer of unity prevailed among the various ethnic groups who inhabited the island and peace prevailed. This peace was shattered by what Amartya Sen states in his excellent book– “Identity & Violence”, is all too common in human societies: “Killing people for no other reason than the fact that they belong often by birth to particular communities.” He then goes on to talk of our multiple identities and an awareness of cross-cultural borrowings.

There are ultranationalists, fundamentalists and so-called freedom fighters throughout the world who are bent on reducing our usually plural sense of identities to one aspect only, whether race, civilisation or religion. So we are constantly assaulted by news of turmoil and barbarity in parts of our global village. We can only combat this by recognising the fact that we have many different affiliations and genuinely embrace a universality, a recognition of our common humanity.

As for myself, having lived away from the land of my birth for over 40 years, I remain Sri Lankan by birth and Australian by citizenship. I hold both places in my heart but my original loyalties come to the fore when I pray fervently to the gods of my forefathers, when the Sri Lankan cricket team is playing against Australia that the Sri Lankans win! However, the peace and stillness and the many bouts of solitude that Australia affords me sustains me. It is mostly a place of tolerance, diversity and community, a courtesy of manners, where when I come home from travels, I feel a sense of release, a feeling of home.

In moments of serious reflection I wish Sri Lanka that land of a myriad traditions and a long history could accommodate all kinds of plurality and the complex reality resulting from centuries-long hybridisation of Sri Lankaness. However facing the multiple nature of one’s identity within a framework of a shared national citizenship has never been easy for anyone.

I feel nostalgic when I think of the incomparable natural beauty, its ancient history, the majestic historical monuments and intellectual resources compressed into a small land mass, in the place of my birth. There was so much hope at the dawn of independence, which sadly was squandered by the politicians who gained control and continue to do so in their incapacity to maximise this hope for the benefit of the hard pressed people. While lauding the glory of the ancient rulers, they continue to violate the ancient norms of the kings, the Dasa Raja Dhamma according to which justice and peace prevailed for prolonged periods in the land for many centuries.

While I have reached a point where I am at ease in my claim to be a citizen of the world, a liberal humanist with multiple identities, emotionally I am still bound to the land of my birth. So my last words do not address the question of my identity. After many years of civil war and political turmoil there has to be a reconciliation that will guarantee peace in the island. An overarching spirit of reconciliation based on an agreed ideology is urgently needed to heal gaping wounds, and this must be embraced by the whole populace.

Constant attacks of dissenting individuals on public institutions erode robust public debate and cause a decline in the health of democracy. There has to be a vision in politics- how people see themselves as a nation. It is no time to look to the authorities for a solution. As is true in many countries there is a need for leaders to articulate such a vision in the context of reconciliation. But there also has to be an upliftment in the state of public debate. In this context it is heartening to note that public intellectuals have gathered together in the Friday Forum, having reclaimed their identities as citizens, not mere consumers of politics. I also heard that a group of young people representing a cross section of religious, linguistic and ethnic groups have reached out to each other and initiated a partnership to work on progressive issues.

So I would like to end my reflections on a hopeful note that these developments will change the tone of public debate and strengthen the civil institutions that are at present, in a precarious state. It is time that with peace in the land that people stand up as citizens not just consumers, dissenters not bystanders demanding to be heard above the cacophony of adversarial politics.
Siri Ranawake

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