Nestling in the centre of a pic turesque 350-acre rubber, tea and coconut estate, where waterfalls flow into babbling streams and where the air is fresh and clear, is the site chosen by the Colombo Municipality to dump its waste and that of the Greater Colombo Area (GCA) for the next 25 years - all of it, between 700 to 1000 tonnes a day.
Looking down from the high spot, approximately 500 metres above sea level, the landscape below is a vast area of lush green vegetation. The scenic beauty and tranquillity of Alupotha estate, in the Hanwella division has drawn many visitors over holidays or weekends, to relax and unwind beside the waterfalls and pools, where they could be away from the madding crowd.
But that was only until a year ago. Now Alupotha estate has been closed to visitors and only some villagers in the surrounding areas enjoy its charms, but that too is only temporary.
The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) says it simply cannot cope with increasing garbage, now at 700 tonnes a day. This has reached saturation point. At present garbage is dumped in 60 open dumps, insanitary and unhygienic and a tremendous health hazard.
Since 1993 the CMC has been looking for sites. Just before deciding on the Alupotha site, another at Welisara was almost a success story, but a last minute hitch put paid to this plan.
Hence the search again and the decision that the Alupotha estate which is also in close proximity to Colombo should be obtained for a landfill for garbage.
An Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed sanitary landfill, Alupotha estate, was handed over to the Sitawaka Pradeshiya Sabha and as is the usual practice a 30-day period has been given to all concerned to review, comment or discuss the proposed project.
The proposed landfill site is situated within the Hanwella division of the Colombo district, approximately 30 kilometres east-south-east of the centre of Colombo and four kilometres to the south east of Colombo.
Alupotha estate is a productive, selected, budded and grafted rubber plantation and eight to 10 kilos of rubber can be obtained from an acre. A kilo of rubber at present prices is between Rs. 30 to Rs. 35. There are two- year-old rubber nurseries and holes have been dug in the 140 acre proposed dumping block to transplant the young trees. But no transplanting has been carried out for the past year, after the proposal was mooted to obtain this land for a landfill.
When we visited the area we found a well attended meeting at the Buddhist temple, of villagers who were vociferously protesting against the proposed plan.
Three streams run through the proposed site i.e. Dankanduwela ela, Kadawata ela and the Adanda ela which lie to the west and north west of the site.
"We will not allow our rivers to get contaminated. All our lives we have had the water from these rivers for drinking, washing and cultivation and we do not accept that the said precautions in the report will hold always. We will not let anyone destroy the lush land with a dumping ground for the next 25 years," the villagers said.
D.M. Hemapala, organiser of the Mathutugama Joint Committee of Voluntary Organisations says "We cannot sit back and wait for our land to be destroyed." We have planned massive demonstrations against anyone who tries to implement this plan".
Hemantha Withanage, senior bio-scientist of the Environmental Foundation is against the use of the land for a landfill because he feels the water could get contaminated through rodents destroying the bionet.
While agreeing that garbage in the GCA has reached saturation point he says municipal authorities have not heeded suggestions that more emphasis should have been placed on the recycling and re-use of garbage, which should have begun several years ago.
The environmental report, he said, seems to have overlooked the close proximity of the streams in the proposed landfill and given limited importance to health hazards on the site.
Jagath Gunewardene, of the Society for Environmental Education says, that the Environmental Impact Assessment report gives only four species of fish of which only three are found in Sri Lanka. "But at the same time they have given a distorted version about their distribution. The report has even misquoted the most recent report on fresh water fish. Theres a species namely: Days Killifish, whose distribution is confined to the basin of the Kelani river according to Rohan Pethiyagoda, an authority on this subject.
"The Environmental Assessment says, this species inhabits streams of a similar nature in other regions of Sri Lanka."
Mr. Gunewardena charges that the report "has misquoted Mr. Pethiyagoda. His description of the distribution of fish is very clear. The finding about the fish in this particular area is 37 species of which 16 are endemic. Nine are threatened species, and this includes a very special species called Rasbora Walpita which was described to science only in 1991".
On bird life, he says, that the report gives a list of 24 species of birds of which they claim that 10 are endemic. Gunewardena claims that none are endemic and the total number is even less than what is found in urban home gardens.
Colombo Municipal Council Member Githanjana Gunawardena also believes certain key factors have been overlooked. "Drinking water and its pollution take precedence over the so-called costs of garbage disposal by international private companies. The Alupotha site has several streams and these emanate from 500 ft. above sea level, passing through five villages around the basin of falls on to two tributaries of the Kelani river namely the Puseli Oya and the Wak oya. Downstream these tributaries flow into the Kelani river to the water pumping station at Ambatale which supplies water to the Greater Colombo Area", he says. So will the citys garbage end up at Alupotha? The decision will be taken only after the public comment on the EIA closes later this month.
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