16th January 2000
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Fun and dumps

The Parliament grounds, mecca of leisure-seeking families and fitness fanatics in the Kotte area has become a wasteland of litter
By Laila Nasry 
At first glance, the sight is picture perfect. The sun dipping into the horizon, casting a golden glow over the rippling waters of the Diyawanna Oya. The Parliament majestic in the backdrop. A strong breeze setting the nearby trees aflutter. Vehicles speeding homeward on the pothole-free carpeted roads. Joggers on the sidewalks and families playing in the grass. 

Kotte seems the perfect capital for Sri Lanka, all beauty and serenity, amidst bustling development. An ideal city for clean living. But (there has to be a catch somewhere!) and yes, it is the sight of the unkempt litter-laden Parliament grounds, the mecca of the leisure-seeking public of Kotte.

This eyesore lies right in front of the drive leading to the Parliament. And though the Parliament building stands as a proud landmark, nobody it seems, cares for its environs. Ice cream wrappers, used plastic cups, mega bottles, empty food take-away packs, cigarette packs, beer cans and straws lie strewn around the grounds embedded in the overgrown grass. Sili sili bags, and "Tipi-tip" wrappers swept by the breeze are plastered against the wire fence which faithfully keeps the mess away from the road frequented by the Members of Parliament who seem oblivious to this garbage almost at their doorstep.

This ground remains to date the most popular open space in Kotte and attracts a large crowd both on weekdays and weekends. Come evening and it is another Galle Face. Little children fly kites, young men play cricket, babies are pushed around in prams, pregnant women and fitness fanatics walk its length and breadth at varying pace, and others, just wanting to get away from the general hustle and bustle of Colombo, stroll along, taking in the air. 

Keerthi Jayaweera is a regular jogger. "I come here everyday and the grounds has always been like this. As there are no refuse bins, people tend to litter the place. I don't see why the authorities can't get somebody to clean it up, cut the grass and fix litter bins on to these signposts and lamp posts," he says disgustedly.

Both Mangalee and Janaki Perera are of the same view. Having jogged here for six months, they cannot recall ever seeing a garbage truck collecting litter from the grounds. A policeman at the entrance to Parliament endorses this. "I haven't seen anyone coming to clean the place up. The people have no place to throw their litter so they just leave it behind."

Andrew Perinpanayagam is a young man who heads to the Parliament grounds everyday to play cricket with his friends. And mind you, that is among the refuse. "This is the best place because it is convenient for all of us." However, he feels it's a shame that the grounds are in such a sorry state, especially when it is in front of the Parliament. "If they can fix some garbage bins, it would be helpful," he says.

Shopkeepers of the food take-away outlets across the road from the grounds, who have put up some bins for people to dispose of litter say most of their customers eat in their vehicles. However, Andrew feels most people buy food from the stalls and head to the green. The restaurateurs too think it's a pity that the grounds are so neglected. "Couldn't it be cleaned up at least once a week?" they queried. 

Yet, the authorities seem to have turned an indifferent and unseeing eye towards all the dirt. The grounds, they say, are nobody's baby (see box). 

So where does this leave the public? The grounds remain a picture of utter neglect. The grass is growing taller and the dirt piles are growing higher. How long will it take to awaken the authorities to the sad fact that we need these fun, open, green public places and it is their duty to keep them clean? Surely Kotte's citizens deserve better. 

Nobody's business!

Kotte Mayor Chandra Silva believes the Parliament grounds do not fall under his purview. "If they gave it to us, we will make it into a beautiful park. But though negotiations took place during President Premadasa's time, nothing happened. It came under the UDA and is now the Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha's responsibility," he says.

According to the Chairman of the Urban Development Authority (UDA), Prof. T.K.N.P. de Silva, it was given to the Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha three months ago. "Parliament wanted the ownership given to the local authority. However I'm not sure if the deeds were written and officially handed over but as far as the functioning is concerned, it is theirs." When the grounds were under the UDA, Mr. Dorakumbura was the official in charge of maintenance. "We maintain the grounds when the need arises. We instruct the Town and Country Planning Department (the brother organisation of the UDA) to do the necessary cleaning," he said.

Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman G.H. Budhadasa does not take responsibility either. He went on record stating that the Speaker contacted him to let him know that the Parliament grounds would be officially handed over to them after the Independence Day celebrations. "It is only the decision to hand over the grounds that has been taken, there has been no official ceremony."

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