27th May 2001
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Pettah dwellers fear demolition demon 

By Faraza Farook and Nilika de Silva
Residents of Pettah fear that they will be the next target of the demolition operation of the Urban Development Authority. 

Residents of Gunasinh-apura in Pettah said UDA officials last week in what some described as a Gestapo-style act asked chief occupants to pose for a photograph with his or her house in the background. When the chief occupants asked for reasons, the UDA officials had said nothing, the Imageresidents said. 

They said UDA officials came to their area a few months ago, measured their houses and on that occasion too they had refused to say why they were doing that. 

But M. M. Hassan, a resident, said the officials indicated that the flats might be demolished and they were doing the preparatory work. 

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times learns the UDA has earmarked more than 2,000 structures in and around Pettah for demolition. 

The UDA has sent a letter to the Municipal Commissioner in April, seeking information regarding these structures and the Colombo Municipal Council's permission for their demolition. 

According to the letter, the structures on Prince Street, Bankshall Street, Main Street, Sea Street, Gabos Lane, China Street, Keyzer Street, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Cross Streets, Malwatte Road, Maliban Street, Mayura Lane and Rohini Lane are earmarked for demolition. 

However, occupants of these structures are unaware of the impending danger, as the UDA does not issue notice prior to the destruction, apparently to prevent the occupants from obtaining court orders against demolition.

Pettah traders whose livelihood was bulldozed by the UDA claim that if the UDA had given them prior notice, they could have cleared most of their goods.

A spokesman for the Old Moor Street Traders Association said that more than Rs. 230 million worth of goods had been crushed by UDA bulldozers because the traders had not been given sufficient warning to remove their goods or were not allowed to do that while the demolition was on. 

He said the association had written to the President seeking a meeting to discuss their plight where 700 people had lost their livelihood. 

Grama Niladari's sixth sense saves family of four

By Chris Kamalendran
A Grama Niladari's timely action saved a family from possible death due to food poisoning after he spotted them in an unconscious state when he visited their house on census-related duty.

Pradeep Fernando, Grama Niladari for the Saranankara Road area in Dehiwala, said he was visiting houses on the Bathiya Road to check whether they had received the census notice, when he stumbled upon the family in distress.

"I knocked on this house. When there was no response, I peeped into the house and to my horror I saw two children on the bed and the parents fallen on the ground. All of them were unconscious," he said.

Mr. Fernando then alerted the neighbours and took them to the Kalubowila Hospital in the three-wheeler which brought him to the area.

The two children, aged nine and three, and the parents were in a high state of dehydration. They were administered immediate medication and doctors said had there been a further delay in bringing them to hospital, they would have been dead. 

Recalling how it all happened, 45-year-old N.R. Devadasan, a Jaffna businessman who later shifted to Colombo, said that on Monday they ate lunch-packets bought from an eating house in Wellawatta. Soon they were suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. They had not sought any treatment, thinking that it would be alright after some time. 

But the whole of Monday night they suffered the consequences of the food poisoning. Mr. Devadasan still did not want to go to a doctor, thinking that it would be alright by afternoon.

But by noon, the situation got so worsened that they were not even able to go out and call for assistance.

The neighbours, meanwhile hearing no noises from the house assumed that everything was alright and did not bother to make any inquiries. But inside the house, the four victims were losing consciousness. And a few hours later, the Grama Niladari had spotted them.

The grama niladari said he had made a complaint to the Public Health Inspector of the area and urged him to inspect the eating house.

Thunder and lightning on a mournful day

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent
Squandering public wealth may be a culti vated political practice that has graduated to the level of an art in this land, but it certainly does not augur well for a country saddled with economic woes and a costly war.

Against such a backdrop, the question is how acceptable it is for a legislature to have a week of lotus eating with prolonged discussions on condolence motions, despite urgent public business that may Imageneed immediate addressing. 

While this is no attempt to belittle the contributions made by the deceased legislators nor to insult their memory, it certainly is not in their honour that the chamber is often left empty and the government whips having to scout legislators who go missing often during such debates. All of this at enormous cost to the suffering public whose funds that should be used more productively.

Speaker Anura Bandaranaike felt the downside of the prolonged condolence debates as well. At the very outset he called for a new procedure to limit the number of speeches. Often it has been the scenario when dates are fixed for condolence motions the valuable Westminster tradition is reduced to a mockery with lengthy speeches being made to empty chairs.

With the Speaker's approach signifying positive changes in the near future, the only sparkle during a lacklustre debate was the entry of Champika Ranawaka to the House replacing party leader Thilak Karunaratne. It seemed an inauspicious start for the energetic national organiser of the Sihala Urumya whose swearing in gave rise to a point of order. 

Upon being recognised by the Speaker Mr. Ranawaka walked up to the Speaker's chair accompanied by Wijeya Palliyaguruge, the Sergeant-at-Arms to take his oath. But the swearing in was not to be, with UNP's ebullient A. H. M. Azwer spoiling Mr. Ranawaka's moment of glory by arguing that the resignation of Thilak Karunaratne should be announced in the House and the creation of a vacancy was the next item on the agenda.

Amidst rising opposition voices, the Speaker curtly announced to the House that the swearing in of a new member preceded everything- and that was the unchallenged practice but indulged the opposers nevertheless. Mr. Ranawaka perhaps created history by coming before the Speaker and walking back to the original position before actually taking his oaths. 

The Tuesday morning ripples didn't cease with the swearing in hiccup. Next was the JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa who sought permission to make a statement demanding a debate on the government's agreement with the IMF to qualify for assistance.

Calling it a diabolical agreement by which the government had traded the country's economic freedom, Mr. Weerawansa brought thunder and lightning to an otherwise mournful day. 

"You have betrayed the people by agreeing not to give a salary increase to public servants. The agreement is a complete sell-out, and I don't know how any right-thinking government could agree to that," he charged, reiterating the need for a full debate.

"We have allocated dates for the condolence motions, but why can't we allocate part of that time to debate this important agreement? For a paltry US $ 253 million the country's economy and the rights of the working class have been betrayed," he said.

However, the impromptu speech did not find favour with the Speaker who reminded that the party leader should have given notice to the relevant minister before making such a statement.

When the UNP deputy whip Mahinda Samarasinghe pursued the same line of argument, the Leader of the House Richard Pathirana was visibly annoyed.

Mr. Samarasinghe wanted to know why an agreement entered into on March 19 had been concealed from the people for such a long time. "Under Article 148 of the Constitution, Parliament has control over public finance. You cannot impose taxes without legislative sanction. This agreement proposes the scrapping of the defence levy and the increasing of the GST instead. The agreement has completely disregarded the working classes. How could you enter into such agreements without parliamentary approval?" he asked.

Minister Pathirana angrily retorted: " I can understand Mr. Weerawansa in his capacity as party leader wanting to speak. But this is no party leader. Who made him a party leader? Did you chase Ranil away?" The chief opposition Whip W. J. M. Lokubandara had to smooth the ruffled feathers by stating that it was with the group's blessing that Mr. Samarasinghe raised the issue in the House.

Mr. Lokubandara in his inimitable style asked whether parliamentary practices had taken leave with procedures being violated at will.

"You boasted about receiving massive loans. What you did not mention was the conditions and the ensuing awful consequences. You have given this entire country to the IMF in bondage. As a result, we have doubts about the budget presented by you has blatantly violated Article 148 of the Constitution. The least you can do is to set apart Thursday for an urgent debate on this matter," he said.

Although the government did not give any reasons as to why the conditions of the agreement were not discussed during the budget debate, the opposition claimed that it was the general public who would bear the brunt of economic ills resulting from such decisions.

The week otherwise continued in a mournful note with three days being allocated to debate the condolence motions. An amendment to the local government polls had to be withdrawn at the eleventh hour reportedly due to the SLMC's refusal to support it.

Friday also saw the UNP's A. H. M. Azwer calling for the imposition of capital punishment on those who committed rape. His views were at variance with modern day human rights concepts

When Leader of the House Richard Pathirana announced that there was no need to debate the IMF agreement as it was available on the website, Mahinda Samarasinghe once again reminded the House that unless the IMF agreement was debated, the deputy finance minister should make a comprehensive statement.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Pathirana said the government was ready to publish the entire agreement in the state newspapers. He also said for the first time the agreement was available on the website.

An angry Wimal Weerawansa sprang to his to remind the minister that legislators were not there to surf websites.

"You can even distribute the agreement in leaflet form at village level, but nothing could take away our right to have a debate," he said.

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the government whether it was not bound by Article 43 (1) of the Constitution which upheld the Cabinet's collective responsibility to Parliament. "Doesn't this apply anymore? In that case, don't summon Parliament. We will just read your Dinamina and the government gazette" he quipped.

Rising at the end of it all, the burly Mathugama member said the only course of action available to the opposition was to move standing order 17 by 20 members rising in support of the request for a debate. And that put the matter to rest with Minister Pathirana pledging that Prof. G. L. Peiris would make a statement at the next parliamentary meeting. Speaker Anura Bandaranaike fully endorsed the right to have a debate in that manner.

While the UNP is struggling to mobolise its forces, the government is trying to counter a string of no confidence motions brought against it. The House went through a week of dull activity. A right to have a debate on the IMF agreement appeared to be the only achievement- that too by a show of force. 

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