The resort town of Kalutara is undergoing a rigorous cleaning up. This is good news, because Kalutara, like just about every town and village along the coast, could do with a sprucing up. The country desperately needs to project a cleaner environment image.
However, the zeal of the authorities to maintain a clean look can be excessive, and often misdirected, as some irate Kalutara residents, including businessman M. R. M. Nifais, have discovered.
Recently, Mr. Nifais spent a night in the police station and was fined Rs. 2,500 in court the next day for allegedly leaving garbage on the road, but the businessman insists he had done no wrong, and that the garbage was left well inside the premises of his shop.
|Residents are puzzled that the Environmental Police overlook obvious pollution. Pix by Nilan Maligaspe
|The rubbish keeps piling up behind the Wettumakada Market, in Kalutara
|Kalutara Environmental Police keep a neat, tidy home.
A month back, Mr. Nifais had closed his shop for the night, after putting a box filled with pieces of disposable rigifoam outside his shop for the municipality tractor to collect the next morning. “I make sure that my garbage is kept within the shop premises,” Mr. Nifais told the Sunday Times.
Shortly after returning home that evening, Mr. Nifais received a telephone call from a person saying he had come to his shop to buy electric equipment. “My telephone number is written on the signboard outside my shop. I thought this was a genuine customer, in urgent need of some equipment. So I went back to my shop.”
To his surprise, when Mr. Nifais arrived at his shop, he saw no customer waiting for him; instead, there was a group of policemen.
The policemen pointed to the garbage box outside Mr. Nifai’s shop and said it was illegal to keep garbage by the roadside. Mr. Nifais tried to explain that the box was within the shop premiees, but the police would not listen.
At home, too, Mr. Nifais has been challenged by the police over garbage.The Nifais household is in the habit of putting the day’s garbage in a gunny bag and hanging the bag on a wall inside the gate.
Police in the area informed Mr. Nifais’ wife that the bag was too close to the ground and should be hung at a higher level. They said the Nifais household would be charged if it did not follow police orders.
“A municipal council tractor comes early in the morning to collect the garbage, but some days it does not turn up. And sometimes the tractor stops a few blocks away my shop, and then goes away, without picking up my garbage,” Mr. Nifais said.
Another Kalutara trader, Asitha Indika, said he had to appear in court for placing a signboard outside his shop. He was charged for “dumping garbage on the road.”“The police came and told me to remove all the signboards outside my shop,” Mr. Indika told the Sunday Times.
“These signboards advertise various brands available in my shop. The police said I was blocking the pavement. “When I removed the boards, on police orders, the shop didn’t look like a shop at all. And customers wouldn’t know whether the shop was open or not. So I decided to keep just one signboard, and it was within the property limits of my shop.”
Mr. Indika put the signboard on a stand, with one leg of the stand extending on to the pavement. The police subsequently came and told Mr. Indika that he would be charged “for not following police orders.”
When Mr. Indika appeared in court to face the charge, he discovered he was being charged, not for disobeying orders but for “dumping garbage on the road.”
“I decided to plead guilty, simply to be over and done with the matter,” he said. “If I had objected or argued, the case would have dragged on. And I was not interested in hiring a lawyer for what I considered a minor matter,” he said.
Mr. Indika said it was ironic that the police took little interest in a much more serious matter, a robbery at his shop in Maggona. “The police were more interest in charging me over the signboard than following up on my robbery case and prosecuting the culprits.
“The stolen goods were recovered and the police very well knew who the culprits were, but they did not proceed with the case. “In the end, I received only 50 per cent of my lost goods. The rest went missing.”
More complaints of police harassment over garbage came from two vendors who run fruit stalls close to Mr. Indika’s shop.
“The police came and told us we were not to put our garbage where we usually leave it for collection,” one of the vendors said.
The police then instructed the vendor, a female, to pick up a bunch of king coconuts and a bunch of bananas she had put out for sale.
She was ordered to carry the fruit and dump them where she usually dumped garbage. Having done as told, she was then ordered to bring the fruit back to her stall.
“While I was doing all this, the police were photographing my actions. Then the police fined me Rs. 2,500 for dumping garbage by the roadside,” said the vendor, who requested that her name be withheld.
“The police said a garbage container would be installed in that same place, but there is still no container. This incident happened about three months ago. We now keep our garbage inside our stalls,” the woman said.
Another Kalutara town street vendor, who said he was fined for throwing a banana skin on the road, said there were no designated spots or containers in the area for dumping rubbish.
The municipal garbage removal vehicle arrives between 6pm and 7pm, he said.
Although the Kalutara Police are vigilant about rubbish left on or near the Galle Road, the Sunday Times found a common garbage heap down a side road, a few metres from the main road.
It is understood that neighbours have for a long time been dumping their rubbish here, and that the municipality tractor avoids the spot.
“The municipality people don’t come this way, and the police are not bothered either,” said a resident.
Meanwhile, several vendors operating at the Wettumakada Market in Kalutara have been fined for “throwing leftovers into the drain in front of their stalls.”
“We were ordered to come to the police station and we were fined,” one vendor said.
The authorities do not seem to be concerned that the land behind the Wettumakada Market is one mass of garbage, dumped by municipal carts.
A total of 29,332 complaints were lodged with the Environmental Police between July 13 and December 25 last year. In 3,302 cases, the offenders were charged and produced in court.
A total of Rs. 12.8 million was collected in environment fines in the second half of 2010.
Islandwide, a total of 12,577 persons were charged for dumping garbage on roads; 4,382 were charged for obstructing pavements, and 1,879 were charged for illicit sand mining.
The Environmental Police, Kalutara Division, reported 196 environmental offences between July 12 and December 25 last year, including 301 cases of garbage dumping on streets, yielding fines adding up to Rs. 589,800.
In December alone, the Kalutara Police collected Rs.34,000 in fines from persons caught dumping rubbish on roads.
Under the clean environment campaign, a 640-metre stretch of coastline, know as Calido Beach, has been cleaned up and made attractive for tourists and locals.
“The town looks a lot better since we set up the Kalutara arm of the Environmental Police,” an environmental police officer told the Sunday Times. “Lottery-sellers have been instructed not to allow used lottery tickets to be thrown in the street, and leaflet distributors have been similarly instructed.”
Meanwhile, environment authorities in Colombo could take a cue from the Kalutara Environment Police.
Despite extensive media exposure, garbage continues to accumulate in several parts of Colombo city and suburbs.
The rubbish remains uncleared for weeks on end.
In those places where local councils dispose of garbage, they do so in a haphazard manner, causing fresh environment problems.
Mafoor Crescent neighbours are ‘drowning’ in their wastewater woes
Mafoor Cresent, Kalutara, has no drainage system, and the residents of Mafoor Crescent are compelled to throw their waste water by the wayside.
Recently, a group of Mafoor Crescent residents was summoned to the local police station. After spending the entire day answering questions from the police, the residents were fined Rs. 3,000 each for “polluting” the neighbourhood.
M. A. M. Safwan, one of the Mafoor Crescent residents, is confused. “The police told us to sink a metal pipe in the earth and empty our wastewater into that. We have tried this, but after a few days, the pipe overflows,” Mr. Safwan told the Sunday Times.
|Safwan family frustrated by wastewater red tape.
Moreover, this is a high-density neighbourhood, without sufficient space for all the houses on Mafoor Crescent to sink wastewater pipes, he said. “Since December 27, when the police ordered us not to dump dirty water on the road, we have not been able to take a bath or wash our clothes in our own homes,” he said.
Mr. Safwan said there are around 15 houses on Mafoor Crescent, and all the households get rid of their waste water in the same way. However, only four families down that road received a summons from the police.
Previously, Mafoor Crescent residents would empty their waste water in unused land nearby. This practice ended when the land was built on and new residents moved in.
Desperate, and seeing no way other out of the problem, Mr. Safwan dug a drain and put down S-lon pipes connecting with a main drain 120 metres away. But neighbours across the road objected. “The police say we can’t dig across the road,” he said.
Mr. Safwan and his family have conveyed their concerns to the chairman of the Kalutara Municipality and also the Reconciliation Board. Nothing has come of either plea for help.