A major controversy has erupted over the mysterious midnight destruction of a popular exercise track or walkway with angry residents alleging a cover up by the police due to high-level political pressure. At the centre of the controversy is frontline minister John Amaratunga, who represents the area. Residents are charging that this act of vandalism [...]


Walk the talk: Act against those who destroyed the Wattala track

Angry residents demand tough penalites against midnight vandals and their political patrons

Wanton destruction of the exercise track built with public funds. Who will rebuild it and when? Pic by Athula Devapriya

A major controversy has erupted over the mysterious midnight destruction of a popular exercise track or walkway with angry residents alleging a cover up by the police due to high-level political pressure.

At the centre of the controversy is frontline minister John Amaratunga, who represents the area. Residents are charging that this act of vandalism is a disgrace for the Yahapalanaya Government and its leaders need to walk the talk if they wish to avoid the fate that befell the ousted Rajapaksa regime.

The exercise track used by hundreds of residents daily for walking, jogging and practising yoga was completely broken on Easter eve with the politically-backed vandals allegedly using crowbars and bulldozers to dig up the stones. Since then stones and counter-stones have been thrown back and forth, but no one has been arrested so far for this wanton destruction of the track built by the previous government at a cost of tens of millions of rupees in public funds.

Residents say whoever is responsible for this midnight madness should not only be brought before the law, but also made to pay for this colossal waste of public funds and for the cost of rebuilding the track.

No criminal offence: Nawaloka

Nawaloka Construction Company (Pvt) Limited had sought a legal opinion from the law firm Neelakandan & Neelakandan about the status of the land where the jogging track was situated at Mabola in Wattala.

The law firm in its opinion said that the land owned by its client extended right upto the Kalu Oya and under the Irrigation Ordinance there is no provision for a reservation and only State land is capable of being declared as a ‘reservation’

“The jogging track had been built by some unknown persons on part of the land without the permission and/or consent of Nawaloka Construction Company (Pvt) Limited, the legal owners of the land, and it has been recently dismantled by some unknown persons, again without the permission of the owners,” the firm said.

It says the lawyers have expressed the opinion that the jogging track which was constructed with paving stones, mortar etc. had been permanently affixed to the land and hence it was of the opinion that “this is strong evidence of an intention that the jogging track should permanently be on the said lands.”

The lawyers have said that the said land cannot be considered “public property” in terms of the Offences Against Public Property Act and hence this Act has no application in terms of the land on which the jogging track was built and thus no criminal offence has been committed by its removal, the statement says.

Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) officials who visited the site said they did not know who was responsible for this criminal destruction, and called for action against those who destroyed the track. They said action could be taken under the Offences Against Public Property Act. Under the Act, those responsible could be jailed for upto 20 years and be fined three times as much as the damage they caused.

SLLRDC Chairman Asela Iddawela told the Sunday Times that the exercise track had been built on a canal reservation area that came under the purview of the SLLRDC and therefore it was State land.  

“Permission was not sought or given by the SLLRDC when the exercise track was constructed but it is state property and hence those who vandalised the track must be held accountable and made to rebuild it under the supervision of the corporation,” he said.

The track was built on the orders of former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, but there were questions about the acquisition of the land.

The SLLRDC Chairman’s claim was challenged by Minister Amaratunga, He told reporters at a hurriedly summoned news conference on Friday that the trackwas built on a private land. Therefore, it did not belong to the State and hence no offence has been committed under the Public Property Act.

There is a small untarred road parallel to the exercise track and it leads to a bare land of more than 11 acres. Residents believe two politically connected business tycoons are working out a deal to build a huge modern residential complex on that land.

Mr. Amaratunga admitted he had intervened to get permission for the private owners to extend the width of the gravel road from about ten feet to 33 feet. He claimed the people could use the largely neglected track on the other side of the Kalu Ela (canal) till the road was built.

The minister also claimed the aim was to open a roadway across the private property so that Hunupitiya residents could gain easy access to the main Colombo-Negombo Road.

But most exercise track users were cynical about his claims. They said the 450 metre-long exercise track was destroyed that night to pave the way for a powerful insurance company to build a massive housing complex.

They charged that Mr. Amaratunga in a letter to the SLLRDS had not mentioned that building the road would involve the destruction of the track.

Protesting residents demand justice. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Nawaloka Construction Company (Private) Limited, which says it is the legal owner of the land, had sought the opinion of Neelakandan&Neelakandan law firm with regard to the controversy over the destruction of the exercise track. (See box story for details)

A resident who saw the March 26 midnight destruction described to the Sunday times how about 50 unknown persons armed with crowbars had begun to dig up the stones on the exercise track.

A.A.N. Adumy who resides close to the track said he had noticed some unusual activity close by with a backhoe and a bulldozer filling up a private property, the entrance to which is half way through the track.

Around midnight, his son had heard the noise and woken him. Looking out, he saw the men using crowbars to remove the stones.

He said he acted promptly and called police emergency 119 but no Police personnel turned up till the next morning when it was tool late. Shamefully, a police post set up near by had been unmanned for two months, he said.

Wattala Police Senior Inspector Eric Perera said they had received a call on the emergency line around 1.45 a.m and responded at 1.50 a.m.

He claimed that by the time the police arrived, the exercise track had been damaged. A backhoe driver was questioned and released.

A.A.N. Adumy

Inspector Perera said that according to initial police inquiries, the track had been built on a private land which had not been acquired by the government. Further inquiries were underway to ascertain if any offence had been committed under the Public Property Act.

Regular jogger Raphley Fernando who is also the secretary of the Wattala Mabole Shareera Suwatha Sangamaya said he was shocked to see the destruction of public property while the police station was just a stone’s-throw away.

“I was stunned. Earlier the solar power lights were operating and everything was in order but today the stones have been dug out and wires pulled,” he said.

Another frequent walker and Shareera Suwatha Sangamaya spokeswoman Padmini Senevirathna said the walking path was a popular place for recreational activities and many gathered to exercise, relax and socialise. She said tough action should be taken against the vandals and their patrons.

Ms. Seneviratna lamented that the track well maintained by the former regime had been neglected after the new government took over.

Lawyer K.T.B Rodrigo said damaging public property was a non bailable offence and action must be taken against the offenders.

Journalists filmed: John shows good picture

During Friday’s media conference, a journalist asked Minister John Amaratunga why the media personnel were being photographed by his official photographer.

“Mr. Minister, are your officials taking photos of journalists asking questions to hand them over to you? Why do you take photographs of us? Is this yahapalana media freedom?” the journalist asked.

The minister made a joke about it, saying he would ask the photographer to take a group photo of all. He assured the journalists that the Yahapalanaya Government had no intention of harming or abducting any journalist. But he also said he would heed the advice of the Prime Minister to give media freedom to the fullest extent when journalists are reporting correctly.


K.T.B Rodrigo

Padmini Senevirathna

Raphley Fernando


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