‘Coming soon to an area near you’ warning as Ja-ela says ‘no way’ to be next dumping ground Out of all the things rotten in Lanka, the one that stink the worst is Meetotumulla’s Garbage Mountain. And the cruellest game in town, is the Colombo Municipal Council’s squalid sport of ‘pass the stink bag’ which [...]


Colombo Municipality plays ‘pass the stink-bag’ game


‘Coming soon to an area near you’ warning as Ja-ela says ‘no way’ to be next dumping ground
Out of all the things rotten in Lanka, the one that stink the worst is Meetotumulla’s Garbage Mountain. And the cruellest game in town, is the Colombo Municipal Council’s squalid sport of ‘pass the stink bag’ which damns the residents with smell, vermin, disease and even death if the mayoral music stops just when the UDA’s eye is passing over their dwellings.

It was such a fate that befell Meethotamulla in 2010. When the first trucks of garbage drove in and began to dump their payload of Colombo’s 800 odd tons of rubbish per day, residents didn’t know whether to hold their breath and wish it’ll pass away or hold on to their belief in officialdom avowals that it was only a temporary measure; and sigh in relief that it had not come to stay.

JA-ELA PROTEST STORM: Catholic Church extends its total support to Ja-ela’s firm ‘no’ to CMC’s plan to make the town a dumping ground for Colombo’s garbage. with Cardinal Ranjith saying he will ask the CMC to reconsider its’ decision

Six years later, they are still pinching their noses, holding their breath and staring in amazement how the molehill of rubbish dumped that first day could have soared to become a 100-metre-high mountain to rival the 152-metre high towers at the city’s World Trade Centre, only three miles away. And wondering in disbelief how the rest of Lanka’s humanity could have looked askance and remained unconcerned to the daily suffering of their fellow beings, breathing disease, living in stink for no sin of their own.

The only reprieve they received from the daily dumping routine was when the floods broke out in May this year and made the approach roads to the Meethotamulla mount impassable for the garbage trucks to freight their daily dirt-load. Not that the suspended supply eased the plight of Meethotamulla’s residents.

With their knees deep in the waters that streamed down garbage mount and squatted in their homes for many days, the residents wailed for help as foul diseases floated around their sitting rooms invisible and putrid flotsam bobbed in their kitchens and stank to high heavens; all that the Deputy Mayor Titus Perera did was to express the municipality’s deep regrets to Colombo’s inhabitants of their inability to collect garbage since the rains had prevented its dispatch and disposal at Meethotamulla.

Thus was it that Meethotamulla was officially confirmed as the Black Hole of Colombo where the city could dump its dung into oblivion; and, with nary a thought for those unfortunates trapped in that vortex of stench and disease, find, in its erection of the Tower of Trash, the pillared evidence of its success in solving the metropolis’s solid waste problem.

How it all began was when the CMC operation of dumping garbage on a private land in Bloemendal Road, Colombo 13, was called to a halt by a Supreme Court order. According to Colombo’s Mayor Muzammil who said in 2013, “Since the CMC was left without a place to build on its waste management strategy after that, the Supreme Court called on the UDA to provide the CMC with a land to carry out the city’s waste management efforts. In accordance with a Court order based on that, the UDA gave the Meethotamulla yard to the CMC. The UDA has done its part to solve a problem that was indeed a problem of the CMC. They are not to be held responsible for those problems that have bubbled up from Meethotamulla garbage dump, whose waste management is our responsibility.”

The Colombo Mayor, for some reason best known to himself, was keenly bent on absolving the UDA from responsibility for the problems that ‘bubbled up’ from the Meethotamulla garbage site. Instead he embraced to his bosom 800 tons of filth and took the sole responsibility for wastage management. But what is the wastage management he did? Instead of dumping it in Bloemendal, he went and landed it in Meethotamulla? Was this the ambit of his expertise on successfully managing solid waste that moved him to take the kudos in having passed the stink bomb from Bloemen to Meethot?

As a spokesman for the Centre for Environment Justice told the media in May, “it is not suitable to maintain a dumping site of this nature in Meethotamulla as it is located in a wetland. The CMC is dumping unsorted garbage which includes chemical and clinical waste with the solid waste collected from the city. Therefore, it poses a huge health risk during floods of this magnitude contaminating the waterways around the dump site”.

He warned that continuing to dump garbage at the site undermining the health risks and its capacity which has exceeded will result in major environmental repercussions. “The callous disregard for the environment and the health of people is an injustice to those in the area as they are not subjected to health check- ups to realise the gravity of the issue,” he added.

The flood waters which brought disease and even more suffering it its wake, mercifully, also, brought hope that the end to a nation’s shame and a people’s long standing woe, may not be too far away. The barrage of protests that rode the crest of the flood waves successfully rekindled interest in the scandal; and moved the long dormant voice of environmentalists to raise the strident call demanding the authorities to put an immediate stop to this wanton destruction of the habitat.

On August 27, the CMC announced its new innovation in Meethotumulla’s solid wastage management. It said it had plans to remove the garbage dump from the area within a month. Now it emerges, its plan is to dump the whole lot, lock, stock and barrel or stink, disease and even garbage related deaths in Ja-ela.

Last Friday the CMC informed the Supreme Court that it has taken a decision not to dump garbage at the Meethotamulla area in Kolonnawa as it has identified a 35 acre property in Ja-Ela area for this purpose. The petitioners, seven residents of Meethotamulla, had claimed in their fundamental rights application that the stench was now becoming unbearable for the families and children and that there is a tremendous and serious health hazard, with around 30 people of the area having died due to germs and dengue, rat fever and skin and kidney diseases.

But this grand solution, if it could be called a solution by any means, cut no dice with Ja-ela’s residents. Having silently sympathised with the plight of Meethotamulla folk and having not being unduly concerned over the stink causing havoc to those folks lives, they were, nevertheless, quick off the mark to raise a hue and cry when the CMC revealed plans to dump the whole rot and waster on their own doorstep.

Last Sunday, the whole town was swallowed up in a spirit of unity, as hundreds took to the streets to protest CMC’s arbitrary decision to award Ja-ela the dubious honour to play host to the capital’s rubbish; and henceforth, for an indefinite period of time, be regarded as Colombo dustbin.

Giving voice to the people’s street protest and fortifying their will with his august support was no less a personage than the Head of the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Colombo, the Most Rev. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Aghast at the CMC’s brazen decision to turn Ja-ela into a hellhole without so much as a by your leave of its residents, and to ride roughshod over their inherent legal rights as they had done at Meethotamulla, the Cardinal spoke for all when he said, he would strongly oppose CMC’s move to pollute Ja-ela land with garbage, poison its air with the stench of rotting rubbish and turn its waterways into rivers of toxic waste.

“On behalf of the people of Ja-ela,” Cardinal Ranjith declared, “I will ask the CMC to change the plan to dump garbage here. Those responsible for garbage disposal should dump the garbage at a location not inhabited by people. Not dump it here at a place heavily populated. It would contaminate water bodies and pollute the entire area.”

No doubt with the Cardinal’s powerful intervention, the CMC would be forced to reconsider their ill-thought-out plans to dispose 800 tons of city waste daily in congested Catholic Ja-ela; and, thus, by the grace of God, its blessed residents would be spared the six-year-long harrowing ordeal endured by Meethotumulla’s less fortunate victims, condemned by municipal fiat and denied divine or earthly succour to live in the sewers of another’s waste.

So what now for them? Will the hope that came with the tide, now swiftly recede in its ebb? Will the City Fathers have to play their mayoral music and, while UDA officials begin scanning the landscape to pick upon another spot to tar and make habitable only for an assortment of vermin and a wake of vultures feeding on carrion, start passing the parceled stench again? Will it be the unhappy lot of another unfortunate grouping to be the unwilling recipients of Colombo’s daily bundle of rotting waste?
But the entire blame for this bizarre turn of events that have led to a putrefying crisis cannot be laid at the CMC door alone. The stench must be parked in the porch of past and present governments.

The garbage issue has so far been approached and handled with the same crass attitude some men and women adopt when it comes to handling their personal relationships with those whom they profess to love. Eternally yours in their presence but, in their absence: ‘tis but out of sight, out of mind.

It’s all very well to have the environs rid of dirt and see the sun sparkling on clean, neat streets. It is all very nice and ego inflating to assume that rare conscientious air of the socially well-mannered and politically correct and toot ‘tut, tut’, in grave admonition, to the litterbug on the road when he happens to drop the odd fag end or fling to the wind his toffee wrapper and then to direct the culprit to please use the nearest rubbish bin provided; but how many of these good street Samaritans ever wonder what becomes of the collected garbage? Even the home garbage, once the street dustman has collected it and it’s out of one’s premises and out of one’s smell and sight, who in the world in his or her right mind, broods as to what becomes of it?

It becomes the municipality’s unwanted child; and, following what everyone else has done in passing it off to them, they too toss it away as best they can, practising, what Mayor Muzammil calls, the technique of “solid waste management”, which boils down to nothing more, nothing less than dumping it on some demarcated area and letting it pile to mountainous heights, and forgetting about it thereafter.

Whilst the collection of garbage can be safely left in such parochial hands, its proper and efficient disposal cannot. It needs a well formulated national plan. And that must come from the Government. With the urban population rapidly increasing, with a planned Megapolis on the drawing boards, awaiting birth, and with a port city set to rise from the ocean deep which will radically change Colombo’s demography, the need to give waste disposal priority status cannot be underscored enough.

Or else, all those living outside the 18 kilometre radius as laid down by the Mayor, Muzammil, as a ‘strictly no dumping zone’, will have to anxiously wonder whether or no a rubbish dump will be coming soon to an area near them.

Especially when, in the absence of a strategy for garbage disposal, the nation will be forced to boast, as another miracle wrought, that, instead of rock mountains which have all been quarried down and leveled in the dust to provide the granite to embed the ocean floor and lay the foundation stones for the Chinese port city to rise from the sea, there will be not one Meethotamulla mountain but a whole mountain range of garbage hills dotting and commanding Lanka’s landscape and marking the wuthering heights of the capital’s new towering skyline.

Guess who’s knock, knock knocking on politics’ door?
J. R. Jayewardene’s son Ravi would have none of it; and spurned each invite to enter the seedy world of politics. Premadasa’s son Sajith, on the other hand, was only too willing; and set his heart to follow his slain father’s star.Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s son, and grandson of two prime ministers, Vimukthi, perhaps, having experienced trauma and tragedy – the murder of his film star father Vijaya in cold blood, and the Tiger suicide bomb attack on his mother which left her bereft of an eye – who had as his inheritance a legacy soaked in blood and awash with tears, wisely chose to care for sick animals as a veterinarian rather than trumpet the call for a better tomorrow for Lanka’s brutish two legged beasts as a politician.Mahinda’s son Namal, however, took to Medamulana politics like a whale to water but has ended up swallowing more than he bargained for.

DB’S CHITRANIE: Yes, if invited

And now, grazing in the paddocks, still waiting for her call, is another presidential off spring from the Kandy stables; huffing and panting, kicking her heels and rearing to go; a late bloomer no doubt but still a long shot favourite: impatient to get to the starting gate and be under starter’s orders in the 20-20 political racing stakes.

Last fortnight the only daughter and only child of Lanka’s only accidental president D. B. Wijetunge awoke, after a sleep of some sixty years, to stumble upon a new world of politics; and discovered the same stirrings as would have run through her dear departed sire long ago in his prime, rising in her and bidding her to make her debut in the forthcoming Grand National.
But the mature Kandy Lamissi has to be first invited; and formally at that.

Speaking to the media at a Blood Donation campaign held in front of her late father’s statue in Pilimathalawa, former President D.B. Wijetunga’s daughter Chithrani Kumari Wijetunga said she would consider entering active politics if she receives a ‘formal’ invitation. She did not say from whom. But no matter.

She however expressed her concern of her possible lack of qualifications needed to be a politician.
She said: “I may not have qualifications to be a politician in Sri Lanka. But I have more than enough qualifications to be a public servant. I have no habits of lying, using abusive vocabulary, cheating the public, misusing public property and spending so much money to obtain votes. I am confident that I can launch a good political program on behalf of the entire Kandy District,”

Take a bow, Chithrani. And consider this an invite from the punters. Long shot, dark mare maybe, but certainly deserves a bob or two wager.

Your self-professed lack of the qualifications needed to be a successful Lankan politician makes you the most eligible to enter the fray. And at a time when presidents, prime ministers and ministers sons and daughters are wont to brag their parentage as their sole qualification having no other to boast of; and think that is the only qualification they need, your lack of reference to your own father’s good name, is another whopping factor why this nation needs more of your sort rather than more of the other ill bred sort.

But be warned. Many enter politics possessing and professing these same high ideals of altruistic service to the Great Lankan Public. Sadly, not many of them retain it, after they have passed the winning post and entered the winner’s enclosure.

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