It was interesting to see that the Private Bus Operators Union had decided to throw its collective weight behind one of the presidential candidates at the upcoming elections. It is this same union that admitted recently that its members drive their buses on ‘Ice’ – the stimulant drug even more potent than the methamphetamine ‘Speed’. [...]


Terrorism on the road; who cares?


It was interesting to see that the Private Bus Operators Union had decided to throw its collective weight behind one of the presidential candidates at the upcoming elections. It is this same union that admitted recently that its members drive their buses on ‘Ice’ – the stimulant drug even more potent than the methamphetamine ‘Speed’.

According to official Police statistics, for this year alone, there have been 32,560 accidents reported so far. The number of reported accidents is actually much more given that insurance companies now offer ‘On the Spot” cover which dispenses with the need to report an accident to the Police.

At a seminar last week, a UN-WHO specialist came out with some telling, though unsurprising figures. She pointed out that nearly 3,000 Sri Lankans died in traffic accidents in 2018 with an estimated death ratio of 15.5 per 100,000 population. According to the Police, the figure is already close to 2,000 in the nine months this year with more than 5,000 suffering serious injuries.

These are alarming by itself. And yet, because they are everyday occurrences they have become so commonplace that nobody really cares. They just remain statistics.

The country seems to have arrived at that stage of being anaesthetised to these figures much the same way people got accustomed at one stage to the numbers killed when an army camp was overrun or a massacre took place in a village during the insurgencies in the north and the south.

These ‘road kills’ seem to be of some concern at least to the Presidential aspirants. One of them (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) refers to this problem, but apart from having CCTV to monitor roads and giving compensation to the victims, there’s no reference to deterrent punishments. It is probably not a national security issue. Another (Anura Kumara Dissanayake), refers to the high rate of accidents but has no solutions to offer.

The UN official said she hoped this would be an opportune moment to raise awareness of these concerns considering the upcoming presidential election. Even if others did not think so, she thought it was a national crisis.

When the private bus mafia is able to lend its support to a candidate, it is like the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States backing a President in the face of a proposed gun control law. The same goes for the three-wheel drivers who have also banded themselves together in various unions. They too are vote banks – one in every 20 Sri Lankans is said to own a three-wheeler, and no Presidential candidate would wish to displease them.

It is an open secret that many private bus owners are family members of Police top brass and three-wheelers are owned by lower rankers. That is why they rule the roads – and enjoy immunity with a virtual licence to kill. Who will bell the cat, is the question – of an average of eight deaths per day on Sri Lankan roads.

Palaly and beyond

 The reopening of the Palaly airport in Jaffna and converting it to an international aerodrome have been a long time coming. It was once a gateway to the world through India for many, only to revert to a military airfield for three decades of lost opportunities due to the northern separatist insurgency.

While the national carrier is not to be seen, it is hoped it will soon operate an air service that could promote greater connectivity between the two South Asian neighbours and spread its wings from there to South East Asia. Unlike in the case of the Mattala international airport, the entire cost of the Jaffna project has been funded locally and SriLankan Airlines has not been ‘ordered’ to fly in and out of Jaffna, but there must be commercially viable operations to explore for the beleaguered debt-ridden airline.

For instance, in June this year, this newspaper published a feature on the hugely untapped destination for Sri Lankan tourists of the state of Odisha in southern India where Emperor Ashoka waged his final battle and was influenced by the great Buddhist environment that prevailed in what was then Kalinga in ancient Orissa.

Using Jaffna to hop across the Palk Strait to the sub-continent of India should be an attractive proposition for Sinhala travellers to visit Bengal from where King Vijaya set sail to Lanka and other such places long neglected in Indo-Lanka relations. Similarly, Jaffna should be attracting middle income tourists from the southern states of India opening new vistas in bilateral relations rather than the hitherto established links with only the state of Tamil Nadu. Efficient rail links to the south of Sri Lanka will bring those tourists to fill the hotels there.

If the previous Government rushed into developing an international airport at Mattala with the hope of opening up southern Sri Lanka for trade, investment and tourism, this Government made a rash and irresponsible move in turning that otherwise unused airport to a rice storage dump. It was a case of humiliating the previous Administration politically, and cutting one’s nose to spite the face, economically.

That kind of cheap politicking must cease in Sri Lanka and whoever wins the presidential election, must carry forward the development of the Jaffna airport. The development of the Hambantota area might get a leg-up with both main candidates being representatives from the district, but that does not mean Jaffna has to be neglected.

Indo-phobia remains characteristically high in some quarters. Decades ago, a TAFAII (anti illicit immigration task force) patrolled the Palk Strait to prevent Indians coming to this island. In the 1980s, the traffic went the other way with Sri Lankan refugees fleeing the ‘war’ on the island.  Today, there are scores of Indians working in restaurants, farms and in the construction field here. Indian citizens can apply for visas online, but there is no such reciprocity for Sri Lankans visiting India. Jaffna’s international airport must not be just one-way traffic.

A common law?

The ongoing fury in the United Kingdom over the case of the teenager run over when walking on the street by a US military officer’s wife who drove on the wrong side of the street and then flew home claiming diplomatic immunity is exactly what seemed to be of concern here when the US tried to negotiate SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Sri Lanka.

With a UK magistrate pondering over the diplomatic immunity of a Sri Lankan military attaché who served in the High Commission in London, and the Government reminding the British of its diplomatic commitments, how ‘British Justice’ pans out in both these cases will be interesting to watch.



Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.