The Sunday TimesPlus

8th December 1996



Surath Wickramasinghe proposes an alternative

Road above railway

Tharuka Dissanaike

The Colombo - Katunayake Expressway must, undoubtedly be the most controversial road project to have been launched in this country. The much needed roadway linking the commercial capital to the airport is back in the news again now that the Road Development Authority has come up with an alternative route to the earlier one, which was rejected. The first proposal was abandoned due to protests from the residents who were to be relocated from the site of the road.

The new route which runs west to the existing Colombo-Negombo highway is routed through marshland, but has come to a problematic point where it runs through the newly gazetted Muthurajawela Sanctuary. Therefore the initial environmental assesment done for the proposed route by the RDA is still under consideration by the CEA. Meanwhile well known architect Deshabandu Surath Wickramasinghe has come up with a totally new project alternative. "This proposal takes into account that a new roadway is vital for the area, but strives to avoid the environmental and human implications," Mr.Wickramasinghe said.

He, along with colleague, Prof. Willie Mendis has come up with an interesting alternative to all the currently explored selection of routes. They propose that the existing railroute be utilised to construct a "real" expressway over the railtrack from Katunayake to Colombo.

The expressway will stand on columns built on either side of the existing railtrack and will utilise the railway reservation for further expansion if needed. The road will be 8-9 metres above the railtrack and will be a six lane expressway running above the track using the railway bridge over the Kelani river to enter Colombo.

This proposal has several advantages over the previously considered options. One is that it totally minimises land acquisition. The railway reservation already exists and this space could be utilised for development without further land acquisition and displacement of people. "By this proposal, environmental impacts will also be lessened," Mr.Wickramasinghe said.

Pollution from vehicle traffic will be moderated by having a green belt of trees along the route, which would also add visual beauty to the surroundings of the road. A system of integrated transport allowing interchange from rail to road will be possible if this plan is implemented. Every railway station will have access to the expressway and these will be the only links to the expressway. The project envisages minimum government funding - as a BOT ( Build Own Transfer ) which will harness foreign investment and technology of elevated expressways. To make the plan more feasible to prospective investors, Mr.Wickramasinghe proposes that urban centre development should take place at every interchange. Shopping malls, bus, taxi stations and container depots could be planned at these junctions so that the developer has further means of getting returns in addition to the expressway toll.

"This proposal will benefit the Free Trade Zones of Katunayake and Biyagama better than the already planned route going through the Muthurajawela," Mr.Wickramasinghe said.

He proposes three alternatives for implementing the proposal. One is to run the expressway straight through along the rail route. The next is to use the rail route upto a certain point and then continue the expressway along another land route. The third is to use the railway upto a certain point then linking the expressway to the existing road, which will have to be upgraded to hold more traffic.

Mr.Wickramasinghe explains that the route of the Colombo -Katunayake expressway traverses some speedily developing suburbs like Wattala, Ragama, Kandana , Jaela and Seeduwa. In this area, there is development in many spheres. Investment in industry and real estate for housing has increased and this has created a large demand for transport, recreation and other facilities. This would make an ideal market for the kind of integrated transport and urban centres proposed by this plan, argues Mr.Wickramasinghe. There is also the question of inland container depots that badly congest the present road. These could be centralised or moved to a location closer to the expressway ensuring smoother cargo transport, which is greatly delayed now due to the lack of road facilities. The estimated time required to complete this project would be around two years, judging from experiences of other countries, said Mr.Wickramasinghe.

The proposal is as yet basically a concept. "It has to be studied in detail to get a proper idea of feasibility and a cost estimate," Mr.Wickramasinghe said. But, he added, it should cost less than the estimate for the first highway route on the eastern trace which was estimated at Rs. 20 billion.

The proposal put forward by Mr. Surath Wickramasinghe who is also the president elect of the Institute of Town Planners will avoid any kind of evacuation and also earth filling for the elevated bund presently proposed. But if the project could be given out as a BOT, the government would not incur any cost, he said.

Mr. Wickramasinghe said that he plans to put the proposal forward to the President shortly, since the recent budget already allocated certain funds to carry out preliminary investigations into the expressway. The government is certainly showing a great deal of interest in getting the Colombo- Katunayake expressway off the ground. This proposal may well be the most viable alternative to the several controversial proposals put forward so far.

Tragedy of Chamara living tied to a bedpost

Victim of poverty and ignorance

By Shelani de Silva

Sri Lanka marked World Disabled Day on Tuesday, December 3. The day is set apart as an awareness building measure to focus attention on the plight of those who have to live with disabilities of different kinds, made even more crippling by society's lack of understanding.

Sometimes, children are disabled as much by ignorance and poverty. Eight-year-old Chamara Somarathna is one of these victims. In these days when so much is written about the human rights of the disabled, he spends many hours tied to a bed, simply because his parents are not able to cope with the kind of attention his mental disability requires.

Chamara's troubles began in infancy. When D A Karunawathi, his young mother delivered her fourth son, both she and her husband were much relieved to find that he was a normal child (their second daughter had been born mentally retarded). Little Ruwan Chamara was a happy baby.

But like a bad spell cast on the family, Chamara was stricken with brain fever which, unfortunately, his parents did not take seriously. It was only after his temperature had risen and Chamara had got a fit, that they finally decided to visit the hospital to seek treatment, little knowing that the damage was already done.

The six -month - old baby was warded for nine days. But even after treatment he refused to respond to his mother. All his emotions and actions seemed to have come to a standstill. As he grew up with little mental progress, the family , who live in Ogodapola, a remote village off Yakkala , first treated the child at the Wathupitiwela hospital.

The doctors after diagnosing his condition had advised the family to take Chamara to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo. Although it was difficult for them they had done so.They had obtained medical treatment for the boy for sometime but later due to ignorance they brought him home, in the hope that things would change for the better.

Sadly there had not been any improvement and due to financial difficulties, the family decided to stop all treatment. So it came to pass that little Chamara was doomed to live a lonely life while his brothers enjoyed their childhood.

Before long Chamara became so boisterous that the family decided to keep him tied to a bed, which they felt would help Chamara to calm down.Instead he grew more aggressive and like an animal who runs wild once it is left loose, Chamara too acts the same way.

Today, Chamara's parents have realised the gravity of their mistake but claim that they have no other choice but to accept his plight. His mother seems to be giving all the love and care within her means, hoping against hope, that he would get bettter.At first sight, Chamara appears normal. But he cannot speak and can only make animal sounds and movements.

ÒHe was a healthy baby, and for six months he showed all signs of normalcy.The first time he got the flu we did not take much notice and gave him some koththamali hoping he would be okay.When he got the fit I thought he would die, it was so frightening. We did everything possible for him till he was five years old and then gave up,Ósaid ChamaraÕs mother Karunawathi.

While admitting that they had neglected to continue with the medical treatment Chamara needed, she asked what else they could do as they were so very poor. "After we took him to Colombo the first time, they kept him in hospital for two weeks. Later he was asked to go home and the doctors wanted us to bring him back in a few days, but it was so costly to come to Colombo, that we gave up the idea.We honestly thought he would be okay; we never thought that he would lose his memory and would become like a vegetable," she said.

For Chamara's mother, tying him up by the hand to the bedpost is the only way she could control him. She feels that it is inhuman but at the same time finds it impossible to cope when the boy has convulsions, as she has no preventive medication to administer.

At first Chamara had not been tied at nights but after a horrifying incident when he had wandered off while the parents were asleep and made his way to the river, they are too afraid that he will come to harm, if left free.

"My wife heard a child's cry from the riverside,and found Chamara had fallen into the river. He looked frightened to death and did not know what had happened," said D A Somarathna, Chamara's father.

Chamara's condition has worsened over the years. "Earlier he used to sleep the entire night. But now he sleeps only for about an hour and the entire night he is awake making noises and trying to free himself. It is terrible to see him like that, especially as he has no knowledge of his surroundings. Perhaps he hates us for what we are doing to him. At times I wonder whether he even knows that we are his parents. I only wish I could know exactly what he feels and what he thinks," said Karunawathi.

The boy does not make any signs when he gets hungry, simply because he does not know that there is something called hunger. "He eats anything, and does not make any indication when he gets hungry, but when he wants to go to the toilet he tries to sit down. Sometimes there is no control . We try to train him but it just does not work.We have come to accept his condition," ChamaraÕs mother said

Chamara is the fourth in a family of five. The second child, a daughter is mentally retarded by birth. Thus the family not only have to look after Chamara but also the fourteen year old girl. Although the Somarathnas consider the disability of their daughter and son as a curse, they are unaware that their close relationship (they are first cousins) could be a contributory factor.

What will become of this boy? For how many more years will he have to live in such pitiful conditions? Chamara's parents are willing to send him and his sister to a home where they can receive the proper medical attention and care that their disabilities require. But they are simple folk, who know little of the procedures they must follow for this. It seems the healthcare system has failed them. "We do not know any Loku Mahatthayas who will help," they say. But until such time as someone does help them, there is no ray of hope to lighten Chamara's darkness.

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