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26th April 1998

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Unprotectedrailway crossing between Nugegoda and Kirullapone
Unprotectedrailway crossing between
Nugegoda and Kirullapone
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Nugegoda level crossing turns, death trap

By Chris Kamalendran

The unprotected level crossing in the Nugegoda area on Wednesday turned to be a death trap claiming the life of a lorry driver while hundreds of others have been risking their daily lives as they take the road daily to work and back home.

The lorry carrying over 3000 bricks was hit by the Kelani Valley train engine dragging the vehicle for more than 30ft. and ended crashing on the rear side of a house.

Unprotectedrailway crossing between Nugegoda and Kirullapone

Unprotectedrailway crossing between Nugegoda and Kirullapone

Pic by Lakshman Gunatilaka

"This is the first time that a man was killed here, but very frequently vehicles meet with accidents at this point and authorities have failed at least to put up a temporary gate," a long standing resident, Thilak Bandara, said.

The crossing at Railway Avenue in Nugegoda has turned to be one of the important short cuts for many hundreds of office workers daily as the road serves as a link between High Level Road and the Nawala-Nugegoda Road.

Despite the unusual location of the area where there is a sharp bend near the railway crossing and a steep hill making matters worse for the motorist, railway authorities have failed to ensure that the crossing is protected at least with a temporary gate.

To make matters worse encroachers have settled down putting up permanent buildings on the side of the railway track further blocking the visibility of drivers.

"Earlier there were six persons from the village selected to man the 'Bamboo gate'. Each of them took six hour turns. But since the system was scrapped the level crossing has remained unmanned," Bandara, one of the gate keepers who has now taken to house brokering profession, said.

"The problem here is that people coming from Nawala side mainly concentrate on the hill they have to climb soon as they pass the level crossing. They do not think of train coming on the line. So many people have narrowly escaped death," he said.

He said there was an earlier plan to evacuate the people living beside the track by providing them with alternative houses, but several houses constructed were distributed among friends of politicians several years back and the problem remains the same.

The Railway Department also made a futile attempt to evict the people from the houses situated about three feet away from the railway track.

Another said that people living in the area in some instances help the motorists by signalling to them about oncoming trains, but it is not always helpful.

Soon after Wednesday's accident the railway had sent two employees to man the level crossing.

One of the employees told The Sunday Times that people too should be blamed. Some try to cross over even when the train is near.

The Sunday Times learns that there are several hundred more similar railway crossings which are left unprotected after the 'Bamboo gate' system was scrapped.

5000, against child labour, petition CBK

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The Global March Against Child Labour has appealed to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to take meaningful steps to eliminate child labour in Sri Lanka.

A mammoth petition signed by over five thousand was handed over to Ms. Maureen Seneviratne, the Chairperson of PEACE at a public rally in hyde park to be forwarded to the President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The Global March Against Child Labour which started in Manila on January 17 reached Chennai on March 21, having passed through Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Sri Lankan delegation left for Chennai on March 20 to be in time to join the global March on 21. The core marchers were welcomed by the National Co-ordinator in India, J. Paul Basker at a reception held at Loyala College.

Postmen deliver more suffering

By M. Ismeth

Somalatha of Grandpass, a mother of three little children was hopefully waiting for the draft from her husband who works in Dubai. But the postman never came.

"Whenever my children heard a bell, they would rush out saying it might be the postman bringing money from Thaththa to buy some new clothes and other little things for the Avuruddha. But it never happened that way. Yet I could not deny those little things to my children. So I borrowed some money to buy them some clothes," Somalatha said with a tear instead of the New Year cheer.

She was one of the hundreds of thousands of poor innocent victims of the postal go-slow in which millions of letters including, remittances and New Year greeting cards have been piling up while the unions and the government are still fighting over various demands.

For the crippled Charles Appu from Gampola, the trauma was even worse. He and his two children were expecting some money from his son who was on the battlefront in the north.

"Every month, my son sends us enough money to keep the home fires burning. But for the New Year, this dirty strike created a situation where the money sent by my son is piled somewhere in an office.

"We did not want to borrow money. So we had a threadbare New Year," he lamented.

On Thursday, national television featured an interview with a group of soldiers who had just returned from battle in the north.

They said the postal go-slow had hit them as hard as a terrorist shell. Amidst constant conflict and possible death, a letter from the family is like a little consoling treasure for them and they await it eagerly. But for the New Year month, thousands of soldiers were denied these treasures because staff officers at the Postal Department wanted overtime payments and crippled the whole country to get their demands.

For a youthful job seeker, the postal go-slow, which really meant they did no work at all, was a severe blow to his career prospects.

In anger and anguish but still some anticipation, this young man said, "I went for an interview and they told me they would send my letter of appointment soon. But it has still not come because of this miserable postal go-slow. It is a crime to punish us for no fault of ours."

Another deadly consequence was seen at the morgue of the National Hospital. The number of bodies piled up there was more than double the permitted figure, largely because relatives of the dead people have not received the telegrams asking them to come and remove the bodies.

So the morgue is packed and the stench from the decomposing bodies is posing a serious health problem to wards in the hospital and other places.

For the economy as a whole and for businesses big and small, the postal go-slow has gradually, brought about major problems.

Businessmen said their bank transactions and other dealings were delayed by days or sometimes weeks and overall losses could run into millions of rupees.

Hospital strike backing alleged fraud

The Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital, regarded as one of the best public hospitals in the country, has been partially crippled by another wild- cat strike by some minor workers.

Several urgent surgical operations were put off during the past few days and family members were asked to bring meals for patients after kitchen and other minor staff members went on strike in a dispute involving an alleged fraud.

Hospital officials said three members of the minor staff including a husband and wife had been interdicted over an alleged fraud in hospital accounts.

In solidarity with the members of a union headed by LSSP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara they had kept away from work and hospital authorites considered them to have vacated their posts. The strike erupted over this dispute.

Hospital director Dr. Lakshman de Lanerolle told The Sunday Times that the union action had considerably slowed down work at the hospital but he insisted discipline also needed to be maintained.

For hygienic reasons, the hospital normally does not allow family members to bring food for patients, but that rule has now been relaxed to avert any food shortage as a result of a breakdown in the kitchen.

Confusing signals from Delhi

By Our Special Correspondent

Is New Delhi working on a package for the resolution of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, as claimed by Nagendra Nath Jha, a former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, or has he needlessly blown up something which a small group of interested parties/officials may have been working on as a policy alternative?

Could it be a routine Foreign Office exercise on his suggestion as he is a member of the ruling BJP's National Executive and Convenor of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the party.

Doubts of this sort have crept into the minds of observers in the light of the overt posture assumed by the Vajpayee government in Delhi and also Mr. Jha's completely denying on Friday what he told the Indian correspondents on Tuesday.

During his public lecture at the Indian Cultural Centre here on Friday, he said that it was inconceivable that a fledgling government should be able to formulate such a policy in such detail so soon after coming to power.

In an apparent effort to smoothen ruffled feathers, if any, in the Sri Lankan Foreign Office over his statement on Tuesday, Mr. Jha said that if there was any such policy, it would not be the Indian journalists in Colombo but the Sri Lankan Foreign Office which would come to know first.

The official Indian line, unequivocally expressed only last week by Mr. Vajpayee during his meeting with the visiting Lankan Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, is that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has to be solved in Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans. Officially, therefore, the Gujral Doctrine of non interference continues to be in place.

Further, the top brass of South Block (so called because the Indian Foreign Office is located in the southern block of the Secretariat complex in New Delhi) had not breathed a word about this to the UNP delegation led by Mr. Wickremesinghe.

According to sources, all that the mandarins told the UNPers was that India was concerned about, and observing very carefully, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the activities of the LTTE, possible third party involvement and the impact of all these on Indian strategic and national interests.

There was no hint of any active involvement of the kind indicated by Mr. Jah.

Either there is no such move, however incipient, or it is being kept under wraps for the time being because it is still in the embryonic stage.

However, what Mr. Jha told Indian journalists in Colombo on Tuesday, was that South Block was working on a "concrete, palatable, and immediately implementable" package for a solution of the Lankan ethnic conflict.

He said that the BJP-led government had rejected the Gujral Doctrine on the grounds that it had put India's neighbourhood policy in a straight jacket.

"India should take a friendly interest in Sri Lanka because we cannot be idle spectators when a house in the neighbourhood is on fire. India would also have to take the lead in South Asia, in view of the fact that it is the regional power," he said. "India could show an interest without getting involved," he argued. He categorically ruled out a military intervention of the kind witnessed in 1987.

Significantly, Mr. Jha refused to indicate even the broad outlines of the proposals on the plea that they were still in the "discussion stage" and the top echelons of the government, as such, had not given any thought to it yet.

He could reveal the details only when the PMO or the Cabinet had formulated a view on it, and that stage had not come.

Apparently, Mr. Jha is a key figure in the core group working on this "package". It had clearly taken a concrete shape as he said categorically, that it was a readily implementable, concrete and palatable proposition, palatable to both the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.

Significantly Mr. Jha's proposals had one thing in common with the known thinking in Delhi about the LTTE. The package had no role for the LTTE. "The proposals have nothing to do with the Tigers," he said.

Asked if a package could be implemented by sidelining the LTTE, he said, "Wait and see."

Apparently, there had been no input from the LTTE. The LTTE had not contacted the Vajpayee government, nor had it contacted the previous Gujral government. Mr. Jha was at pains to emphasize that the pro-LTTE minister George Fernandes, and those from the PKM, were not involved.

But it was clear that the Indian package would seek a permanent merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil Province. Mr. Jha, who emphasised this point, but clothing it as his "personal view", said that a permanent merger was a basic Tamil demand, cutting across other differences. "Devolution is of secondary importance to the Tamils," he said. "Permanent merger is the panacea", he declared.

More News/Comment * AirLanka deal for debate soon * CMC to discuss thermal power plan * Ministry probes DIG's claims of reimbursement * Alawwa train bash kills four * Ranil sticks to consensus through Select Committee * Chaos at LRH as flu spreads

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