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17th May 1998

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Burning issues - 2

Continued from 03rd May

Vijitha’s ‘green’ revolution

By Taya Diaz

Some victories for the environment go unnoticed though happening all about us.

Vijitha Welding Works is an example. Of course, there is no board proclaiming such a place, but that is how everyone in this locality of New Town, Polonnaruwa refers to Vijitha’s 10x12 area of ground with a flimsy tin roof - his welding shack.

Sheltered under this tin roof, something noteworthy is taking place. For a good couple of years now this lad has been sawing, bending, and welding iron tubing into pleasing furniture - chairs, beds tables...things that customarily require wood.

He started his venture because he had no job. So he apprenticed himself into welding. To his encouragement, whatever he turned out, sold.

He is doing alright now. With his little earnings he has managed to put up a small house for his wife and child. Whenever I pop in to seek his craftsmanship, I see some shining new thing, or two in his toolbox. He is certainly investing a part of his earnings back in the trade. Very soon he will proudly advertise his venture on a signboard, and maybe turn his shack into a shop.

Vijitha is not alone in this venture, there are other self-started entrepreneurs here in Polonnaruwa who have taken to furniture making; their wares are winding steadily to furniture shops in towns like Hingurakgoda and Kaduruwela, clogging their facades.

Collectively, this breed of welders has shut down many a carpenter’s shed - a cottage industry that mushroomed in this locality a decade ago. These carpenter sheds chiselled and hammered away into hard jungle timber, illicitly taken from prime forest reserves in Polonnaruwa.

Though there is officialdom armed with legal provisions and power to curb it, still the business flourished while officials exchanged excuses in earnest.

These illicit fellers were selective and systematic in their exploitation. ‘Milla’, ‘Satin’ and ‘Kaluwara’ the best of wood in our dry zone jungles were avidly sought after for their high timber value (Today, these timbers or rather the trees are a rarity). Once felled, the rest of the long process of sectioning, hauling up onto platforms and sawing with giant lumber-saws, into required planks and beams; rafters and batons were all done within the reserve jungle itself. An operation that could take a quick day, or drag on for a few weeks - if the requirement is for a government contractor, constructing government quarters. This operation is by no means a silent one. The bite of the iron blade hisses its distinctive sound into the surroundings. A strange kind sound it must be, for it never tickles the ears of the guardians of the forest.

So, these young welders were able to change all that; a change that the officials should have done, but failed to. If they were sensitive and caring, this alternative - iron tubing for timber should have been suggested ten or more years ago when jungles were richer and implemented with the fat loads of environmental funding they receive annually. But sadly, most of those funding goes for plying of Pajeros and installing computers, and only trace work on the ground. I shudder to think what the operational cost might have been if this were to be a project of today.

So what does all this teach us? Ventures that spring from the people have a long and forceful run, if supported well, they move onwards with gusto.

The illicit timber felling was one: a destructive force, though. It sprang from the people in dire circumstances and was influenced by the officialdom to the point of reducing our reserves into shambles.

The other is the ‘green’ revolution that Vijitha and the clan like him started when they were in dire circumstances. Of course, they might not be aware of how ‘green’ their venture is, but we are.

So, let us join hands to support this clan and save what is left of our reserves, now.

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