A misdirected boo

Much play was given by sections of the media to the incident where Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka was booed by angry mobs when he visited the scene of the Meetotamulla tragedy. Certain Television channels went out of their way to focus on this matter as if the collapse of the garbage mountain were all Minister Ratnayaka’s fault. Of course emotions ran high in the aftermath of the tragedy and the air was charged with high tension when the Minister accompanied by the Police and Army chiefs visited the scene.

It is not just Ratnayaka. All politicians, including Minister Fowzie and MP Marikkar, who visited the scene, were at the receiving end of the people’s anger. These politicians of course have their vote base in Colombo. But not Minister Ratnayaka, and thus, he had the least necessity of visiting the scene. It is natural that the wrath of the victims were directed at the politicians to whom the public have entrusted their safety and well being. It is unfortunate, though, that Minister Ratnayaka had to bear the brunt of the seething anger of the Meetotamulla victims. As the Minister dealing with the subject of Law and Order Ratnayaka need not have stuck his neck out and venture out into the Lions’ Den, so to speak, when the responsibility lay elsewhere. If he decided to do so it would have been out of sheer concern for the plight of the people and to also ensure that there was no breach of the law and order, as often happens following such incidents.

Besides, the Minister’s visit cannot be an exercise in becoming popular. He had no political stake in visiting the scene of the tragedy, with Meetotamulla, situated in the Kolonnawa electorate, far removed from Deniyaya, in the deep south, the Minister’s home base. His visit certainly was not with an eye on the vote, or the manapey, unlike a certain politician, who, during a flood, close to election day, distributed lunch packets with his name and manapey number prominently displayed on the buth packet. Minister Ratnayaka should therefore be commended for braving the odds and visiting the victims while those who are culpable were nowhere near the scene.

Those media institutions who went to town about the Minister being booed failed to record the ‘No Show’ by any of the members of the Joint Opposition save Dinesh Gunawardena. One would have expected the political savvy Mahinda Rajapaksa to be the first on the scene at such instances, as the public knows only too well. Conspicuous also by their absence were JO stalwarts Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila, champions of the down trodden and with their vote base in the Colombo district. Perhaps they are only too well aware that the Meetotamulla garbage mountain was not the creation of Yahapalanaya but was in existence for nearly two decades and that they too would have been at the receiving end of the angry mobs for gross neglect on their part. What was former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who received much accolades for beautifying the Colombo city, doing, permitting this massive eyesore to remain without using the considerable resources at his disposal, including the army, to get rid of it?

Be that as it may, it behoves all parties to set aside all political differences and unite in this dark hour to alleviate the sufferings of the Meetotamulla vicitms. The blame game should stop and work started immediately to find a solution to the ever worsening garbage problem. With the Meetotamulla incident there is now bound to be stiff resistance by the public to shift garbage to other areas as was witnessed recently in Ja-ela. What is needed is a long term solution, such as recycling of the garbage for power generation, a project that was often bandied about by successive governments to no avail. It is hoped that the Japanese technical team due to arrive in the country in the aftermath of the Meetotamulla tragedy would offer a permanent solution to the garbage problem. The way things stand the problem could only get further aggravated with rapid urbanization and the resultant congestion (there is a daily floating population of nearly one million in the Colombo city). Presently, local government bodies in many areas such as Wattala and Ja-ela which are highly urbanized and populous have run out of land areas to dump garbage, with the result that mini garbage mountains are seen piled up on roadsides. The problem could also invite disease and pestilence. Adding to the woes is the decision by the UDA not to permit its lands for garbage dumping.

President Maithripala Sirisena, as the Minister of Environment should take the lead and get things moving -and moving fast- before the problem gets out of hand and the country being reduced to one big stinking mess. Funds should not be made an obstacle towards a long term solution to the garbage problem. Japan has already promised help. There will be others too who could be persuaded to provide their inputs. 


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