A horrendous tragedy | Daily News

A horrendous tragedy

Tuesday morning’s ferry disaster in Kinniya which claimed the lives of six innocents would have been received with shock and grief mixed with anger by a large segment of the public to whom tragedies of this nature are becoming all too common. A ferry service had been in operation across the Kinniya lagoon transporting locals from Kinniya to Kuringankerni, both ways, as the only means of crossing the lagoon, awaiting the completion of a bridge for which a foundation stone had been laid last April. It is during one such trip on Tuesday morning when the ferry was transporting some 30 persons, a bulk of them schoolchildren, that it had capsized suddenly. Among those drowned were a 30-year-old school teacher and her three-year-old daughter.

Angry locals went on the rampage soon after the incident burning tyres and attacking the house of the area MP whom the crowds claim was one of those present at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the construction of the bridge. In fact, they claimed that the initial foundation stone for constructing the bridge was laid as far back as 2017 and the slow progress in completing the job had led to the tragedy. The angry mob also surrounded the District Secretariat Office and blocked the exit of the District Secretary who came to inquire into the incident. Of course, the people were livid, because, as they claim, the tragedy could have been averted had the bridge been already constructed, obviating the need for a ferry service.

The Kinniya disaster is emblematic of the perennial neglect that has been the lot of the rural areas by those in authority which is marked by a lack of facilities and a state of abandonment. The authorities should get to the bottom in ascertaining as to why the construction of the bridge was put on hold. After all, a spanking new overhead bridge was declared opened yesterday in the heart of Colombo. If only the same enthusiasm and urgency was shown in constructing the Kinniya Bridge (and other rural bridges) we would not have been sharing the anguish of the victims of the families of this ferry disaster today.

Of course, the blame game would now start as to who was the original culprit responsible for the neglect and fingers are bound to be pointed at each other. In the meantime, the families of the dead would be grieving for their young ones with no solace coming their way.

Surely the disaster was staring in the face and the local politicians and local administration could not have been unaware of the risk in the whole exercise of transporting children to school via a crudely built ferry. Nothing short of a comprehensive inquiry is called for to determine those responsible and due punishment should be meted out to the culprits for any acts of commission or omission on their part that led to this horrendous tragedy.

At least, let this be an eye opener for the authorities to identify all risk prone means of conveyances in the rural outback and to find prompt remedies to eliminate all such risks. Today one often reads and sees on Television the numerous accounts of travails of villagers who are forced to navigate dangerous terrain be they derelict roads or makeshift bridges that are fraught with grave risk. Why the Local Government bodies are inactive to remedy these situations has to be asked. Now that all local bodies are to be given a generous slice of funds as announced by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa in his maiden budget recently the first priority ought to be to look into the areas that pose a risk to the lives of people and bring such matters to the notice of the Central Government. The Members of Parliament too, whose Decentralized Budget has been raised from Rs. 5 million to Rs. 10 million should get cracking pronto on the project to identify the danger zones in their own areas and act fast before another disaster strikes.

All incomplete bridges should be attended to and crude structures across rivers and waterways where people have to do a balancing act to stay in one piece should be removed and the real thing installed in their place.

The nature of the outpouring of anger following the ferry disaster in Kinniya was also a sign of how the people felt about all politicians who in their view were having it off while grief, anguish and suffering are the lot of the ordinary folk. This hatred could erupt in a collective form if the authorities fail to take prompt measures to alleviate their suffering. The humungous rise in the cost of living, shortages of basic commodities and the loss of employment due to the pandemic-induced economic downturn have all added to their woes. A disaster such as the one which occurred in Kinniya can only sharpen this antagonism towards the authorities. Hence it is time to get down to the serious business of removing the factors that attract the wrath of the public towards authority.


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