The tragedy that occurred last Thursday at Maligawatte where three women died and nine others were injured should have never happened if those who distributed or attempted to distribute money to the poor people in the area had acted in a more responsible manner by obtaining the permission and help of the Police.
A businessman residing at Dehiwela had used his warehouse on the Jumma Masjid Road in Maligawatte to perform an act of charity on the 27th day of the Ramadan fast, considered by Muslims as the most important day of their fasting calendar. They are known to perform various acts of charity on this day seeking forgiveness for the sins they may have knowingly or unknowingly committed during the past year.
But what began as an act of charity and in good faith ended in an unexpected tragedy when men, women and children -- caught up in abject poverty, which was made even worse by the two months-long curfew -- rushed to the warehouse to collect whatever cash was being distributed by the businessman, who is known to perform similar acts of charity every year during the Ramadan fast. It is no secret that anything could happen at places where anxious people gather in their hundreds seeking handouts with the survival instinct foremost in their minds. It was the stampede that occurred for some reason or the other among those gathered there that ended up with some being trampled or crushed in the melee leaving three of them dead and nine injured.
Several suspects including the businessman were arrested on charges of violating the Penal Code and the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. They were produced in court and remanded until June 4.
We have often seen similar scenes with people in their thousands clamouring to obtain the Rs.5,000 which the government handed out to in April and May with the least bit concerned about the requisite health guidelines such as physical distancing and the wearing of face masks.
Incidentally, the Maligawatte tragedy came a day after Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena announced that the government had decided to stop the stipend from June, leaving those who were eagerly looking forward to receiving it in the lurch.
What is so unfortunate is that this is the kind of plight that more often than not befalls the poorest of the poor and underscores the fact that poverty alleviation and the equitable distribution of wealth and resources should be urgently addressed by the authorities instead of limiting these phrases to empty rhetoric in a climate where the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This is a phenomenon that is not limited to Sri Lanka but the world over where greed is uppermost among some of the rich and the elite. We have often seen unscrupulous politicians doing their utmost to amass for themselves more and more perks and privileges sufficient to last a couple of lifetimes. Come election time we will again see some of our selfish and self-centred politicians making grandiose promises often targeting the poor. The promises of course have a short lifespan that come to naught on the day after elections.
If all this is not enough, we have farmers lamenting over the shortage of fertilizer which they urgently need to nourish their paddy fields and other crops which are gradually withering away for the lack of fertilizer. They say they see no end in sight to their plight having pawned all their jewellery to finance their cultivations; now languishing with no help from the agriculture authorities.
Meanwhile, the hearing of the fundamental rights petitions for leave to proceed continued yesterday for the seventh consecutive day with the counsel for the petitioners, the respondents and the intervenient petitioners making their submissions and counter-submissions to a Supreme Court Bench of five-judges headed by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.
The petitioners are seeking Court to quash the presidential proclamation now that the election could not be held and as such neither could the new Parliament meet on the prescribed dates. They also seek court to quash the Election Commission gazette notice fixing June 20 as the new date of the election on the basis that the pandemic situation had made it impossible to hold free and fair elections on this date as well.
Be that as it may, the people will definitely know when Sri Lanka’s Apex Court gives its ruling.