Decent Lanka 2015, a civic organisation has sent the following statement on the tragedy that took place on Friday, April 14 night, in which 26 residents were killed.
The collapsing of the over 90 meter high, 25 million tonne waste dump in Meethotamulla, Kolonnawa, marks the darkest Sinhala-Hindu New Year in Post-Independent Sri Lanka, which had left around 145 slum dwellings in the vicinity damaged, over 600 people including children displaced and 26 people reported killed.
This tragedy has been in the making for over eight years now due to the callous and irresponsible attitudes of both the political leadership and the bureaucracy.
The Meethotamulla open waste dump was the alternative to the open waste dump in Bloemendhal, Modera, when a Court Order in 2009 stopped dumping in Bloemendhal. Ever since, people around the Meethotamulla waste dump were protesting against the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) dumping around 800 to 900 tonnes of waste each day. This is said to adversely impact around 8,700 families in eight Grama Niladhari Divisions around Meethotamulla.
These people were voicing concerns over health hazards, unbearable stench, polluted water and growing mosquito and other insects that could turn out as serious hazards. From 2010 there had been continual protests over many issues including fire hazards, and waste slips and the worst being the Colombo floods of May 2016. The Convener of the People Against the Meethotamulla Garbage Dump and an Attorney at law were arrested in January 2016 and then bailed out.
Previously they were assaulted, allegedly by the Kolonnawa Urban Council Chairman and his goons. In November last year (2016) protesters were tear-gassed and a Court Order, obtained by the Police, banned any more protests against the waste dump.
The Western Provincial Council and successive Governments have made numerous promises and spoken of high flying alternate proposals that have never seen the light of day. One such promise was to provide those living around the waste dump with alternate housing and schools for children within Kolonnawa itself.
Another was to close the dump by January 2011. Former Mayor CMC was talking of transporting Colombo’s solid waste to Puttalam by rail. He also had the grand idea of turning Meethotamulla into a golf link, after relocating the waste dump.
A year ago (April 2016) WP Megapolis Ministry said it would relocate the Meethotamulla waste dump in Aruwakkalu, Puttalam as soon as the EIA they have commissioned was received. They were planning to begin the project in three months.
This was dropped as it was close to the Wilpattu National Park and was opposed by the Wildlife Department.
The UDA under the Megapolis Ministry told media in November 2016, it had a proposal to contract a private company to convert the waste dump into electricity. This too has not been planned properly and there is also an ongoing conflict on the proposal between the UDA and the WPC Chief Minister as reported in media.
Meanwhile, the CMC last year told Courts it planned to relocate the waste dump to Ekala, Ja-ela.
That was flatly rejected by all concerned including the clergy, residents and local politicians. The land proposed was a private low lying land and was to be rented at a high cost. A similar intolerable open waste dump is growing in Karadiyana, Piliyandala with over 37 acres of wetland being used for dumping solid waste by at least four Municipal and Urban Councils.
The operation of collecting and dumping of solid waste is outsourced to a private company, there was no EIA carried out, no acceptable set standards to be adhered to and no supervisory system in place. The company once refused to accept solid waste from Dehiwala-Mt.Lavinia MC for non-payment.
That in fact is how solid waste disposal is handled with no serious responsibility on possible adverse impact it could have on people and society. The Meethotamulla waste dump exposes all political parties and alliances in both provincial and central government as clueless, politically illiterate and insensitive to sensitive issues affecting the people. There had been discussions with the Prime Minister and the President accompanied by all relevant officials that had ended with no worthy answer other than promises that were never met. This in fact is the case with all major disasters from Koslanda in October 2014 to Aranayake in May 2016 and warnings sent out to people on possible landslides in many areas in the Badulla, Ratnapura, Nuwara Eliya and Kegalle Districts that to date have gone without any reasonable alternatives and solutions offered.
This is all about how public policy is shaped without public concerns taken into account. It is all about planning without needs assessments and professional and technical inputs. It is all about a dumb and corrupt bureaucracy tying up with equally ignorant and corrupt politicians in finding the largest source of funding as first priority to draw up proposals thereafter.
People cannot continue living with such corrupt and irresponsible Governance. They need answers to these extremely sensitive issues and answers that are well planned and efficiently implemented. We do know such answers cannot be worked out overnight. They do take time.
Yet, this tragedy in Meethotamulla demands immediate answers as well.
That cannot end up with compensation offered and promises made to stop future dumping. We know that cannot happen as the CMC has no alternate dumping grounds to start off from tomorrow.
We have to be pragmatic and therefore demand:
01. The Government must take total responsibility in relocating all resident families around Meethotamulla waste dump in decent housing with a monthly living assistance that can meet their daily needs and children provided with schools immediately in the area the families are relocated in.
02. the Government should constitute a competent, professionally qualified planning team that includes expertise in urban planning and solid waste management with due financial allocations to immediately draw up a district plan for disposal and management of solid waste for Colombo district in the most modern and hygienic manner instead of open dumps as done now.
03. The planning team should be given six months to present the draft plan to the public for discussion and consultation and at consultations to include a detailed presentation of the proposal as public awareness creation.
04. All Local Government bodies in Colombo should establish a pre-decided number of public consultation centres (Consultation & information cafes) with personnel competent in explaining the proposal and with all details of the proposed plan made available to the public and also accept written protests and suggestions.
05. The Western Provincial Council should facilitate a social media campaign with a dedicated website that would provide all details about the proposal and accept public comments and suggestions online and also have space for dialogue.
06. WP Council should take total responsibility in coordinating all public consultations and awareness creation campaigns and liaise with the drafting team in keeping them informed of public concerns
07. Final proposal should be first presented to the WP Council for approval and then to Parliament for financial allocations and implementation.
Issued by Decent Lanka 2015 organisation Signatories - Neville Ananda, Attorney-at-Law Anton Marcus, Trade Union Leader, Dr. Indi Akurugoda, Academic, Ruhuna University Kusal Perera, Journalist, Muditha Karunamuni, Social Activist, Amrit Muttukumaru, Public Interest Activist, Hasantha Gunaweera, Agriculture Consultant & Community Development Activist, Krishan Siriwardana, Communication Specialist, Aruni Samarakoon, Social Activist Asanka Senadeera, Political Critic.