- Wattala PS members up in arms with Chairman
By Sarath Chinthaka
The Muthurajawela Wetlands, which spans over 1,700 hectares and rich in biodiversity, is slowly facing its destruction owning to a number of man-made issues including a recent decision by the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman to set up a Clinical waste management centre, council members complained.
Many local government authorities including the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) continually dump garbage at the Muthurajawela facility. Though it was earlier said that dumped garbage would be covered by a land filling, a group of Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha members said it is not being done properly. The council members were on an inspection tour at the wetland.
Due to day-to-day disposal of garbage and the practice of setting clinical waste on fire had endangered the health of people living in Kerawalapitiya, Maththumagala, Welisara, Nagoda, Uswetakeiyawa, Bopitiya and Delathura areas.
Both governing and opposition PS members recently expressed their disapproval to the PS Chairman for allowing a private company (SISILI HANARO ENCARE (Pvt) LTD) to set up a clinical waste management centre without the approval of the Pradeshiya Sabha. The Chairman also came under fire for issuing a trade permit to the company.
Wattala PS member and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Organiser Brihan Abdeen said the approval to dump garbage at the Muthurajawela facility was given only for two years.
“Now, the two-year period has lapsed but the local government authorities continue to dump garbage at the site. Though it was said that the garbage would be covered with land-filing, we saw upon inspection that it is not happening. Therefore, the pungent smell continues to emit from the site and the people in surrounding areas are exposed to a grave health risk. The lagoon, canals, especially the Hamilton Canal had been polluted killing animals including fish in the process,” he said.
He criticized the PS Chairman for allowing a private company to set up a clinical waste management centre within the wetland premises without seeking the approval of
“The garbage dumping site has been declared a high security zone with security provided by the military personnel. No one is allowed to go in. We used a strategy to launch our inspection tour. The site had 50 containers filled with clinical waste. There is a law, in Sri Lanka and internationally, that clinical waste should be transported and stored in freezers. However, in Muthurajawela, these waste had been placed in containers in a careless manner. The containers are filled with blood stained gauze, syringes and other health hazardous clinical waste. It is believed that body parts removed after surgeries are also in these containers rotting.
We are doubtful whether the clinical waste imported from England were also there and hoping to inquire about this from the Customs Department,” he said.
“As a Pradeshiya Sabha, we should protect the people of the area. Neither the act of dumping garbage at Muthurajawela nor the burning of clinical waste there is being done in accordance with the regulations set up by the Central Environmental Authority,” he said.
Anura Pathinayake, the Opposition Leader of the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha, said there were better and appropriate places to dump garbage and burn clinical waste in the country.
“Why does all garbage have to end up at Muthurajawela? Assurances were made to turn garbage into compost. Nothing happened. The people living along the Gunasekara Mawatha in Maththumagala and Galahaduwa face many environmental issues because of this,” he said.
Wattala PS Deputy Chairman Jagath Jayathunga said they cannot even go out in the open because people verbally attack them because of a clinical waste management centre.
“The approval to the clinical waste management centre was not given by the council members and it was a personal decision of the council chairman. This was revealed only recently. Only God can save Muthurajawela and the people in the area now. There is no growth of fish in the lagoons of Muthurajawela as both fish and their breeding places are destroyed. If immediate attention was not paid, people won’t be able to even drink water from a well in the vicinity of Muthurajawela in the near future,” he said. PS Council member Padmini Pitigala said,“ Muthurajawela is rich in biodiversity and is a marshy land in close proximity to Colombo which acts as a flood retention area. The mangroves at Muthurajawela provide a home to many species of animals.
Herbs grow and species of endemic animals live freely in the wetland. Today, it has been destroyed by human activities. Constructions, land fillings, fires and dispose of garbage have polluted water resources including canals. The poverty-stricken people of the area are facing a grave health risk because of this,”
She said the lagoon and the canals have been polluted because of the Muthurajawela garbage dumping site and the clinical waste management centre.
In the past, she said people used the Hamilton Canal to bathe and wash their clothes. “People fear to set foot in the wetland and the canal today. Those who engaged in fishing have no alternative,” she said.
The PS Chairman, R.A. Thyagaratna Alwis, who had reportedly given permission to set up a clinical waste management centre, refused the allegations.
He said he didn’t permit to set up any building in Muthurajawela and would take immediate action to close down the facility.
However, the council members produced a letter signed by the PS Chairman allowing the private company to set up a clinical waste management centre.