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Dereliction of duty costs three innocent lives

1 October 2020 02:24 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Shock waves ripped through Buwelikada in Kandy on September 20, an otherwise quiet Sunday morning, when a young father, mother and their infant daughter were killed in a cave-in of a 5-storey building, which then collapsed on an adjoining house. It raised several questions as to whether proper approvals were obtained and quality standards were maintained when constructing such buildings in areas known to be vulnerable to earth slips or landslides.   


More often than not authorities are woken up from a deep slumber and are compelled to act only when tragedies such as these occur; but at what cost. Situated along Sangamitta Mawatha, the house and the boutique-hotel -- owned by 35-year-old businessman Chamila Prasad and his wife, 32-year-old lawyer Achala Ekanayake -- were reduced to a mound of rubble, while the 5-storey house owner Anura Lewke, his wife and their children 
escaped unhurt.   


The young couple and their infant daughter Onela paid with their lives for the negligence of State officials, who appear to have fallen far short of conscientiously performing the duties assigned to them. What use is it to have an inquiry to check what went wrong; how and why and submit recommendations to prevent such catastrophes from happening again when instead, this heart-breaking tragedy should have never been allowed to happen and the lives of three innocent persons saved.   


Peradeniya University’s Senior Professor of Geology, Athula Senaratne has been quoted in our sister paper, The Sunday Times as saying that Buwelikada where the house was located is also known as “boowella” or loose soil indicating the unsuitability to support a 5-storey building.   


Who approved the plans to build such a house and did any official inspect the building to check whether it conformed to the original plan approved by the local council? These are some of the many questions; main among them is who will bear the responsibility for this senseless calamity that beg for answers.   


The head of the National Building and Research Organisation’s (NBRO) Landslide Division, R.M.S. Bandara has said approval agencies, namely local authorities, had failed to conduct post-construction reviews.   


He said the soil in the area could not cope with the multi-storey building and that the foundation laid for two floors had ended up supporting five storeys. Mr. Bandara has said the building had collapsed not because of a landslide or land subsidence but mainly to a construction fault.   


At this point we recall a similar tragedy that occurred on May 18, 2017 where two workmen were killed and more than 20 injured when a partially constructed building on a location behind the Savoy Cinema in Wellawatte collapsed.   


In the wake of this incident, the then government said it would demolish an estimated 10,000 illegally built homes and offices in Colombo while the then Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka said the casualties might have been much higher if the reception hall had been hosting a wedding at the time the building collapsed and assured that the owners would face criminal charges. But we are unaware whether they were prosecuted in a court of law and justice meted out.   


If that is so in Colombo, should we not be vigilant when it comes to putting up buildings in other parts of the country as well because every time the authorities compromise on vigilance and work ethics they leave room for unscrupulous building contractors and owners to cut corners for financial gain at the heavy cost of human lives and limbs.   


Getting back to Buwelikada in Kandy, according to what Central Province Governor Lalith B. Gamage has said, everyone who had given approval for the construction of the five-storey building that collapsed should be at fault. Strangely though, taking responsibility for lapses that result in such calamitous situations has never been the hallmark of officials in Sri Lanka and going by past records whether it would happen in the aftermath of this tragedy is not too difficult to guess.   


Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Kandy police arrested Anura Lewke -- a former Basnayake Nilame of the Dodanwala Natha Dewalaya and the owner of the questionable building. He was produced in the Kandy Magistrate’s Court and ordered to be remanded till October 13.   


Those in positions of authority at government, local government or local council levels when performing the duties assigned to them, would do well to remember this quote from Stephen Covey that anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.   

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