Creating a parallel with the agitation against a glove factory in Rathupaswala last year, people in Hanwella had protested against a rubber factory in the area on Sunday. It is unfortunate that the authorities has let the issue aggravate and that the protest on Sunday had claimed the life of the OIC of the Borella Police Station, Prasad Siriwardena.
It is a universally accepted norm that any person or group have the right to protest in the case of injustice or harassment being meted out to them by others. At the same time that right does not warrant one’s taking of the law into one’s own hands. Also, creating a war-like situation by felling trees onto a main road in order to prevent the law-enforcing authorities from entering the area is something more than a lawfully accepted protest, irrespective of it being spontaneous or otherwise.
The purpose of a protest is to draw the attention of the masses as well as the authorities who are lethargic in nature towards public complaints and not supposed to bring about instant results in most cases. Hence, creating a war-like situation would give ammunition to justify any amount of repression on the part of the authorities.
However, the people of Hanwella claim that their repeated complaints on the ill-effects of the rubber factory had fallen on deaf ears. They allege that the factory caused ground water contamination and attribute the smoke billowing from the factory to the respiratory ailments prevalent in the area.
The police spokesman says that the attribution by the people to their problems has no proof, a matter that does not fall within his purview. He also claims the involvement of a third party that had purportedly played a role during the protest in order to discredit the government at a time when the UNHRC is meeting in Geneva. This reminds us of a similar claim by the authorities about a third party during the protest and a shooting incident in Weliweriya. It has to be noted that seven months have lapsed not only without the authorities substantiating their allegation but also with the country totally forgetting it. In respect of the latest incident it is amazing to note that the police spokesman had identified the motive of the purported third party even before identifying it.
And also the highly political nature of the claim about the third party would prompt the protesters identifying themselves with the opposition. These are irrelevant to the crux of the matter. The options before the authorities are simple and clear, either to solve the problems emanating from the factory or to convince the people of the area that the factory has got nothing to do with the respiratory ailments and water contamination that are said to be prevalent in the area.