Exclusive interview with the Mayor of Kandy, Mr. Kesara Senanayake
Of rotten apples and toilet water!

water.jpg (13098 bytes)by Carl Muller
In 1866, Ordinance No. 17 was passed in the Legislative Council for setting up Municipal Councils in the island; and Part II of this Ordinance created the Municipalities of Colombo and Kandy.

Kandy was demarcated into four divisions and a Council formed on December 21, 1865 and held its first meeting on March 19, 1866.

One hundred and thirty-six years have gone by and in office today is Kesara Senanayake, the new Mayor of Kandy. He’s young, a no-nonsense man, and I did overhear a Council employee remark to a friend - "Hondatama thadavenawa" — he gets very angry!

Kesara has reason to lose his cool. He can’t dawdle. He wants to get things done and, weird as it may sound, the Kandy Municipality has never been seen to be able to get things done!

Not that I am faulting the former Mayor. All said and done, the Kandy Municipality still functions in the old "Dunuwile House", the once stately and spacious home of Queen’s Advocate J. A. Dunuwile.

As we know, any Municipal Council needs to provide amenities for ratepayers. Yet, in the past it has been the non-rate-payers who enjoyed the benefits — the pavement hawkers, for example, the builders and occupiers of those eyesores like shacks and illegal buildings; those "approved" contractors who built roads with no kerbs and all those itinerants who have been the cause of mass urban pollution. These are the things that have taken pride of place and everything seems to have rushed into a state of utter dereliction.

This wasn’t so in l901 when, in his book, "Kandy, Past and Present" Dr. Nihal Karunaratne tells us how the Municipality listed the following:

• Daily scavenging and removal of refuse at each locality;

• Provision of latrine accommodation;

• Supervision by sanitary officers and resultant control over contagious and infectious diseases existing on the skirts of the town;

• Examination of food supplies in the bazaars;

• Expenditure of municipal funds in the improvement of roads and paths, ambalamas and wells, etc.;

• Exemption from Gamsabhava rules and taxes;

• Police protection;

• Facilities for trades and disposal of market produce.

Sounds wonderful? Ah, but those were different times, different days. Kandy became, thereafter, an up-down city, revived, restored, disciplined under good men and true, then allowed to slide into the gutter. The city had such remarkable Mayors as Fred E. de Silva, Sir Bennett Soysa and E. L Senanayake. The latter did a lot - the Public Library, the new Central Public Market - but as we know, the party system had come into municipal politics and vote catching became the name of the game. The slide was inevitable; and it is Kesara, son of EL. Senanayake, who now has to arrest it. He gets angry for sure, because in whatever direction he turns his head, he sees a mess! "I’ve got rotten apples in the municipality too," he says, "and they may as well know that their days of corruption and self-serving will soon be over!"

The trouble is Kandy has no land plan or zoning plan. Some years ago, a master plan was prepared and then another master plan was contemplated. That’s about all!

"The fact is that municipal decisions were made to suit different political parties," Kesara said. "All this has led to haphazard and piecemeal development. Me? I’m here to take decisions, not sides. I don’t care if a man claims to be green or red or blue. If he is not doing the right, or at lea$ the reasonable thing, he gets no shrift from me!"

I shrugged. After all, we elect the Municipal Council and get what we deserve. We should know better. Nobody has paid any heed to the environment. Kandy is fast losing its lungs. One blotch is the Hantane Housing Estate which, God help us, is to be extended. Nobody has given any thought to water supply, drainage, sewerage disposal or erosion where this estate is concerned.

"What of the law that prohibited buildings coming up in Kandy over 1800 feet."

"It’s 2000 feet now." Why?

Kesara shrugged. The law was amended. Some important political figures built houses over 1800 feet and the Municipality abjectly amended the law. The easy way, surely. The politicos are therefore not lawbreakers. They did so when they cleared the site for building, but the law, like some grandmother’s corset, was stretched 200 feet upwards to legalise these actions!

As Kesara says, he cannot be like Jack Hoiner sticking in his thumb and pulling out plums willy-nilly. "I am giving priority to the multi-storey car park; to improve garbage collection, the maintenance of the Kandy Lake. There is a lot to do - illegal structures, pollution, pavement hawkers, roads, the state of the pavements, the removal of garish and utterly reprehensible decor on buildings that have been identified as protected under the Heritage City plan. Let’s take the Lake. It is utterly polluted. Dredging and the removal of algae will have to be done at tremendous cost. What we need to first address is the problem of squatters in Periswatte and the surrounding hills. Soil keeps washing into the lake at all times. The waters polluted, and the Institute of Fundamental Studies has found it to contain over 55% nitrogen."

It is not only the Lake but the feeder streams that add to the palpitating misery the Lake now is "The problem of illegal construction comes in too," Kesara said. "There’s a garage built over the Saranankara Ela. Built with political patronage, no doubt. Who the devil has the right to build over an Ela? That’s a hell of a thing, no? There has to be a fifteen-foot reservation on both sides of a stream. And another thing, someone else has built a house behind this garage and the septic tank opens into the Ela!"

"But the Municipal engineers pass these plans, don’t they?"

"Yes," - grimly - I told you we have some rotten apples. Paying pooja to the politicians. . . hah! And if you want to say ‘bribery’ don’t! It’s the done thing, apparently."

Yes, he’s got a lot on his hands and pollution of our waterways is very big, very ugly. He’s aware of the huge faecal pollution of the Ela from the toilets along Keppetipola Mawatha, toilets that are emptied into the stream. Even the Maha Ela that runs to the Mahaweli Ganga besides William Gopallawa Mawatha has many hundred toilets opening into it from the houses bordering the road.

"You’re telling me!" Kesara all but barked. "How many houses beside Trincomalee Street have septic tanks? And all those eating houses behind Muslim Hotel. They empty their refuse into the main drain!"

It’s not easy trying to take it all on. As Kesara says, he needs the best men he can so that he can delegate with confidence "Right now, I work far into the nights but I’m beginning to make a dent. But I tell you, it’s no picnic. Kandy has been literally flushed down its own polluting toilet!"