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Police burying their heads in sand

This country is a jungle of laws and there seems to be a policeman behind every bush. Roads are full of heavily guarded checkpoints, though the war is a thing of the past. There is also a very heavy presence of combat ready armed forces personnel at every nook and corner as if to counter an impending terror strike. But, illegal activities continue unabated.

Yesterday, we carried a news item on illegal sand mining in the Kelani Ganga at Peliyagoda. A picture showed two barges loaded with river sand between the new bridge and the old one. The 'intrepid' sand miners are operating under the nose of the police––both metaphorically and literally––who conduct checks on vehicles to and from the city on the two bridges. We learn that the police personnel on duty there have dutifully informed their superiors of the illegal sand mining, which poses a threat to the bridges, but to no avail. Sand miners, unless halted in their tracks, are sure to bring down the bridges––with the passage of time––which even the terrorists failed to destroy.

The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau says it has not granted permission for sand mining at Peliyagoda. The Coast Conservation Department usually allows excess sand to be removed from estuaries, it has said. But, as far as we are aware, there is no river mouth located between the two bridges! So, how come sand miners operate so freely?

Peliyagoda is part of the Kelaniya electorate. The penny dropped, eh? The law of the land does not exist there as is well known. It is the law of the jungle that we have in that part of the country.

We have reason to believe that the sand miners concerned are politically backed and therefore above the law like their political masters. They must be having some government links. Else, they will not dare carry out their illegal operations in full view of the public as well as the police.

Some years ago strict restrictions on the mining and transportation of sand were introduced. And they sent sand prices through the roof. There was no government intervention to prevent the public being fleeced by unscrupulous traders who effected price increases disproportionate to the extra cost they had to incur because of permits etc. However, one may argue that such measures are salutary in that the haphazard exploitation of sand had to be stopped, though unfortunately successive governments have failed to protect the consumer and implement the new laws effectively. Of what use are the environmental laws if illegal sand mining goes on in the vicinity of Colombo with the police looking the other way?

The Peliyagoda sand miners' apparent legal immunity sheds light on the sorry state of affairs in the country. How can we depend on the police or other State agencies to prevent illegal activities carried out on the sly, when they shamelessly turn a blind eye to the blatant violations of the law under their nose? Narcotics trade is far from crushed in spite of an ambitious government plan to rid the country of drugs and illicit brew. Illegal loggers continue to denude forests with impunity. Underworld criminal gangs are alive and kicking and capable of striking at will.

It is hoped that our news item on sand mining and this editorial will not result in the police bigwigs doing a King Kekille (a bovine monarch who always punished the wrong person). Their kneejerk reaction may be to transfer the police personnel deployed at checkpoints on the two bridges while sand miners carry on regardless. Let them prove us wrong by moving against the culprits!

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