Traffic chaos in Kandy: Some medical aspects


It was a British Governor who described Kandy as the ‘most beautiful city in the most beautiful island in the World’. What he said about the island may be at least partly true even today, but the beautiful city he described is not there now. Out of all cities in Sri Lanka, Kandy occupies a pre-eminent place because of its cultural values, natural beauty, the most venerated Sri Dalada Maligawa, and the Annual Esala perahera. During the seven decades I have spent in the hill capital, I have witnessed its gradual deterioration, one main reason being the traffic chaos. Let me, a practicing medial officer, confine my discussion to the medical aspects of the traffic congestion.

Kandy has gained the dubious honour as one of the most polluted cities in the country. During the last 40 years or so I have seen patients with diseases such as asthma, rhinitis, lung cancer and even diabetes, an illness in which atmospheric and noise pollution has been identified as a possible cause. Most of these could be attributed to the consequences of traffic congestion. In fact Dr. Thushara Kulugammana, Senior Lecturer in Child Health at the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya, who delivered the Kandy Society of Medicine Oration held on 6/2/2020, had some interesting data relevant to this topic. He has looked for respiratory symptoms such as allergic asthma and rhinitis, manifested as continuous sneezing in the City of Kandy in those who are 13-14 years old, and compared the data obtained from relatively unpolluted cities such as Wattegama and Anuradhapura. These showed a significant increase of respiratory diseases in Kandy.

There are too many vehicles entering the city. Roads are also full of people and their movements disrupt the flow of traffic. The congestion is mainly present where there are traffic junctions such as at Heerassagala, the clock tower roundabout, the Gannoruwa roundabout, and the junction in front of the police station. The only place where there is no traffic congestion is the Municipal junction, where the traffic lights are in operation.

There is nothing one could do to prevent so many vehicles entering the city, as people are forced to use their own for want of a proper public transport system. Similarly, there is nothing one could do to prevent so many people entering the city mainly schoolchildren, office workers, and patients.

The biggest offenders who break traffic rules are the drivers of CTB and private buses, and of course their three-wheeler counterparts. The drivers who operate private buses are a law unto themselves and don't care two hoots for the presence of traffic police. As reported recently, most of them are on drugs and the police are just incapable or not interested in nabbing them. They drive at breakneck speeds along the narrow roads, trying to overtake one another so that they could pick up more passengers. Most of them emit diesel smoke considered to be highly injurious to health. Some of them do the opposite, moving at a snail’s pace, especially in the evening. They are a nuisance to those who drive behind them. The three-wheel drivers are even worse. They overtake on both sides of the road damage other vehicles, especially those driven by women and the elderly people, and turn abusive when confronted. Obviously, most of them are also on drugs or alcohol.

What are the possible solutions? In the short term there are many options. The belching buses should be taken off the roads and the drivers made to undergo breathalyzer tests. Plainclothesmen could be used for nabbing them. One wonders why this is not done when results could be achieved so easily. Stern action should be taken against errant trishaw drivers.

In my opinion, one effective way of controlling the traffic is to make the William Gopallawa Mawatha and the Old Peradeniya Road one way. When this is done the crossroads between the two roads could be widened and opened up and made one way. There are 13 such cross roads between the two major thoroughfares from Gannoruwa to the Kandy police station. This one-way scheme was tested by the previous Governor with the help of Police, school principals and professionals such as doctors. He carried out this scheme after a three-month-long study, but had to withdraw it in three days following the protests of a few powerful businessmen! Those who institute such schemes should have strong will power since it benefits the majority of people.

There are 10 major schools between the Kandy Police station and Gannoruwa. Since these schools close at the same time, thousands of schoolchildren pour into the roads inhaling vehicle emissions. The opening and closing times of these schools can be staggered.

There are several leading private tuition centres with a large number of students. They also contribute to traffic congestion.

Flyovers are needed at major junctions such as Heerassagala, the police Junction and the Gannoruwa roundabout. There is a proposal to construct an underground tunnel connecting Tennekumbura and Suduhumpola, and making the road in front of the Maligawa open to the traffic, at least one way and only for the smaller vehicles. This could be easily done, but the lobby against this is so powerful and no government dares implement the project.

I hope that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will stay in Kandy for a few days, observe for himself the agony of the public and take remedial measures to alleviate their suffering.


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