Matters to be taken notice of by VVIPs


By Nan

There have been numerous articles and letters to editors and innumerable discussion among people and heartfelt cries, but no notice seems to be taken by the powers-that-be of the issues written about, discussed or lamented over. HE the President has very many advisors. Could not just one of these important personages scan the papers and pass on the oft repeated grouses by sensible persons and organizations that speak and act with responsibility? Matters, comparatively insignificant ones too, have to go up to him or his brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, since even a small stretch of road, large notices declare, is being repaired on the orders of His Excellency the President.

Matter one: beautification of cities and displacement of families

Friday’s Island newspaper (27th) carried an article on the page reserved for letters to the editor titled Accelerating modern city planning and urban development in Colombo and other Metropolitan Centres signed by Jayantha Dhanapala on behalf of the Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens. The group members are extremely distinguished and speak with sensible responsibility. You can swear by this. The gist of the article is contained in this quoted paragraph: "We agree that city planning and urban development is essential in the national interest. We would also point out that any form of development, particularly that which causes adverse social impacts, must be carried out according to the rule of law and with due regard to principles of equality and social justice."

Nan with a voice weaker than one whispering in a wilderness has written more than once on the issue of eviction of residents in certain areas to make the city beautiful for tourists. We lived fine cheek by jowl with the poorer dwellers; tourists continued to visit the Island notwithstanding spots of less privileged housing. Hence what should have been done is improve those people’s houses and surrounding areas not just throw them out. Relocation is a misnomer since they are abandoned far out of city limits disrupting drastically lives, employment and education of children. Here is just one story. The three wheeler man who takes me about and even waits till I do a bit of shopping lives in abject fear since a VVIP is building a hotel near where he lives and since his house and some others spoil the view from upstair hotel windows, these houses are in danger of being bulldozed and residents just chased away. He works so hard driving his three wheeler and then running a boutique in the verandah of his home so he has money to educate his three children, two of whom are in good schools in Rajagiriya. But his life and that of his family have to be sacrificed for a view to a tourist eye.

I walked down the road beside the mosque behind the Kollupitiya market on a personal matter to the President’s Security Division (PSD) and was horrified to see that all that humanity that used to overflow happily to the pavement, all those full houses were dilapidated and most vacated. Not voluntarily, I am sure. The new very broad road leading to the PSD headquarters was excellent but had such a smell of military might.

Matter two: renaming roads

Happening in Colombo, happening with greater acceleration in Jaffna and the Vanni. For what purpose: personal aggrandizement and Sinhalafying. Latest – Sri Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Mawatha, overlaying the very convenient Havelock Rd. This particular renaming has an unfortunate overtone of Buddhist supremacy. It is not, definitely not boot licking the imperialists or reluctance to give up traces of colonialism that motivate those who say let road names remain as they are. This renaming is just ultra-neo-nationalism (to me- stupidity). Convenience is sacrificed and road maps et al have to be changed all the time. Who uses or addresses letters to Premasiri Khemadasa Mawatha instead of Guildford Crescent and Ven Vipulasara … whatever instead of Model Farm Road?

Librarians particularly shuddered when President Premadasa wanted to change the spelling of the name of our country to Shri Lanka, just because of a whim that this added h was propitious. Think of airports around the world, maps, catalogues in libraries all sent awry in the alphabetic order when ‘sr’ became ‘shr

Matter three: statues of the Buddha

I find it completely sacrilegious and totally against what the Buddha taught and advised to have statues in his image built on hilltops, junctions, crossroads, wherever. During the tenure of Ranasinghe Premadasa’s presidency, I for one avoided looking up at the tops of mountains for fear a stark white Buddha statue would suddenly be sitting there. The colossal statue on Elephant Rock in Kurunegala is OK but not others like the one that overlooks Kandy from its sitting position on Bahirawakande. At the beginning it was said you could climb into the innards of the statue and peep at the town laid below through where the stomach of the statue is. What a gross insult to that gentle, compassionate teacher. These statues were built and sited by mudalalis mostly with the profits made by cheating customers. I had started looking up above to enjoy the varied shades of green in our tree covered hills, when recently, on a trip to Kandy, I almost shrieked. There on a hill was being built more than a statue – a temple or house for the statue – stark glaring white.

No police or armed forces personnel seem to enquire, leave alone touch and remove the statues that have been strategically placed in the corner of Horton Place and Wijerama Mawatha. These are to be removed, not the houses of the poor.

Matter four: billboards

It is fast coming to the stage when billboards are obscuring the trees in the cities and along major roads, cutting off the view of hills and sky, and impinging so maddeningly on the eye and mind that curses are what emerge from travelers’ mouths, not oohs and aahs that the beauty of Sri Lanka should elicit. We live in such a lovely vegetation covered country; towns too boasting huge trees; the natural splendour of nature admired by tourists and natives alike. And now the multiplying billboards, growing ever larger in size, advertising cell phones to nearly everything else obliterates what nature so abundantly offers. The roadsides being already overcrowded with these ads, they have invaded paddy fields and hillsides along the Kandy road. I was, as I wrote in a previous article in this column, horrified to note the travesty of a huge billboard advertising Dialog with a smaller one on some brand of paint stuck right in the shallow sea at Elephant Pass so that entering the Peninsula or coming away from it, the image that smashes on the brain are these two extra large billboards. Its money over everything else as is the mode in Sri Lanka now. Money rules, money talks, money gets around laws and regulations, money subsumes aesthetic beauty and even decency.

I remember a couple of years ago I wrote about these billboards mushrooming themselves all over Colombo with not a tree or free space spared. One great lady took note and ordered removal of all the billboards crowded along the circular front wall of her institution. The lady was the Director of the National Archives, and thanks to her people who pass by the novel building see into the garden, its lawns and trees. What solace the sight of a jak tree instead of a billboard.

We are, as citizens of this country somnambulant and indifferent to what happens around us unless it impinges on us personally. We intone parrot like: ‘Aney what to do?" We are particularly careful not to comment on matters that are government controlled, ordered, allowed. But we have our nicenesses too and people who notice and comment on negatives. So we live in hope that the matters mentioned above will be noted by those who hold power in their hands, who rule this country. Rules against billboards and the construction of Buddha statues here, there and everywhere should forthwith be promulgated and enforced. The billboard at Elephant Pass should be ordered removed immediately. Otherwise the tourists who we are beautifying our cities for at the expense of our own people will go elsewhere where nature can be seen and appreciated.

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