YAHAPALANA AS A ”WAKE UP CALL”  Part 1
Posted on August 15th, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Yahapalana government is now acting as a ‘wake up call.’ When Yahapalana took over people found that Instead of the benevolent government they expected, ‘we have got a government ‘which has every intention of ruining the country’. This did not result, as   the USA hoped, in turning a confident   society, into a frightened, cowed one. It has instead created a furious, disappointed public who wish to give Yahapalana a good whack. The public are angry with Yahapalana for deceiving them, but they are even angrier with themselves for getting deceived.

The result is a deep anger, visible public militancy, and voluntary action. This could be seen in the determined way the public behaves in certain instances. In August 2017, at Kataragama the worshippers found the devale door locked at puja time. TV camera showed the   crowd who had come to worship, going in an angry group to the Basnayake nilame’s house, storming it, taking the keys and starting the puja. (Derana news 22.8.17)

In September 2016, there was voltage damage to   electrical equipment in at least 120 houses at Ambana pahe kanuwa, Elpitiya. Angry villagers detained CEB officials and seized their     vehicles. They were finally released after talks between the villagers and police and high CEB officials.

Survey Department officials who visited Kashyapa in Habarana in August 2017, to survey the land to be acquired for the proposed railway project between Kurunegala and Habarana were driven away by a group of angry protesters. About 100 persons took part in the protest against the acquisition of their land. Television news of 11.10.2017 showed a demonstration by those affected by the Uma Oya project. Observe the deep anger. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGIJVuQnWwQ at  21.14)

There is an insistence on citizen rights, demand for immediate redress. A packet of ‘chicken Kotte’ bought for dinner at Ambalantota had a large frog instead of chicken. The customer had immediately gone to the Public Health Inspector’s office in the area and lodged a complaint.

There is loud expression of grievances, open resistance, open aggression and of course open contempt for the government they elected. There is alertness and an aggressiveness that I have never seen before. Communication and mobilization have become very easy, due to the rapid growth of mobile phone usage. Smart phones are in use in the rural areas too. Users of these mobile phones ‘know about the goings on in power centers.’ Public in the rural areas knew about the Bond scam, observed analysts. Here is a selection of events which illustrate this Yahapalana wake up call”.

The first event I have selected is one full of noise and action. There was a meeting at Nailiya Viharasthanaya in Kurunegala in September  2017, where government officials, ministers  and public had met to discuss matters regarding the Central Expressway section t from Potuhera to Kurunegala. Around 200 residents from the areas of Amunawatte, Henmulla, Weherabanda, Gattuwana, and Boyagana had come for the discussion. They complained that they would lose land to the Expressway. An official  tried to explain matters regarding the Central Expressway, but the residents of the area kept interrupting him and protesting. The discussions heated up.  The Deputy Minister tried to address the gathering. The crowd shouted at him.

A heated exchange took place.  The residents insisted strongly that the expressway be built on columns to avoid flooding, to pay adequate compensation and to make transparent the system of compensation. They handed over to the Deputy Minister a petition with their demands. They wanted the Minister to assure them in writing that their demands would be met. The Deputy Minister said he did not have the authority to do so. The situation worsened, the officials and minister had to be escorted out of the premises under police security. As the officials left, the residents in the area booed at them in protest. The participants then proceeded towards the Boyagane-Malpitiya junction, a kilometer away from the temple and blocked the Kurunegala-Colombo main road. This caused heavy traffic congestion in the area for over three hours.

Until Yahapalana came, there was no public fuss over the issue of garbage disposal. After Yahapalana, a fundamental rights petition was filed against Meetotamulla garbage dump. The Petitioner stated that the Kolonnawa city is a highly residential area, with high population density. In the middle of this highly residential area is huge and growing garbage dumping site, with a huge mountain of garbage, which has now grown to over 18 acres in extent.  Approximately 750 to 1,200 tons of garbage come into the site on a daily basis from the Colombo Municipal area. The stench is now becoming unbearable for the families and children and that there are tremendous and serious health hazard,

There are other sustainable solutions but Yahapalana is not considering them. Instead, Yahapalana is  getting ready to demolish another 100 houses to expand the site for a further 3 acres, said the Meetotamulla group . There are companies who are interested in purchasing the garbage) and who are willing to recycle the garbage at their own expense in an environment friendly manner.

Authorities have been trying to dump garbage collected from Colombo at garbage dumps in several locations since the decision to halt further dumping at Meetotamulla. However, these moves also have been met with strong protests by residents of these areas. At Nugape off Wattala (Muthurajawela), residents protesting over dumping of garbage. They said that the land is a part of Muthurajawela wetlands and it needs to be protected.

It was the same at Karadiyana. Television news showed protestors, angrily and noisily driving away garbage trucks from Karadiyana and Meetotamulla. Scores of tractors filled to the brim with garbage from Colombo on their way to the Karadiyana Waste Management Facility were turned back by angry protesters at Karadiyana yesterday as mobs stormed the tractors, crying, Stop Karadiyana from turning into another Meetotamulla” and Don’t ruin our city. We don’t want Colombo’s garbage here. The situation here is bad as it is.”

Garbage trucks entering the Karadiyana Waste Management Facility were stopped by protesters yesterday who asked that garbage from Colombo not be taken to the Facility. The protesters obstructed the movement of all garbage trucks from 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Residents of Karadiyana  said that they were fine with their own garbage from Kesbewa and Boralesgamuwa being taken to Karadiyana but would oppose any garbage from outside.

There was strong opposition to the dumping of garbage in other places too, and the government reacted equally strongly. Derana news 25.4.17 showed police with shields and batons controlling the crowd opposing garbage at Uragodawatte and Muturajawela. Police also  fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse people who were blocking trucks transporting garbage collected from Colombo to a site in Maligawatta, Dompe in April 2017.

Derana news 22.4.17 showed Police attacking the many demonstrators at Wattala, who said they did not want Colombo garbage. Several Catholic priests also intervened on behalf of the protesters. It was a prolonged fight and continued even after the garbage trucks went on the journey out. There was also strong protests from villagers at Wellawaya about dumping garbage.

Yahapalana responded to the garbage issue with a love call of its own. Yahapalana issued a special gazette notification making garbage management an essential service. Any type of obstruction to carry out these services will be deemed as an offence and those involved in such activities can be arrested by a Police officer without a warrant. Those found guilty of such offences face rigorous imprisonment following prosecution.

Patali Champika Ranawaka warned that there should be a limit to public protest and anti democratic detonations. The government will not tolerate attempt to wreak havoc. The government had the power to dump garbage at any location found suitable for the purpose and none could oppose that action. LSSP rejected this. People have the right to protest and express their objection towards issues, said the LSSP.

Professionals became alarmed, when they saw what Yahapalana was doing. In November 2017, two Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Engineers  filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal, seeking a ‘Stay’ order on the implementation of the country’s long term power generation plan. This was due to  a dispute between the CEB and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the country’s power sector regulator, over the generation plan approved by the latter.

The petitioners argued that 1st respondent, PUCSL, has neglected, and failed to comply with procedural requirements, when approving the CEB’s Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan (LCLTGEP) 2018-2037. PUCSL has arbitrarily  amended the generation plan without first consulting the transmission licensee, the CEB, and forcing conditions of its own on the CEB regarding the plan. The 1st respondent has no powers whatsoever to do so. It is acted with ulterior motives to discredit coal power generating plants and promote Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plants.

The public also  set up organizations to fight environmental issues. The ‘National Movement to Protect Sri Lanka’ held a protest march in Colombo against the privatization of unused state plantation land. They alleged that a Minster, (name withheld) had through the Cabinet Paper given out 60,000 acres in the Central Province for private businesses. Another minister had  given out 4,000 acres of flood plain land to his supporters.

‘Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform’ (MONLAR) said in March 2018,  that six water projects were being planned in the North Central Province. They were to take water from tanks whose storage capacity had been greatly reduced over the years. “These tanks were built for farming but now the government plans to implement project to supply drinking water to towns in the province. MONLAR  also alleged that the government was preparing a National Resource Plan 2018-2050 to privatize many state owned lands for industries, large scale agriculture and foreign investments.  There has been a systematic attack on farming and we believe that the government wants to destroy local agriculture.

‘Organization for the Protection of Muthurajawela’ ,was formed by a small group of committed residents    to expose ‘the racket that was being carried out under the guise of a development project at Muturajawela. The Agrarian Development Department  had  granted permission to a private business entity to develop 65,102 perches of land within the Muturajawela sanctuary for Rs 500 per perch.  Muthurajawela  sanctuary was the lifeline of people in the area and its destruction would lead to serious environmental problems, they said.

The group decided to go public when their efforts to stop the activity failed. We took on the task of exposing the unscrupulous officials, politicians, and businessmen involved in the destruction of Muthurajawela. This had led to threats to our lives and our families, but once we committed ourselves to the task, we did not stop till we brought it to the attention of the President, said one member.” A member who was a professional photographer had made a short film using drones. It showed the destruction caused to Muthurajawela. Within seven days of uploading it on the web, we not only had prompt responses from authorities in this country but also from overseas activists.

Many years ago this area was paddy land, said this group. As it was once a paddy land, he said. It comes under the purview of the Agrarian Development Department but authority to develop the land can only be done with the permission of the CEA and the Wild Life Department after an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is submitted. This has not been done. Also sanctuaries consist of both state-owned land and privately owned properties. Activity can take place in private land as long as it does not cause damage to the environment and harm to flora and fauna.

This group had earlier taken action on the dumping of garbage at Muthurajawela A large number of residents supported by the clergy   protested.’ They forwarded  a fundamental rights petition signed by 35 residents, seeking intervention to stop the sanctuary being turned into a garbage dump. The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed and interim relief to the petitioners by directing the 11 respondents not to dump garbage.

There  is now a deep sense of personal dignity. Persons who were hitherto expected to take  blows and insult  meekly, are now refusing to do so. Provincial correspondents demanded that former Navy Commander and current Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne apologize in public for assaulting a provincial journalist on Dec. 10, 2016 at Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa port in Hambantota. The former Navy Commander assaulted the provincial journalist of Hiru TV and Divaina newspaper Roshan Gunasekera in public while he was covering a workers’ protest and, therefore, the apology, too, should be tendered in public, they said. The Navy had, in response, submitted a letter to the Supreme Court,  regretting the incident.

R.P. Karunaratne Bandara,  principal of Nivanththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura  filed a fundamental rights petition. The petitioner was serving as the principal of the Pahala Halmillewa Dutugemunu Maha Vidyalaya by letter dated 28.05.2015 issued by Provincial Education Director (Anuradhapura). He was transferred as the principal of Nivanththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura with immediate effect on exigencies of service.

The petitioner stated that he assumed duties as the principal of Nivanththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya and discharged the functions to the satisfaction of the Education Authorities, parents, teachers, and students. The petitioner stated on September 6, 2016, he was informed over the telephone by the Secretary to the school development committee that the Chief Minister will be attending the school on September 9 at 9:30 am for a ceremony to lay the foundation stone in order to commence the work relating to the proposed new school building. He stated that it was a sudden decision taken by the respondents and he was given only two days notice to make all the required preparations for the said ceremony of laying the foundation stone by the Chief Minister.

In the heat of the events, the petitioner had handed over a sheaf of beetle leaves to the Chief Minister to cordially welcome him. However due to an inadvertent oversight said bundle had been turned the wrong way around which mistake was brought in to his attention subsequently. He further stated that the Chief Minister made quite cynical comments when addressing the gathering alleging that there were school principals who do not know as to how the bundle of beetle leaves should be handed to a guest and alleged that he failed to get sufficient number of parents for his meeting.

The petitioner was informed by the Provincial Education Director requesting him to come to the Chief Ministry of the North Central Province. He stated that he went to the Chief Ministry and he was informed that he would be transferred to a different school with immediate effect on the orders given by the Chief Minister. The reason given for the alleged transfer is the unhappiness of the Chief Minister with regard to the events that transpired at Nivanthaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya. Subsequently, he was informed that he has been transferred to Rambewa Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura. He sought a declaration that  the respondents have violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 12(1) and 14(1)(g) of the constitution.

The Supreme Court ordered the former North Central Province Chief Minister to personally pay Rs. 250,000 as compensation to a school principal. The Supreme Court also issued an order directing the state to pay Rs.50,000 to the petitioner as legal costs. The Supreme Court further issued an order directing the Provincial Education Director to transfer the petitioner back to Nivanththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura within two months.

 Five farmers who were assaulted by the police in Tambuttegama last month filed complaints at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka yesterday. They complained that police used tear gas and water cannon on February 28 2018  to disperse around 2,000 farmers demonstrating against a drinking water project,  organized  By MONLAR which was to use water from Rajanganaya tank. Over 50 farmers were arrested. And released on bail. They told the media that they had been brutally assaulted in custody. They also alleged that the police grabbed the money they had at the time of arrest.

Gamaralalage Siril Kumara of Kitulgala  who was engaged in the lawful business of toddy tapping ,filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court, along with two other relatives naming  the OIC, Sub Inspectors, sergeants of the police station as well as the IGP as respondents. He was challenging the activities of the Kitulgala Police to produce persons who refuse to comply with the wrongful demands to provide toddy free of charge, before Courts purportedly in relation to illicit liquor offenses.

The Petitioners stated that officers of the Kitulgala Police engage in the wrongful and illegal practice of requiring persons engaged in the lawful business of Toddy tapping in the Kitulgala area to bribe the said officers of the Kitulgala with quantities of Toddy for their consumption. When the toddy tappers refused to do  so, they were charged with illicit liquor offenses. . They  also prosecute persons on the false basis of possession of illicit liquor to meet the prosecution targets set by their superiors. Persons prosecuted in such a manner are compelled to plead guilty for the possession of small quantities of illicit liquor and pay penalties ranging from Rs.1,000 to Rs.15,000. The failure to comply with such illegal demands results with further harassment and intimidation by the police officers.

The Petitioners stated on July 28, 2017 at around 4.30 p.m. the 3rd and 4th Respondents arrived at the 1st Petitioner’s residence and took into possession a small quantity of Toddy which was lawfully tapped by the 1st Petitioner and claimed that the 1st Petitioner has illegally tapped Toddy. When the 1st Petitioner offered to provide the Permit issued by the Department of Excise the 3rd and 4th Respondents refused to accept the said document stating ”we don’t care about those things” and demanded that the 1st Petitioner prepare himself to go to the Police Station.

The petitioners stated that the 1st Petitioner having not committed any offense, as he lawfully might, refused to comply with the unlawful and illegal instructions given by the 3rd and 4th Respondents, being very well aware that the 1st Petitioner would be falsely and wrongfully arrested, remanded overnight and produced before the Magistrate of Ruwanwella on a possession of illicit liquor charge. Thereafter the 3rd and 4th Respondents forcefully dragged the 1st Petitioner out of his residence and assaulted the 1st Petitioner whereupon the 1st Petitioner collapsed to the ground due to the excruciating pain he was subjected to.

The Petitioners state that the brazen attack on the 1st Petitioner who was laying on the floor in pain was in full view of those who were gathered including the 2nd and 3rd Petitioners, who commenced recoding the incident using their mobile telephones. They stated the assault on the Petitioners the wrongful and arbitrary arrest of the Petitioners and institution of action on false and fabricated charges leveled against the Petitioners are violation of the 2nd Petitioners’ fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 11, Article 12(1), and Article 13(1) of the Constitution of the Republic. They further sought a sum of Rs.5 million as compensation from the respondents.

Right to Information Law came into force in February 2017, the public responded almost immediately. There has been an impressive response from the ordinary public at accessing information that had hitherto not been available to them, said a Sunday Times editorial.

The Right to Information (RTI) Commission  received many requests for information. They included information on state recruitments and alleged irregularities or malpractices in government and provincial councils, overseas travel details of politicians, unauthorized constructions, audits of school development societies, compensation payments for land acquisitions, information on school admissions, rental agreements entered into by public corporations.

Other requests included information released in regard to the detailed monthly accounts of the School Development Society of Royal College, Colombo from March 2016 to 14 February 2017. The Elections Commission was ordered to release an internal circular containing an administrative instruction to elections officials. Directions were issued to the Road Development Authority (RDA) to release decision reports on compensation payments to landowners in the Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariat whose land had been acquired for an ongoing road development project. The Education Ministry was directed to provide files containing details of the residences of children admitted to schools under the criteria that they are ‘children of persons working in Institutes which directly affect school education.’ General details of Grade One admissions to schools were also asked for and  provided.

The public are no longer prepared to suffer silently. They make noisy protests and utter ultimatums. They do not wait for political parties to provide the leadership  either, they leap into it directly, and do not hesitate to call media conferences.

The fishing community objected violently to the 2018  increase in  the price of petrol. The     fishing community  of Negombo, Wennapuwa, and  Marawila held a joint media conference to protest, very aggressively and strongly, against the increase of petrol price. They want the price reduced otherwise there will be an all island strike of the  fishing community. They do not care even if they die in the process. You did this without informing  us, they said. They did not want tokens, they want to buy the petrol direct. Negombo Municipal Councilors also spoke up. They said that they are ready to send this government home.

The fishing community also held aggressive demonstrations at Hungama, Hambantota, Godawaya, Rekawa, Kalametiya and Welipatana. These  obstructed traffic ,police arrived and dispersed them. The demonstrators said they  planned to have an all island demo with black flags. The petrol increase was described as ‘mara ugula’.

There are protests over  local matters too. At Mulleriyawa 500 residents  demonstrated against the burning of hospital waste from Colombo. The crematorium must not be used as an incinerator, they said. Residents of several villages backed by Buddhist monks staged a protest near the Maningamauwa temple, to stop a business concern which planned to obtain water for a bottled water project, from a well bordering Ma Oya. This would cause an acute water shortage.

A cultural centre built at 4 Million in Ihala Karannagoda in Maduruwala remained unopened though construction was completed two years ago. Villagers want it opened, Handicraft training centre,  Ittepana, was kept closed. Residents are demanding that it be reopened. Panadura Pasmanhandiya bus service started in  the 1970s was terminated. This service was very useful to residents of Nalluruwa, Pinwatta and Kalpitiya villages. They want it restored. There was a demonstration asking  the government to improve Hunnasgiriya section of the  Kandy-Mahiyangana road.

There is simple  resistance too. In 2017,  Kandy trishaw drivers objected to meters. They want this revoked for Kandy. This will affect their income. Kandy streets are mostly one-way roads. There are 2000 trishaws register with municipality and over 3000 unregistered.

There were a lot of open protests regarding schools from 2016 onwards. Parents of Dammadinna Vidyalaya, Galkulama, Nachchaduwa protested against the shifting of the Vidyalaya. Parents of    Sri Bodhi Vidyalaya at Giridara, Pugoda staged a demonstration demanding that the school be  managed better. Tug of  war between two politicians had affected it and the principal who had been transferred could not be released as a result. Parents and old boys of Pannala national school staged a demonstration opposite the school demanding a new principal for the  school, as there were many discrepancies.

Parents of Nivanthika chetiya Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura demonstrated against the transfer of its principal. A very large crowd of parents of the Sri Gunananda Navodaya School at Mapalagama staged a massive demonstration bringing the entire traffic from there to Elpitiya and Baddegama to a complete halt again the transfer of the incumbent principal. Students also  took part.

At Hambantota Suriyawewa national school 23 children who were to be enrolled in the primary schools were not taken in. now they have no school. Parents of Sri Rahula junior school at Ambagaswewa, Polonnaruwa, said that have decided not to send their children to school till education authorities solve the problem of shortage of teachers which has been dragging on for a very long time. Parents of Kedaratamale Vidyalaya in Parasangahawewa wanted five  teachers out who neglected their duties. At Nugagolla Maha Vidyalaya in Wilgamuwa  pupils had lost 20 minutes of the time at Grade V scholarship exam due to a serious lapse of the invigilators. Parents had complained to the police and demonstrated.

Parents, past pupils and well-wishers of Galle All Saints’ College staged a protest against the government’s decision to relocate the school premises out of Galle Fort yesterday. About    500  protestors marched from the college to Galle District Secretariat and launched their demonstration opposite the secretariat obstructing the Colombo- Matara highway. They sat on the highway shouting slogans against the state’s decision. They were told that the government had decided to  relocate 15 state institutions including All Saints College located in the Galle Fort out of the ancient Dutch Fortress locality before December end this year. ( continued)

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