Posted on October 19th, 2009

Mahinda Weerasinghe
(Corrupt environmental agents and murders taking place as a consequence; a true tale of the genre)

25th January 2005 was an ordinary day in the Kandyan hills, considering the time of the year. The monsoon was at its tail end. The sky, a slate gray overcast, suspended over the low horizon. The unpaved muddy lanes, after weeks of inundation, were quite grueling to negotiate.  The time, just a couple of hours past high noon.  A slight drizzle was dousing Palle Gededra Premathilaka’s hair as he made his way forward gingerly. The Gusty winds were playing among the tree tops without a let up since day break.  In spite of the unpleasantness of the gale, Premathilaka deftly ambled along to the rock quarry, where he was employed, in order to collect his weekly back pay.  

The quarry was operated by one Weerakoon Banda of Hapugaskasmulla wattha, who resided on the periphery of Teldeniya. Now Weerakoon was also a simple, unlettered peasant, driven by the basic human needs. He was keen to secure his survival, while discharging the minimum of work in return. In the past he used to compensate his small income by doing some unlawful hunting on the side. This he found was not sufficient to maintain his life style by the year 2005.  But then the things were not so costly either in the past. Now In order to get on with his life, he, through bribery, had secured a license from the local corrupt environmental agent to operate a rock quarry.

Naturally Weerakoon hadn’t the foggiest notion as to the dynamics of earth slips, earth slides or anything of what is commonly known in the mining circles as soil mechanics.  He was totally unaware that there exists a subject called mining engineering. Yet we must assume that he was provided with the basic information as how to run a secured mine by the issuer of the license, before such a document was approved. But I have grave doubts, if the environmental agent relayed to him the far more vital piece of information; if a mishap was to occur while operating the mine, then it is the agency’s responsibility according to the National Environmental Act (No. 47 of 1980). And especially as these agents have issued licenses to benighted and uneducated individuals, the agency was directly responsible for the loss of life and limb, while operating such mines.

But Weerakoon gave tuppence to the impacts his mining activities had on the environment, or the dangers it posed to the life and limbs of the public. Indeed why should he care! Hasn’t he paid good money through a huge bribe to secure a license to quarry for rocks?  Why should he worry about the destruction of the ecology or annihilation of ground water systems or the loss of life and limbs? 

Indeed he was as much enlightened to the dynamics of rock quarrying, as a new born babe just out of his mother’s womb. His main business being, to dynamite the rocky surfaces and blast it to smithereens, and collect as much material as he possibly could.

Now on the date in question, the top soil was soaked to the saturation point as it has been raining cats and dogs the past days. So the mass of earth which was lying loosely on top of the balled hill top, due the incessant vibration and dynamiting was generating an extra heavy load on the quarry head. A disaster was ready to be triggered by just a whiff of extra thrust on the top soil.

Premathika was contented.  In that he was not unlike Weerakoon. His immediate thoughts were locked on to the bottle of arrack he was going to purchase. And he was going down town for that very purpose the minute he secured his back pay.

But his dream of filling his stomach full of alcohol was going to be an unattainable dream. For no sooner had he approached the quarrying site and stood leaning to the side of the vertical quarry surface, which been just dynamited, the hilly mass gave away, and buried him alive, under tons of rocks and earth.  It took hours of continuous digging using a machine at hand, to pull the Premathilka’s remains out of the debris. His pulverized body was not a pleasant sight for the curious peasants who by now have gathered to be associated with the unfolding history.

The police report of the incident is something only a Sri Lankan Police could be capable of filing. It merely declared under the caption: The cause of death; buried under a rock.  For its simplicity and factuality this report reached new heights. In fact the report defined the murder of Premathilaka in such an inane manner, that it released the environmental agents issuing licenses, scot free, and expunged them of any responsibility for issuing a license to dolt such as Weerakoon, perfunctorily.  

Indeed I went through the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992; and its PART III specifically. This deals with “ƒ”¹…”HEALTH, SAFTY AND WELFARE OF WORKERS IN MINES’, which runs from sections 55 through to 62. Strange as it may sound, it does not offer a clue as to who is responsible in case of death or injury as a result of a collapsing mine, which the agency issues license to operate. In other words the Mines and minerals act and the environmental act has a huge gaping loop hole to creep through in case of a death to any personnel as result of a mining accident.

If the license does not protect the public and the personnel then why is the necessity for the environmental agents to issue license at all? They shirk responsibility for any mishaps, or damage to life or limb while operating a licensed mine. They do not take responsibility for destruction of ground water aquifers in the area or noise pollution.  But on the other hand, Weerakoon definitely had a good use for his license, for he obviously could not be charged with murder of premathilaka, for he was holding a valuable  “ƒ”¹…”license to kill’.

What it all boils down to is; that if people own such a “ƒ”¹…”licenses’ they can then get away with murder of an innocent member of the public by calling it a misadventure while mining. No need to insure the mine for failure as is practiced in a normal democracy, no testing the level of knowledge or expertise of the license holder. Only some substantial amount of money had to change hands and one is the owner of a “ƒ”¹…”license to kill’.

Indeed the environmental agents pocket the max amount of dollars and issue licenses, as in the case of Weerakoon. No wonder Weerakoon did not bother with niceties or conventions or secured the mine from collapsing. Hypothetically if we assume that it was a minister’s son or Presidents close relative that met with death as a result of such “ƒ”¹…”slip shot’ mining, would these corrupt agents slipped away so effortlessly. But then “ƒ”¹…”we are all equal before the law, but obviously some are more equal than others’.

No wonder the police wrote a simple report as they routinely do in such cases. For they did not have any power to charge Weerakoon or the environment agent who issued this license, as they were protected by the Mines and Minerals Act No 33 of 1992.

This is not a unique case of murder through a mining mess-up, but is the procedure of many such murders in the Kandyen hills. 

The Principal of the local Ranmulla School, (Udispattuwa) complained to me the other day that he was helpless; when the pupils came to school and when they left after school, for he was very concerned for their safety as they had to pass three dangerous quarries. In fact the school couldn’t function normally due to incessant noise pollution due to the rock quarry operations and he was personally getting deaf by the blasting and dynamiting day in day out.

 By issuing these licenses the greater Teldiniya environment has been brought down to its knees. The ground water has vanished and now natives have to walk miles for their drinking water. They cannot grow anything for no sooner the rain is over; the rain water also has dissipated due to the destruction of the ground surface. The Kandyens once bountiful heritage is disappearing as we speak and turning it in to a veritable desert. The Victoria can hardly produce any electricity as there is no water, as the water sauces has been destroyed through dynamiting. Schools cannot function due the noise pollution. Now we find sudden deaths due to mining calamities of the local yokels are an added cross for them to carry. All this due corrupts and salaried watch dogs of the environment. For while they are collecting their pay check they are also raking in, vast sums issuing licenses to destroy the nations eco systems and these licenses also give them a right to kill.

We have won battle over the racist terrorist. But by far a greater war is looming if we are stop the rape of the country by corrupt environmental agents. Sri Lankans should act now to save the nation from these paid agents using tax money to make more money by flouting their positions while raping the country. In this concrete instance the issuer of the license should be indicted for blatant corruption for issuing licenses for murder.

Mahinda Weerasinghe


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