Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Residents curse former,present governments

Meethotamulla tragedy

By Shamindra Ferdinando- 

Attorney-at-law Nuwan Bopage of civil society group representing the interests of Meethotamulla residents yesterday told The Island that many lives could have been saved had rescue operations got underway within a couple of hours after a section of the garbage dump collapsed on adjoining houses at about 1.30 pm on New Year day (April 14).

 Police reported 26 deaths by Sunday afternoon in the wake of a woman receiving treatment at the National Hospital succumbing to her injuries yesterday morning. Bopage said that there could be more bodies under the rubble and the on-going clearing operation was proving extremely difficult.Bopage said the rescue mission had been launched at about 2.00 am the following day. The lawyer alleged that the army hadn’t been prepared to undertake the rescue mission though a contingent of troops moved to nearby Rahula school by 5.00 pm on Friday.

 The government lacked even a basic emergency plan, Bopage said. Pointing out that the army had been sent there without heavy machinery to shift debris efficiently, Bopage said that troops stepped in response to people’s appeals. Bopage quoted a senior officer at the scene as having said that they intended to bring in heavy machinery the following morning.

 Responding to accusations, military spokesman Brigadier Roshan Seneviratne said that the army had been rushed to the scene by 5.00 pm with required machinery and the rescue mission got underway by 5.30 pm. Brig. Seneviratne said that heavy machinery couldn’t be deployed without making what he called a ground assessment.

 The government had no idea of the magnitude of the tragedy, Bopage said, adding that both Colombo Municipal Council and Kolonnawa Municipal Council failed to respond swiftly.

 Bopage said those who had declared on Saturday that garbage wouldn’t be moved to Meethotamulla in the wake tragedy should be ashamed of themselves.

 There had been a series of protests beginning January 4, 2012 demanding an immediate halt to garbage dumping at Meethotamulla, Bopage said, adding that both the Rajapaksa administration and yahapalana government had simply ignored their protests. According to Bopage, there had been 15 protests since January 2012 to pressure successive governments to tackle the crisis. Bopage admitted that all their efforts were in vain.

 He said that those who had perished at Meethotamulla were all poor people.

 Bopage said that the residents would seek the intervention of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Recalling that the residents had made representations to the HRCSL some time back, Bopage said that they would again seek its intervention.

 Under Bopage’s leadership a group of Meethotamulla residents on Saturday addressed the media at the scene where they blamed both Rajapaksa and Sirisena-Wickremesinghe governments for ignoring their plight.  The group flayed former Colombo Mayor A.J.M. Muzammil for his failure to address the issue. Residents also lambasted UNP members of parliament Hirunika Premachandra and S.M. Marrikar for shamelessly taking advantage of the Meethotamulla crisis to secure preferential votes at the last parliamentary polls in Aug 2015. Residents threatened to set fire to trucks bringing in garbage to Meethotamulla.

 IGP Pujith Jayasundera, who had visited the scene of the tragedy, was reminded that how law enforcement officers had assaulted Meethotamulla residents protesting against the garbage dump on more than one occasion. "We are glad now police are here to clear debris", one shouted as the police chief tried to pacify irate residents. When residents pointed out the failure on the part of the local authorities to send at least tractors to remove debris, IGP Jayasundera immediately called a person and offered STF drivers if he could provide the required vehicles.

 At one point, the IGP told the person receiving his call that tractors were required immediately and not later.