Meethotamulla garbage to stink up Ekala

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By 2016-09-18

BY CHARMINDA RODRIGO

Meethotamulla garbage dump in Kolonnawa has been the talk of the town ever since the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) discontinued dumping garbage at the Bloemendhal site following a suspension order imposed by the Supreme Court back in 2009. Seven long years have passed but the authorities have failed to come up with a much needed solid plan to remedy the inconvenience that had caused to the people living in Kolonnawa and its suburbs. People have gone through stink, excreta, bio hazards and a range of sicknesses on a regular basis due to the heap of junk they are forced to live with against their will. A number of articles published in the media illustrating the severe repercussions of the perverse action of the CMC has not produced any tangible result.

COURT DECISION

The CMC informed the Supreme Court on 11 September 2016 that it would not dump garbage at Meethotamulla as it has earmarked an alternative plot of land in Ekala, Ja-Ela to relocate the mountain of junk. As a response to the pressure mounted by the public, the Supreme Court had ordered the respondents including the CMC to come up with a project plan as a solution to the continuous garbage dumping at Meethotamulla. The CMC revealed the facts when a Fundamental Right petition filed against the Meethotamulla garbage dump was taken up for hearing this month.

The petition had been filed by seven residents of Meethotamulla citing the CMC, Urban Development Authority (UDA), Western Province Waste Management Authority (WPWMA), Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Kolonnawa Municipal Council and the Attorney General as respondents.

A tender was published in December 2015 by the CMC to relocate decayed garbage from Kolonnawa- Meethotamulla disposal site and consecutively chosen Othekale which allegedly belongs to a controversial business tycoon in the garbage management and freight handling industry. The villagers have revealed that the businessman had visited the land on a few occasions. The proposed dumping site Othekale is roughly around 35-acre wetland located in Ekala bordering the Aththanagalu Oya.

Monsoon season

There are a number of brooks flowing in the area interconnecting the Dandugam Oya, Ja-Ela and the Aththanagalu Oya. It is a marshy land elevated not more than 4-5 feet from the mean sea level. The area gets flooded every year during the monsoon season, and the flood water level sometimes clogs as high as 5-8 feet for days. The level of flood water in the same area had risen up to 10-12 feet during the heavy rain that dissipated the El Nino condition this year in May. This particular catchment area absorbs and retains water that nourishes the entire water base in the region.

The Divisional Secretary (DS) of Ja-Ela estimates that the anticipated pollution could directly affect 4,230 families with nearly 50,000 people. Further, Ekala is an industrial city with over 150 factories. On top of all, the proposed site is a wetland rich in invaluable bio diversity. The decision to relocate garbage to the location would undoubtedly have a severe impact on the livelihoods of the people in Ekala.

RAVING PROTEST

The residents of Ekala and its suburbs protested on Monday (12) forcing authorities to roll back the plan. The protest was carried out by the villagers with the strong backing from both Buddhist temples and the Catholic Church. Much unrest was created among the residents when the CMC was marking time to release the sequel to Meethotamulla in their own backyard.

Othekale has been declared under section 12(g) of the Gazette No. 1545/10 dated 17/04/2008 as a wet land/canal and canal reservation in the Western Province thus any development of such lands require prior approval from Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC). In addition to that the exercise should be subject to the purview of UDA, WPWMA and CEA.

Internal sources at the CMC told Ceylon Today that the land was selected on the basis that the required approval permitting to develop to be obtained by the CMC after the selection of the property, mind you CMC will have to incur heavy expenses to develop the dumping site and to transport garbaga from Meethotamulla. However, DS of Ja-Ela had furnished a report to the provincial coordination committee with some shocking news that no approval from any respective authorities has obtained to date enclosing a permit to the entire activity.

NO PRIOR APPROVAL

Now a serious question arises when CMC notifies the plan to the Supreme Court at a juncture where no approvals have been obtained to move forward from respective authorities. However, the proposal itself sounds obnoxious due to the fact that it fails to provide concrete solutions but a temporary shield to the mounting pressure from the people of Meethotamulla. The decision itself is a classic example to depict the inefficiency and the incompetence of the CMC in responding to the call for action. It is rather surprising to see the CMC playing a dead duck when reacting to the situation or is it playing safe to help the greed of an individual?

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Former Minister Felix Perera:

During a special meeting held with the participation of public officers and the political authority of Ja-Ela on Wednesday (14), former minister Perera brought in an extensive proposal to end the menace without jeopardizing the people in Ekala.

I'm confident that the initial proposal made by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development (MMWD) is the best available remedy causing minimal damage to the environment. I permitted the cement manufacturing plant in Puttalam to extend the railway line up to the quarry site when I was the Minister of Transport. It would be very useful when transporting garbage by railway. The Railway Department will be financially benefited by the project. We have to think out of the box. The separation of inorganic waste, organic waste and sludge is a tough task. There are novel methods available to get it done.

If done correctly, we might be able to fertilize the fields in the country free of charge with the compost residues that could be extracted from the site. That is to support the President's vision to promote organic farming in the country. The CMC is striving to create another dumping site spending so much of money, why can't the fortune be utilized to purchase sealed railway carriages and get on with the plan. The initial idea of shifting was said to have been halted due to health hazards, but it indeed is the best available option compared to what is proposed now. We all should get together in this instance. I have studied how these activities are done in some countries. I would like to extend my fullest cooperation and support to any authority that comes forward to find a solution.

Parliamentarian
Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena

Managing garbage has become a countrywide issue. The government is blamed when garbage is not collected. Again the people complain when the garbage is not collected. This is a serious situation. As a government our duty is to manage the garbage. We have to have a strategic plan. We need to turn garbage into many useful economical by-products. Treated rightly, we could even use it for certain land fillings at the Port City under the supervision of the engineers. This has become problematic due to the lack of commitment. Ja-Ela is not the ideal site to dump garbage. Contaminating the area could create severe implications on the livelihoods in the area. This is not the ideal solution; let's think of an alternative solution after consultations with the respective authorities.

I should make a special note on illegal land filling in Ja-Ela. This is undoubtedly going to cost a lot to the people during the upcoming rainy season.

Chief Minister of Western Province-Isura Dewapriya:

I proposed a project to recycle the garbage, however it did not move forward due to the lack of support from the respective authorities. Instead they have decided to move the garbage to a new location. I learn that the CMC has promised around Rs 34 million per month for utilizing the new plot. We need a solution to end the inconvenience of the people in Meethotamulla. However, I do not see any viability in the proposal.

Eng. Chandra Amarasingha
– activist and an environmentalist for the past 22 years

Ekala is home to a dense population. We cannot risk the lives of the people living there. They are merely trying to dump garbage and cover it up with soil without following any scientific method, such as laying a membrane to protect the water base. This will be worse than what happened in Meethotamulla.

There was a plan to transfer garbage collected at the Kolonnawa dump to Puttalam sometime back. The garbage was to be utilized to fill up craters spanning an area of three kilometres created following the limestone mining done by a cement company located in Puttalam. Among the projects that have proposed this is indeed a possible solution utilizing the possibility of railway loop laid between Meethotumulla to Orugodawatte linking the main line. The railway line has already been extended up to the lime stone quarry making the transportation easy. On the brighter side limestone rich soil works as a natural disinfectant to garbage. Stage wise filling up should be done in a scientific way to minimize the damage it could cause to the environment. This is a method commonly used in many countries.

Eng. Yogarani Sylvester, Director Solid Waste Management (CMC):

There's a Court Order on this decision. We called tenders through newspapers sometime back and chosen the land. The entire process was handled by the Legal Department. Please contact them.

P.I. PERERA - Chief Legal Officer (CMC)

I cannot comment without the approval of the Commissioner. Please contact him.

The commissioner was not responsive even after many attempts were made to reach him.

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