By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
I thank Eng. Anton Nanayakkara (AN)’s write-up in The Island of 28.07.2020, responding to my article on Flood Protection of Colombo Metropolitan Region which appeared in The Island of 21.07.2020. The main purpose of my article was to highlight the fact that the government after getting Japanese Consultants to formulate a Master Plan for flood protection of Colombo Metro Region at great cost, what is being implemented as a priority project is only a clean-up of the Weras Ganga basin, making a mockery of the word Master Plan. This area is totally outside the Greater Colombo area with no impact on its flooding. AN has failed to comment on this issue.
METRO COLOMBO URBAN DEVELOPMENT
With the failure of the Master Plan to address the flood situation within the city and its suburbs, Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC) has taken the initiative to develop a separate project titled Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP) to address this issue. This project expected to be executed during 2012 – 2020 is estimated to cost USD 104 Million (SLLDC Website). It will address flood mitigation in areas covered by the Colombo Municipal Council, Sri Jayewardenapura, Battaramulla, Rajagiriya, Madiwela and Dehiwala. Activities described under “Improvements to existing drainage systems” in my previous article of July 21st were in fact carried out by SLLDC under this project.
COMMENTS ON ENG. NANAYAKKARA’S
In his response, AN has made certain remarks on some statements appearing in my article and questions their validity. What I have said are totally based on material extracted from other sources including the JICA reports and the website of the SLLDC and not my own suggestions. It appears that AN seems to be unaware of the latest situation in this regard, and hence they need clarification. My comments are given against each of AN’s statements which are given below using material extracted from SLLDC website – Special Projects pages.
1. “The Madiwela East Diversion (MED), remaining dry most of the time, as mentioned, may be due to its wrong location, too far upstream of the Kelani Ganga about 10 miles above the historic Nagalagam Street outfall”.
COMMENT: MED was established by constructing a new canal from the Thalangama Tank up to the origin of the existing natural canal flowing through Malabe paddy fields parallel to Chandrika Kumarathunga Mawatha. It has its natural outfall at Ambatale. The topography of the area does not permit shifting of this outfall further downstream.
2. “Even during floods of the Kelani Ganga, this outfall No 1 (See plan) has to be closed, long before Nagalagam Street outfall closing at +5.00 ft MSL, the accepted minor flood level for Colombo, negating the very purpose for which this canal was built”.
COMMENT: The SLLDC is currently building a pumping station at Ambatale across the MED canal to pump water to the river when its water level rises during heavy rainfall, at a cost of USD 5.85 Million and LKR 1,181 Million (SLLRDC website).
3. “The learned doctor has not noticed the extent to which the Thalangama Tank had silted up, reducing the capacity to retain flood water (about 50 ac.ft) entering the Parliament lake”.
COMMENT: In a project carried out by the SLLDC during 2016 – 2018, the tank was dredged to increase its water holding capacity and remove unnecessary growth on the tank bund, at a cost of LKR 107 million. In any case, I wonder how even a professional hydrologist could notice the extent of silting of the tank just by looking at it.
4. “This gate was constructed at ID’s flood control premises to pump water from the Kelani Ganga to the Beira Lake, for the purpose of cleaning the lake. The project ceased soon after the flood. Strangely, no inquiry was made. It was all swept under the carpet”.
COMMENT: According the SLLDC website, it has built three gates across Kolonnawa Canal, Heen Ela and St. Sebastian canal at the crossing of New Kelani Bridge Road to isolate the canal system enabling water to be pumped back into the canal system from the river by operating the pumps installed at St. Sebastian outfall in the reverse direction. This work to be carried out during 2018 – 2020 is estimated to cost of USD 5.85 million and LKR 1181 million. So, it is not a case of sweeping under the carpet.
5. “Dr. R’s reference to the Beira Lake, too, needs some clarifications. The Beira Lake is not a natural lake. It is an artificial lake also kept at an artificial level, of 6.00 ft above mean sea level, by the Beira Spillway”.
COMMENT: A pumping station is being built across St. Sebastian Canal at Maradana for pumping water from the canal to Beira Lake during periods of high rainfall in Colombo. This work to be carried out during 2019 -2020 is estimated to cost of USD 5.93 million and LKR 165 million. (See also the last paragraph).
6. “Ignoring many other references, contained in Dr R’s article, let me now say a few words about narrowing of bridges, mentioned in it. This is not a matter of life and death, as made out to be. Any hydrologist will agree that within the narrowed section, the velocity will increase to make up for the constriction”.
COMMENT: Widening of the canals and removing bottleneck were not proposals that I made, but what are actually executed by SLLDC as described in its website. Kolonnawa Canal Diversion Stage III says “the canal has become very narrow at certain sections due to encroachment. Some resettlement and land acquisitions are undertaken to remove bottlenecks”. This work to be carried out during 2018-2020 will cost of LKR 1,000 million. Diversion Stage IV also refers to removing two bottlenecks near the outfall.
7. “If, as proposed, the southern diversion takes place, such a canal would become a “trans-basin diversion” let alone the new outfall getting pushed about 20 miles, down south, to Panadura; not to mention reversing the natural flow direction, within the Madiwela catchment, and aggravating the already existing problems, within Bolgoda”.
COMMENT: The proposed diversion is not the first trans-basin diversion in Sri Lanka. Under the Mahaweli Scheme, there are trans-basin diversions. There are even such diversions among ancient works including diversion of Kala Oya to Malwathu Oya basin and Amban Ganga to Yan Oys basin. More recently, Kalu Ganga (Matale) was diverted to Amban Ganga basin under Moragahakanda Project, Uma Oya is being diverted to Kirindi Oya basin. It is also proposed to divert Gin Ganga to Nilwala basin. If Madiwela South diversion is the only practical option available to protect Sri Jayewardenapura area from flooding, it should be pursued after addressing whatever environmental issues that it may cause.
8. “The proposals (which) I have been making for more than 30 years, do not go against nature, no damage to environment by digging new canals, no underground tunnels of large diameter, no widening of bridges, and no pumping”.
COMMENT: If AN’s proposal with no digging of new canals, no tunneling or no widening of canals had merit, why wasn’t it accepted by authorities for implementation all these 30 years?
OPTION WITH NO DIGGING, TUNNELING AND PUMPING
As mentioned in my previous article, the Diyawannawa Lake has two draining outlets, one via Kolonnawa Canal and the other via Wellawatta Canal. The Kolonnawa Canal branches into three canals with outfalls to the Kelani River at Grandpass, Kotuwila and Ambatale which need pumping during heavy rainfall days. Hence, only the Wellawatta Canal is available for draining direct into the sea without resorting to digging new canals, or building tunnels or installing pumping stations. Under the MCUDP project, the stretch of Wellawatta Canal beyond the Galle Road was dredged, widened and the outfall improved at a cost of LKR 111.6 Million. It is to be seen whether this outlet together with the improved outfalls to Kelani River could handle the draining of Diyawannawa Lake during an extreme rainfall event.
ALTERNATIVE PROPOSAL TO DRAIN FLOOD WATER
AN has expressed his reservations about using the Beira Lake as an outfall for flood water as the level of the spillway cannot be adjusted. Though a sum of LKR 1,350 million is spent on building a pumping station at Maradana to divert flood water coming along the Dematagoda Canal into the Beira Lake and then to the sea, there is a doubt as to whether this diversion will work. If it works, it will take flood water from Kotte diverted to St. Sebastian Canal first to the Floating Market and then to the Beira Lake before the water enters the spillway near Galle Face. This will invariably raise the water level of Beira Lake which is presently maintained at 1.8 m above mean sea level to prevent buildings constructed on wooden piles along the lake from collapsing. However, according to an environment screening study on a project for rehabilitation of the Beira Lake carried out by Moratuwa University in 2011, any changes to the water level of the Beira lake can have an adverse effect on the stability of these foundations.
There is however, another alternative option available to improve the draining of Kotte flood water flowing along Dematagoda Canal into the river without posing any of these problems. That is by diverting water flowing in Dematagoda Canal direct into Kiththamphuwa Ela (KE) before it joins with St. Sebastian Canal, by constructing a new canal branching off from the Dematagoda Canal just before it crosses the railway line. This canal could run parallel to the railway line and join with the KE where it makes a U-turn near Welewatta Road. This link canal is only about 0.5 km long and this area comes mostly under railway reservation. The stretch of KE which runs parallel to the railway line up to the river outfall is being widened and dredged under the Kolonnawa Canal Diversion Stage IV at a cost of LKR 1,432 Million. Hence, construction of this new link canal could be undertaken as a part of this project.
The distance to the existing river outfall along St. Sebastian Canal from this branching point is 3.0 km while the distance to the Beira Lake outfall via St. Sebastian Canal in the opposite direction 5.2 km, whereas the distance to the river outfall along the proposed link canal and KE is only 1.7 km. Further, the present St. Sebastian Canal route has six road crossings and several bends while the route via Beira Lake has eight road crossings. Also, the stretch of St. Sebastian Canal behind the Technical College passes through a narrow passage cut through a hill with no room for widening. On the other hand, the proposed route via the link canal and KE is short and straight with only one road crossing at Orugodawatta and is a better option to drain the Kotte flood water into Kelani River, than the proposed scheme via Beira Lake.
The SLLDC has already executed several projects worth LKR 1,165 Million with World Bank funding to improve the drainage in several canals in the city and its suburbs. Several more projects estimated to cost over LKR 4,500 Million and USD 44 Million are on-going. This includes a project to take flood water from Kotte all the way to Beira Lake and then to spillway at Galle Face for discharging into the sea by reversing the flow in St. Sebastian Canal. However, this does not appear sensible even to a layman like myself. It is more sensible to drop this proposal and instead develop the link canal to take flood water flowing in Dematagoda Canal direct to KE stretch running parallel to the railway line and thereafter to the Kelani river. The pumping equipment intended for diverting flood water via Beira Lake could be installed at the outfall of KE near Kalu Palama, enabling it to remove the flood water during heavy rainfall.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!