Stray quadrupeds and feral bipeds
We have a ‘fine’ government. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is dependent on fines to increase its revenue. The Budget 2017 proposed a twenty-five-thousand-rupee fine for some traffic offences. It is reported that the government is now planning to bring in new legislation to impose a six-month jail term and a twenty-five-thousand rupee fine on those who either abandon dogs in public places or let them stray. Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Mutapha has reportedly said CCTV cameras will be installed to nab the wrongdoers. He has expressed his concern about the spread of rabies through stray canines.
The government has undertaken an uphill task. This is a country where police are unable to nab even armed robbers who walk into financial institutions and make off with millions of rupees with ease though the heists are recorded in CCTV cameras. It won’t be difficult for anyone to find a place without CCTV cameras to dump a litter of puppies and run away. One may argue that before worrying about stray dogs, the government ought to catch the dirty bipeds responsible for daylight robberies such as coal rackets and bond scams.
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However, the fact remains that urgent action is called for to rid public roads of stray dogs, which must not be harmed in any way. Unconscionably hefty fines and jail terms cannot be countenanced. Minister of Megapolis and Western Province Development Champika Ranawaka has revealed that there are more than 16,000 stray dogs within his bailiwick as it were. Many of these animals end up as road kill daily besides causing serious accidents.
The government should also legislate for the owners of stray cattle to be dealt with. Minister Ranawaka has said there are more than 2,000 stray cattle in the Western Province. These animals pose a danger to motorists and motorcyclists alike and hamper the flow of traffic in most suburban areas. Herds of cattle are also seen in some urban centres. Their owners let them stray and feed on garbage, but religiously milk them every morning.
Time was when stray cattle were caught by municipal workers and their owners fined. Local government authorities no longer bother to do so. They are not bothered about even dengue mosquitoes, are they? The real problem is that the local councils have gone to the dogs. They shirk their responsibilities with impunity; the only thing they do efficiently is to collect rates.
There are some other creatures responsible for making roads extremely dangerous. They are far worse than the stray quadrupeds because they are either drugged or drunk. Private bus and tipper truck drivers are the worst culprits. A study commissioned by the Lanka Private Bus Owners Association (LPBOA) has reportedly revealed that 25 percent of the private bus drivers are addicted to cannabis and another 20 percent of them to heroin. LPBOA President Gemunu Wijeratne, following a tragic accident, once, likened private bus workers to animals. Drug addiction is prevalent among truck drivers as well. But, successive governments have done precious little to nab the druggies behind the wheel.
New legislation must be brought in to punish vehicle owners who employ drivers with a history of serious traffic offences. Some years ago a point system was introduced to deal with errant drivers; we were told that a specific number of points, assigned to a driving licence, would be reduced in keeping with the severity of traffic offences committed by its owner. The licence was to become invalid upon the exhaustion of all points. If this system is put into practice vehicle owners will be able to know the track records of their drivers, who will then have a choice between respecting the Highway Code and losing their livelihood.
Meanwhile, the onus is on Minister Mustapha to conduct the much-delayed local government elections without trotting out lame excuses and pressure local councils to deal with the problem of dogs and cattle on public roads. It is up to the government to ensure that druggies behind the wheel are brought to justice.