Gota Project (Daily News Editorial)
Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila after lying in hibernation during the last few days has risen in defence of the Rajapaksa government vis a vis the Meethotamulla tragedy. Not showing himself at the scene, even though he must have received a substantial number of preference votes from the Meethotamulla residents, Gammanpila has sought to clear the Rajapaksa government from any sort of blame, albeit indirectly. This perhaps is an afterthought on the part of Gammanpila in order to offset the deafening silence maintained by the big guns of the Joint Opposition in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Image googled and added by TW
Addressing a media briefing on Tuesday, a full five days after the tragedy, the Colombo District MP took pains to explain that had the solution to the Meethotamulla garbage problem devised by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa being implemented the residents would certainly have been spared the tragedy that befell them. The Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader has certainly got wise after the event. One cannot recall the diminutive politician making any mention of this Gota project since the ouster of the Rajapaksa in January 2015. Surely as a parliamentarian representing the Colombo District he could not have been be unaware of the periodic protests made by the Meethotamulla residents. Or was the subject of garbage an unsavoury topic to the MP who is always clad in spotless white?
According to Gammanpila, Rajapaksa had suggested that the garbage collected daily within the Colombo Municipal Council limits and that which had already been piled up at Meethotamulla and Bloemendhal be transported by train to the Aruwakkalu limestone quarry in Puttalam.
Why pray was this brainchild of the all powerful former Defence Secretary kept on the back burner while the garbage was continued to be dumped at Meethotamulla even after a Supreme Court ruling banning garbage dumping at the site, in 2009, when the Rajapaksa power was at its peak after the defeat of terrorism. Surely, funds could not have been a problem as vanity projects like the Cricket stadium at Sooriyawea, Mattala, Hambantota Port, a lavish Commonwealth summit the Nelum Pokuna theatre etc, all running into several billions of rupees, came about around this time. Or was it that people living amidst garbage was not a priority for the Rajapaksas, like for instance night races?
Gammanpila, after keeping a low profile all these days following the tragedy, has now suddenly returned to his former bellicose self and seeks to palm the blame for the Meethotamulla catastrophe on the Yahapalnaya government. He goes onto say that a sum of Rs. 2 billion was set aside in the 2015 budget for the Puttalam project conceived by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa but a change of regime put paid to this. Why pray, did the Rajapaksa government wait until 2015 to get the project going when the garbage was climbing sky high in Meethotamulla from as far back as 2007? Were there other priority projects that brought in fat commissions and Meethotamulla had to wait? Surely Rs. 2 billion would have been chicken feed given the colossal amounts that went into ‘deals’ at the time. And who was it that got the police to baton charge residents of Meethotamulla in 2011 when they protested against the dumping of garbage in their environs? Why wasn’t the Puttalam project conceived then and executed before things got out of hand?
True, the present government should be blamed for not tackling the Meethotamulla garbage problem as a priority issue. But by no stretch of the imagination can the Rajapaksa government absolve itself of blame. It is the cumulative sins of both governments that had visited upon the residents of Meethotamulla. By calling on the government to implement Gota’s Puttalam project without considering who gets the credit, Gammanpila is shamelessly using the Meethotamulla tragedy for political gain in typical fashion. Perhaps, this could also be part of the campaign, now in full swing, to promote Gota as the next Presidential candidate.
It is time that Gammanpila and his ilk realise that people cannot be fooled by empty words. Had the Rajapaksas acted in time, instead of waiting till 2015, this tragedy could well have been averted. That much he has to concede. Asking the present government to implement a project that had been relegated to backstage all those years was unacceptable. Understandably, the elements in the Joint Opposition were relatively mute during the past few days, perhaps taking cognizance of the fact that their leaders indeed had been culpable. It is only now that they keep coming out, like termites from the woodwork, to find fault with the government for not implementing Gota’s project. There is bound to be more attacks on the government and the promotion of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the days ahead, what with Provincial Council elections round the corner. The likes of Gammanpila are bound to seize on the Meethotamulla tragedy to hoodwink the people and absolve their own leaders. Hence the government ought to be prepared with a counter strategy and expose the commissions and omissions of the Rajapaksa regime vis-a-vis Meethotamulla, that finally led to the tragedy.