The walking track bordering Kalu Ela at Mabole, Wattala has been a popular place among the health conscious public from the area from the time it was constructed a few years ago. It was developed under the guidance of former Minister Basil Rajapaksa by the previous Government. However, due to some disputes involving local politicians the track was neither officially declared open nor formally handed over to the Urban Council for maintenance. As a result, the official plaque fixed at the premises with the name of Basil Rajapaksa still remains undated.
This fiasco raises many pertinent questions regarding the lackadaisical attitude and nonchalance on the part of the State authorities including law enforcement agencies charged with safeguarding public property and especially about the arbitrary and duplicitous conduct of certain Ministers of the yahapalana Government
Despite these shortcomings people who were in need of such a facility happily began to use the track. But the maintenance support was not readily forthcoming from the Wattala-Mabole Urban Council mainly due to shortcomings in the official approval process and handing over. Though some of its workers were involved in cleaning work it was never done on a regular basis and was hardly adequate to keep the track in a usable state.
Meantime, the users of the track got organized as a society and got involved in its day-to-day upkeep such as cutting grass and cleaning, purely with the monies collected from its members.
Thus the track at Wattala was one of the many such facilities constructed in a hurry in different parts of the Western Province by the previous Government. With the change of Government a more organized way of maintaining these walking tracks had been discussed with the involvement of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development and perhaps under that programme some cleaning work had begun in Kalu Ela adjacent to the walking track in order to remove the water plants and give the tributary a pristine natural look making the environment pleasant for the health conscious public.
There is a track on each side of the waterway each with a distance of 950 meters and both were used by the keen walkers morning and evening. As you enter it from the Negombo road about 100 meters down on the right side lies a privately owned land about five acres in extent, a part of which is a marshland. The roadway leading to it is about 20 feet and it runs almost parallel to the walking track.
Recently we heard that the land was to be sold to a private developer who was planning to launch a housing project. Perhaps what would have prevented a quick sale would have been the inadequacy of the road which was only about 20 feet in breadth. Meantime word was going round that some parties were planning to remove the walking track overnight with the connivance of a powerful local politico and with the backing of some at the Urban Council to widen the access road for a housing project.
Two days later the people who came to the walking track for their morning walk found it difficult to believe their eyes – the entire walking track had been destroyed. All the bricks had been removed with a backhoe and the worst was that this had happened under the yahapalanaya (good governance) Government and there is a Police post at the track while the Police station itself is just a stone’s throw away from the walking track.
The following day when the media questioned Minister John Amaratunga, who is the powerful man in the area, he was seen making a desperate attempt to justify what had happened, saying that it had been done to broaden a roadway for a major housing project.
This fiasco raises many pertinent questions regarding the lackadaisical attitude and nonchalance on the part of the State authorities including law enforcement agencies charged with safeguarding public property and especially about the arbitrary and duplicitous conduct of certain Ministers of the yahapalana Government.
In light of the fact that the court of public opinion is at present seething with anger at this travesty allegedly wrecked by elected people’s representatives while other politicos responsible for looking into such matters have turned a blind eye, Nation spoke to all those embroiled in the issue to ascertain the present status of the events that have transpired and are continuing to unfold.Here are a few excerpts of their views.
FCID should investigate -John Amaratunga
Minister Amaratunga mentioned that the track, would be restored within two weeks, adding that the track which would be widened by 33 feet, would stretch from the main road going on all the way to the village.
He called for the Financial Crimes Investigation Division to conduct an investigation into the monies spent on the said track by the previous Government, the matter which was under the purview of Basil Rajapaksa.
“There are two tracks. One is in operation. The other has been removed for development. The latter has been authorized by the Urban Development Authority. The jogging track will not be only for a few affluent people but for all. Vehicles too will be able to use the road and track. The track had not been gazetted. It does not belong to the Urban Council. It is Crown land. Money had been spent on it without any authority. The amount is Rs 8 million. There are documents to even prove that claims for compensation have not been paid, thus far,” he remarked.
Deputy Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Lasantha Alagiyawanna remarked that, “Our Ministry received a written request from Minister Amaratunga, asking whether the road could be widened. We in turn asked for a project report to be sent to the Ministry regarding what exactly was being proposed to be done. We have not approved the project. Before the project report was sent and without sending it, the track has been demolished and destroyed by someone. This is wholly wrong. We do not approve it. Whoever who broke it, must fix it and pay for the reconstruction. In the request, there is no mention of a jogging track, only about a by road. The maintenance of the jogging track was done by the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha and our Ministry also aided,” he pointed out.
LRDC awaits police reply
The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, which comes under the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, informed that although the said piece of land belonged to a private party, as per the provisions of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation Act, it is specified that if there is any development activity to take place where there is a canal, the law stipulates that there must also be sufficient reservation provided and that the Corporation’s prior approval be sought by anyone attempting to engage in any development activity involving bodies of lands with a canal or canals.
Chairman of the Corporation, W.M.A.S. Iddawela said that according to the width of the said canal sufficient reservation amounted to 6.5 metres.
“The Police is presently conducting an investigation and we are awaiting their response. Meanwhile, it has been reported in the press by the media unit/section/division of Minister of Tourism Development, Christian Affairs and Lands, John Amaratunga that the Minister would be rectifying the matter,” he added
Inspector of Police attached to the Police Media Unit, Mahakumara said that no concrete decision had been taken with regards to recording statements from Minister Amaratunga and Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka.
“We have received one complaint from an officer of the association formed by the joggers in the area. There is said to be a reserve in the area. A request has also been made to the Corporation for the road to be expanded. Yet lanes have not been mentioned in the request. We are conducting inquires but no arrests have been made. This is a matter which is mainly handled by the Corporation,” he noted.