The disaster involving the Meetotamulla garbage mountain has become the talk of the town. Rivira Sunday Edition conducted a discussion with Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Sunil Handunneththi regarding the matter and other economic and social issues in the country.
Q: The tragedy at Meetotamulla has become a national calamity. What do you have to say about it?
This isn’t a natural disaster. This was a crime that took place due to the government’s negligence and incompetence. This incident proves that United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party governments in the past and present have not been able to even solve a problem pertaining to a garbage dump. What a tragedy it is for people to die buried under mounds of garbage.
Q: What do you define as ‘negligence’?
Although in the majority of the countries in the world developed technological methods are utilized with regard to garbage, the same is not the case in Sri Lanka due to the inability of the government. Behind this garbage deal, there are large scale racketeers. There is political influence and interference. The garbage mountain at Bloemendal didn’t come to Meetotamulla on its own.
Q: Back then, the JVP didn’t oppose this.
Why not? Since 2008 when they started dumping garbage at Meetotamulla we opposed it. Also, when we were administering the Tissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha, by way of action we proved that garbage could be recycled and that an income could be earned through it. If we could do it without State power, why can’t a government do it? All that these people did since then was to suppress people’s protests. For the destruction of lives and property, not just one government but all governments must be held responsible.
Q: What is the JVP’s view of certain Ministers claiming that waste management activities were hampered by people’s protests?
The people objected because the garbage was brought and dumped and allowed to accumulate. If the government implemented an honest programme in this regard and proved to the people that through the programme there would be a solution to the issue, then there wouldn’t be protests. Even at this juncture, what the government is doing instead of seeking solutions is pasting plasters. The people have become incited because of this.
Q: Isn’t this an issue too?
The government should at least now understand that falling into a pit does not affect the brain and therefore provide permanent solutions to this. Yet, what the rulers are doing instead of seeking a permanent solution is looking for a place to dump the garbage.
Q: It is not today or yesterday that the garbage problem in Colombo emerged. Does the JVP have solutions to this?
The solution to this is very simple. One must act using modern technology. Recycling must be done. Garbage is not a nuisance but a resource. Countries in the world import garbage from other countries. Will the government which does not have solutions to health and education related issues of the people, have a solution for garbage? Solutions to this have been practically shown by the JVP. Had the government which is taking great pains to provide compensation to the deceased, spent these amounts on recycling, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.
Q: You too have mentioned about a garbage mafia. What is it?
: Local and foreign investors have come forward previously on several occasions to recycle the garbage mountain, but because the commissions that the politicians received were less, they weren’t implemented. This is why people have had to pay with their lives.
Q: What should be done to stabilize the displaced people?
While the garbage mountain should be removed, permanent solutions must be provided to and for the people. They must be given fair compensation and houses must be provided at safe locations. The government which assesses the life of a human being as being equal to Rs 100,000, gives Rs 5 million when a Minister or a member of a Minister’s family dies. The promises they give are quickly broken. This is what happened to Salawa, Aranayake and Meeriyabedda.
Q: Is the JVP having two May Day rallies this time around?
Yes. The usual May Day rally will be held in Colombo and on April 30 a May Day celebration will be held in Jaffna. Because the majority of the people in Jaffna find it difficult to come to Colombo, we received a lot of requests for a May Day rally to be held in Jaffna.
Due to the war, for several years now, they couldn’t participate in a true May Day celebration of the Left. In the Northern Province, our Leftist movement is very strong. In order to show the fighting spirit, there are new forces joining hands with us to raise their heads. There are trade union movements also operating there. To show this to the South and the world is the special reason for the May Day rally in Jaffna.
Q: Is the JVP strong in the North?
At this May Day celebration, everyone will know this. After 30 years, it is only now that the true red flag of the Left will be raised. The JVP is at the forefront in this regard. Through this a new message is given to those who expect national unity and to progressive people who believe in equality.
Q: What are the changes to your May Day celebration this time around?
A large number of members of the international leftist movement will be joining with us on May Day. The secretary of the international division of the communist party of Cuba, party representatives from Greece, Nepal and Bangladesh will be joining us. We have made several structural and conceptual changes in order to make this the most forceful May Day in recent times. This time around, we are presenting many changes from the May Day celebrations held in the past.
Q: When the JVP was making its opposition to the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), the government put forward its stance in this regard.
The government’s stance has been revealed with regard to Neville Fernando’s hospital. The rulers today wish to legalize the SAITM merchant’s business. In no other country in the world is there an education shop being operated and maintained. Even countries that do so operate and maintain them as non-profit organizations. The SAITM is a shop that has even exceeded the limits of private businesses. Knowledge cannot be purchased by anyone for money.
Q: If this is the case, what is your opposition directed to?
Knowledge is a compendium of social knowledge. It is extremely unfair if those with money are allowed to purchase it and those without money are deprived of it. This is where our opposition to it is. Education must be provided to those who don’t have money too. This is a free right that should be afforded to them. Money shouldn’t be the denominator with regard to obtaining or receiving an education. Is it right if a child engages in a burglary tomorrow to obtain the monies needed for an education? Those people who justify paying to obtain and receive an education should answer to this. The right of education should be equal to all.
Q: Yet, isn’t this an era where private universities have come up all over the country?
Yes. However, in most of the countries where they have been established, the income disparity gap is completely different from that of Sri Lanka. When one decides to sell education in a country where 43% of the country earn only Rs 300 per day, how many will receive the right to education? Why can’t the government provide education without charging monies?
Q: Why doesn’t the government do this?
If the government can channel just 30% of the monies stolen by them towards education, then free education can be established in the country. Today, the country’s universities have become prisons. They are four-walled worlds. The children are imprisoned. The other fact is that a child in Sri Lanka receiving higher education is akin to the turtle attempting to see the sky through a slit while eating. It is that difficult.
There must be a proper mechanism in order enroll all those who become eligible for university entry. No other country in the world has a university system like the one in Sri Lanka. What we have are university villages. Today, the country’s education has become a death trap for children.