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The Frontline Socialist Front (FSF) was in the forefront of the campaign against the Meetotamulla garbage dump. Pubudu Jagoda, the Propaganda Secretary of the FSF, in an interview revealed the reasons for the tragedy and their future plans to avert such catastrophes.

Q: How do you explain the disaster that occurred in Meetotamulla?

The previous government had a national infrastructure development plan. The present government named it Megapolis Development Plan. The common goal of these two plans was to develop the Colombo city as a commercial hub. They decided to dump the garbage collected in the city in settlement areas of the poor in the district to implement this development programme. Their next step is to resettle the lowest-income city dwellers outside the city.

During the previous government we witnessed this happening at Slave Island, Wanathamulla and Glennie Street in Colombo. The present government also implemented the same in Kajimawatte and Applewatte in Thotalanga. The State drives away all the poor citizens from the city and dumps all the garbage in areas like Kolonnawa where poor people dwell. We campaigned against dumping garbage in Meetotamulla from the start foreseeing such a tragedy.

Every year the police broke up the protest campaigns against garbage dumping, arrested the protesters, charged them in courts and broke their limbs. In 2015, the police suppressed the protests using high-pressured water cannons causing severe eye injuries to the protesters. When we warned that a tragedy was imminent, the ministers in the government like Champika Ranawaka charged that we created unfounded fear. Now the tragedy really occurred. The masses now realize who tells the truth.

The catastrophe is not really in the death of people but real catastrophe is the living condition of the people who are destined to live in a garbage dump.
Q: The Megapolis minister Champika Ranawaka claims that all the attempts to solve the garbage problem and remove the Meetotamulla garbage dump were averted by protests and that is why the government could not ward off this tragedy.

No one protested against the removal of garbage at Meetotamulla. People only protested against dumping garbage in their residential areas. The previous government proposed to shift the garbage to Puttalam. That location is bordering the Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary which is the largest game reserve in the country. Arukkal in Puttalam has the highest wetland biodiversity in the dry zone. That area is archaeologically also important. The present government suggested dumping Meetotamulla garbage at Ekala in Ja-ela. Both the residents of Ekala as well as our party protested against it because that was the only location for aquatic animals in the area.

Now, there is an attempt to relocate garbage in Karadiyana in Boralesgamuwa which is a residential area like Meetotamulla. Our stand is that Boralesgamuwa should not be another Meetotamulla.

We only demand the government to find better options rather than shifting it from one place to another. There are other means in the world to convert garbage into electricity, gas, fertilizer and recycle it to other useful products.

It is figured out that 50 megawatts can be generated from the daily collection of garbage in the Colombo city. The other issue is though compost manure can be made using garbage, local farmers use urea for their crops causing damage to the soil. Though the President insists on using compost manure, it is not available in the market. Under these circumstances we cannot understand why such a huge mountain of garbage is not put into good use.

What we are asking the government is to get expert advice on the scientific disposal of garbage. There are so many models all over the world to follow.

Q: Meetotamulla cannot accommodate any more garbage. Uncollected garbage in the city is heaping up daily but solutions suggested for this problem is long term. What is the quick fix for the garbage issue?

An environmental-friendly garbage disposal project proposal report was forwarded to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) in 1998. The CMC too acknowledged that it was a practical proposal. Now the implementation of it has been delayed by 19 years and the government put the blame on us for their lapse. We insist on the government to immediately implement the proposals in the report. Then we can agree to a proposal where to dispose the garbage until the project is completed. We are ready to extend our fullest support to the government if they disclose the project proposals, its estimates and how they are going to raise funds for the project.

Our worry is that the government doesn’t realize the gravity of this problem. All expert advice has been shelved.

For example, a huge garbage mountain existed in Navinna opposite the Arpico showroom which was compressed and a playground built on it on the advice of experts. In countries like Australia abandoned mines are filled with garbage without causing harm to the environment. Certain gem pits and lime pits in the country can be used for the same purpose. The public will certainly not protest to such eco-friendly garbage disposal solutions.

(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)