By Thulasi Muttulingam
The traffic situation in Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Fed up with congested, inefficient and uncomfortable public transport, more and more of the urban middle class are opting for private vehicles as soon as they can afford it.
The city infrastructure to accommodate all those vehicles is not keeping up though. Commuters out and about during peak times such as office / school opening and closing times know all about the travails of travel on Colombo roads.
There is always some segment of the population agitating for something – so while one segment would undoubtedly have agitated for wider roads and better traffic control systems, another segment, the tree lovers and environmentalists of Colombo, are deeply upset over the repercussions of cutting down trees to widen roads.
Felling of trees to widen roads
The latest victim is Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo 7. In the green city of Colombo (which is still known as one of the few ‘green’ cities of Asia), Cinnamon Gardens is one of the greener suburbs. Though the numerous Cinnamon trees that gave it its name are long gone, it is still a high-priced residential area, and as such, enjoys comparatively better perks than most other areas of Colombo. One of these symbols of prosperity, as it were, is the number of massive trees flanking the roads, providing much needed shade.
Unfortunately Colombo 7 being prime real estate, many well known schools and institutes also dot the area. Translation: large number of traffic by the vehicles of upper class parents dropping off / picking up their children from school.
Result: road widening!
Translation: felling of trees!
According to Jayantha Guruge, Director Works of the Colombo Municipal Council, trees are being cut down on both sides of Wijerama Mawatha because of the traffic flow problem in the area. He was the only official who could be reached, to give at least some clarification on the issue.
Officials at the Ministry of Defence, which oversees the Colombo Beautification Programme, kept on transferring the line until someone finally had the courtesy to hang up. A typical tactic of many government ministries when they are asked to clarify anything. Neither the Colombo Mayor nor the Municipal Council Commissioner could be reached. The head of the Environment section of the Urban Development Authority brusquely said she had ‘nothing to do with the cutting down of trees.’ Asked to clarify who was, she replied, ‘I have no idea,’ before hanging up.
The Chairman of the Central Environment Authority, Charitha Herath, was more polite, but didn’t have anything to add either. He seemed genuinely surprised about the issue.
“They are cutting down trees? Where exactly? I am sorry; I haven’t heard anything about this.” He said, if it was true, then it wasn’t with the concurrence of the CEA, but was hasty to add;”The CMC and UDA do not need our concurrence however. They do have the power to cut down trees where necessary. Let me check with them and get back to you.”
When Ceylon Today visited the scene at around 3.00 p.m., on Monday however, the road seemed quiet and subdued. There was hardly any traffic and even the CMC workers were not to be seen. The only evidence of their work was uprooted trees, tree stumps and a bull dozer.
The scene now
A group of workmen and their supervisors in the area turned out to be not from the CMC, but Dialog. Apparently the sudden uprooting had disconnected some Dialog cables and so the company had sent workers to inspect the damage.
Most of the passersby were students from the nearby educational institutes strolling about during breaks. When asked their opinion of the trees being cut down, they expressed dismay.
“It is such a pity. These trees were massive and gave a lot of shade. They were also very pretty. They beautified the neighbourhood. We didn’t want them cut down.” courtesy: Ceylon Today