Sunday, August 04, 2013

People asked water- they gave them bullets

Hemantha Withanage

The brutal military attack on the nightfall of 1st August 2013, against the unarmed peaceful protestors in Welivariya who demanded water, ended killing a 17 year old school boy, Akila Dinesh (who was the only child in the family) and wounding many others. They were demonstrating against the Venigross Gloves Factory, located in Rathupaswela ( about 17 km from Colombo, Sri Lanka), which is responsible for the water contamination in more that 3 km radius and for 12 villages.

It reminds me the ending to the demonstration in Cochabamba in Bolivia in year 2000 which Victor Hugo Daza was killed. It was against the privatization of public water in Cochabamba.

The incident is Sri Lanka is a warning to the people, how they will act if people go against the neo liberal and corporate interests. It is shameful how some politicians are painting a wrong picture on the incident when the media footages and people’s testimonies clearly shows how the attack was done.

As media reported “About 1,000 soldiers wearing flak jackets and armed with T-56 assault rifles were deployed to the area. Members of the army’s motorcycle brigade arrived in Belummahara at about 2 p.m. and immediately began harassing demonstrators, demanding they disperse.

About two hours later another group of soldiers were mobilised to Weliweriya to break up the demonstration. While the protestors eventually agreed to a directive from an army brigadier to disperse within five minutes, in the ensuing commotion, commandoes suddenly started firing live rounds. Protestors were also attacked with long batons, tear gas and water cannon.” 

On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were just demanding clean water for their daily consumption and to close down the factory. When go deeper, it is an issues of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was serving the businesses indirectly against the public interest.

The affected people are living in the rural villages, who totally depend on the well water. There are no pipe water facilities and no monthly bills. Factory has released acidic effluent and given the untreated sludge as the manure to the local people, which also made the groundwater acidic.

Farming families now cannot go to the paddy fields due to factory pollution. Even they cannot drink own well water. Therefore, people those who have setup a polluting factory in such as a pristine place should be blamed for destroying the traditional life and livelihood. 

Affected people have a legitimate right to oppose to the polluting factory. They also have a right to demand clean water, which is a basic need and a human right. However, their new water will come with a bill. Their lands cannot grow uncontaminated foods anymore. The water table will not be recovered next 2-3 decades. The factory, which they thought a solution for their jobs, become a burden for the next few decades. 


Friday, August 02, 2013

Crushing the protest against the gloves factory in Nadungamuwa and the idleness of the CEA

Hemantha Withanage

It was amazed to see over five thousand protestors at least in three different locations are protesting against the Venigros Gloves Factory located in Nadungamuva, Rathupaswela near Weliveriya. Men, women and children lead by Theripaha Siridhamma thero were blocking the entrance of the factory, which is responsible for polluting their drinking water sources.

The website of the company claims that they are eco friendly and engage in an ethical manufacturing process. If that is true, why the people in the surrounding villages are blaming them for polluting their drinking water sources and making the water acidic. They claim that men women and children are suffering from various illnesses due to the consumption of high acidic water. They also say that company has dumped the untreated sludge into the lands in the vicinity, which has also contributed to making their water acidic.

The million dollar question is where was the Central Environmental Authority, and public health inspectors all these years. Factory has been established eighteen years ago. I believe they own an Environmental Protection License provided by the CEA. Should CEA staff to be blame for issuing license for some rewards. Or should the company be blamed for violating the conditions.

Whatever, the reason the authorities gave a military solution this afternoon by beating the protestors and crushing the protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. Men, women and children who seek water to drink, were sent home with pain and another lesson of fake democracy.

I heard the factory would also be closed for 2 weeks until the necessary tests are done. But I also heard people don’t trust the testing by the government agencies.

Water is a human right. I believe there was an early and better solution if the environmental agencies in Sri Lanka are live. Contamination of water in ten villages within more than 1 km radius is not something insignificant for the CEA and health authorities to have deaf years.

This is not the first time that Central Environmental Authority is sleeping on its laws and regulations. Politicization of this mammoth agency is the most ill advised decision of the rulers in this decade. This is not the only place that people and the environment is suffering due to the lethargy of the CEA.

It took one life to give such a short-term solution. CEA must know that thousands of other lives are dying due to the idleness of the CEA.