After more than six months of being locked down and self-locked-in, a friend and I decided to venture forth, with our respective domestics, to much beloved Anuradhapura. We spent the night at the Sanctuary – the old Tissa Wewa Resthouse – with name change and refurbishment some years ago. Mercifully, the bullock drawn passenger cart we call a hackery on display, and ancient mosquito net draped high beds are retained. My friend and I both adore these old places which have so much character and a particular ambience, missing in the flashy new hotels. The hotel staff were, as always, very attentive giving us good service.
Regulations observed and also not
Anuradhapura this last weekend was full of pilgrims, such that queues formed at the entrance to the Ruwanveliseya and Sacred Bo Tree premises. Police were on hand but social distancing was ignored completely. This was the case all over, though all people wore face masks. I was seated on a step in the Sacred Bo Tree area when, with plenty of space available, a person sits right in front of me, not even two feet away.
One cannot say whether pilgrims were quiet or not, quiet with piety and reverence, or chattering and calling out to each other as usual, because the temple loud speakers were on full blast at the Sacred Bo Tree from before 6.00 pm to after 7.00 with gathas being chanted, extra loud. At the Maha Seya, as is the custom, donations were acknowledged with all details of donor through a loud speaker. Five pooja processions arrived with loud “sadhus” and tom tom beating. No complaint about the latter but very severe complaint about the loud speakers at full blast.
The point of this article is to make two complaints. The first is about the prolonged loud chanting of verses from the temple below the Sacred Bo Tree, and the other: total disregard of the less-abled.
Loud temple chanting
In this column and through letters to the editor I have complained many times about the noise in this most sacred of places. In the Kandy Dalada Maligawa, the drum beating and ‘horena’ and conch blowing are at set times and very necessary as being part of the ritual of the sacred place and fascinate both foreigners and locals by the style of tom tom beating. Other than this, there is quiet and people too are completely silent. Not so in Anuradhapura at the site with another ‘relic’ of the Buddha himself – an aged grown sapling from the Bo Tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment in Gaya. What is expected of people who come here? Pay reverence to the aged tree and the more robustly growing third generation of the sacred tree in Gaya, and sit quietly in meditation or at least in reflection on the life of the Buddha.
But what do the Sangha guardians of the place do and allow? Very loud and prolonged chanting early morning, mid day, and long into the late evening. They also allow those white clad charlatans to bless people who pay them to chant gathas. The most Sacred Tree is to be fervently revered and not sought help from. True, there are devathavas present, but the greater significance is to get us ordinary people meditating as the Buddha did before and after he realized a solution to the suffering of samsaric births.
This first complaint can hardly be remedied as the Atamasthana Mayanayake and the monks resident in the sacred sites make the laws. I do not suppose even the Ministry of Buddha Sasana can advice more silence, leave alone order it. But my second complaint can be remedied by the central authority, meaning the Ministry seeing to religious affairs.
Created difficulty to reach the two
most sacred sites
I found this last weekend that I had to walk much longer to reach both the Sacred Bo Tree site and the Ruwanveliseya. Result of the 2019 Easter bombing, I suppose. We used to park the vehicle fairly close to one site and walk along that paved path to the other and have the car collect us at that end or even walk back. Once with my sister we found a wheel chair available. I most definitely feel that private cars especially, need not have to park so far away from the entrances to the sites. They can drive much closer to the entrances, drop passengers and drive back to the vehicle park. Who are those who come with most fervour and anticipation to these places? The aged. And they are kept out unless they possess wheel chairs and at least three pairs of strong arms apiece to lift the chairs over steps.
This is really deplorable. To worsen matters, there are no ramps to accommodate wheel chairs to either the apron of the Maha Seya or the Maluwa at ground level at least of the Sacred Tree premises. While I sat on steps distant from the two places, I saw about five old people in wheel chairs being carried in their chairs itself or lifted off the chair and carried to be set in the chair, having to repeat this business several times. I use the word shameful to describe this utter disregard of the old and helpless who are in most need of the solace of visiting our most sacred sites. 70 odd percent Buddhists in the country, with a Ministry for Buddhist Affairs and hundreds of monks in Anuradhapura, but no one has seen the need to help the less abled visit the Sacred Sites.
Universal laws in place
On my return I complained to an architect in the US and said this may be my last visit to worship at the two most sacred sites. He gave me information that actually should be passed onto the authorities. Our Prime Minister is the Minister of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs; with Secretary Prof Kapila Gunawardena. One of our group suggested we tell it to the President as people are complaining about everything to him. No! He cannot be bothered with shortcomings. The Buddha Sasana Ministry should look into the matter of doing the needful to accommodate the less able to pay their reverence to the two most sacred sites in Anuradhapura.
Prevalent rules in ‘more civilized’ countries
The architect I spoke with said that one regulation observed and carried out in the US is Universal design – “design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.”
The term ‘Universal design’ was coined by Architect Ronald Mace with the aim stated above. “It was however the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who really pioneered the concept of free access for people with disabilities. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of the built environment. Universal design emerged from slightly earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.” As life expectancy rises with modern medicine etc and those with significant injuries, illnesses, and birth defects, move around, this concept of universal design is incorporated in new buildings and also reconstructed ones, as the architect told me.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA is another step forward in the very right direction which is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. I mention the ADA though it is not absolutely relevant to my subject in this article.
I accessed the website of the Ministry of Buddhasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs (name given in two ways interchanging ‘cultural’ and’ religious’!!) and quote:
To be the leading facilitator in bringing about a society with qualitative and moral values. Our Mission: Providing assistance to create a qualitative society with better way of living …
Religious observances and making them available to all definitely falls into both vision and mission! What has to be done urgently is build ramps to the sacred sites and let cars drop passengers closer to the sites. It’s as simple as that! I intend posting a clip of this article to the Ministry. Do hope it will beat our oft repeated and believed in “Kaata kiyantada” pessimism.
Traffic in Colombo and suburbs: Is it unsolvable?
By Praying Mantis
People curse this phenomenon called traffic congestion in Colombo and the suburbs. However, it has to be unequivocally conceded that the populace has to get about on their daily chores and obligations. The result is traffic, with or without congestion, and we have to come to terms with the fact that it will be there, whether we like it or not. Many deem traffic congestion to be a spectacle that is an eyesore. But it can be solved and the current apparently impenetrable problem can be mitigated to a large extent. What is required is a little bit of intelligence, some meticulous planning, and strict implementation of the rule of law, irrespective of all other mundane considerations.
One important aspect of trying to sort out the problem is judicious timing and usage of traffic lights. These can be set to a computer-assisted or time-controlled operational mode. It needs careful study of the movement of traffic across these junctions where traffic lights are already installed. Steps also need to be taken to install these lights in areas where they are really required but are not installed as yet. All traffic lights should have digital clocks so that the drivers behind the wheels can get ready to move decisively once the colours change to green. All vehicles should move promptly when the traffic lights change from amber to green. At present there is a considerable delay in their starting off from the blocks. In the Western countries, you will be charged for unduly delaying your take off from the stationary position. At the same time, speed limits should be very strictly enforced. Road hogs, who block traffic on the outside fast lanes, should also be prosecuted.
We are quite sure that our excellent engineers, especially those in the Moratuwa University, can set up a system or some devices that would allow the green to come on at consecutive colour lights, suitably timed to enable the traffic to move steadily and reasonably fast right across all traffic lights on a main highway. We are quite sure that this would not be such a problem for our excellent engineers. We do not need to get down foreign experts for this.
A directive from the political hierarchy should go out immediately to the police that they SHOULD NOT switch off traffic lights under any circumstance. This will solve a lot of problems. ALL TRAFFIC LIGHT INTERSECTIONS should have yellow criss-crossed ‘no waiting’ areas. Those who wait on these lines, blocking the smooth flow of traffic, should be instantly fined or charged. The traffic policemen could intervene appropriately, even with the traffic lights functioning, to prevent grid blocks and unnecessary lawless blockages. The police are so trigger happy to switch on constantly blinking amber lights at the drop of a hat and take over directing traffic. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The policemen love to take ‘absolute power’ over the motorists into their own hands by switching off the traffic lights, and make a complete mess of it all by themselves. The computerised traffic lights would do a much better job than the brains of stupid traffic policemen with IQs about 10 below plant life. They seem to have one-track minds and most of the time they think that in the mornings, only the traffic going towards the centre of Colombo should be allowed and, in the evening, only the traffic going away from Colombo need to be given preference. The police patrol (four- and two-wheelers) should be used to apprehend road traffic rule violators. At present they are parked on our roads, sometimes blocking traffic, all by themselves, with all the officers engaged in chats, in person, or through mobile phones. Our traffic police should take examples from the Highway Patrol Vehicles of the Western countries, particularly the California Highway Patrol fleet. Catch the offenders and punish them, irrespective of their political connections. Our traffic policemen are “PAVEMENT POLICEMEN.” They should catch and deal with all the traffic rule violators, notwithstanding any of their powerful connections. These include motor bicycles that weave in and out of traffic, those on two-wheelers who go on the pavements, those that overtake on the left, three-wheelers and buses which are a law unto themselves, lane jumpers of all types who could not care less for the other road users, the speedsters that weave in and out of lines of traffic, those who wilfully cross centre double and single lines just to get a micro-second advantage in time, just to mention only a few.
All two-wheeler motor bicycles, three-wheeler tuk-tuks, and buses of all types, should be strictly reined in. The maniacs that ride and drive these contraptions need to be disciplined remorselessly. They cause more traffic jams and accidents than all other vehicles put together. When confronted for their mistakes by other road users they even turn aggressive or make lewd gestures, especially to female drivers of other vehicles. The currently prevalent lane allocation operative during the rush hours in Colombo is doing a little bit to ease the problem. Yet for all that, at all other times it becomes an even deadlier free-for-all, totally ignoring lane-discipline. It is also laughable that a certain controlling big-wig of the Private Bus Mafia has threatened to strike if the three-wheelers and two-wheelers are not taken out of the inside lane. The government should call his bluff and see how they will all come back with their tails between the two rear legs when their income drops down to zero. It has been said that the private buses are generally allowed the freedom of the ass by the police because most of such buses are owned by either policemen or politicians. We have of course not checked the veracity of this contention.
All container carriers, large lorries and other bulky vehicles, except passenger transport buses, should be allowed to get onto the roads only from 9.00 pm to 6.00 am. They should be banned from all our roads from 6.00 in the morning to 9.00 at night. They cause more traffic jams than all other vehicles on our roads.
The DIGs, SSPs, SPs, ASPs, CIs and IPs of traffic police should come out of their air-conditioned cocoons, called offices, and get on to the roads to supervise the way traffic is controlled by the lesser ranked policemen. At present these worthies generally come out only when the so-called top politicians move around in Colombo. Then they crawl back into their own holes, so to speak. Some years ago, a Senior DIG of Traffic with the initials of RML, used to get on to the roads to see how things were. He did a fantastic job and was responsible for creating some of the one-way streets in Colombo. Definitely an officer to be emulated.
NO PREFERENCE WHATSOEVER SHOULD BE GIVEN AT ANY COST TO VVIPs, VIPs AND OTHER ASSORTED POLITICAL ELEMENTS ON OUR ROADS. The violation of all traffic rules by large platoons of support vehicles just to enable one political nincompoop to travel a distance of a couple of kilometres at break-neck speed is a real crime and a crying shame. This is a particular menace down Parliament Road. After all, they are supposed to be servants of the people. If they need to get somewhere in time, they should start off early enough. In other countries, even Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, do not enjoy preferential treatment on their roads. Their vehicles obey their own rules and laws.
The flashing red and blue lights on the windscreens of vehicles should be completely banned. The donkeys behind the steering wheels of vehicles with these rapidly flashing lights seem to think that they have carte blanche to do as they wish. They will have those blinking lights on and come at you even on the wrong side of the road. The ONLY vehicles allowed to use these flashing red and blue lights should be ambulances and police patrol vehicles. Incidentally, ALL police officers should be instructed to intervene and provide right of way and a clean fast run to all ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The really valid reason for this is the fact that it may mean life or death for a patient. As is done in the United Kingdom, that should be the only overriding concession made to vehicles on our roads.
You might say that all this is wishful thinking!!! The powers that be have turned a Nelsonian blind eye to this problem so far. They have certainly acted as if they could not care less. The politicians would not want to give up their exalted positions on our roads. Why should they worry? Their steamrolling juggernauts would get them there in time. Even if they get a bit late, the stupid organisers will wait for them to start the proceedings. The unimportant masses can spend all their time on our roads for all they care.
We hope these suggestions catch the attention of the powers that be in government, the police, people in positions of forward planning and traffic control. More than anything, we hope that the Executive President of our country would read this and act on at least some of these suggestions. He is perhaps the only one who can control this menace on our roads. If he so decides, like many other things he has done so far, this problem could be solved virtually overnight. It can only be done by reading the riot act to the police which would then percolate down to all the miscreants on our roads.
How to transform conflict into co-existence
Humans and elephants killing one another
Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya
M Sc, (Department of Irrigation Engineering) Utah State University, Utah, USA – 1982 , B Sc (Civil Engineering), University of Peradeniya, Sri lanka – 1974
I thought of writing the following note after reading a recent news item about the interest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to solve the human-elephant conflict. By the way I am an Irrigation engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Projects since the 1970s while developing the dry zone forests areas for irrigated agriculture. The main purpose of this note is to put forth a proposal to solve this conflict, from a different perspective based on my field experience.
Sri Lanka has been truly blessed with the presence of the largest mammal on earth; it has contributed tremendously to our culture, economy, environment, leisure industry and natural beauty. Elephants are quite closer to humans than to other mammals. According to the article (referred to in the end note) for most of the mammals, brain mass is already developed at more than 90% when they are born. But elephants and humans are different, because brain mass development at birth is 35% for elephants and 28% for humansi. Therefore, unlike other animals they can’t survive during their infant age without the support of their parents. For an example if a human baby grew up in a jungle among the animals from child stage, he or she could not learn the normal human behaviour. This holds true for elephants.
Elephants are also intelligent like humans and have the ability to make rational choices and judgements. They don’t attack people without a good reason. When people increase their aggression towards them, they also increase their aggression. They also remember well, and therefore they can be increasingly aggressive and violent with the passage of time. As a result the ‘human-elephant conflict’ would transform to a never ending battle until elephants are driven to extinction in this country.
Human-Elephant conflict based on
my living experience
As an engineer who closely watched behavioural patterns of elephants while working on the Mahaweli Project since the 1970s, (before the forests were cleared for “development”), I still remember how they were freely roaming in harmony with the farming communities dependent on village irrigation tanks. For an example, elephants used to drink from a domestic tank built behind our Mahaweli quarters to meet our daily water needs before we chased them away to lay the modern canal network. Villagers also never considered elephants as threat to their lives unlike leopards because there were no elephant attacks. Grass growing in the village tank beds in valleys and secondary growths in chenas in the highland areas after their harvesting periods were their favourite food items. Even for birds, an area was allocated under village tanks known as kurulu panguwa. In addition, the villagers had also built forest tanks (kulu wewa) exclusively for wildlife and also to replenish ground water aquifer with rains. However, according to modern commercial-oriented western-based farming methods, we have destroyed thousands of those storage tanks and pitted ourselves against nature. We have been fighting a losing battle. An article published in the Economic Review magazine in 2010 explained in detail how this happened under irrigation projects developed during the last 2 centuryii.
Confrontation Vs Negotiation
Since the introduction of the so-called modern development strategies increase food production, we have been chasing out elephants and putting up electrified fences to ward them off. However, according to my first-hand experience, we could transform this conflict and co-exist with elephants if we handle the eco system for food production in an environment friendly manner. According to the recent observations on brain development behaviour of elephants, if we adopt what is dubbed the negotiation mode, I am sure, elephants will treat humans not as enemies to attack but as another species they have to coexist with. Instead of electrified fencing, live fence using plants such as lemon, palmyra and bamboo could be introduced.
Also, in some countries, bee keepingiv is also used to prevent elephants from roaming in residential areas.
Against this background, it is possible to test out the ancient development model at least at pilot scale in a selected area which has not yet been “developed” under the Mahaweli Master Plan. In the proposed approach, there are no artificial fences separating eco systems according to conventional EIAs recommended by various international funding sources. This is a very low cost method which could be implemented with local private sector involved in Organic Agriculture and Eco Tourism. The best pilot area I can recommend to test that negotiation approach is the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya. I also recommend that the Project be managed by a multidisciplinary team comprising wildlife and agriculture experts, irrigation engineers and archaeologists.
Confrontation verses Negotiation
According to my past experience no innovative ideas could be implemented on ground without political involvement. The main purpose of this note is to interest the political authority in this project. I hope my effort is a success. It should be implemented immediately because the Mahaweli Authority has already planned to follow the conventional confrontation approach for developing the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya.
Lane discipline then and now
By Eng. Anton Nanayakkara
Chartered Civil Engineer
At a time a valiant top heavy effort ( police plus army ++) is being made to enforce lane discipline , it is relevant to recall how a similar attempt was made by a small group of professionals, with foreign driving experience, to introduce the concept of lane discipline as practised in the countries like Singapore, the UK, the US, etc.. It was during 2000 and 2003 that two exhibitions were organised at the OPA for the first time, under the theme, ‘Introduction to the Basics of Lane Discipline’.
It took the form of a seminar- cum- exhibition with a 16’x 8″ physical model to explain all details of correct lane markings, their meanings, etc., to help a person drive any type of vehicle in a disciplined manner without any external assistance or excessive police presence.
At the first exhibition (2000), the Chief Guest was the Minister of Health and the Guest of Honour the Resident Representative WHO, at that time one Dr Peter Hybsier. Dr Hybsier said it was ‘exactly the way to set about solving the existing traffic problem’. In the second case, too, the same model was used with improvements, such as operating traffic lights using led bulbs. The Chief Guests were the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport. Yet another special feature of the second exhibition was the inclusion of a pilot project on Parliament Road from the parliament roundabout to the Devi Balika roundabout with minimum police presence and no traffic fines so as to secure motorists’ fullest cooperation; only advice and warnings were given.
The most important feature of the pilot project was the prior training of all categories of road users. Specially prepared leaflets were to be distributed to all drivers two weeks ahead of the implementation of the pilot project. For this purpose five different categories of drivers were identified and the leaflets contained material applicable to each type of vehicle he/she will be driving at the time. (See below)
At the second exhibition immediate orders were given by the Minister of Transport to the only RDA engineer present at that time to take action to implement the pilot project without delay. So as usual everything ended there! The following pictures give some idea of the model.
While all the efforts being made under the present conditions are to be appreciated, it must be said that the use of public roads for training instead of a scaled down model dilutes all the good efforts, not to mention the need for a massive manpower input (police and army). It is difficult to believe that all drivers from one end of the road to the other end of the road and drivers in different lanes get the same message. It is also not fair to delegate any lane to one particular type of vehicle. All vehicle owners pay ‘road taxes’ that are used to build and maintain roads. So, the roads belong to all road users.
In Singapore, many more vehicles move much faster and much safer than in Sri Lanka. Where driver training is imparted is called the Singapore Safe Driving Centre, which is run by the private sector in Singapore and Honda Company of Japan.
The method proposed in the years 2000 and 2003 here applied to all roads, at all times, irrespective of weather conditions. Fines were the last resort. It is a pity that the present effort is being made 13 years after year 2003, and during that period thousands of lives have been lost on our roads not to mention many thousands of new vehicles getting smashed up, causing millions of damage to public and private property.
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