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Urgent need for road discipline

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By JUSTICE

CHANDRADASA NANAYAKKARA

 

Compliance with traffic rules and regulations reflects the discipline and culture of a country. Road discipline is a good indicator as to whether Sri Lanka is indeed a nation of disciplined people, manifested in our behaviour as motorists when we use roads. Unfortunately, we as a nation lack this, as in almost all other spheres of human activity. Lack of discipline is deeply rooted in our culture. Road discipline has reached such a low depth it is bound to leave a negative impression among first time tourists and visitors to our country. Most will leave our shores having second thoughts of revisiting the island, after witnessing the unruly and chaotic driving culture prevalent in this island. Almost everyone in society, whether he or she is a pedestrian, passenger or driver is affected by the problems associated with the erratic and undisciplined use of automobiles.

It is said that every year 1.25 million people die on the road as a result of traffic accidents in the world, and almost 20 -50 million others seriously injured. This is an alarming figure by any standard, and is preventable and avoidable to a great extent. In Sri lanka on average five to six people per day are killed on our roads, and many are seriously injured and partially disabled or incapacitated. Some of them are not in a position to live as they used to due to injuries sustained as a result of such accidents. Most of the people killed or injured belong to the young adult group, who are able to contribute productively to the economy and society. The impact on immediate family members in losing a loved one is tremendous, in terms of emotional and psychological trauma; and the loss of income and livelihood has life altering consequences for generations. This is particularly so when the sole breadwinner of the family is killed. Therefore, the ever increasing and alarming rate of fatalities and injuries resulting from road accidents has become a matter of serious concern for all.

Concomitant with the increased population and improved road network infrastructure in this country, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of vehicles during the last few decades. The increased vehicle population has brought in its wake a corresponding increase in the number of accidents in the country. In spite of numerous safety measures being put in place to reduce road accidents, the problem has continued to grow over the years. Therefore, now there is a dire need for strengthening the existing safety measures, with a view to minimising the number of accidents now taking place.

A combination of many factors has contributed to the large number of fatalities and injuries occurring on our roads today. The primary causative factor is the lack of discipline on the part of the motorists who use our roads. Today, most motorists drive their vehicles with utter disregard of the traffic rules and regulations. The number of accidents and the resultant fatalities and injuries could be halved, if the motorists simply act in a responsible manner showing care and concern for other road users. Excessive speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, lack of concentration, the use of mobile phones, text messaging while driving, and the non-adherence to demarcated lanes while driving, are some of the major contributory factors for accidents. In addition, factors such as visual, cognitive and mobility impairment have also been associated with some accidents.

Among the diverse forms of transportation, buses, cars, ubiquitous three-wheelers and motorcycles account for nearly fifty percent of the total number of road accidents in the country. Number of fatal accidents involving buses has increased in recent years. In 2019, it is alleged there were as many as 2688 fatal accidents involving 184 private buses and 34 SLTB buses. It is common knowledge that most bus drivers do not conform to road rules and regulations, and other vehicles are virtually at their mercy. There is also stiff competition among bus drivers to capture as many passengers as possible, and their primary motive is to maximise earnings. Instead of making stops at designated bus stops, most buses stop right in the middle of the road for ad hoc passenger collection, with no consideration for other road users. Quite a few bus drivers lack the necessary skill and competence to drive, and it is alleged some drive under the influence of alcohol and other psychotropic substances. The recent tragic collision which took place between a private bus and an Army vehicle on the Nugegoda flyover, killing a young soldier and injuring two others, exemplifies the errant and reckless conduct of some of the drivers in Sri Lanka.

The high rate of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from the road accidents warrant urgent attention of the government, police and other law enforcement authorities. There should also be a strong political will and commitment for an effective and long-lasting solution in this regard. While appreciating the President’s commitment and the enormous efforts to stabilise the country, I hope he will make concerted efforts to safeguard innocent road users of the country as well.

 

 

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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