The City of Colombo is being given a facelift in view of the forthcoming SAARC Summit. It is like giving a make-up to a hag hoping that she would turn out to be a pretty damsel! Roads are getting a veneer of tar and state buildings a coat of paint after so many years of neglect and disrepair. Shoddy repairs are being effected in a hurry to broken pavements and wayside iron fences painted. That is how the CMC and the government are trying to beautify the city. Or, one may say, that is how they are getting ready for a beggar`s at-home.
The worst affected by the grand preparations being made for SAARC are the urban poor. Beggars are being rounded up like stray cattle and transported to distant places by trucks for a state sponsored holiday. Aren`t the cityfathers and their political godfathers aware that more than one half of the city dwellers are no better than those displaced mendicants? They are living in slums and shanties! That is if the government and its CMC lackeys went the whole hog to rid Colombo of beggars during SAARC, the city would be half empty!
It is not only during international events that the city should be kept clean and tidy. Whom are we trying to fool with the on-going boru show? Is there any foreign leader who doesn`t know Colombo for what it really is a squalid city? The government won`t be able to deceive the SAARC leaders into belief that Colombo is a garden city by papering over the cracks.
Colombo needs much more than a mere facelift. Its underground drainage system is over a century old. Roads have caved in at several places but luckily so far no one has fallen into those huge craters. Drains are clogged and roads go under water during heavy rains. The government will be lucky if it doesn`t rain cats and dogs during the SAARC summit. Else, VVIPs will have to be taken either in boats or choppers to the BMICH for the conference.
The city has death traps galore. Most manhole covers and concrete slabs over wayside drains have gone missing. Pedestrians are exposed to grave danger as a result. Last year, a woman fell into an open drain during torrential rains and drowned in Colombo 07.
Pavements in Colombo are not for pedestrians` use. They are there for hawkers to ply trade and for the CMC to put up hoardings. In some areas in the city, metal structures bearing bill boards sit right in the middle of sidewalks and pedestrians run the risk of banging against them and getting their faces smashed.
Canopies of green giants lining roads need pruning. They sway menacingly in strong winds and some get uprooted as they cannot bear the weight of their own branches. Several people have been killed and maimed by falling trees but the CMC doesn`t give a damn about the maintenance of those green assets of the city.
The CMC is on a campaign to eradicate mosquito borne diseases. It keeps fining rate payers for having mosquito breeding places in their gardens. But, there are hundreds of wayside drains with stagnant water which the CMC has turned a blind eye to. Who will guard the guardians?
The CMC is the biggest contributor to visual pollution in the city. Hoardings have appeared like mushrooms in all parts of the city blocking the view of greenery. The area around the Town Hall used to be picturesque in the good old days. It was all green and soothing to the weary eyes of city dwellers and travellers alike. Today, one sees a sea of billboards and not trees. Beneath them is a rash of posters defacing walls. Time was when some effort was made to deal with the problem with the help of the CMC`s `poster buster` machines. Has the CMC given in to poster masters ? A prerequisite for beautifying the city is willingness on the part of the CMC to eliminate posters and minimise hoardings.
The worst problem besetting the city is garbage. The first thing that a foreigner entering the city sees is an ever growing mountain of garbage at Bloemandhal.
Garbage has become a problem not only for the general public but also for the security forces. Every morning, soldiers and policemen could be seen poking overflowing garbage dumps with iron rods in search of claymore mines! The CMC makes it a point to collect garbage during the morning rush hour, causing traffic jams and strewing roads with garbage falling off trucks.
In some areas of the city, people have to either bribe CMC officials or make private arrangements to have garbage disposed. A former Sri Lankan ambassador tells us that recently he had to pay for removing garbage near his house because some foreigners visited him. He says he did not want them to get the impression that Colombo was a city of garbage! How can a country promote tourism while its capital city and towns are stinking to high heavens with garbage piled up on roads?
Thus, before sending beggars on trips to far-away places, there are other things to do to make the city beautiful. One is to clean up the rotten CMC, which has become a den of thieves and a haven for political stooges. It has remained the epitome of inefficiency, ineptitude and corruption.
Giving the CMC a radical shake up is half the battle in managing the city properly. If that is done, everything else will fall into place. And the city will become a better place to live in.