A balancing act
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pledge to a group of
self employed vendors in the Pettah and Fort to remedy their
grievances stemming from their use of the pavement to ply their
wares no doubt would have come as a great relief to these
persons who have been subject to many vicissitudes over the
years in their battle to eke out an existence.
Addressing members of the Federation of Self Employees
comprising pavement hawkers, Three wheeler and lorry drivers at
Temple Trees on Monday the President said he would formulate a
policy relating to the use of pavements after careful
consideration of the problems encountered by both pedestrians
The President noted that the pavement belonged to both
pedestrians and pavement hawkers and both parties had the right
to it. What is required is a balancing act giving access to both
parties, he said.
The President’s concern for pedestrians is understandable
since they cannot be forced on to the highway, a prospect
fraught with danger, to make way for pavement hawkers.
On the other hand pavement hawkers thrive only when there are
crowds and take advantage of the space provided by the
pavements. As a segment engaged in self employment their
livelihoods too need to be protected without causing undue
harassment to pedestrians.
Their eviction would cause a loss of livelihood and the
possibility of them taking to a life of crime. The President no
doubt is aware of this prospect. Hence his sentiments of live
and let live. We often witness episodes where pavement hawkers
are forcefully evicted from their domains to make way for city
beatifying projects or other expansion schemes.
Some time back a former urban development minister under the
Chandrika Government used the police to drive away pavement
hawkers in the Fort and the Pettah while on a crusade to
redevelop the city only to see his mission fail due to the
intervention of another Cabinet colleague wielding much clout.
Therefore the whole issue is also laced with politics since
the pavement hawkers form a strong lobby affecting political
fortunes of candidates during election time. Hence one cannot
afford to ignore their role and demands and the advocation of a
balancing act to serve the interests of both pavement hawkers
and pedestrians is timely.
Towards better air quality
At last after much dilly-dallying and procrastination
fuel emission testing on motor vehicles got underway yesterday
fulfilling an urgent requirement touching on the well being of
The first two emissions testing centres at Kiribathgoda and
Miriswatte junction on the Colombo Kandy highway commenced
operations yesterday. This will be followed by mobile testing
centres islandwide where testing would be done to ensure that
vehicles conform to emission standards set by the Government.
The whole exercise is to regulate vehicle emissions that
pollute the environment and pose health risks to the public.
Recently former IGP Victor Perera revealed that a large number
of Traffic policemen suffer from respiratory ailments resulting
from inhalation of noxious fumes emitted by vehicles.
We hope at least now these traffic policemen would be not
wearing handkerchief masks to shield them from black smoke
clouds and on the contrary take proactive measures to apprehend
unroadworthy vehicles now that they have the full backing of the
It is also hoped that the city skylines would now be cleared
of the grey smog hanging like a deadly pall and that the people
will be able to breath freely without fear of ingesting
poisonous substances in to their systems.
Both Transport Minister Dullus Alahapperuma and Environment
Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka should be commended for their
resolute stand on the matter.
It has not only spared the public from fatal consequences but
also saved the Health Ministry a sizable chunk of its budget
which would have otherwise gone towards the treatment of disease
contracted from vehicle pollution.
With the introduction of the testing it will now be incumbent
on vehicle owners to be armed with a VET (vehicle Emission
Testing Certificate) to renew their vehicle licenses. The
Government should ensure no leeway is afforded to offending
vehicles and that every one is made to comply with the
There is bound to be a time lag before the full effect of the
project could be witnessed. In the meantime steps should be
taken to provide the widest publicity to the vehicle testing
programme so that the message would reach a larger segment of
vehicle owners in the country.
The move would also contribute to the disciplining of private
buses the worst polluters of the environment.
It is no secret that a good number of these buses are owned
by policemen who may attempt to pull strings to get their
vehicles off the hook. The authorises must ensure that all
vehicles are subjected to this testing if the entire exercise is
not be jeopardised.