Scores of tractors filled to the brim with garbage from Colombo on their way to the Karadiyana Waste Management Facility were turned back by angry protesters at Karadiyana yesterday as mobs stormed the tractors, crying, “Stop Karadiyana from turning into another Meethotamulla” and “Don’t ruin our city”.
“We have been protesting since 8am today (19), we don’t want Colombo’s garbage here. The situation here is bad as it is”, said Mahesh Wickramasinghe, a protester from Werahera.
Deepika and Samanthie, residents of Karadiyana stressed that they were fine with their own garbage from Kesbewa and Boralesgamuwa being taken to Karadiyana but would oppose any garbage from outside,
“It stinks here. We have a mosquito problem, flies were everywhere and our children are often sick . We cannot even cut a vegetable without flies coming on to it. We just don’t want it to become worse with garbage from Colombo being dumped here too”, said Deepika.
Wickramasinghe hoped to get people from the Ratmalana area to join their protest, despite them having turned away garbage trucks from Ratmalana that very morning. The protesting residents in the area have also given very little thought to their own garbage as the protests have stopped collection in the area. Bags of garbage line the streets all the way to Karadiyana, uncollected, and increasing in size.
Rohitha Nelson from the Piliyandala Municipal Council area has been protesting against the Karadiyana garbage site since 1998, “We always protest as there is no consultation here”, he said disappointed that the government authorities had not consulted them before they decided to send the garbage from Colombo to their own locality.
“We have no proper government policy on how to deal with this long term. Garbage can be an important resource which we can turn into fuel. But no one has come to do anything about it so far. This used to be a beautiful place before the garbage came in”, said Nelson.
Police officers stationed at regular intervals on the road to the waste management facility however said they could not disperse the crowd and that they were only ensuring that there was no hindrance to traffic in the area.
“The court has ordered that only 350 metric tons of garbage can be sent but there is no way for us to know how much that is. We are simply controlling traffic now”, said a police officer.
By 12pm however the protesters dispersed to the temple nearby where former SLFP Mayor of Boralesgamuwa, Anura Priyashantha addressed the crowd, asking them to convene later that evening to discuss their strategy and how they would proceed in future,
“If we continue to protest here, they will send in the STF and tear gas us. We will not get anywhere. We also practically cannot go on like this for long. We need a proper plan”, he told the crowds gathered around him.
Since morning, a significant number of protesters had dispersed, returning home as the hours wore on.
At the Waste Management Facility, Karadiyana Waste Management Project, Project Manager, Dhanuka Wijerathna was receiving calls from around Colombo, one from Parliament ,asking why their garbage had not been collected,
“Since the public petitions in court, the courts have only allowed us to collect garbage from seven local government authorities. But the CMC was able to get a magistrate court order to send garbage here. But we informed courts that we could only take 350 metric tons a day and that too only from 17-28 April. On 17 evening we started getting garbage and on 18th we received 348 metric tons”, explained Wijerathna.
The facility has been turning away garbage trucks after the daily quota has been filled. Wijerathna stressed that they could only handle a total of 5000 metric tons of extra garbage with no additional harm. This is in addition to the 550 metric tons of garbage a day they receive from the areas of Dehiwela-Mt Lavinia, Moratuwa, Kesbewa, Boralesgamuwa, Kotte and Piliyandala.
“We have informed the public of this. They were there when we informed the court of our requirements”, he said.
With regard to the complaints of odour and pollution, Wijerathna explained; “This was being used as a private landfill since the 80s. The best option would be to have a sanitary landfill site which minimizes odour, etc.. but when we took over in the 90s, that could not be done as it was already being used as an open dump site”, he said.
According to Wijerathna a trained staff together with researchers from universities study and maintain the site and thus far has had no incidents of fire or landslides.
“At the end of the day, this is a landfill and it will stink. We can only say that we are trying to minimize harm”, he said.
As a long term solution to the garbage problem , Karadiyana will sign an agreement with Fairway Holdings within the next two weeks to start on the ‘garbage to electricity’ project. They are expected to start construction in six months’ time and the project would take up to two years to bear fruit. As of August 2016, Karadiyana has been churning out compost of 60-80 metric tons a day, “People who protest against us, also come to purchase our compost”, said Wijerathna.
“The seven local government authorities we handle don’t have their own dump sites. They have no option but to send their garbage here,”he said.