Cross country development | Daily News

Cross country development

President Maithripala Sirisena’s pledge to spread development equitably to cover all regions of the country, no doubt, would be applauded by all citizens of this country. It was the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa who strove to take development to all corners of the country through his Gam Udawa concept and the garment factory programme. Those who poked fun at these efforts later appreciated his work, and, what is more, continued with the same programmes. The late President who was an individual who identified with the poor was well acquainted with the needs of the ordinary folk and largely catered to this segment of society through his development programmes. Similarly President Sirisena, too, who rose to the top from an ordinary background should be able to emulate President Premadasa to bring the fruits of development to the ordinary people.

True, the village landscape is gradually changing with development making inroads into the hinterland. But on the whole, true development is yet to reach the villages. Some of the far flung villages in the Raja Rata, from where the President hails, have no proper drinking water and the villagers are prone to kidney diseases by drinking contaminated water. Women in tattered clothing are shown on television walking miles with clay pots on their hips to fetch water from dried up tanks and streams. The President, as a son of the Raja Rata should give immediate priority to solving the drinking water problem of the people of Raja Rata. A gigantic water project that covers the entire Raja Rata should be commissioned as a priority measure to alleviate the suffering of these folk.

Neglect of the rural areas in the sphere of development, it was, that fueled the first JVP uprising, with the pithy slogan kolambata kiri apita kekiri underlining this disparity. Hence, the need for equitable development cannot be overemphasized if this sense of discrimination is to be set right. This asymmetrical development also took its toll in other forms such as exacerbating the divide between the town and the village.

Speaking at the opening of 180 projects under the Pibidemu Polonnaruwa programme, President Sirisena said he would launch a programme to distribute development work evenly to cover all areas by changing the current lopsided system of development restricted only to a few areas. He said a giant development war would be launched in the country equivalent to the development projects completed in Polonnaruwa. The President added that it would be a people based development programme catering to the heartbeat of the people and one not restricted to a concrete jungle.

The President of course may have been referring to the ego projects undertaken by the Rajapaksa regime to foster the Rajapaksa name in his native Hambantota. It has to be admitted that some of these grandiose projects, far from benefiting the ordinary peasant in Hambantota only went to plunge the country into a massive debt burden. The Hambantota Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium is a classic example of this spending spree indulged in by the Rajapaksas with little or no return to the ordinary folk of Hambantota. This cricket stadium today is all but abandoned and frequented by wild animals, who naturally had to make way for the wasteful project.

For development to be integrated with man and nature it has to be a sustainable development. Over 10,000 acres of jungle cover were cleared for the construction of the Mattala airport causing massive destruction to the animal life and disturbing the ecological balance.

Utmost care, therefore, should be taken not to cause disruption to the pattern of life in the villages when development, as envisaged by the President, is taken to the villages. The President has already stated that he will take steps to increase the country’s forest cover to 32 percent (presently 29%) by 2020. Whatever development therefore should be within this ambit.

Special emphasis should also be laid towards developing the north, which was starved of development during the three decades long civil war. There is huge potential for local industries in the north that could also generate massive employment. The northerners being an enterprising lot, they, no doubt, will make the most of the development benefits. Sri Lanka is an island nation surrounded by the sea but we continue to import fish, causing a severe drain on our foreign exchange. The north would be ideally suited for the setting up of a canned fish industry. Tourism too has massive potential. There is a need to build the necessary infrastructure to promote tourism in the region.

Development should be centred on the needs of the area. The kind of development that will be planned for the central province would not suit the south. Here too, Mattala is a classic example of misguided development, with the airport starved of international flights.

It is hoped that this all out development drive that is to be launched by the President to cover the whole country would receive the support of all political parties. After all, it will not be only members of one political party who will benefit.


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