Friday, May 12, 2017

Meethotamulla victims not paid compensation month after tragedy -lawyer


M. R. Nawaz, who lost five members of his family points to the place where they lived as he explains the difficulties experienced by those affected by April 14 tragedy at Meetotamulla. (Pic by Nimal Dayaratne)

By Shamindra Ferdinando-

Nearly a month after Meetotamulla garbage dump tragedy, the government and the affected community hadn’t been able to reach an agreement on compensation to families of those buried alive on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Day, April 14, attorney-at-law Nuwan Bopage told The Island yesterday.

The civil society activist accused the government of dragging its feet much to the consternation of affected residents. They hadn’t been paid compensation yet due to the government’s reluctance to categorise the dead as victims of a calamity caused by negligence, Bopage alleged.

The lawyer has spearheaded over a dozen protests since January 2012 and represented the residents’ interests at many public forums.
The Rajapaksa administration and the yahapalana lot had dumped garbage there regardless of the specific Supreme Court directive that only two acres could be utilised for the purpose for a period of two years commencing 2009, Bopage said.

Bopage said that families of those who had perished were promised Rs 100,000 per each victim though the money was yet to be paid. In addition to that the affected had requested compensation amounting to Rs 5 mn for each victim, Bopage said, adding that they raised the issue with government officials on several occasions.

"In fact, residents took it up with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting held at the Premier’s Office," Bopage said.

Responding to a query, Bopage said that his parents’ house is situated outside the area now declared as vulnerable to another garbage slide.

The army hadn’t been able to recover bodies of eight persons by the time the search was called off about a week after the tragedy, Bopage said. The lawyer placed the number of bodies recovered at 32.

Bopage alleged that in spite of heavy reportage of the unprecedented tragedy, the country never got to know the true extent of the crisis hence the urgent need for a full assessment. The garbage slide destroyed 90 houses and caused significant damages to 60, Bopage said, adding that approximately 100 were situated within the area now considered to be vulnerable in case of another garbage-slide.

Bopage said of those whose houses had been completely destroyed, 30 recently moved to government provided flats at Salamulla, Wellampitiya. The remaining families had opted to receive monthly rent amounting to Rs 50,000 until arrangements could be made to provide them with permanent housing, Bopage said. However, the government hadn’t responded positively to their request to pay them three months’ rent, Bopage said. The lawyer alleged that about 40 families had been accommodated at Paddy Marketing Board stores at Wellampitiya in extremely poor conditions.

Of those who had abandoned their houses situated within the danger zone, about 60 recently moved to flats provided by the government, Bopage said, pointing out that 90 families had so far accepted the government offer of flats.

Bopage said residents had repeatedly urged the government to provide a realistic assessment of the abandoned property. He said that it would be unfair to assess property on the basis of them being situated in the Meetotamulla garbage dump area as value of property there sharply dropped due to them being situated close proximity to the garbage mountain, Bopage said.

The lawyer flayed Buddhist temples for not backing residents’ struggle in spite of their repeated appeals. According to him, a section of the influential clergy had sought to appease powerful politicians and business interests than supporting residents’ just struggle.

M. R. Nawaz, who had lost five members of his family points to where his dwelling was as he explained the difficulties experienced by those affected by Sinhala-Tamil New Year day/Good Friday tragedy at Meetotamulla. (Pic by Nimal Dayaratne)