Clouds of controversy loom over the manner in which the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, under which the Urban Development Authority now comes, is handling the garbage disposal issue, where lack of coordination between two options seems to be the order of the day, one of which could cost the government and the country a colossal US $ 80 Million more!
Ministry insiders pointed out to Ceylon Today, the absurdity of the lack of coordination of two options in the handling of the much vexed garbage issue in a classic example as to the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!
The UDA, on one hand, has negotiated with a company by the name of Western Power to convert the garbage into energy amounting to 600 Tons of the 1200 Tons of garbage which is collected in the Colombo District. In addition, it has also called for the Expressions of Interest from private companies to process the remainder from waste to energy. All well and fine. But the unanswered question is, why the 200-250 tons of residue ash is to be to transported by rail to a location in Aruwakkallu in the Puttalam District which will be bordering the Holcim Cement Quarries, which will cost the government and the country, a whopping US $ 110 million when there is a cheaper option. The alternative is to transport the residue ash to a closer location which is within a 50 kilometre radius within the Colombo District, an option which will cost the government and the country only between US $ 20-30 Million! A staggering US $ 80 Million cheaper!
Although the solution is expensive, there is some rationale underpinning the earlier option of transporting the raw garbage to Aruwakkalu where the Holcim cement quarries are – where garbage itself is an environment and health hazard – and the people's protests are within comprehension. But to transport the residue ash, which does not attract flies or not smelling, seems to be a farfetched idea, while a cheaper location closer to Colombo should be available. All it requires is an engineered sanitized landfill which is US $ 70 Million cheaper! Taking the garbage all the way to Puttalam District might have made some sense as a landfill for the raw garbage would definitely attract vehement protests from the area residents claiming, "We do not want Colombo garbage" according to the NIMBY ( Not In My Back Yard) syndrome.
Puttalam was thought of as the original proposal as there are no people living near the Aruwakkallu Holcim limestone quarries. It makes sense as people do not want another 'Meethotamulla' in their neighbourhood. The proposal was almost finalized and the Megapolis Ministry wanted to pursue the waste to energy option. However, if the residue is ash, questions arise as to why the residue ash had to be transported to Aruwakkalu which is the more expensive option.
The irony is that the Megapolis Ministry is having the two projects in isolation without amalgamating the two. It is a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!
Rail transport Irrespective of which option is to be used, whether to transport either the raw garbage or the processed ash to Puttalam, there are specifically designed trains to transport either. They have to be imported. The railway lines also have to be double tracked in certain areas and one has to construct an engineered sanitary landfill where the cement quarries are as Aruwakkalu is well beyond the reach of the normal railway lines.
With the proposal of the Megapolis Ministry to convert the Western Province into a hub, which is not even realized yet, garbage is well poised to increase from the current 1200 tons per day to 3000 tons. But according to the present projections, transporting 200-250 tons of residue ash to Puttalam does not make any sense at all.
Granted that the garbage issue has reached epic proportions. But, the questions remain whether the issue is going to be solved sensibly or using a much more expensive option.
Sri Lanka has attempted to solve the garbage problem from the warily 1990s. No landfill area was made close due to public protests. Everyone wants the garbage managed but no one wants it in their backyard. It is the people which are generating the garbage and not the government! It is also up to the public to cooperate with the government in finding a lasting solution to this perennial problem. Real estate prices are far too excessive in Colombo for the acquisition of a landfill.
On the other hand, Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya has said that he will not allow anyone or statutory body to shift the Colombo garbage outside the District.
If that is so, why is the Megapolis Ministry attempting to squander State funds to the tune of US $ 110 Million or even for that matter, the cheaper option? This is indeed funny, and again, an example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!! It is important that the government finds a coordinated solution to the issue. An uncoordinated solution would see the government spending millions of dollars which will serve no purpose at all.