Q: With regard to the beautification of Colombo and the reconstruction of the city, a lot of people feel that there is a focus on modernization at the expense of the historical value of the city. What is really the plan of those in charge for the reconstruction of Colombo?
Actually we have begun to redevelop Colombo. We started off with the reconstruction of some of the main roads; we first introduced a proper structure for the collection and disposal of garbage and thereafter we began to develop the city, particularly in the areas where there was a lot of pedestrian movement. It was our intention to ensure that the walkways are available for the free movement of pedestrians. In this context we were looking at exposing the city making it people- friendly and at the same time giving the garden city concept. Wherever we can protect buildings of historical value we will certainly protect them. Having said that there are buildings that are dilapidated in the city and at that point we would request the owners to either develop it, or to bring about a change of the frontage or if that is also not possible we would ask them to reconstruct it.
Q: So who makes the decision as to if a building is a heritage site or not?
The antiquities law has identified all those properties that are of heritage value. That is all properties with over hundred years of existence are listed under the antiquities law. But at the same time if buildings are of heritage value and are less than hundred years which are not properly maintained then we would call upon the owners to develop it, but there are some buildings that are beyond reconstruction it is these buildings that we would want to bring down or request a temporary facelift.
Q: You spoke about the garden city concept. But there have been many observations about the cutting of trees. How do these two get together? On one hand the trees are being cut and on the other you are pursuing a garden city concept?
There are certain trees that we were compelled to remove in the course of reconstruction of the foot walks or the roadways. As far as the CMC is concerned we have given clear instructions to the CMC’s tree cutting division. We have a regular trimming programme we do, to ensure that trees are not cut down. But as you say we were forced to cut some trees but that was because they were either on the verge of collapsing or they posed a severe obstruction to civilian movement.
Q: You spoke about constructing foot walks where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. But many feel that there is focus on certain parts of the city and the other are completely neglected for instance Grandpass. Why is the reconstruction process unequal
We cannot use our entire resource base at the same time all around. We have to divide and prioritize. We began the reconstruction at the most commercial areas like the Galle road, the vicinity of the town hall, independence square and the surroundings. Those areas saw an immediate facelift. But now we are moving towards the other less affluent areas. Today you will see we are reconstructing the Blomendhal road which was in a very sorry state. So we are moving to these areas but it’s a gradual process. There is this issue about the municipalities’ waste management.
Q: There have been accusations in many quarters that the CMC has not managed waste as well as it should ,what do you have to say about this?
During the last one and a half years you must have observed that the waste collection has been very regular. They are now being disposed at a place in Kolonnawa. Today we are managing all the waste through the resources of the CMC with no private sector involvement. I think it is done in a more people and environmentally friendly manner.
Q: Is there new technology that is being used for the managing and recycling of waste? There was talk that new methodologies and modern technology was to be used for the recycling of waste. How is that progressing?
To be very frank I have been talking to over 30 developers who came up with various ideas and methods with regards to waste management. But at the end of the day we are not able to get a realistic disposable methodology in keeping with the composition of our waste. Today what we do is we have a covered dumping process. This means that we dump the waste, level the floor and then cover it with earth and then we move to the next stretch.
Q: One tends to notice that when the roads in Colombo are being paved there is a great amount of disorganized. For instance we see construction at one place and two weeks later this very same construction is removed and another is being done. There is a lot of wastage. How does the CMC justify that?
When we commence a project we have a set design. We prepare the estimates and then go ahead with the construction. But during the construction we sometimes find that we could not go ahead as we planned. Originally we decided to construct the road from Collpetty to Bambalapitiya. But after we finished it there were a lot of requests from many quarters to continue the reconstruction up to Dickmans road. The road that we constructed initially was of a very high standard and has come in for praise from all those who use the road and reflects of a road of a very high standard. In the second phase we were called upon to move certain stretches of the centre islands and at that point certain decision had to be made. This is one instance of ground realities overtaking the initial plan. Apart from that I must emphasize that all reconstruction are done with a proper plan and we at all times try and stick by this design and plan.
Q: There was about 400 Million spent on beautifying the Colombo city in time for the IIFA Awards, has this been successful, almost one and half years later?
During the period of the IIFA we began to reconstruct, redevelop and resurface some of the roads in the city of Colombo; however the cost was not as much as you mentioned.
Q: How much was spent then? Was this the budgeted amount or the actual amount?
To be very frank we had not budgeted for that particular stretch; we had actually made an allocation of about 200 million Rupees for the entire city. This was for the whole year but we made use of some of the funds that were allocated for that year to beautify the roads leading to these centers in order to cover for the IIFA programme. Because we discovered that it was going to have large media glitz.
Q: What is the CMC doing about the drainage issues in the city of Colombo?
The last one year we have done a lot of work in improving the existing drains and the existing canals—this work was done by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation Board. Most of the areas that were under floods during a heavy shower were identified. You would have seen the flooding in front of the public library is no more and in front of the former fish market. Many other areas have been identified and projects are going on.
At the moment there is a project near Norris Canal Road which takes the load of water from Colombo7 going from Norris Canal road and ends up at the Beira Lake. The three roads under Norris Canal road which are under these water flows are now being reconstructed. So hopefully within the next year we will have probably very little flooding, even in the event of heavy showers.
Q: The eviction that is happening in this beautifying process, more importantly will we see more evictions of this nature and what was the compensation given to those that were evicted?
Actually I must say that the CMC had not evicted anyone. We on our part have not begun any relocation, as yet. When ever there is a need to relocate, we discuss with the families concerned and talk to them about relocating them from their present locations and finding them more suitable accommodation. For instance if they are living on top of a drain we might have to open up the drain for some construction work and therefore relocate them somewhere else. In such instances we may try to relocate them to a place that is within the same locality. But we have in these past two to three years we have not been involved in any relocation.
Q: Part of the beautification of Colombo is under the Ministry of Defence and what a lot people don’t see is the link there; why should the Ministry of Defence be involved in the beautifying of a city?
To be very frank the CMC does the ground work.
Q: What is the role of the Ministry of Defence?
The Urban Development Authority comes under the Ministry of Defense. Actually the UDA and the Ministry of Defense have been working alongside each other on many planning and construction projects. Therefore we have been getting certain assistance from the Ministry of Defense particularly to enforce the law we now have the police to assets us and that is how we were able to create an environmentally cleaner city. This was thanks to the fact that the police were enforcing the law.
Even in this instance the UDA has certain additional resources that help to work along with us in the course of the beautification. So when we need some assistance we call on the UDA to give us some backup assistance.
Most of the programmes that are done are done in collaboration with the UDA. For instance in independence square you have a situation where the CMC is involved in the construction of the roads and the UDA is involved in the laying of the drainage lines. May be the CEB is involved in any of the additional lighting. The UDA is involved in the turfing of those areas and the cultural affairs ministry is also handling one part of it. So you have a multifarious set of work done by a number of agencies.