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Prison Cesspit Flows Into Town

Jun 19, 2010 2:57:04 PM - thesundayleader.lk

Shelton Silva

Diverting the Mahara Prison cesspit outflow to an open drain that flows through a village has caused an uproar. Ragama Watta is a small hamlet adjoining the Mahara Prison where more than 60 families live and the open drain that carries the prison sewer over the years has not only made a big stink in the area but also become a health hazard.

By Nirmala Kannangara

Diverting the Mahara Prison cesspit outflow to an open drain that flows through a village has caused an uproar. Ragama Watta is a small hamlet adjoining the Mahara Prison where more than 60 families live and the open drain that carries the prison sewer over the years has not only made a big stink in the area but also become a health hazard.

“The recent floods that ravaged the Gampaha District was a fine example when suffered due to the overflow of this particular drain. The raw sewerage was seen all over and we had to keep our children on tables to prevent them from coming into contacting with the muck,” Mala Damayanthi a mother of two said.

According to her, the well water in the Ragama Watta also cannot be consumed. Showing us some empty barrels to be filled with water, Mala said she walked miles to gather clean water to fill all these barrels before her children got home from school.

Kingsley Perera –another resident in the area who claims to have fought single-handedly for years to bring this menace to a halt told The Sunday Leader that Gampaha District Parliamentarian, Minister Felix Perera too had accepted that the discharge of prison sewerage to a public drain has be stopped although he has not taken any action on the matter for the past several years.

“I even sent a letter to President Chandrika Kumaranatunga during her tenure and she sent Felix Perera to look into this. When he came here he could not even stay for five minutes due to the unbearable stench and moved away quickly. Although he promised to take action against the prison authorities for this illegal action up to now nothing has been done,” Fernando said.

According to Fernando, former Additional Secretary (Administration) Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms K. L. M. R. Jayathilake in a latter dated May 7, 2005 had assured him he would look into the matter but up to date nothing has been done.

According to the residents at Ragama Watta, they have been deprived of inhaling clean air which is a basic need for a healthy living and have never opened their windows for a couple of years.

“We neither keep the windows nor open the doors frequently. We are leading a miserable life,” the residents said.

K.G. Heenmenike while accusing the prison department for have diverted the sewerage pipe to the public drain, told The Sunday Leader that it is inhumane for government officials to be silent although they have been informed about the issue.

“We have had to walk about a mile to get water for our daily needs. There is a former Provincial Councilor in the area and he claims that he would have addressed the issue if his party was in power. They were in power for more than 17 years and why couldn’t he take action against the Mahara Prison when he had the power to do so? Even during the Presidential and General Election members from the opposition and governing parties visited us and gave many promises but after the election they have completely forgotten us. We are waiting to greet them in a different way once they come to us at the next time,” an angry Heenmenike said.

Shelton Silva said that they do not want the government to provide them employments or free food for their survival but only want the people in power to stop the sewer flow to the public drain which has become a nuisance over the years.

“We cannot cultivate our paddy fields or any other vegetable plots as the filthy water flows through the lands. So how can we make our living? We are all self- employed as farmers.” Silva said.

Kulasena- a former employee at the Mahara prison told The Sunday Leader that the prison cesspits are too small and when ever they overflow it is diverted to the public drain.

“This is not done every day but once in three days. There are about 2000 prisoners at the Mahara Prison and the prison authorities should know ensure a proper sewer disposal system rather than diverting it to a public drain. Although this has been reported to the relevant authorities so far they have failed to take action to address this longstanding issue which has become a health hazard to all of us living in Ragama Watta.

When The Sunday Leader visited the Mahara Prison its SP Lakshman Abeygunawardena refused to comment on the issue telling us instead to speak to Media Officer prisons Kenneth Fernando.

Kenneth Fernando however said he did not wish to make any comment. “Call the Commissioner General Prison for a comment,” he said. All attempts to contact Commissioner General Prison Maj Gen. V.R. de Silva by The Sunday Leader proved futile.