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The road that gets the eternal blind eye.

(An open appeal to the Minister of Highways)

By Helasingha Bandara

The road of neglect

(July 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The centuries old ‘road of neglect’ lies in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, connecting Ambanpola and Nikaweratiya towns via Danikithawa. I guess the distance between the two towns on this road may be 20 kilometres. About five of those 20 kilometres fall on the Maho- Nikaweratiya main road. Thus we are talking only about 15 kilometres. Thank heavens that 11 of those 15 kilometres have been tarred during the two centuries since the road was first constructed, and, it seems that it would take another century to tar the remaining four kilometres.

History

When I visit Sri Lanka, I regularly take this road, and every time I do, I feel sorry for the people living along this road and in the surrounding villages. Sometimes I stop at a local boutique and talk to people. I have heard many stories about the road construction. None of those stories have been positive. Rathnayaka was about 60 years old. He told me that until he was 20 years old there was no bus service on this raod. He used to walk six to seven kilometres on a byroad to get to Maho -Nikweratiya main road during his youth. His father and the grand father had done the same. The part of the road by which he lives still is gravel and he and his father had walked on the gravel road all their lives. There is no doubt that his great grand father and the ancestors before him could all have walked on the same gravel. Surprisingly there has been a government bus service on this road for the past 40 years or so. The drivers who run this service deserve credit for their patience although the regularity and the convenience of this service are at the lowest ebb.

Politicians

Mudiyanse Tennakoon, at one time an SLFP MP and a Deputy Minister regularly travelled on this road, not only for political activities, but also to visit relatives. His daughter Soma Kumari, now a provincial councillor and a former MP often travels on this road for the same purpose with her fiancé SB Navinna ,a Minister of the present Government. So do Bandula Basnayka and TB Ekanayaka. Both are Ministers, and if I am right, TB is the Minister for highways. One Tikiribanda told me that his namesake Minister TB.Ekanayaka visited the area just before the recently concluded provincial council elections in the North Western Province, and promised the gathering that he would complete the tarring of the rest of the four kilometres. Since the elections were over there has been no sign of road construction or TB reappearing in the region. HB. Wanninayaka and Kavisena Herath both former UNP MPs lived in villages along this particular road. No doubt HB Aberathna the former UNP MP has travelled on this road many a time to visit his relatives. Palitha Rangebandara, a current UNP MP, has to travel on this road to visit his maternal relatives as his mother hails from a village in this area. With all those political connections the road still remains incomplete and unattended. Either these politicians are very principled not to talk about the road because of their personal connections to the road or they may have very little care about the people who live along the road and in the surrounding areas. Perhaps they may be gutless to demand the building and the maintaining of this road. It is incomprehensible to the road user as to why this well known road is neglected.

The Use

Thousands of people use this road daily. Certain sections of the Road, namely from Ambanpola to Thimbiriyawa, were developed recently. Since then transportation activities have improved many-fold. This road is the life line for thousands of people in this under developed region. A fair price for their agricultural produce, timely medical treatment for their loved ones, and equal and good education for their children depend on the availability of this road. Over the centuries people in this area have shown very little or no development except for the occasional exception. By and large people remain poor and less educated.

Additionally, if the road is in usable condition the drivers can cut about 25 Kilometres of the journey from Nikaweratiya to Anuradhapura along the Nikaweratiya, Daladagama and Ambanpola route. This saves time and fuel and the traders can benefit.

Mud and the red dust

During the rainy season school children find it difficult to keep their white school uniforms and shoes clean for obvious reasons. Nor can they save them in the dry season either for the red dust. I have seen these children getting out of the SLTB bus that runs along this road, appearing like the nomads of the Sahara, head to toe covered in red dust. Please no more mud or red dust for these kids who are the backbone of the country!

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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