Growing social tension in Sri Lanka: The limits of development sans democracy?
Photos courtesy Vikalpa.
Sri Lanka’s Ports and Aviation Ministry earlier this year said it would purchase two seaplanes from Canada to boot the tourism industry in the country. As noted in the media, â€œ…the Ministry plans to use 12 inland lakes and waterways including Beira Lake, Victoria reservoir, Tisa Wewa, Parakrama Samudraya as destinations. In addition a service from Negombo lagoon to various parts of the country has been planned.”
What was not mentioned in these media reports was that these plans for tourism development were drawn up without any consultation with the population in and around the areas mentioned. In the case of Negombo, this meant fishermen who relied on the lagoon’s crustaceans and fish for their livelihood. It is precisely this that was placed at risk, because the dredging of the lagoon – to make it fit for seaplanes – would have devastated the lagoon’s marine ecosystem.
As Father Sarath Iddamalgoda notes in this video captured by Vikalpa,
â€œThe lagoon fishermen, even amongst fisherfolk, are extremely poor. Forgetting their needs, those of businessmen interested in foreign tourists are being met today. The result of this is a great harm to lagoon fisherfolk. The lagoon is destroyed. Various species of fish are destroyed. What the fisherfolk are left with is hunger and malnutrition. This devastation is happening today under this government. This is a protest by the poor and the underprivileged.”
Neither the Police nor the Army could not control the crowd. This is evident in the video footage, in which person after person openly taunt the authorities and mention that this is not what they expected from a government they had voted into power. By mid-afternoon, the crowd brought traffic on the Negombo-Colombo road, a main artery into the capital, to a halt. After nearly ten hours, a crowd of well over 1,000 forced the authorities to remove the heavy sand dredging equipment from the lagoon and said they would not proceed with the dredging.
There is growing social tension in Sri Lanka. Over 2010 alone, student unrest in Universities Â increased considerably. A number of trade unions are joining the fray. Any one of these incidents alone can be cast aside or seen as isolated incidents by minority groups. Collectively though, tens of thousands of people have been involved in demonstrations against government (including those who voted it into power), and there is no sign that this trend is abating.