They will always miss the bus...
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickramaratna urged
the public to cooperate with the Police to implement the new security
strategy in the Public Transport system. Bus Owners Association
President, Gamunu Wijeratne blamed the Provincial Transport Authorities
for not implementing Government orders to ensure security at bus stops.
Q: How successful is the new security strategy launched to
prevent LTTE attacks on the Public Transport system in the country?
Pix. by Kavinda Perera
G.W.: Two of our buses were damaged from these two attacks. Police
educated our drivers and conductors. They gave over hand bills and audio
tapes to educate people. We extend our fullest cooperation for such
efforts. Our employees are now on the alert. But, I am not happy about
the services of the Provincial Transport Authority. If they are active,
they can render a great service but, political henchmen have ruined this
establishment. They don't cooperate with us. They must carry out orders
of the Central Government to minimize terrorist attacks. They have not
taken any steps so far to implement orders of the Government.
J.W.: President Mahinda Rajapaksa was highly worried after the two
bus bomb explosions in Nittambuwa and Meetiyagoda. He convened an urgent
meeting of Cabinet Ministers, Commanders of the Three Forces, senior
officials of Police, Transport Authorities and other relevant agencies.
He directed us not to permit such incidents to occur again. The
Inspector General of Police gave clear instructions to all the Police
Stations the same night to follow certain preventive methods.
Instructions were given to all the OICs' to liaise with CTB Depot
officials, Private Bus Associations, Transport Ministry Officials and to
organize Police Civil Security Forces, Neighbourhood Vigilance
Committees, Crime Prevention Societies, etc. to adopt precautionary
methods to avert further explosions.
Q: Many preventive methods are being proposed by various security
experts to avoid explosions in buses. Are they practical?
G.W.: There are practical difficulties when implementing some of the
security measures. There are no proper bus terminals to stop buses. 75%
of buses are stopped on roads. Our employees will make a thorough check
of buses before take off as any explosion could even kill them. Time
keepers and OICs' at bus stands can inquire whether buses have been
checked. Lapses in their part could be tantamount to a tragedy.
JW: We can use the above mentioned organisations to check railway
stations, bus stands, buses and trains to have a thorough check before
buses commence journeys. We introduced an audio tape to caution people
at railway stations, bus stands, trains and buses. There is a public
address system already. President Rajapaksa proposed to use the Lottery
sellers communication systems if there is no public addressing system at
a bus stand or at a station. It's a wonderful idea at this juncture.
Because we cannot wait until the public communication system is
Q: Don't you think that the LTTE will change their strategies again
to target civilians as people are now alert on security in buses?
G.W.: Of course they will change their strategies like in the past.
This is the first time they planted bombs in private buses. We have 600
members in our association from Jaffna. I request the people not to over
crowd buses. There are enough buses and if they wait a few minutes they
can sit and travel. People should bear with the situation. Conductors
cannot check bags during rush hours when people struggle to get into
busses. It is easy for the LTTE to target such buses.
JW: It's always the case. After the meeting with President, we had a
detailed discussion with the Transport Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and
relevant authorities. There, I proposed that the LTTE will always change
their strategies and I requested the Minister to protect bridges,
culverts, trains, etc. I requested him to deploy casual labourers from
the area to protect bridges because most of the long distance trains
move in the night. A Policeman will assist the Railway security officers
in Trains to maintain security. I also requested the Minister to
purchase some mobile phones for the locomotive driver and the guard to
use as a primitive communication system. When I questioned the driver of
the ill fated Meetiyagoda bus, the driver had stopped at nine places and
went for tea and meals without keeping someone to guard the bus. In
addition, we asked the railway authority to adopt security measures when
accepting goods for transport. Then it is easy to identify suspected
Q: Why are some of the proposals are not practical?
G.W.: The IGP asked us to not to take anybody with a parcel from bus
halts other than main bus stand. It is not possible, because student get
into the bus. People will also not hire a three wheeler to go to bus
stand to get into buses. I received complains from passengers that some
of our buses have not taken them in from bus halts with parcels.
Conductors find it difficult to check suspected women.
JW: Sometimes we have to adopt difficult measures to maintain
security. Someone can see it as impractical method. But, for the safety
of people and properties, we have to do it.
Q: Can you maintain security at bus stands because drug addicts,
under world gangsters and many other unwanted persons are at bus stands.
They will do anything for money. The LTTE can hire them for their
missions. Should the authorities take action to first clear these bus
G.W.: It's a puzzle to me as well. I doubt whether the LTTE has hired
these drug addicts and under world characters to plant these bombs. They
take ransom from our buses. Bus owners pay about Rs. 80 million annually
as ransom. The LTTE can hire any of these men for Rs.500. They will do
anything. Recently we saw that a home guard has taken Rs.3,000 to
transport a claymore mine. There are traitors among us. We have to be
careful from them too.
JW: True. Police can certainly take action on complaints if there are
unwanted characters at bus stands. If the respective Police station does
not take proper action, it can be taken up at ASP level. It's a joint
exercise. But actually private buses deploy these runners to get people.
Q: Some of the bus conductors are highly indisciplined. Don't you
think that people will agitate if they discourteously try to check
Identity Cards and parcels?
G.W.: If we sack one employee today, he will find a job in another
bus. That is why we can't maintain discipline. We need to create
companies by abolishing individual route permits. Then it is easy to
implement any law and even a security system. The Company can hire
female security officers to check female passengers. Indisciplined
employees can be sacked under such a set up.
JW: Under the normal law any civilian can arrest a person to prevent
a crime to society. You would have heard people arresting pick pockets.
Under the normal law any person is free to arrest or prevent any
unwanted incident in society. Even without emergency law it can be done.
All the civilians are answerable under the Police Ordinance. They have
to assist the Police in case of an arrest. Certainly, the conductors
should maintain discipline and respect of the dignity of persons when
checking. Who likes to humiliate in public? Sinhalese should understand
that all Tamil people are not terrorists. Over enthusiastic security
precautions should not harass them. They have to uphold the dignity and
self-respect of any person. Terrorist could be identified the way they
dress and from their behaviour.
Q: How can the conductors check a suspicious woman?
G.W.: That is the problem we are encountered with. Conductors cannot
check a pregnant woman. Who knows whether she is really pregnant or not?
Once, when a conductor tried to check a bag of a Tamil woman in Dehiwala,
she tried to hit him with the bag.
JW: Conductors can stop her boarding the bus and phone 118 or 119 or
the nearest Police station. Today, most of them have mobile phones. Any
suspicious person can be prevented from entering a bus. If she is
refusing, first thing is to unload the bus and evacuate people around
the area and inform the Police.
Q: Do you request people to keep their bags with them hereafter
without isolating bags in the buses which can create panic?
G.W.: It's better if people keep their bags with them. Then people
will not panic. Nobody likes to keep time bombs on their laps. Then we
can identify who is trying to leave their parcels. Two bombs were kept
on racks as no body knew the owner of those parcels.
JW: After boarding the bus people can keep their bags on racks.
Police should be immediately informed if there are suspicious bags. In
addition, if people keep an eye on the person sitting next to him, it is
easy to identify suspicious persons and unknown persons boarding buses
after stopping for tea or meal. When I questioned the driver of the Meetiyagoda bus tragedy, he was not aware whether a suspicious person
got into the bus or not. That is why bus employees should take a head
count when the bus starts after stopping on the way and commuters should
keep eye on the person sitting next to them.
Q: How can security be maintained in crowded buses, especially during
the office hours?
G.W.: We have to adjust timetables. If we reduce the timing of 'bus
turns', then people will not struggle to get into one bus. Since we have
a long duration between buses, people are struggling to get in. If we
implement this, we can further reduce the security threat.
JW: We have to be security conscious at a time like this. We started
a security strategy in the Matara Ruhunu Kumari office train. Then it is
easy to identify the suspicious persons. I request the people not to
agitate for delays due to security checks. Because, Police officials do
their best to save the lives of people. People should not let any bus or
a railway compartment take off unless a thorough check is done. They
have to organise with the Police, Civil Security Forces to prevent
terrorist acts. Because, the Police alone cannot do it with a 65,000
force to provide security for 19 million people. We have our priority
areas like protecting vital institutions, power stations, VIPs, even
generators, etc. It is an impossible task only for the police to
maintain security. People have to support us.