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Sunday, 28 September 2014

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A city like no other

Colombo is fast turning into an eco-friendly city. Compared to most other cities in the region, the metropolis is today a beautiful, greener and safer city.

The latest attractions are the Colombo Gold Centre and the Floating Market in Pettah, another brainchild of Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

St. John's Fish Market, Pettah was moved to a more spacious location in Peliyagoda and the Urban Development Ministry redeveloped the prime commercial plot of land for a modern shopping mall to house those in the gem and jewellery trade.

It is needless to state that passers-by held their breath due to the pungent odour at the old St. John's Fish Market, an eyesore to the public. Nobody thought that such filthy premises could be redeveloped into a modern shopping complex to house the new Colombo Gold Centre.

Similarly, the section of the Beira Lake, adjoining the Private Bus Stand in Pettah, was literally a garbage dump as vendors in unauthorised structures dumped all their refuse into the Beira Lake. One could barely believe that such a hellhole has been transformed into a picturesque floating market.

A few years ago, people even in their wildest dreams would never have visualised that Colombo would soon turn into such a clean and green city. UNP regimes cared less for town planning, permitting their supporters to build unauthorised commercial structures in Colombo at will. Most politicians turned a blind eye to such unauthorised buildings merely to satisfy their die-hard supporters.

However, Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary cast petty party politics aside and gave top priority to town planning. He not only made Colombo, the safest city in the region but also one of the most beautiful and attractive commercial capitals in the world.

Consequently, there was heavy traffic congestion, air pollution and mountains of uncleared garbage in Colombo and the suburbs. Illegal constructions had the patronage of politicians of past regimes time and again.

The makeshift constructions and indiscriminate filling of marshy lands in and around Colombo, mostly by political henchmen, caused floods, traffic jams and posed a severe health hazard. Most politicians in the past turned a Nelsonian eye to this problem as they were more concerned about the people's votes.

They cared two hoots about the downtrodden masses living in wretched conditions in shanties or making Colombo a cleaner city. But this is now history.

The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, does not work merely to seek votes, but to win the hearts of the masses by providing them a secure future. Deviating from the hackneyed politics practised in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa introduced a new culture where the country's sovereignty and the masses' well-being take precedence.

The President is convinced that winning the hearts of people, is by far, more important than grabbing votes with loads of hollow promises at election time. This was one of the prime reasons that he refrained from making election pledges during the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections. Instead, he introduced a novel concept which would be further improved before the next Presidential election campaign.

The President's Mahinda Chinthana, which he presented during the 2005 presidential election campaign, was a policy statement approved by the masses wholeheartedly. Having achieved most of the goals envisioned in the Mahinda Chinthana during his first four years in office, President Rajapaksa went before the masses again in January 2010 to seek a fresh mandate for the Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dakma, which attracted an overwhelming response. This resulted in the President securing a landslide victory to be re-elected in January 2010.

President Rajapaksa will now seek a fresh mandate to continue his policies fearlessly in the best interests of the country and its people. Upgrading infrastructure facilities is one of his prime goals and developing the capital city and the commercial capital was one of the initial steps towards the goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has highlighted time and again that town planners need to play a major role in making Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia. Town planning should be realistic. Co-ordination and dialogue are needed to implement town planning in a tangible manner.

While ridding the city and its suburbs of shanties, the Government has provided better houses for them elsewhere. Hence, the living standards of those in the low-income groups too have been improved to solve their housing problems.

A few years ago, half of Colombo's city population lived in shanties. This situation has changed dramatically and with the ongoing development ventures in the city, Colombo will soon be a shanty-free city.

Colossal sums of money are needed to provide alternative houses for these families and at least three million rupees to resettle each family. All these gigantic tasks are being achieved and a new era for city dwellers has dawned.

Despite some initial resistance, a few years ago, people now view positively the improved living conditions motivating others to move out of their age-old shanties. Affording a better lifestyle for these people is the top priority.

In the recent past, there was a considerable number of unauthorised structures and dilapidated buildings on valuable lands in prime business locations. Most of them have now been converted to high-end shopping malls in the city with the Old Dutch Hospital Square mall, the Arcade Independence Square and the old Race Course Shopping Complex attracting a record number of visitors.

The Government's vision is to develop all major cities and link them with an express road network. This is by no means, an easy task, but the Government is determined to meet the challenge and transform the cities to bring them on a par with other developed countries in the region.

The extension of the Southern Expressway from Matara to Hambantota will be completed soon. Having opened the second Expressway to link the Bandaranaike International Airport to Colombo in an 18-minute drive, construction work on the Colombo-Kandy Expressway will begin before the end of this year.

There has been a tremendous response to development and beautifying ventures carried out in the Colombo city and other major cities such as Gampaha and Kandy. These projects will be extended to other major cities too.

Beautiful footpaths, cycle tracks, architecturally-designed roundabouts and centre islands embellished with flowers and flowerpots have transformed Colombo into an eco-friendly city, especially with the development work around the Beira Lake and Diyawanna going on apace.

The Urban Development Authority is also extending its unstinted support to transform Colombo into a new-look city.

Most importantly, it is not only those in Colombo who benefit due to the city beautification program, but also the myriad visitors who flock to the city daily for employment and other purposes. Private sector business institutions in the city also benefit likewise.

City folk and those from the outstations must ensure to pay more attention to keep their surroundings clean and tidy and help in the Government's praiseworthy efforts.

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