Sri Lanka: Of destination boards and communal harmony

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Oct 3 13:18:51 UTC 2007

Of destination boards and communal harmony

Transport Minister Dallus Alahapperuma is no doubt a go getter. Since
assuming the mantle of Ministership he has adopted a no nonsense
attitude towards getting the much maligned passenger transport service
back on rail.  He has got tough where necessary with the authorities,
staff and the trade unions and minced no words in calling a spade a
spade when confronted with inefficiency and lethargy and has taken to
task those found wanting.  He began by cleaning the Augean stables so
to speak by ordering the removal of his posters and that of all
politicians inside buses and trains so that their interiors would be
devoid of litter.

He has now ordered that all public transport carry their destination
boards both in Sinhala and Tamil in furtherance of the Government's
National Language Policy. This certainly is a good beginning in the
current process of reconciliation between the communities and for
fostering a common bond and understanding that had been strained over
years due to discord and mutual suspicion.

In fact there was a time when all buses carried their destination
boards in all three languages. This not only helped the commuters from
the minorities but also was a reflection of the absence of division on
ethnic lines at the time. Not only buses but even leading trade
establishments in the Pettah and the Fort carried their name boards in
all three languages. Today only a very few of these have Tamil, after
the July 83 riots.

The Minister made the point that Tamil was the mother tongue of a part
of the population who had the right to communicate with the State in
their language. He said they ought to respect this right of the Tamils
and Muslims and lamented the missed opportunities to earn the
confidence of the minorities through such policies. True, the present
conflict has progressed too far to expect a rapprochement by the mere
accommodation of Tamil in destination boards of buses. But the
Minister's gesture speaks volumes for the opportunities lost to build
bridges between the communities in the past due to petty differences.

Now that realisation has dawned all necessary steps should be taken to
speed up the process of reconciliation. True, this would take time
given the ramification of the problem. But a beginning has to be made
and the Minister has perhaps given the lead in this respect. He made
the pertinent point that in terms of the National Language policy all
notices and announcement of the Government must be published in both
Sinhala and Tamil. This while addressing the convenience of the
minorities would also infuse in them a sense of belonging. In this
regard the new circular offering incentives to duel language
proficiency for the public servants is a step in the right direction.

This is also an opportune time for the Government to consider
seriously implementing the National Language Policy with the gradual
weaning away of the Tamils from the LTTE. While on the subject of
public transport, much needs to be done to rectify the deterioration
of this sector. It hardly needs reiteration that the public transport
sector is in need for a massive overhaul.

The Minister would be the first to acknowledge that indiscipline is
rampant on our roads with bus crew a law unto themselves.  A frequent
complain is there are no buses after late dusk on certain routes
putting commuters into much inconvenience. Not a day passes without
one reading about some fatal road accident involving public transport
due to reckless driving by those who are not competent to sit behind a

Road rules are being violated by speed fiends with impunity
threatening life and limb of pedestrians. Belching jalopies are
another problem that pollute the environment posing serious health
problems. Public transport is a most vital aspect in a fast expanding
commercial milieu. The Minister we trust would make every endeavour to
ease the burdens on the travelling public.

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