Drug underworld comes apart, but critics tilt at windmills | Sunday Observer

Drug underworld comes apart, but critics tilt at windmills

6 September, 2020

The environment issue should not trump the drug issue, but it’s happening despite the fact that even detractors are impressed with the gains with regard to eradicating the drug menace. The brickbats about political connections of drug lords etc are sounding totally churlish when everybody is aware the Angoda Lokkas and the Kudu Ruwans don’t have a chance.

But the ground is almost cut from under the feet of the Government’s Task Forces on these matters due to the noise being made about the Sinharaja forest and other environmental issues, so called.

The Sinharaja Reserve is a national treasure, and it is one of a kind. It’s one of the world’s most prolific biodiversity hotspots and that’s not some slogan, it’s a continuing responsibility, plus an ongoing celebration.

But the noise being made about the so called road through areas of the Sinharaja is as far as this writer can tell, not an informed campaign. This pathway has been around for years say the environmental experts. Its idea is to prevent illegal logging on the one hand because the route provides easy and quick access to law enforcement.

So the road is a solution, not a problem, in the symbiosis between man and nature that’s a Biodiversity Reserve. No doubt it’s paradoxical to think that a forest needs some human intrusion to keep away other rapacious humans i.e illegal loggers, and others of the ilk.

Is there a need to go into a paroxysm of panic about the so-called environmental desecration when the country anyway has a history of environmental bogeys. Anyone remembers Kandalama?

The protests against the Kandalama Hotel were strident and at times had almost apocalyptic connotations. Now the hotel is part of the landscape — quite literally if anyone knows the first thing about Kandalama — and people get about their lives, and nobody is saying there is any loss to the environment as a result of the project.


This is not to say that Sinharaja is not sacrosanct. It is. But it’s precisely because it’s sacrosanct as a Reserve that has to be protected, that it needs the subtle human inroad, no pun intended.

From all the information that this writer is privy to, the access route has been in existence for many years anyway and is now getting a systemic upgrade, which is good for the Reserve and not detrimental to it. These assessments may change. But I would wager the President can be trusted to strike the right balance now and in the future. If a reversion of policy is necessary, it will come — and that’s a safe bet — but with minimum inconvenience to the poor people who have an interest in the roadway as their lives literally are dependent on it.

The President was seen speaking to the people, at a recent event. He went there to ground-zero — and got acquainted with their grievances. At one point he is heard to say that those who agitate don’t have a lived experience of having to use the road, or words to that effect.

Environmentalists will excoriate this position. They already are in high dudgeon, on social media and so forth as far as many observers can see. But while they lack empathy, what they are seen to lack more of is the ability to be informed at the level of ground-zero, where the issue of the road intersects with the lives of people in the surrounding human habitat.


They take a zero-sum position, and are proud of it. Often times a zero-sum position i.e: no touching of the Reserve under any circumstances whatsoever, sounds brave and correct. But a closer scrutiny reveals that there are imperatives for mobility even within a strict nature Reserve.

There are experts and scientists who are frequent visitors to this hotspot of global repute. They are subject to nature’s vagaries, and sometimes need to be quickly evacuated to hospitals when in danger. At least that is what a conservationist who has intimate knowledge of these issues has said.

The people in surrounding villages have genuine problems too, and there are no posh fire-breathing environmentalists to help them out.

This problem is on the same lines of armchair experts pontificating on the human elephant conflict. It’s a zero-sum issue there as well, for most of these know-alls.

It’s the elephants or nothing for them. But people who get attacked by the endangered animals do not see the problem in the same way.

There is no doubt that the elephants have more often than not been displaced by human encroachment. But it’s not necessarily those who encroached that suffer, when the elephants change their routes as it were, because the elephant corridors so-called have been disrupted.

Can anyone in a position of power in good conscience, ignore the plight of the often collaterally endangered humans entirely? The short answer is an emphatic no, but that’s exactly what most of the zero-sum environmentalists want.

Having said all this, these are vexed issues and that’s restating the obvious. There are no easy solutions and some genuine conservationists are bound to be aggrieved somewhere, in some way, when decisions regarding key environmental issues that intersect with human lives are addressed.

That can be expected, but don’t expect the political provocateurs not to jump the bandwagon on cue. They make the biggest noise. It was the same with Kandalama — now a settled issue that nobody quite remembers.

Reasoned, informed dissenting opinions are what’s welcome. But it’s the political variety of agitation that attempts to hog the daily discourse when some real gains are being made in the fight against the drug mafia, for instance.

After years of lip service but utter neglect on that front, it will be easy for many including environmentalists of course to say that if there is success in the fight against the drug mafia, get on with it, because that’s what governments are supposed to do in the first place.

We are sure the President doesn’t need a constant cheer squad, but however, perspective helps. The good being done in the area of the fight against the drug mafia and the underworld, far outweighs the perceived threats to the environment, that are sadly though not always, politically trumped up as well and are in the news focus.


It’s certain that the President has the resolve to carry on with his war on drugs etc despite the attacks aimed at him on the environmental front, or other fronts for that matter. Getting targeted for criticism, it goes without saying, is par for the course in a functioning democracy.

The President and the Government will manage, but the mass mind needs perspective, and that is not just for the record. Disinformation cannot be allowed to acquire traction by being legitimised, just because people are lazy to look at the issues, and cannot see through the self-righteous indignation of some of the so called protestors. Protests are not quite what they are sexed up to be, and yes, this goes sometimes for environmental protesters as well.

It’s easy to forget real gains, and cavil about mostly trumped up issues. It happened when the battle against LTTE terrorism was being prosecuted, and afterward.

But that came at a cost. Those who were taken in by the cries to oust the war winning administration were in for some rude shocks. The Easter Sunday attack was just one of them. So, encouraging proper perspective helps.

It helps people see and appreciate achievements so that they value these gains enough, to not risk losing them in a frenzy of uninformed teeth-gnashing.

The gains in the war on drugs, on controlling Covid-19, etc.cannot be forgotten because some folk would rather beat their breasts about imagined threats to forests. If the future generations are safe from drugs, they will be safe from environmental destruction too, and that should be apparent to those who have the patience to discern the woods from the trees on environmental policy — no pun unintended.