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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2522

The Crimes of the RDA Against the Nation

A commentary by L. Jayasooriya

‘Sabotaging the Mahinda Chintana’ was the title of a feature article I wrote in the Daily News that was published in three instalments on June 27th, 28th and 30th of 2008. What I exposed there is a horror story which has been stated several times before both in the Daily News and the Island. The purpose of this article is to let the public know about the latest crime the RDA has done but before that I will have to give a brief summary of what has taken place before.

Brief Summary

In the early nineteen forties when lorries were replacing bullock carts that brought the produce of the estates to the Colombo harbour the British who ruled the country and who owned the estates found that some of the bends in the roads were too sharp for lorries to negotiate. So in 1943 they amended clause 24 of their “Thoroughfares Ordinance” of 1861 by stipulating an ad-hoc minimum distance of 25 feet (7.62 metres) to any building from the centre line of the road which was a bullock cart road of undefined “width”. From the day of independence in 1948 the RDA by whatever name it has been known from time to time, took over the responsibility for the roads but did not even enforce this 25 feet minimum ad-hoc distance and people were building houses next to the road of undefined width creating a national thrombosis that has cost the nation untold billions in terms of wasted time, lost productivity and fatigue due to travel.

Since independence in 1948 the RDA slept for 40 years till 1988 they suddenly realized that their 40 years of criminal neglect in not enforcing a meaningful distance to the building line could put them in serious trouble. So in 1988 they amended the 1943 minimum ad-hoc distance from the centre line of the road to another ad-hoc distance from the centre line of the road as follows: 15 metres for ‘A’ class roads, 12 metres for ‘B’ class roads and 7.5 metres for ‘C’ and ‘D’ class roads but the four classes of roads still remain the undefined bullock cart roads.

As a result of my pointing out the ridiculousness of this classification without defining the geometry of the road in terms of traffic lanes, median if any, tree lines and side walks Mr. E. H. Premaratne, Director (Planning Co-ordination) Urban Development Authority wrote in the Island of January 27, 1998 “Road standards differ in geometry, foundation, width, surface, road signs and even construction materials. These standards are often based on the functional use of roads and all ‘A’ class roads do not carry the same standards with regard to above. In Sri Lanka there are ‘A’ class roads that have never been asphalt carpeted while some ‘B’ or ‘C’ and ‘D’ class are so improved…”

With that statement the reader can make his own assessment of the Urban Development Authority called the UDA, besides the Urban Development Authority has no jurisdiction over national roads even when they pass through urban areas according to the Thoroughfares Ordinance. It appears to me that the RDA got the UDA to take the RDA off the hook.

One fruit that the country received as a result of the building line as stipulated by the RDA is the location of the bus stand next to the Ambalangoda railway station. The Ambalangoda Urban Council had to encroach into the main carriageway to provide a safe sidewalk behind railings to pedestrians who are discharged by both bus and train. Who knows how many bottle necks have been created throughout the country as a result of this rule? Those who travel south along Galle Road would have seen the crime the RDA committed in the stretch from Moratuwa to Panadura along the new road. It cost the government so much of time and money to rectify the blunders made by the RDA and even after spending so much of money it is still not what it should be.

I warned the RDA in the ‘Island’ about the squatters building right up to the kerb along this stretch of road after it was opened at a time when the problem could have been averted but as usual they ignored it. Let me ask this question. Who built a two lane bridge near the Wellawatte railway station for the four-lane Marine Drive? I think it is the RDA because the municipality is not competent to build any type of bridge. Let me mention just one more. I have not seen this but have heard it from a reliable source that in the hilly section from Avissawella to Karawanella where there are sharp bends no banking has been provided presumably because when the RDA applied their ‘banking formula’ using the very low statutory speed limit they found that no banking was required. Now let me come to the latest the RDA has done.

The latest by the RDA

In the latest revision of the code called the National Thoroughfares Act, No. 40 of 2008 it appears that the RDA has made the minister responsible for the building line. That is what I infer from clause 42 subsection (1) which says:

“The Minister may by Order published in the Gazette specify the building limit alongside a road, public road or a national highway or part of a road, public road or a national highway”.

Please note that in their latest amendment the RDA has dropped the four classes of road known as ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. Instead they have now got only three types of road other than expressways. In defining the three types they have deleted ‘wholesale’ the old ‘B’ class road that they gave birth to just 20 years ago. So what is the old ‘B’ class road known by now? What they have now is a set of three classes of road known as (a) National highway (b) Public road and (c) Road

Clause 42 subsection (2) states that where the building line has not been specified by the minister (see subsection (1) of clause 42) the building limits from the centre line of the road shall be as follows:

(a) 15 metres from the centre line of the carriageway for National highways

(b) 7.5 metres from the centre line of the carriageway for Public roads

(c) 5 metres from the centre line of the carriageway for Roads

Clause 8 describes what a National highway is in terms of where they go to etc. but does not define what in layman’s language is called the ‘width’ of road. What about the other two classes namely Public roads and Roads? The RDA has not defined them in any way. The final outcome of this is that law-abiding citizens will build their houses 2.5 metres from the centre line of any road.

In the North and the East that has been devastated the government is now laying roads without a comprehensive plan for the future. If they do not mark the limit of the building line with short posts say every 100 metres or so, in time to come those roads will be like the Galle Road from Colombo to Galle with no solution. Even marking the building line with posts is not the solution unless it is done to suit estimated requirements that will take place at least 75 years hence where any expansion of a road should be inwards and not outwards as the RDA does which involves acquisition of land, destruction and re-construction as I have explained in my long article.

Also it would be highly desirable for some arterial roads with anticipated heavy fast traffic to be provided with service roads on either side with a forested separation which is a luxury that we can afford now in the North and the East where land is available and the building line will have to be located to accommodate parking beyond the service road and a wide side walk. This is the building line for commercial buildings like shops while residential buildings will be along cross roads. Such luxuries like a forested separation say as small as 50 metres we can provide now free in the North and East where as I said before land is available. The North and the East development can be made the envy of the world. We do not have to spend any money for all this. Only plan on paper and mark the building line and forbid any new buildings within the zone permitting those already built to stay. Time will sort out the rest. So real are the facts but yet how could I convey my original article and all this to the government?

- Asian Tribune -

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