Got this frantic call from Nahorp yesterday and the first thing he asked me was if I could hear the chainsaws. At first I said I didn’t, but then after a moment or two of listening with more attention to the background sounds, I could hear the ominous buzzing.

Nahorp and his family live on the edge of a swamp, which is probably a part of the Diyawanna Oya – a wild and scrubby environment with a good number of tree species that have adapted to this very selective environment that is a habitat-haven for countless numbers of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds that have lived and bred there for innumerable years. Along with his neighbours – it’s a neighbourhood consisting of respected professionals, among who are some well known individuals not without ‘influence’ – Nahorp has grown a number of trees like Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna), Flamboyant (Delonyx regia), Kohomba (Azadirachta indica), Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), Ebony (Diospyros ebonum) and others, and a neighbour has cultivated a swathe of waterlillies and other aquatic plants that provide habitats for a number of species of wildlife. The neighbours’ collective endeavours have culminated in a neighbourhood that has many elements of life away from the noise, pollution and other negative aspects of the city, and provides bird-watchers and nature lovers in general a super spot for observation – or just pure chilling out.

Imagine the shock and horror they felt when sometime last week word spread that the swamp is to be developed as a building site for the construction of condominiums (of all things)! The neighbours gathered in an apprehensive bunch to see what could be done about halting the insane scheme – no doubt one more of those politically-motivated plans induced by huge sums of filthy lucre going to fill the already bulging pockets of our least favourite sub-species – those in the upper rungs in the hierarchy of the political animal (Homo politico despicabilus zeylanicus).

In these times when the planet is a dire straits due to the environmental disasters brought about by shortsighted policies and greed, and legislation is being hurriedly implemented in most countries including (ostensibly) Sri Lanka, we have here a violation of all that is sensible, logical, ethical and the rights of the citizens who will be affected by this abomination in the works. The Minister overseeing the environment made some reasonably good moves when he clamped down on noise pollution and even had the guts to have some Buddhist priests arrested for violation of the law, has surprisingly(?) not uttered a murmur of protest – and one can’t help but wonder why. Is it another one of those schemes that have been hatched by, or will benefit in some way, one of those in the upper echelons of power in the country, or could it be for some other reason that none of those affected by this blatant disregard for the environment and the rights of citizens have not yet figured out?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that filling up one of the few remaining drainage catchments in the city will add to the already dire situations that occur during heavy rains and also cause all manner of problems, including flooding of the neighbourhood, destruction of habitat and the enhancing of health hazards. And besides, there are existing laws that prohibit filling low-lying lands. However, when the neighbours called on the Police to stop the felling when it began, the next day apparently the felling resumed – this time with a fresh set of Police personnel brought in to ‘protect’ the purveyors of destruction. How about that? How much more blatant can these assholes get?

So Nahorp called – and I could hear the catch in his voice when he told me what was going on and that it looked like an exercise in futility to try stopping the process in place. All he wanted to do was, at the very least, to save his Ebony tree that he had nurtured since planting it as a small sapling and he called since I have some expertise in root-balling trees for transplanting and knew of a few others who could also handle the chore. However, unfortunately for us all, the process will take up to three months for the tree to be ready for transplanting, so it looks like all Nahorp’s ‘babies’ (as those of his neighbours) will all fall victim to the chainsaw. Having planted and nurtured trees, and watched them grow for the past thirty years and more, I have no doubt as to the heartache and pain that Nahorp felt as I gave him the word.

So what do we do? Protest? But more importantly – the question seems to be, where in Hell is this country heading when laws are blatantly violated at the whims and fancies of the authorities and we sit back and take it?

You tell me.