No roads lead to Rutherford Division : Estate workers left high and dry | Sunday Observer

No roads lead to Rutherford Division : Estate workers left high and dry

29 April, 2018

It is Sunday morning. Pathmanathan is at home, looking after his two daughters. It was only on Friday, at dawn, that his wife Pathmawathie delivered their son. He should be a happy man today. On the contrary, he is sad and angry. “It was here my wife had to deliver our son,” says Pathmanathan pointing at a part of a derelict road. She couldn’t get to the hospital on time for the delivery, and neither the mother nor the son had been discharged from hospital yet.

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It is not the first time such an incident happened in their ‘watta’ (village or compound) according to Ramachandran. Though births happened at one’s home those days there were older women who carried out the duties of a midwife and supported the mother at childbirth, he recalls. But now, “Women have to go to the hospital for childbirth. It is better, because they have better facilities and could register the birth.”

Ramachandran, had been living at Rutherford Division for the last 50 years. We meet him close to the main road and he agrees to take us to his village. We come to a clearing and he shows us their compound. The houses in line look like toy houses, “It is only a mile down,” Ramachandran assures.

Sivakumar joins us for the rest of the way. “We have two access ways, one which goes towards Ekolsund Division, and this (road), going towards Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)” he clarifies. But, “this is the only way we can use in an emergency. The other is down steep paths and across a hanging bridge. It is a huge risk to take a pregnant mother or someone needing emergency healthcare on that road. It is worse in the night. There is no electricity and there are wild-boar roaming and attacking. Recently, there has been fear about a leopard prowling around in these estates,” he explains. As we trek their run down road, he describes how an officer of the estate after getting to know their plight had helped construct the road and pave it with stones and rocks, years ago. “This road could be used by any vehicle then. Now, only a high vehicle (off road jeeps or lorries) can be driven on this road. Though in an emergency, people use three wheelers, they need to be manually lifted up and placed on higher grounds, in many places.”

The road, though muddy looks motorable, nearing their compound. It is due to recent repairs, in anticipation of the Kovil ceremony the very evening, Sivakumar explains. The compound is buzzing with activity, in preparation for the festivities.

We meet Pathmanathan who tells us that though a three wheeler reached them and his wife was taken to the hospital she had to deliver the baby on the way. “It was terrible. With all that she had to walk from time to time, as we lifted the three-wheeler over the rocks on the road,” he tries to explain, but loses his voice. A neighbour chips in with the information how they helped and after much effort Pathmawathie and the newborn were admitted to hospital. Two such incidents had happened recently. Though the officials and politicians they had met to plead the cause had all assured that they would get the road done up, “It was only until they got our vote. In 2015 (name of a politician) promised us that he would repair the road by laying concrete. Others who came here before the recent (local government) elections promised the same. They are only promises. They get our votes and never come back. It is our women and children who have to suffer.”

Children seem to enjoy the new bridge they had received last year. “It was broken and had many planks coming out. Others were so rotten, that we feared for life crossing the bridge then. We have requested for repairs many times, we are scared to send children across the bridge. We were not sure whether a child who had left home to go to school in the morning would come back safe in the afternoon,” says M. Kavitha a mother of four. She had been living at Rutherford Division since her marriage, for over 16 years. Her eldest daughter has to trek the path across the bridge every day to school, she explains. Her youngest daughter, Tharshaana, a four year old is the one whom Kavitha takes across to pre-school and back. The primary school is situated in their division of the estate, but the senior and pre-schools are situated across the bridge. Many children have to cross it at least twice a day, says Kavitha. It is imperative that the bridge is safe for children.

We meet Yasodhan, Grade 6, and Vaneetha, Grade 9, of Lacoombe Thamil Vidyalam on the bridge. The siblings had visited a nearby boutique for sweets and seem to enjoy a stopover in the middle of the bridge. A quick repose, absorbing the breathtaking scenery. So, what do they have to say about crossing the bridge on school days? “As long as the weather is good, there is no problem,” says Vaneetha. It is a long walk to school, but she doesn’t mind it. However, on rainy days, the planks are slippery and the road leading to the bridge is muddy, which makes crossing the 295 ft long suspension bridge “very scary” for this 13 year old. It is scary not only on rainy days, Yasodhan adds. It is even more “scary” on the days that the dam (of the Maskeliya Reservoir) is open. For water gushes down (towards the Canyon reservoir) at lightening speed, and sometimes goes over the bridge. When parents get to know that the dam is to be open, they keep the children at home, they said.

A short distance from the present suspension bridge is the site for the planned bridge, which, according to residents was being measured by the local government authorities. “It is closer to the housing compound and they said it is shorter, only 250 ft. If that comes up we can even use that road during emergencies,” Sivakumar points out.

What the residents want is not a solution that gets washed off, or break or rot with each downpour. They want a permanent way out of their drudgery in accessing emergency services each time a medical or other crisis occurs in their community.

So, who is responsible for their plight? Who could give them a permanent solution? The Sunday Observer contacted the management of the Maussakelle Estate and the Ambagamuwa Divisional Secretariat for their comments. The by-road from Rutherford Division which falls on to the Maskeliya – Adam’s Peak road, belongs to the local authority said T. T. Christy, Superintendent, Maussakelle Estate. Therefore, the Estate Management has no authority over its maintenance. However, the part of the road held by the estate is maintained regularly, said Christy.

On a request from the District Secretariat in 2017, the Ambagamuwa Divisional Secretariat (DS) repaired the suspension bridge on the way to Rutherford Division, from the Norton -Maskeliya Road, said R.T.P.Sumanasekara, Divisional Secretary.

However, the DS had not received any request with regard to repairs of the access road falling on to Maskeliya-Adam’s Peak road, he said. He urged the residents to submit a request through the Grama Niladhari and the District Secretariat, orthe Estate Superintendent, to the Divisional Secretariat, Provincial Council or the Ministry of Upcountry New Villages, Estate Infrastructure & Community Development, for a solution.

Pix :Susantha Wijegunasekera