Designated area for protests given serious consideration

By Randev Jayasinha

There has long been debate that an area must be allocated to the public and the various trade unions to stage protests and other public demonstrations.

In light of the numerous protests that have been a very common occurrence over the past couple of months, the discussion for an area for the public to hold demonstrations has risen once again.

This concept was proposed during the initial stages of appointment of the Yahapalana Government when Field Marshal Sartha Fonseka held a portfolio.

To this day, these ideas and concepts have remained the same.

However, with the current state of things and the constant unsettled nature of the numerous trade unions, the Government is looking into this concept once again.

State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijeywardena told The Sunday Morning that this action, if taken, will immensely benefit the public.

“During the time of a protest, people who live in Colombo and its suburbs are the ones that are most affected by this. There is the traffic build-up in and around the city; commuters find it difficult to go about their daily activities. So if there was a designated area, it would relieve the majority of individuals who live in the city as well as those who commute to and from Colombo for work,” he said.

The Minister understands that this decision, if taken, will cause some backlash towards the Government from Unions, but he said that “they must understand the civil burden they are causing in the process. These past few months, it has seemed like there had been a protest almost every day,” the Minister iterated.

“We are not trying to corner the Unions or silence them for that matter, we are just looking at our options as to how we can help the general public get about their work and other activities in their daily life,” the Minister affirmed.

Some unions are for this decision to have a designated area for protests. Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) – UNP Branch Member Ananda Palitha put forward that their Union agrees with the reasonable solution put forward by the Government to have protests peacefully without causing harm to the protesters or civilians.

“Protests should be held in a civilised and peaceful manner in which the protestors, the commuters, and roads are not restricted of their activities,” he said.

However, the spokesman made it clear that each major city in the country should have a designated area for the people to voice their opinions, and the Government must also listen to what they have to say and make sure their demands are met.

Although some maybe in favour of this decision, others have argued that this idea, if implemented, is only further proving the fact that the civilians of this nation are being restricted and their freedom for diplomacy diminished.

Inter University Student Federation Convener Maheel Bandara comments that unions which choose to protest in these designated areas are those that are backed by political members, but the IUSF will protest wherever they deem fit.

“If a law is passed suspending people from protesting where they want, that will be diminishment of the right to the freedom of speech and the freedom of protest, and that issue will have to be looked into,” he said.

The Convener argued that the public’s daily activities are restricted not when unions come out to protest. Instead, it is when the Government is unjust and unfair in the policies made and the decisions taken regarding these matters.

“For example, some issues that are affecting the public today include the lack of drinking water supplied to some areas of the nation, the constant disruptions in power, and the destruction of natural reserves for political or economic gain. To address these issues people must come out to the streets to voice their opinion and for their message to be heard by public and the politicians alike. If these demonstrations are not done the government would assume the people support their decision and continue on with their actions,” he said.

Bandara reaffirmed that they will not be restricted from where and when they will be allowed to protest or voice the opinions of the people.