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Universities as dengue zones

2013 Jul 24

The Colombo Municipal Council Public Health Department (CMCPHD) has instituted legal action against the Senior Assistant Registrar of the Colombo University Management Faculty found to be full of puddles infested with mosquito larvae. The university panjandrums should hang their heads in shame.

Several school principals in Colombo have been warned for not destroying mosquito breeding places at their institutions. Why can’t teachers, past pupils and students make an effort to keep their schools clean? They hold colourful walks and mega carnivals while killer mosquitoes are breeding under their noses and snuffing out precious lives!

Administrators of the Colombo University swing into action to scuttle dons’ media briefings on the campus and go so far as to throw journalists out. But, strangely, they lack such high octane performance in fighting mosquitoes.

The University of Colombo says its mission is ‘to be the benchmark setting seat of higher learning and scholarship with an uncompromising commitment and dedication to providing society with human capital of high ethical standards, a proven sense of social responsibility, innovative, independent and analytical in thinking and capable of becoming partners of socio-economic, cultural and environmental development. (Emphasis added) How could it provide society with human capital with ‘a proven sense of social responsibility’ and help promote ‘environmental development’ when it cannot even keep itself clean and free from mosquitoes?

University teachers have taken up the cudgels for the rights of undergrads who take to the streets, at the drop of a hat, making various demands. Will they also do their utmost to ensure that universities will cease to be dengue zones so that students as well as others will be safe? The recent death of a law student could have been avoided if the Colombo University had been considerate enough to prevent mosquito breeding within its premises. Lamentably, not even her tragic end has jolted the university authorities into getting their act together.

The University of Colombo, which occupies an estate of 50 acres (200,000 sq. m.) is said to have a student population of about 8,000. If the energetic, rebellious undergrads who stage protest marches, braving, as they do, inclement weather, teargas and water cannon, could be persuaded to launch a Shramadana campaign, each of them will have to clean only a small area encompassing about 25 sq. m. It won’t take them more than a few minutes to wipe out all mosquito breeding places on their campus if they put their shoulders to the wheel. Surely, that is a task they could easily accomplish without putting the bite on the state and waiting till six percent of the GDP is allocated for education!

It is a supreme irony that dons and undergrads who rightly oppose the increasing military involvement in matters that are best left to civil administrators have come to be dependent on the much maligned armed forces and the police to keep their universities clean. CMCPHD Head Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam has said that the STF cleaned the Colombo campus sometime ago and it looks as though the university authorities expected the security forces to do so on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake, whose shrill staccato is as bothersome as the buzzing of mossies, should explain why his ministry has failed to ensure that the workers paid with public funds to maintain universities have failed to do so. He is going full tilt to rid universities of JVP politics, but, unfortunately, he is not on his mettle in the fight against mosquitoes! We hope he won’t tell us that the solution to the problem of dengue in national universities is to set up more private higher education institutions.

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