The Sunday Leader

Uma Oya Under HRCSL Scanner

By Waruni Karunarathne

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) is compiling a report on the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP) based on its fact-finding mission.

Sources of the HRCSL revealed that a team of HRCSL officials had visited the area in question and conducted a one-day inspection and expects to continue gathering further facts to compile the report.

Last December, villagers of Heeloya and Palleperuva in Ella Divisional Secretariat and Makulella, Egodagama and Weheragalathenna in Bandarawela Divisional Secretariat claimed that the project has made adverse impacts. People of these areas observed the cracks on their houses and decreasing of the ground water level. There were reports on a leak pouring out 250 litres of water per second into the underground tunnels system of UOMDP. Several protests were staged by the affected people against Uma Oya Project and the project was temporary suspended by the government.

According to HRCSL, they were concerned about the issues raised by the villagers and therefore decided to conduct a fact finding mission in order to gather information on the right to water and other effects of inhabitants due to the project.

“The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka conducted a meeting at the Bandarawela Divisional Secretariat with District Secretary, Divisional Secretaries, and Senior Superintendent of Police – Bandarawela, representation of Ministry of Irrigation, a representative of Bandarawela Pradeshya Shabha and Deputy Project Director of Uma Oya Multi-Purpose Project,” the HRCSL source added.

According to the HRCSL, Divisional Secretaries of both divisions had explained the manner in which drinking water is distributed and the steps taken to move persons from damaged houses. “Relevant authorities have come to the area and have started an investigation on decreasing of the ground water level of the area. On the following day HRCSL teams met civil society organizations, community leaders, religion leaders, Buddhist monks and Catholic priests and conducted a visit to affected houses, a school, wells and cracked plots of lands,” HRCSL reported.

According to the HRCSL, it explained and observed that most of the development processes of the project carried out in the central highlands caused loss of soil stability due to vibration generated during underground mining and constructions and chargers in due course of water springing and many effects to due water stream.

HRCSL team had also met Iranian company cngineers and watched a presentation on the project, which demonstrated high technology used by the company. “According the Iranian company engineers, they are waiting for an experts report appointed by Sri Lanka on the issue. HRCSL decided to continue discussion and monitoring activities after receiving reports from the relevant authorities,” HRCSL reported.

The key objective of the Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project was to transfer water from Umaoya and Mahatotila Oya to the Handapanagala and Lunugamwehera Reservoirs. Through these reservoirs, water will be provided for irrigation, drinking and provision of water for industrial activities. Accordingly, it is expected to irrigate 25,000 acres of paddy lands both in Uva Wellassa and Ruhuna during the Yala and Maha seasons. It is planned to cultivate 12,000 acre of new land with paddy. It is further expected that this project could provide water to the Hambantota Harbour and the Oil Refinery at the Mattala International Airport and Hambantota Industrial zone. Another major objective of the project is to construct a 60 MW power house which can be connected to the national grid.

The areas which will be submerged from the Puhulpola and Dyaraba reservoirs include villages such as Kotawara Udagama and Pahalagama, Puhulpola, Hagiliella, Kebilladowa, Pahala Mirahawatta, Matetilla and Malitta. These villages are situated in an area where steep slopes are situated and paddy cultivation is conducted according to terraced cultivation.

Due to the Umaoya Project in the village of Weheragalatenne Heeloya, 60 wells had completely dried up, which had never dried for the past 50 years. At present 5 wells have reduced water levels compared to the past 50 years. At present 10 wells had no indication of any change and these were located in the hills. This is due to the formation of highly weathered metamorphic bed rock layers  At present 309 houses were seen with small cracks (day-to-day these cracks are increasing and expanding), but 08 houses showed severe cracks. In this village, 03 houses were not affected.

The residents were also unable to cultivate paddy and vegetable due to the drying of water springs. It was also calculated that nearly 40% of the water to the Mahaweli came from the Uma Oya which was used for agriculture. However, now due to this project, the Mahaweli River will be deprived of that water which will also have a negative effect on the farming. Environmentalists predicted that this will cause a problem to the farmers in the future.

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