The Sunday Leader

Proposed Hambantota Industrial Zone Under Fire

Text and pictures by Janaka Wijegunatillake

  • Officials carry out a land survey without prior notification
  • Tense situation in the area 
  • Villagers protest against land acquisition

Yasaratna, Indrani, Rasika, Sumith, Sunil and Sisira

A group of officials attached to the Ambalantota Divisional Secretariat’s (DS) Office, with the help of surveyors, recently carried out a land survey in Medilla village in Ambalantota without issuing prior notification to the residents in the area.

This surprise move agitated the residents of Medilla giving rise to a tense situation in the area. The tension of the villagers was also fuelled by a recent statement made by the government about giving away 15,000 acres of land in Hambantota to a Chinese company. The villagers raised objections to the actions of the DS officials and disrupted their work. Due to heavy protests, the officials had to abandon the survey.

Villagers in Hambantota, speaking to The Sunday Leader, accused government officials of attempting to acquire land to be given to China. Black flags, posters and banners have been erected in the area by the residents against the land acquisition.

“When we first heard that the government was planning to give away 15,000 acres of land from Hambantota to China we remained vigilant as to find out from where these lands are going to be acquired. It was when the DS officials appeared in Medilla with surveyors that  we realise that Medilla is the victim. So all the residents in Hambantota banded together to protest against this land grab. Unfortunately, the politicians are lying to us on this issue. Minister Sajith Premadasa is travelling from village to village holding meetings claiming that no land is being acquired. That is an act of deceit. When we sought the help of Mahinda Amaraweera he said that he could not help us in this matter,” H.E. Yasaratne, a long term resident in the area, said.

Sunil Rathnayaka is the convenor of the organisation that has been set up by the residents of Hambantota to struggle against this acquisition of land.

Expressing his views on the matter, Rathnayaka said “When acquiring the land, the government officials claimed that they would not acquire the forest area reserved for the elephant sanctuary and the land that is reserved in Katuwewa for a bird sanctuary. There are 14 stone quarries in this area. The officials have claimed that they would not acquire those areas as well. The same is with a land that is reserved for a housing project of government officials. Another 6,000 acres of land that had been reserved for the port has also been declined. So after deducing all these areas, what remains is the collection of villages called Arawanamulla, Ballagaswewa, Medilla, 50 acre Tsunami village, Galwewa, Kamathyayawewa, and Mirijjawilla. Most of these areas consist of paddy fields and farmlands which is the main livelihood of the people living in these areas. If these lands are taken away it is going to ruin the lives of our people. On the 14th we held a protest in front of Mirijjawila junction against this move of the government. On the 23rd we hope to hold another demonstration in Hambantota against this unfair land grab.”

Sumith Kumara, the Secretary of the Association for protecting the rights of the people in Hambantota, expressing his views on the matter  said “The officials attached to the Ambalantota DS office and the Land office came to our villages to form committees. It is now clear to us that these committees have been formed to find out the details about these lands they are trying to acquire. Most of these lands are paddy fields and other farms. There are thousands of people in Hambantota who do not have proper ownership of the lands they are living on, but they have been cultivating these lands for generations. These people have sacrificed their entire lives for these farmlands. So we would not allow anyone to rob these lands from us. As the movement to protect the rights of the people in Hambantota, we are struggling against this injustice.”

H.M. Bandula, a farmer in Hambantota, who has faced the threat of his land being acquired by the government said the existence of his entire family now hangs in the balance by the government’s decision.

“These crops were cultivated with much difficulty. For generations our ancestors have shed blood and sweat to build these farmlands. Our economy and culture are bound to these lands. So we would not move away from these lands under any condition” he said. Another cultivator, H.W. Rasika, also said that they are not willing to give up their farmlands at any cost.

K. Indrani, an owner of a restaurant and a hardware store in the area said she was shocked by this surprise move of the government.

“It took us our entire life time to build these businesses. But with the present uncertainty we are afraid to focus on our business. This uncertainty has caused us an immense mental stress. We cannot simply give up these lands. This is the attitude shared by all of us in these areas” she said.

Provincial Councillor Sisira Kumara Wahalathantri is a forerunner of the people’s campaign against the alleged unethical land grab of the government.

Expressing his views on the matter, he said “There are three categories under which the government is intending to acquire the lands. They are the freehold lands, the Mahaweli lands and illegal lands. Initially, people in these areas were allowed to cultivate the lands belonging to the Mahaweli project under lease contracts. Some five years ago, there was a development project carried out in Suriyawewa. After that some of the lands were given away to the people. So now, the government is trying to acquire the lands that had undergone several development schemes. Among these lands there are around 5000 acres of paddy fields. There are many farmlands that grow dry crops, vegetables and fruits. This unethical land grab is undoubtedly going to cause tremendous damage to the economy and the culture of the people in these areas.”

According to the due process, compiling an Environmental Impact Assessment report on a development project prior to its execution is compulsory.

Hence, before going ahead with this ‘development project’ with China, the government must first study the socio-economic and environmental impact it is going to cause upon the society.

Under the Rajapaksa regime in many projects, the authorities deliberately ignored such measures. Projects such as the port city, the Hambantota port and the Mattala Airport were carried out without even having a nick of consideration towards the socio-economic and environmental impacts they cause to the country. So the move of the ‘Yahapalana government’ to acquire these lands in Hambantota can only be viewed as an extension of the ‘Rajapaksa method.’

According to our research, it was clear to us that the Industrial Zone in Hambantota is yet another project that is being carried out without a proper plan. According to current plans, the government intends to acquire lands from the Hambantota and Monaragala areas to construct the Chinese Industrial Zone.

Accordingly Arawanamulla, Ballagaswewa, Medilla, 50 acre Tsunami village, Galwewa, Kamathyayawewa, the lands belonging to the Udawalawa Southern bank development project, areas surrounding the Suriyawewa ground and the elephant management forest reserve are scheduled to be acquired by the government.

Apart from that the government also intends to acquire 8000 acres of land in Wellawaya, Buttala and Sewanagala DS divisions in the Monaragala district for this project. Apart from agriculture these areas are also popular for animal husbandry. This is one of the main production platforms of famous ‘Ruhunu Meekiri.’ If these lands are taken away from the people, they would no longer be able to maintain their cattle herds since dairy farmers cannot maintain their cattle inside small plots of land. Furthermore, the loss of paddy from 5000 acres for two seasons is undoubtedly going to have an adverse affect on the food supply of the entire country. The same goes with other crops as well.

Due to the irregular development schemes carried out in these areas under the Rajapaksa government, the Elephant – Human Conflict has been aggravated in these areas. Wild elephants still roam the Rajapaksa International Ceremony Hall and in Hambantota port damaging the properties. In such circumstances, destroying more forest lands are going to aggravate the situation even further. For generations, these farmers have lived in harmony with nature by carrying out their cultivation without disturbing the animals. The Chena cultivators have been sharing seasons with elephants to prevent any conflict. But the proposed industrial zone is going to wreck this fragile balance.

Since these lands also act as an active watershed that nourishes the irrigation system in the area, this move is going to cause serious problems for reservoirs such as Lunugamwehera, Weheragala, Emaliyawewa, Ranawarunawewa, Menik ganga and KubukkanOya. This is considerable damage.

A 15,000 acre industrial zone is no trivial matter. It is going to require a tremendous amount of water to maintain the men and machines in this zone.

At present Katunayake is considered to be the largest industrial zone in the country. It only consists of 292 acres. But throughout these years we have met with many problems when it comes to providing lodging for the staff, waste management and other issues. Being more that 4.8 times bigger than Katunayake, the issues that will arise as a result of the proposed Hambantota industrial zone is going to be titanic in nature.

Apart from these issues, even in an archaeological point of view the proposed project is going to have adverse effects on the country. These areas are rich in history and historical evidence that trace back to the earliest human settlements in the country. By law the government is bound to preserve this archaeological heritage.

Another main problem that has arisen at this industrial zone is the nature of the ‘industries’ that are being brought into Sri Lanka by the Chinese. We have had lessons from the past where the previous government had allowed foreign investors to set up factories in Sri Lanka for industries that were kicked out from India for creating massive environmental pollution. At present, China has become one of the most environmentally polluted countries in the world due to its irregular industrial expansion. As many developed countries had done before, China too is engaged in a strategy of moving most of its harmful industries to developing countries to get away from global pollution charges. Environmentalists have predicted that Sri Lanka is going to have to play the role of ‘scapegoat’ in this drama if this gigantic industrial zone is built.

There is no doubt to the fact that a country must be developed. But the fact remains that the development drive must be properly planned, regulated and sustained. In 1977, the UNP government tried to find a short cut to development by ‘speeding up’ the Mahaweli scheme. But it only resulted in ruining the entire Rajarata area that is currently infested with a mysterious kidney disease. Other projects carried out by later governments such as Janasawiya and Samurdhi have shared a similar fate due to the lack of a proper vision and a plan. Even at the verge of being sold to China, these lands are still paying the debts that were taken by our previous government to ‘develop’ these areas.

“A government that is appointed for a limited period of time to govern the state does not have the right to sell the properties of citizens in an arbitrary manner for the rulers are not owners but the stewards of a state.” This was mentioned in the famous Court decision No;887/99 that prohibited the selling of the Eppawala Phosphate mine. It clearly stated that an incumbent government cannot sell or lease out the natural resources of the country in an arbitrary manner.

All the attempts made to contact the Divisional Secretary of Hambantota to seek his comments on the issue was unsuccessful.

 

2 Comments for “Proposed Hambantota Industrial Zone Under Fire”

  1. Eng.M.V.R.Perera

    The CEB Engineers plan is very good as it is based on least cost electricity and is also in accordance to articles 3,4,12 and 27 of our Country’s constitution and is well suited to develop the hambantota harbour and Air port similar to Auckland Harbor and Airport in New Zealand which is the industrial Hub in New Zealand as such the the Hambantota Air port and Harbor can be developed as one of the industrial hub in Sri Lanka the other being Trincomaleee both with competitive bidding with a fair pricing formula

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