The Sunday Leader

More Issues On The Controversial Uma Oya Project

by Ifham Nizam

Mahaweli Development State Minister Mahinda Amaraweera

More issues are on the cards with the controversial Uma Oya project with environmentalists warning that they will gather in Bandarawela and Badulla to decide the future cause of action. They point out that despite discussions, the Government is yet to take a firm decision in this regard.

“The Green Heart Initiative of the Centre for Human Rights wrote to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura requesting him to take necessary steps regarding the group of researchers, who had prepared the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the Uma Oya Project,” says Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Executive Director/CaFFE.

“He responded on Friday the 21st, along with a reply by senior professor Swarna Piyasiri who was a lead in the preparation of the report, only after we wrote to the Central Environmental Authority and the Ministry of Higher Education asking them to blacklist the university, preventing them from conducting any EIA until they address the concerns raised,” he added.

He said that they were shocked to realize that this ‘response’ has not addressed any of the issues they had raised and they were equally surprised of the lack of social responsibility and professionalism displayed by these senior academics.

According to Hemantha Withanage, founder and executive director of the Centre for Environmental Justice, the Uma Oya project should be stopped because the cost of the damage far outweighed its benefits.

“Due to the crisis, a huge amount of public funds has been spent on providing water and compensations to the affected people,” he said.

He added that he believed the project work had been stopped to study how to continue the tunnelling process.

”This had happened because the aquifer between the rock and lime stone caves had been breached during tunnelling in underground areas with gaps,” he added.

He also said that diverting Uma Oya’s water to the arid zone of Hambantota is not a feasible task because the water can be provided only for three months.

He noted that the project as a costly exercise with little benefits, just as the Mattala airport and the Hambantota port. Withanage said the project was started on a disputed Environmental Impact Assessment report and no geologist was consulted.

The project has already destroyed water sources in Kanndaketiya, posing an existential threat to the sloth bear population in the area. This is a large-scale environmental crisis with soil damage, water pollution and massive deforestation, he said

Meanwhile, the Ministerial Sub Committee appointed to look into the difficulties faced by the affected from the Uma Oya Multi-purpose Project construction instructed the relevant officials to pay compensation for them before September 15.

The valuation for the purpose will be completed by the 1st of August. The Government has granted Rs. 300 million to the District Secretary in this regard.

Residents of many areas were affected with the water leakage from the Uma Oya project and a subcommittee was appointed to look into the matter. The committee met at the Mahaweli Development Ministry headed by Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and

Mahaweli Development State Minister Mahinda Amaraweera. Ministers Vijith Vijayamuni Soyza, Dilan Perera, Lakshman Seneviratne, Uva Province Chief Minister Chamara Sampath Dasanayake and the Mahaweli Development Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake and officials participated.

They identified the drinking water crisis as a crucial problem and decided to provide drinking water via trains from the Ohiya area to the Diyatalawa Railway Station for the people in the affected areas.

The Government is to accelerate the ‘Visal Bandarawela’ water scheme at a cost of USD 100 million and it will benefit over 15, 000 families.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said 50 acres of land from Craigwatte will be taken within the next two weeks and the people will be resettled on them. He said the security forces are assisting in the resettlement scheme and the Ministerial Sub Committee will take disciplinary action against any official attempting to sabotage the work.

A paper on the Uma Oya Project and the Sub-committee report will be submitted to the Cabinet next Tuesday, the Minister said.

The Minister said steps were taken to provide compensation under the Super Lark Scheme. A Norway team of experts will arrive on the 1st of August to research whether the Uma Oya Project can be continued.

The Uma Oya dispute has now come to the head in 16 Grama Niladhari divisions in Bandarawela. It consists of the following areas: Veheragatenna, Makululla, Egodagama, Udaporuwa, Batagama, Thanthiriya, Wataregamuwa, Batapunuwewa, Bandarawela East, Bindunuwewa, Maha Mulpatha, North Kebellawela, Godiyadeniya, Kirimburu and Konhehela.

There are 9,495 families living in these 16 divisions. The population of 8,547 inhabitants is 30,320. In these 16 Grama Niladari divisions only 2,979 houses have been damaged. 4,002 out of 8,547 families in Bandarawela, who have been surveyed, have been affected by each of the two houses. Iranian funding for damaged houses amounting to Rs. 160 million (Rs. 160,432,257.00) has been paid as compensation. These are Veheragatenna houses 440, Makululla 455, Egodagama 398, Udapperuwa 7 and 1,300 houses. 29 families from Udapura, 10 families in Makululla and 4 families in Weheragala have been evacuated. Another 300 million rupees has been paid as relief payments (within the past two years). But this relief is a tiny recompense for destruction.

These statistics are only for households that were obtained by Grama Niladari and only 16 domains which were secured by civil society organisations. There are only several Grama Niladhari Divisions in Bandarawela. There are 31 wells in the Western Province of Bandarawela. Except for the damaged trough, other areas were like a sponge poured in water two or three years ago. The majority of villages in Bandarawela are made up of water, canals, streams, rivers, canals, and paddy fields.

Meanwhile, in the central hills, 22 million litres of water goes out of the tunnel a day. Data shows that the water level drops from day by day in the ‘Weheragatenna’ water meter. The Uma Oya is gradually affecting the public in Bandarawela. Water, housing, and income are the basic needs of man. It is the government’s responsibility to protect them.

2 Comments for “More Issues On The Controversial Uma Oya Project”

  1. Illeterate Person

    it was madness to appoint a zoologist as chairman of the EIA on the project.In fact when you look at the names again it was absurd to appoint foresters , archeologists etc as the well established Govt Departments know the forestry and archeological sites of the tunnel trace and the other areas earmarked for the project.
    The biggest blunder that CECB made whose then Chairman is now Secretary to the Megapolis Minister is not to request the GSMB (earlier Geological Survey Department) to drill the proposed tunnel trace and determine the core recovery and loss of drilling water which would have definitely indicated weathered rock (Limestone) and underground water courses.Another blunder made was to determine the level of the tunnel from the surface which should have been much deeper and the underground power house also should have then been adjusted.
    It now appears that the project proponents including the Iranian contractor is trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted!!!!!!!.
    The Geological Survey Department (GSD ) traced its origin to 1904 was this Government Department was always consulted for site investigations including EIA for major construction projects such as the steel plant , Urea plant (now scrapped), cement plnt at KKS and Puttalam and also all heavy building construction in Colombo until 1992.
    The successor to the GSD the present GSMB is a statutory organization created in 1992 and amendment to the Mines and Mineral Act that established the GSMB in 2009 included engineering geology and ground water investigastions.However by that time the NBRO and the Water Resources Board were in operation and the authorities did not pursue the amendments.
    The present spate of natural disasters like landslides, flooding and engineering geology failures like Uma Oya is mainly ignoring advice of senior geologists who are now few in the GSMB as this organization has been swamped by unethical mining engineers with geologists given no place.However a Professor of Geology who has now retired is an expert on landslides as well as slope stability and stability of underground strata and these experienced geologists have not been consulted. Another active professor is now attached to the Open University.
    MY ONLY ADVICE TO H E THE PRESIDENT IS TO STRENGTHEN THE GSMB AND WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF THE RETIRED PROFESSOR OF GEOLOGY AS WELL AS A PROFESSOR FROM THE OPEN UNIVERSITY RE STRUCTURE THE GSMB AND MAKE IT THE APEX BODY FOR ALL ISSUES RELATED TO GEOLOGY (SURFACE OR UNDERGROUND) ENGINEERING GEOLOGY SEARCH FOR GROUND WARET SPECIALLY IN THE DREY ZONE , ETC AND LET THE OTHER ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS NBRO, NDMC WHICH ARE TOP HEAVY GET ADVISE ON ALL ASPECTS OF GEO SCIENCES FROM GSMB.IN ORDER TO EFFECTIVELY GET THE GSMB TO FUNCTION IT IS TIME THAT THIS ORGANIZATION IS SPLIT INTO THE SRI LANKA BUREAU OF MINES (SLBM) AND THE SRI LANKA GEOLOGICAL SURVEY (SLGS) LIKE IN INDIA.

  2. Jayantha

    This ill-conceived project must be stopped at all costs. The tunnel must be sealed and let the water levels recover. Otherwise, this will be the greatest environmental disaster to people in upcountry. Transbasin diversions cannot be allowed at the expense of one basin or another.

    People need to wake up and realize the damage being done to the country by short-sighted politicians.

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