Protest against Uma Oya project defying court ruling


By Shamindra Ferdinando

People blocked the Colombo-Badulla road at Bandarawela on Saturday to pressure the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to address the grievances of those badly affected by the Iranian-funded Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP).

 Over 2,000 people took part in the protest which lasted for about five hours. Former JVP MP and Uva Provincial Council member Samantha Vidyaratne, who spearheaded the protest told The Island that they had gone ahead with the protest in spite of the police obtaining a court order to stop it, as the situation there was fast deteriorating.

 Alleging that the previous government had launched the project without conducting required feasibility studies, Vidyaratne said that a major leak from the underwater springs on Dec 26, 2014, amidst construction of one of the underground tunnels caused massive damages. The JVPer said that the previous government as well as the new administration had failed to take remedial measures though the public continuously highlighted the environmental damage caused by the project.

 The Badulla and Moneragala administrative districts had been affected with the Bandarawela Pradeshiya Sabha area being the worst hit, Vidyaratne said.

In the Bandarawela Pradeshiya Sabha area alone nearly 2,000 houses had been damaged, Vidyaratne said, adding that about 800 domestic wells too had dried up due to the project.

 Responding to a query, the Uva PC member said that a special fact-finding mission was needed to inquire into the rapidly deteriorating situation. Vidyaratne said the government hadn’t heeded repeated pleas for tangible action.

The JVPer said in the wake of damages caused to government school at Makulella in the Bandarawela Pradeshiya Sabha area, authorities had shifted children to a nearby temple while promising a permanent solution soon.

 "People were assured of a temporary building to accommodate children as well as permanent structures soon.

However, for want of real effort on the part of the government to address the issue, parents decided to move their children back to the dilapidated building," he said.

 Vidyaratne warned of dire consequences unless the government acted soon.

 The promised compensation, too, hadn’t been paid, he said, noting that in addition to Bandarawela many villages in Wellawaya, Hali-ela, Welimada and Uva Paranagama had been affected.

Uma Oya Multi-Purpose Project includes construction of two dams across two main tributaries of Uma Oya at Welimada and Dyraba and a 23km long trans-basin diversion tunnels with an underground power station at Randeniya.

Vidyaratne urged the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to intervene on behalf of the hapless people of Uva.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa finalised the Iranian funded project in early 2008.

Vidyaratne said the necessary reports required for the implementation of the project were produced in 2010. The JVPer alleged that those reports were meant to facilitate the project.

Asked whether the issue had been taken up with the new government, Vidyaratne said that they had an opportunity to make representations to President Maithripala Sirisena last March.

Badulla District UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri assured the gathering that he would get their representatives an opportunity to meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe soon.

Vidyaratne alleged that Wijesiri never kept his earlier promise to arrange a meeting with Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake also to discuss the problem.


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