Moragahakanda: Govt. opted for China as Japan delayed funding

- Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management Nimal Siripala De Silva


Leader of the House of Parliament and Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management Nimal Siripala De Silva says that the government opted for China for funding for the Moreagahakanda project as Japan was delaying the funding due to impacts of the Environment Impact Assessment.

He said that that the program to rehabilitate over 80 irrigation tanks with World Bank funding will be completed before mid 2015 which are well on schedule right now.

Here, the Minister is in conversation with The Island Financial Review:

Q: A program to rehabilitate over 80 major irrigation tanks was started over two years ago including Nachchaduwa, Rajanganaya, Iginimitiya, Iranamadu, Minneriya and Kaudulla et al. How do you see this?

These are dam safety projects which were started with World Bank funding. The implementing agency is the Mahaweli Authority Sri Lanka. The government has awarded contracts to over 95% of the projects. They have either been completed or being completed. According to the World Bank schedule, we have time till mid 2015. We are very confident of completion by that time. We believe that the dry weather also helped us as it was difficult for us to do rehabilitation of these tanks of there were rains.

Q: What is the cost?

Around Rs. 8 billion.

Q: Any inputs from the GOSL?


Q: So, what about the remaining irrigation projects in the Mahaweli which is only around 50% complete? Up to the Mahaweli systems A to M, Only System B, (Maduru Oya ) C (Girandurukotte and Dehiattakandiya) D (Welikanda, Manampitiya, Aralaganwila and Maduru Oya) and H ( Thambuttegama and Kalawewa) are over. What about the rest?

I am aware that there are some more projects which have to be completed under the Mahaweli project in the Irrigation Plan. There is the North Central Province Canal ( NCP) Plan and the Yaan Oya project, which will irrigate more lands in the Anuradhapura District. The Yaan Oya feasibility study has been completed. The construction will begin next month. The NCP canal is taking water from the Malwathu Oya to the Iranamdu reservoir, irrigating lands between Anuradhapura and Iranamadu. We have done the feasibility but we are doing the EIA. Once that is over, we can start.

Q: The construction of the North Central Province Canal from Polgahawela and Bowatenne through Moragahakanda to is reportedly stopped due to lack of water from Bowatenne. How do you see this?

Not really. Though a slight delay, Moragahakanda, has started with Chinese funding. US$ 48 million was committed. The contract was awarded and progressing well. Simultaneously, the Kalu Ganga project, next to Moragahakanda, has been started with both Government funding and the Saudi Fund. It is also on schedule. We are confident that it is when Moragahakanda project is over that the NCP Canal will be required to take the water from Moragahakanda to Kalawewa and Minneriya.

Q: What is happening to the Malwathu Oya project which is supposed to start with Chinese aid funding which will irrigate the Mannar district?

That is the NCP Canal. We are on the EIA. The public will be given the opportunity to make suggestions or to oppose to ensure that the environment is properly protected.

Q: There was supposed to be an upper reservoir which was to be constructed above Pali Aru and Paringiya Aru meant to collect water which was not being used, for distribution to the Mannar District, but was stopped due to the supposed displacement of people due to floods. How do you see this?

All the projects which were in the pipeline are being evaluated for EIAs to find out how many people get displaced. All these areas are thickly populated areas. It is necessary that the government completes the projects with the minimum damage caused to the people

Q: There is no regulatory body to monitor water tapping. Three state agencies- the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, the Mahaweli Authority and the Irrigation Department are all drawing water from the reservoirs. There was a proposal to set up a Water Resources Board to function as the overall regulatory authority. Why is this not happening?

Although there was no formal regulatory body, we have an understanding with all these three institutions. We consult farmers when releasing water. There are instances where we consult the Ceylon Electricity Board. Priority is given to the drinking water. Then, it is for irrigation and the third is electricity. So, there is an established scheme and a balance. The agreement that we have reached with the farmers is often broken. Sluices etc at the time of the last drought.

Q: What is the progress of the Uma Oya project for which the foundation stone was laid on April 29, 2008? Four and a half years have lapsed but nothing seems to be happening?

No, that is wrong. There is a lot of activity. There are two tunnel boring machines which are coming. Some people will be displaced at Noolwela and Alipotara areas. Alternative residential areas have been found for them when the dam is constructed. A lot of work has been done including the access roads.

Q: The foundation stone for the construction of the US $ 550 million Moragahakanda project was laid on April 26, 2007. Five and a half years have gone and nothing has happened! Even Victoria was completed in three years then the government shifted gears between Japan and China. Why?

What happened in the case of the Moragahakanda project is that the Japanese Government wanted to fund it. They raised concerns about the EIA etc, Later they had the problems with the tsunami etc. They were slow in giving us the green light for the finance process. We negotiated with the Chinese government and it is funded by the EXIM Bank. The construction has now commenced

Q: The original proposal for Moragahakanda project in 1968 specified that there was to be the construction of a 106-mile long canal to Vavuniya and Medavachchiya, the latter, the bastion of the then Leader of the House of Parliament and Minister of Irrigation Power and Highways Maithripala Senanayake, your very predecessor in the same portfolios! But, now, it is reported that the 106 mile long canal has been abandoned and the water will be taken only up to Polonnaruwa. Why?

That is why we have a special project for the NCP canal which will take the water from the Malwathu Oya. The proposal will be the same but it will be done as two components!

Q: Is there potential for hydropower at Moragahakanda? The original proposal said that there were plans to generate 40 MW. Your comments?

Yes. We have a plan, a part of the contract. Even a part of the loan will be paid out of the funds that will be generated out of the electricity.

Q: Now, about the de-silting of tanks and reservoirs. The government is making the mistake of dredging far below the Bisokotuwa (the area from which the water flows from the tank to the canal and then to the paddy fields) which makes the water stagnant and not flow into the paddy fields or for that matter any other field?!! This is said to be in sharp contrast to the earlier system where during the times of the ancient Sinhala kings where buffaloes were used to muddy the area making the water flow smoothly into the fields. Your comments?

This is a false notion. These things are done under the technical supervision of engineers and technical officers. We will allow the mud and the sand to be removed only up to a certain depth that will not damage the reservoir under the de-silting programs. Those parameters have been strictly adhered to.

Q: Now on Water Resources Management. How is it that there was no water in the reservoirs by May / June resulting in a Rs. 17 billion loss in paddy crops according to the comments made by your own Cabinet colleague- Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane to this very column only just last week. How do you see this?

Only Mahaweli System H ( Kalawewa) had considerable losses in paddy production due to droughts. Other areas such as the Gal Oya valley, we had envisaged production. The crop was devastated even in 2002. If rains don’t come in time and reservoirs cannot be filled, naturally, there will be adversity. These are natural calamities. That is why we should build more reservoirs. This way, if one part of the country gets water and the other does not, still we will be able to ensure that crops do not suffer.

Q: This seems to be indeed funny when there were adequate rains even as early as from March and April, deemed unusual for rains to come in those two months but there was no water in the reservoirs to accommodate the drought in May/ June? It is attributed to bad water resources management? How do see this?

If you take the rainfall figures from the Metrological Department regarding the Upper Kotmale and Kandy areas in March and April, you will see that they were minimal. That is why we could not collect sufficient quantity of water during that period to give Polonnaruwa, Kalawewa and Minneriya.

Q: There were protests by the farmers in Mahaweli systems B and C that there was no water due to allegedly bad management and that large number of paddy and crop lands suffered. Do you see this as unfair allegations or are they true?

There is absolutely no truth in that allegation. We have adopted the best practices in water management. System B was not much affected. In System C which was affected, we have restored all the paddy lands except for a few hundred acres.

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