Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sampur Coal Power plant, Energy Crisis and Climate Change

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

It is hard to believe a country with 2932 MW installed capacity and gross generation almost 12,000 GWh is having blackouts when the peak demand is approximately 2000 MW. The current problems is therefore part of the conspiracy to build more and more coal power plant specially the Sampur project by India  and the proposed transmission line between Anuradhapura and Madurai in India.

Norochcholai plant stage one is a failure since it was a hybrid of used parts of an obsolete Chinese coal power plant with some new parts. The environmental community has been raising this issue from the very beginning and both CEA and the Government of Sri Lanka failed to investigate this matter. 

Research report produced by the Centre for Environmental Justice and the Sri Lanka Environment Congress entitled “Coal Matters in Sri Lanka” in late 2014 shows that people living around Norochcholai are suffering from air pollution due to fine coal dust, Fly ash and obnoxious gases. People complain headache, and other health symptoms. We found that no implementation of the Environmental Management Plan. Dropping coal into the ocean has reduced the fish stocks in Norochcholai area. It has brought severe restriction to the fishermen and some time their boats have been destroyed. The ground water in the Norochcholai area has become highly saline, mostly due to the construction impacts. Voltage drops are common in the area. Unbearable noise and the smoke emit from the coal power plant time to time is a severe environmental and health crisis to the people.

Sampur site will have two power plants one by the National Thermal Power Corporation on India and another one funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA). Each of them will have the installed capacity on 500 MW initially.

Sampur was a highly populated area before the civil conflicts, mainly the Tamil community. These lands should have been returned to the people, instead of grabbing for coal plant and the industrial area earmarked for some Indian polluting industries. The social issues related to the Sampur site are very high.

Meantime, it will be constructed in a more sensitive location and we have to expect more severe impacts to the lagoon due to the release of hot water, dropping coal and disturbing the ground water table. Total number of 285 faunal species was recorded in the project area representing, snails, butterflies, dragonflies, inland fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It further states that 14 species that are endemic to Sri Lanka and 13 species that are listed as Nationally Threatened species including three Nationally Critically Endangered species. EIA also state the faunal assemblage also included three species that are listed as Globally Near Threatened and the project area also included two exotic fish species. The alteration and degradation of these wetlands can impact these species significantly. 

According to the research Article entitled “Cetacean Presence in the Trincomalee Bay and Adjacent Waters” shows the  appearance of whales and dolphins in both Koddiyar bay and Shell bay where the warm water will be released.

Dolphins and Whales are a great tourist attraction to Sri Lanka. Meanwhile the fish resources are the livelihood for the people living around the bay areas. Therefore Sampur project will create a greater economic risk to the people engage in the fishing and tourism while it will destroy the biodiversity and the natural ecosystem in the area.

Near field modelling indicate that near field influence zone with excess temperatures +7 Centigrade at point of discharge to +2 Centigrade to +4 Centigrade at outer boundary of influence zone.  

Due to the technology use in Sampur power plant, it will add Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) to the discharged water as a result of using Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) process which will produce Sulphuric Acid( H2SO4). The dispersion of SO2 is lower in the location and it will  increase the acidity in the lagoon and have negative impact on the corals and similar species. There are restrictions on releasing SO2 into the waters in other countries.

A large volume of cooling water used by coastal power plants. The research conducted in California shows that 21 coastal power plants potentially withdraw up to 17 billion gallons of seawater per day. This process results in the loss of billions of aquatic organisms, including fishes, fish larvae and eggs, crustaceans, shellfish, and many other forms of aquatic life from California’s coastal ecosystem each year. There has been increased focus on the effects of power plant cooling water intake systems because the biological resources of the world’s oceans are in serious decline.

Sea water for the Sampur Power plant shall be drawn from Koddiyar Bay through an intake well, proposed to be located at 700 m inside the Bay from a drawl level of 7 meters below mean sea level (MSL). Total sea water requirement is estimated to be about 93,120 m3/hr, out of which 92,000 m3/hr shall be used for condenser and auxiliary cooling and flue gas desulphurization while 1120 m3/hr shall be used in desalination plant for generation of fresh water. The total fresh water requirement is estimated to be 440 m3/hr. This estimate only for the Indian power plant along. The amount ill be doubled when the JICA supported power plant also established in the same location. Further, there is no serious analysis of losses to aquatic life due to entrainment and impingement because of the marine water intake, and no analysis of brine discharges from the diesel plant.

Fly ash will be a major problem which is also an issue in Norochcholai. Coal ash contains heavy metals such as lead, Chromium, Nickel, Mercury, Cadmium and arsenic. Putting coal ash into the cement production is distribution of toxic heavy metals to households. We strongly believe that this is a wrong practice by both coal plants and the cement factories. Meantime, wrong management of the Ash piles can lead to heavy metal pollution in the surrounding water bodies. This aspect has not been studies in this EIA. Some coal contains radioactive material such as uranium and thorium as trace material. If the content is high, when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels. Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant and seawater. People living within a “stack shadow”—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant’s smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas. This matter depending on the coal quality. The EIA is not clear on this issue.

According to the IUCN, number of  archeological sites found in the Sampur area. This aspect has not being adequately studied in the EIA.

The baseline air quality data shows that the project area already has poor air quality, that there are no proposed technology for control of mercury emissions.  As we are already facing climate crisis we should be aware that coal is the main fossil fuel responsible for the climate change. Therefore adding coal power to the national grid is an irresponsible act of the decision makers, which will increase the Sri Lanka’s contribution to global climate change. Sri Lanka as an island nation, which has been facing severe climate impact must promote climate friendly alternatives to meets its electricity demand rather that getting into the traps of coal promoters.

Sri Lanka INDC agreed to cut the carbon emission related to the energy by 4%. It intends to reduce the GHG emissions against Business-As-Usual scenario unconditionally by 7% (Energy sector 4%, and 3% from other sectors) and conditionally 23% (Energy sector 16% and 7% from other sectors) by 2030.

“Sri Lanka’s contribution to the emission of green house gases is negligible as compared to the rest of the world. However, being an island country, the adverse impacts of the anticipated changes arising out of global warming due to the rest of the world are likely to be significant.  Sampur 500 MW plant would alone emit 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum. The central value for the social cost of carbon is now estimated at $39 per metric ton. This would translate to social costs associated with the project’s CO2 emissions of: 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum x 1000 metric tons/GgCO2 x $39 = $161 million per annum. These social costs are not considered in the Conclusions and Recommendations section of the EIA. These social cost will be doubled when both Indian and JICA supported power plants installed in the Sampur area.

I strongly believe that national policy on meeting the energy and the Long Term Generation Expansion plan of the CEB should be reviewed and remove all climate unfriendly projects such as Sampur to provide space for the climate friendly alternatives including steps to reduce demand. It is becoming more widely understood that investment in demand-side management is a more cost-effective means of bridging the gap between energy supply and energy demand. 

The construction cost of the project is estimated at $350 million. The construction cost of the project is money that the Government of Sri Lanka would therefore not have to invest in Demand-Side Management. If the government invest in demand side management it would cost less. 

The EIA is a very short sighted document to bring this dialogue. It will require a better visionary  planning to manage energy in this  climate  crisis era.(Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)


Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

If you want to kill your river, asked  the Sustainable Energy Authority. They will send a river killers with a  permit to build a dam across the river. It will add few more megawatts to the  National electricity grid to make happy energy hungry people.

To enable this Minister John Senevirathne has issues a gazette notification 1538/22 on 26th February 2008 earmarking 500 meters of the river banks for mini hydro development.

Sri Lanka  is a proud island nation with 103 rivers and tributaries  with over 5000 km length. These rivers flourish the country with 65,610 sq kilometers which is home to thousands of life forms. 

These rivers also meets the water needs of 21 million people. River  floods make the soil fertile. Over 30,000  functioning tanks in Sri Lanka plays a major role in this life support system. These rivers produced over 500 waterfalls which are one of the tourist attractions and plays a major role of the aesthetic beauty of the island.

Rivers can produce energy too. Sri Lanka has 14 major dams  with 1400 MW installed capacity. On the Non-conventional hydro i.e small scale, grid-connected hydro resources developed in the past 15 years with capacity additions surpassing 180 MW of grid power, generating about 4% of the total capacity.  Some studies have estimated the total potential to be around 500MW.
But they are deadly for the rivers.

So- called Sustainable Energy Authority  is responsible for killing more than 200 kilometers of the Sri Lankan rivers so far. One hundred and forty three(143) micro dams have already build across river tributaries.  Over 50  dams are under construction.  They have already destroyed more than 65 waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Seven water falls, Handagiriya Ella, Anda Dola, Pandi Dola, Athwelthota Ella, Broadlands,  Alupotha and many other waterfalls  are in the edge of destruction.

Mini hydro was started and village hydro about 15 years ago with no grid connections. It serves people who are living away from the electricity grid. Once the mini hydro become connecting to the national grid and pay high tariff, it became a big business of the corporate sector and started tapping all tributaries under the so-called vision to generate non-convensional  hydro. 

We are not anymore living in an era to make business as usual. Climate change is already showing why we need to protect the water bodies.

It also has resulted alternative energy generation which includes Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geo thermal. It is unfortunate Sri Lanka still not promoting such technologies adequately. Sri Lanka has a very high potential for producing energy from wind, solar and wave power. However, we still have  little more than 100 MW installed capacity of renewable sources. Solar is less than 2 MW.

According to an study carried out by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of USA the potential for wind power in Sri Lanka is 20,740 MW’s. Similarly solar capacity  has the range from  4.5 to 6.0 kWh/m2/day for Sri Lanka.

This means right policies can make Sri Lanka energy secure while saving our pristine rivers and environment.( Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)

Uma Oya diversion- Development or a Disaster?

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

Tunnelling in Uma Oya continues despite more wells become dry in Heel Oya area in Bandarawela. The report submitted to the Supreme Court states that  original water ingress 450 l/s was reduced to 60/70 l/s before sealing and after sealing it reduced to 47 l/s. However, when the drilling operation continues it has been increase to 110 to 125 l/s.  This proves that they are tunnelling through the shallow water aquifer.

It is evident that since the restart of tunnelling in January 2016, more than 20 new wells along the tunnel trace have dried up. This is  a serious ecosystem damage that should be immediately stopped and need to  redesign the tunnel.  If not this mountain ecosystem will be seriously damaged. This is clear ignorance of the monitoring bodies including the CEA.

The Uma Oya tunnel is being constructed  to bring Uma Oya water to  ‘Ali Kota Ara’  in the Kirindi Oya river basin.  It has designed to drill about 300 meters underground to have  approximately 600 m head to generate maximum electricity.  The tunnel collapsed in Heel Oya  area in December 2014 and more than 2500 houses got damaged, while 17 of them are not liveable anymore.

Hundreds of drinking water wells dried up in few hours. Since then people were provided with limited amount of water. No compensation has paid so far.

Beyond the damage to the people, the ecosystem damage is far more serious. The  tunnelling has resulted breaking the limestone soil structure which has damaged the  water aquifers in the area. Even if the tunnel is completely sealed, it will nor repair this soil structure.

Some officers gives false assurances to people that the water table will now be regenerated. Even if the sealing is done, it does not ensure the water table can be regenerated, as there may be many changes happened inside the aquifer. The new document claims that they have fixed things by sealing where the confining layer was pierced. However, that may not last long if any cracks develop in the material.

Majority of the population in the affected areas are farmers. Even the others who are engaged in government and private sector jobs used to cultivate vegetables to earn an extra income and for domestic consumption.

As a result of the drying up of water springs, streams and other natural water sources, the farmers had not been able to cultivate vegetables and paddy in the last four seasons starting from 26th December 2014.  It is unfortunate that the government is  keeping eyes close on the matter which is death and life situation for the villagers.( Haritha Esa[Green Eye] Issue 2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016



We have learned that the former Director General of the Wildlife Department has been removed as he was against dumping garbage in Arruwakkaru. We believe that he has done his duty as a responsible officer.  Undoubtedly dumping colombo garbage in Arruwakkalu is a wrong concept.
The proposed land for dumping Colombo Garbage is located about 170 km away form Colombo and within the  Weerakulicholei- Eluwankulam proposed forest reserve. It is a land that is leased by the Forest Department to Puttalam cement Corporation. Leasing out the said land to Holcim is already an illegal act. Similarly, dumping of garbage in the said land is also illegal.
The proposed project is for open dumping of 1200 tons of unsorted garbage collected from the CMC area daily in Arruwakkaru old limestone mine of the Puttalam cement plant. In our opinion, the project objective should be how better manage the metropolitan garbage and not how to deal with the Meethotamulla garbage dump. In such a case, there are many other alternatives to this project.  

Sri Lanka generates more than 3000 tons of garbage daily, which is not only polluting Meethotamulla, but also over 300 locations in the country. This needs a much more different waste management policy which include the principles of “avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle” and sanitary landfill as found in the other middle-income countries and developed countries. Such a policy should include, awareness, separation of garbage at the generation point, introduction of extended producer responsibility, introducing and establishing all possible recycling facilities etc. If government can introduce such a policy, Sri Lanka can easily adopt zero waste strategies.

The project is located within one mile of the Wilpattu National park. The Wilpattu National Park (WNP) is situated on the east of the landfill site at a distance of about 300 m. The establishment of the proposed landfill site in such a close vicinity to an important and popular National Park, which is also an International Ramsar Wetland Conservation site seems to be more problematic. It needs  permission from  the Director General of the Department of Wildlife. Therefore, considering the importance of this national park, Ramsar Wetland this project is not feasible.

Transporting the unsorted, Colombo waste problem 170 km away from the city is not a solution at all.  According to the EIA, with necessary compaction, this garbage will be transferred to 20 feet containers at Meethotamulla Transfer Station, and then those containers will be transported to Aruwakkalu by train, using the existing railway line from Kolonnawa to Aruwakkalu via Puttalam. The waste containers will be unloaded at Aruwakkalu unloading station and transferred to the landfill site. This project seriously needs a cost estimate and an extended cost benefit analysis. This EIA is lacking both of these analyses.

Normal train transport of goods are approximately Rs. 925 per kilometer for a wagon with 45 tonnes capacity.  This project will transport 1200 MT daily, which is approximately 27 wagons a day.  It will cost (Rs. 925 x 170 km x 27  wagons)which is Rs. 4,245,750 a day. Therefore, the transport cost along will be 1,550 million Rupees per year. The project developers have failed to study this factor and this is a clear abuse of the public funds. Further, Metropolitan garbage contains  highly recyclable material. Although we don’t have figures, we believe that the annual dumping will value few thousands of millions Rupees. Such a value only can be shown in an extended cost benefit analysis.

The Holcim quarry site is also noted for its archaeological significance, as it supports a fossil belt belonging to the Miocene period mostly found invertebrate fossils. According to Rajeeve Yapa and others, Sri Lanka’s northern Tertiary deposit is vast, composed of fossiliferous limestone that hosts fossils dating to the Miocene and late Pleistocene. Surveys by early explorers recovered fossils of both invertebrates and vertebrates, of which the latter are considered important because the earliest vertebrate fossils found in Sri Lanka date to the Miocene (Deraniyagala, (1969b). Holicim is already destroying this archeological museum by blasting the lime stone for cement industry.

The dumping of waste will be on the lime stone quarry mine with high permeability. The impermeable layer does not give a hundred present assurance of damage according to the EIA. It may brake due to the blasting in the Holcim mining site. Therefore, if the leachate leaked to the aquifer it will destroy the ground water table.  More importantly, Tabbowa- Wavathavillu aquifer which is the best and the largest fresh water aquifer in Sri Lanka will be under threat of contamination. The proposed project is fundamentally wrong approach to the sustainable waste management solution for Sri Lanka.  There is a high possibility of destroying the Arruwakkaru dumping site and the railroad from Kolonnawa to Arruwakkaru due to the leachate.

As we know the former UDA officer Rohan Senevirathne serving under then Secretary Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakshe insisted the EML consultant not to include any alternative  when producing the EIA.  We have learned that the original EIA has mentioned the possible alternatives to the problem. 

Mr. Prime Minister,

Colombo garbage can be easily handle if you involve the public who are responsible for generating garbage.  Introducing zero waste policies, Managing recycling industry, introducing Extended Producer Responsibility, banning polythene, you can reduce the garbage problem and save millions of public funds you will be dumping in Arruwakkalu and along the railway line. You must manage garbage within the city and please do not pollute remote wildlife parks or community lands. (END)

Saturday, April 09, 2016



Port City, Wilpattu, Uma Oya, Yan Oya, Dole banana, Rathupaswela,  Mini hydro and many other environmental controversies are roaming on main media, social media, environmental circles, political stage and even inside the close rooms of the government authorities at national and divisional level.  The agencies and the political authorities that should be giving solutions to  these problems play mediocre rather than resolving burning environmental controversies. The Central Environmental Authority lost its credibility over the past decade and have much weaker position in fulfilling its duties. 

Politicizing  the CEA  over the last two decades is a great environmental disaster in Sri Lanka.  This happen when Minister Champika Ranawaka appointed Mr.  Udaya Gammanpila, a politician as the CEA Chairperson.   Since then most Chaipersons and some time even the Director General have appointed with no environmental background but to play the role which the political authority ask them to play. While some of the actions taken are good, often they made wrong environmental decision  to satisfy the political leadership.

CEA was not a corrupted agency until very recent. But it is one of the corrupted agency now. The officers unofficially produce the EIA/IEEs and approve them  later. We have heard that some of the waterfalls have been removed from the Waterfalls list in order to allow damming them for mini hydro project.  Some of the projects that need to go through the EIAs are requested to do an IEEs, so that they can avoid public commenting period. Some industries get the EPL without much hassle. EIA technical committees even comprise EIA consultants. It has failed to manage the E-waste, or even garbage problem. Likewise CEA has failed to arrest the natural resources destruction, environmental pollution and  failed conservation of the nature.

Rathupaswela incident happen due to the lack of a timely response to the public voice. CEA failed to stop environmental disaster in Uma Oya  since the known technical problems were not addressed in the approval stage.  Moragahakanda, Yan Oya projects also happened since the CEA was serving the political needs rather than environmental conservation as one of the mandate given  by the National Environmental Act.

CEA is not the only agency responsible for current environmental controversies in Sri Lanka. Forest Department, Wildlife Department and number of other agencies with environmental conservation as part of its mandate are responsible for the current crisis. But CEA is the main agency among them whose mandate is managing the environment in coordination with others.CEA has failed to listen to the environmental community for a long time.  

Ministry of Environment  and the CEA currently comes under the President himself.  Therefore everyone thinks that environmental conservation is a top priority and it is safe. But many wrong environmental decisions have taken under this leadership.  Some says Prime Minister is responsible for those bad decisions. However, the CEA is the right body to advise the top political leadership on environment.  If they  are ignorant or unskilled, then we cannot blame the politicians. 

Sri Lanka’s much of the natural wealth which can decide the future of Sri Lanka is in the hands of the CEA. Foreign industrial investments certainly are not our future.   Undoubtedly, we need more straight environmental  leadership to fulfil the CEAs mandate. Putting right people in the conservation hot seats and  act as a real conservation agency is a need of the day.(END)

Friday, April 08, 2016



Colombo Port City is a clear case of the wrong policy of the past regime. Undoubtedly this is why the  Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe proclaimed  that he will scrap the Port City, once he come to power.  But he too is planning to go ahead without any changes, breaking the promises he made to the voters. Why this project is so powerful?
Undoubtedly the Colombo port city is feasible for China as its not a stand along project, but a strategic point of the China maritime Silk Route with One Road One belt strategy connecting Asia, Middle East and Europe. Its a business plan, political strategy and a security plan for China.

However, there is no study to prove that its feasible for Sri Lanka. It might suck the Sri Lankan economy and the  current business districts will become just down town. Those  medium and small businesses who are silent  on the Port City might be gone when they wake up.  Majority local businesses cannot afford to  have the properties in the Port City  according to the experts.

The government of Sri Lanka is dreaming about a  offshore financial market with the Port City. However Sri Lanka does not have regulations to govern the same. There is plenty of demand for gamblers  and fun seekers. This may be one way to  promote the proposed city.  The related social issues may be serious however, the main question we can raise today is whether this is environmentally feasible? 

This can be answered by reading the so called Environmental Impacts Assessment.  The Project will require 65 million cubic meters of sea sand and 3.45 million cubic meters of rock material.  Sea sand will be mining in more than 150 square kilo meter area between Colombo and Negombo up to the depth of 2 meters within a 3 year period.  Almost 15,000 fishermen depending on this fishing grounds.  Similarly , rock material will be transported from existing quarry sites in Kaduwela, Diviulapitya etc., and almost 3000  truck loads will hit the colombo traffic daily.  Most quarry sites already have social and environmental problems.  The EIA states that the project will relocate the operations in the Jaya Container terminal in the private terminals and sell the lands. This can be seen as a privatisation and selling public lands for outsiders. 

Chinese investors as well as certain politicians say that stopping the port city will loose USD 1.5 billion worth project.  However, they should aware that the sand and rock material they will be dumping to reclaim the sea is worth over USD 4 billion which own by the public in the country.  Under this agreement Sri Lanka do not get the equity for these natural resources.

Technically part of the project site  will be naturally filled with sea sand due to the obstruction of the sand movement by the South Harbour recently  completed without much public attention. Therefore it is safe to reclaim an area less than 100 hectares. But filling 269 hectares as proposed by the Chinese investor is detrimental to the coast and the fishermen livelihood. 

The proposed Magapolis plan to fill a small area for public recreation may be a more feasible project.  Yet the current regime is planning to sign the agreement with China to build the Colombo Port City as proposed by Chinese investor against the public wish is a failure of the Good Governance regime. 

The projects is funded by  the China Exim Bank , a loan given to the China Communication Construction Company(CCCC).  Sri Lanka is not responsible for this loan. The Sri Lankan counterpart of the port city is the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. It does not have a mandate to reclaim the ocean. Therefore, entering to an agreement with Chinese investor is a wrong act of the Ports authority. There is no reason to pay any cost to the Chinese investor for the delay or stopping the project when the agreement is illegal.

It is very much known that the EIA process conducted by the CCD and the concurrence approval given by the CEA is a fraud. CEA was forced to give the approval knowing that the CCD and the project developer failed to respond to the issues related to sand mining and others.  According to the Supplementary EIA, there is no adequate sand available in the proposed sites. Instead the SEIA propose to purchase sea sand from the SLRDC. The EIA for this purpose still not done. Therefore, CEA and CCD has no right to approve the project before this matter cleared.

These agencies have approved the project due to the strong political pressure.  It is better if the politicians with vested interest leave the  authorities to run an unbias EIA process. According to the Constitution article 27 (14) The State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community. It is the duty of the Citizens to make sure  the elected regime is respecting to the Constitution. (END)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saving Athwelthota Waterfall

Aesthetic beauty is something that everyone appreciates but very few cares. Injuring the scenic beauty has rapid increase in the industrial era of the world. Over 400 waterfalls is a major landscape that contribute to the mother lanka’s natural beauty. However Sri Lanka is loosing these waterfalls due to the irresponsible development activities mainly for hydropower generation.

The permission given to Sakura Energy, a company own by Dhammika Ranathunga  to injure Athwelthota waterfall also known as Pilithuda waterfall is now under reconsideration by the Project approving agencies i.e. Central Environmental Authority and the Forest Department. The project is planning to add 1.5 MW energy capacity to at to the national grid.

Mini hydropower project is Sri Lanka are deadly to the Sri Lanka’s waterfalls, one of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. Watawala waterfall, Naya Ganga  falls, etc have been already destroyed. Even the beauty of St. Clair waterfall is now regulated. The permission has given to Sakura Energy mini Hydro project located in Morapitiya on the basis that there is no waterfall in the Athwelthota river which is connecting to Palan Ganga and a tributary of Kaluganga.  Is this true?

Can Athwelthota-Pilithuda waterfall be count as a waterfall?

The Initial Environmental Examination does not mention this as a waterfall.  During the technical evaluation stage a so-called waterfall expert has also concluded that this is not a “waterfall” but a “water drop”. 

According to the Lanka Council of waterfalls (LCWF), the only index available in the country Pilithuda is a 5-meter high waterfall.  Sri Lanka has much smaller waterfall too. This waterfall is located in a river flowing down from Sinharaja rainforest. It used to have much more water before the infamous logging of Sinharaja in the 70s. Due to the fast flowing water Pilithuda waterfall has created a deeper hole and often times entire waterfall cannot be seen.

How tall must a waterfall be to count and a waterfall?  This is not only a question to us, but other countries are asking the same question. To answer this question I quote the following section from an article appeared on the “world of waterfalls.” 

“We’re basing our answer on how height plays into its aesthetics and shape. In other words, does the waterfall’s geometry make it both obvious and pleasing to the eye? For example, Angel fall and Iguazu fall are obviously waterfalls of differing heights and widths yet they’re aesthetically pleasing while being geometrically obvious that you indeed have a waterfall here. However, what if you have a 5ft tall waterfall (not even 2m) and it looks like a waterfall if the stream is narrow enough?  Ordeville Canyon Waterfall falls under this category. I’m sure there will be people who say this is not tall enough to be a waterfall. But if we didn’t tell you the height and you just looked at the photo, would you have called it a waterfall? So why did this waterfall get attention when there are thousands (maybe millions) of other miniscule ones that don’t even get noticed?  That’s because this 5ft waterfall is an obstacle preventing progress further up Orderville Canyon for many without technical canyoneering gear. That’s why it gets noticed and pegged by many people as a waterfall. So we ended up concurring with the local consensus on this and called this one a waterfall even though it’s really stretching our comfort level (perhaps bordering on hypocrisy) on evaluating what counts as a waterfall.”

Althwelthota waterfall has been treated as a waterfall since the era of Prince Wideye Bandara who ruled “Palinda Nuwara” during the period of Portuguese colonization in Sri lanka( 1505-1670 AD). According to the chronicles he has hidden the jewelries behind the water curtain. Our elders say that there is a tunnel constructed just below the waterfall to “Yakkunge Wala” where people have seen steps to enter the tunnel. Some people say some treasure is hidden in “Yakkunge Wala” and some says a golden bed appeared in this deep water hall which is located about 1 km downstream the waterfall.

These chronicles around Athwelthota waterfall are at least 500 years old. This means people in the area has the consensus that this is a waterfall. It is part of our natural heritage too. Therefore, there is no dispute about counting this as a  waterfall.

Other than the consensus of the people in “Pasdun Korale”, Palindanuwara Pradeshiya Saba has tendered the parking location to a shop owner in the area and it assures that there is no dispute on counting this as a waterfall.

Fifty-five years ago, a famous author, Wallace Stegner, wrote a letter explaining the value of undeveloped wilderness to our spirits and souls which later published it as a chapter in his book, The Sound of Mountain Water.

He wrote “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste . . . ”and
“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

A famous US Supreme Court case in 1972 Sierra Club  v. Morton, says that “Aesthetic and environmental wellbeing, like economic wellbeing, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society . . ..”   Damaging a aesthetic beauty is considered as  “aesthetic injury” under the US law.

1971 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. FPC [Federal Power Commission] is worthwhile to study.

The case was filed when the Consolidated Edison Power Company announced a plan to build a hydroelectric “pumped water storage facility” on top of the highest, most beautiful mountain along the Hudson River.  The plan was to have pipes carrying water up the mountain during the night when there was little demand for power and then carrying water back down the mountain during the day to drive turbines, when New York City needed energy. The environmental group, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, went to court.  The Federal Power Commission tried to block them from bringing the lawsuit, arguing that the Federal Power Act did not mention anything about aesthetic beauty.  The Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the term “aggrieved party” in the Federal Power Act was sufficient to encompass aesthetic injury.  It said: “In order to insure that the Federal Power Commission will adequately protect the public interest in the aesthetic, conservational, and recreational aspects of power development, those who, by their activities and conduct, have exhibited a special interest in such areas must be held to be included in the class of ‘aggrieved’ parties under § 313(b) [of the Federal Power Act].”

In the case against the Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabha by Environmental Foundation Ltd in 1997/98 for not saving the  Kadugannawa scenic beauty by the vendors and the bill boards, the Pradeshiya Sabha agreed to preserve he scenic beauty of Kadugannawa pass.

There is no doubt that Athwelthota waterfall is a common property. No one has the absolute ownership to the waterfall. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, It’s the duty of all every person in Sri Lanka to preserve and protect public property, and to combat misuse and waste of public property (28 d) and to protect nature and conserve its riches( 28 f).

Therefore, it is clear that this waterfall should not be given to Sakura Energy or any other person to injure or destroy. In fact it’s the duty of the Central Environmental Authority and the Forest department to conserve it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stop destroying Athwelthota waterfall for power generation

-->Athwelthota waterfall is a known tourist destination among the local people in Kalutara and Rathnapura district. However, Forest Department and the Central Environmental Authority) CEA) have approved a mini hydro project proposed by Sakura Energy, a company owned by Dhammika Ranathunga. The project will generate on 1.5 MW electricity capacity to sold to the national grid. The water flows along the river will add few more millions to the wealth of Ranathunga family.

However it will destroy the livelihood of local people who depend selling Kitul Honey and Jaggery to the local tourist. 

Beauty of this location was a gem for the Sinhala films industry before. White water flaws from Sinharaja forest along the  Athwelthota river creates a natural pool then falls down creating a waterfall, which is about 12 feet.  The water which falls down disappearing in a deep hole created by the nature makes this fall different to other waterfalls. 

I was born in Morapitya, only 2 km away from the waterfall. I know that there are many legends around this waterfall. One legends says that Prince Veedhiya Bandara who ruled Palindanuwara in 16th century has hide his jewelries and gems inside the water curtain in this water fall. According to our elders, there is a tunnel located little downstream of the waterfall  connect to  Palanda (a small village located near Molkawa) a city developed by Prince Veediye Bandara then. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest generals of Sri Lankan history who fought against the Portuguese.

I know that many people travel 30- 40 km to reach this waterfall for picnic and all local people enjoy it as part of their life. Ironically the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) does not mention this as a waterfall. This IEE also does not mention this waterfall as a tourist destination. According to the officials, this waterfall does not come within the technical definition of a waterfall.  A waterfall higher than 3 meters will only be considered as a waterfall.  However, all people in the area refer Athwelthota fall as a waterfall.  This is clearly an issue of how we treat our aesthetic beauty in the DEVELOPMENT BUSINESS.

This NATURAL WATER POOL is a bathing spot for the local people. Many people use this for bathing especially during the dry season. Ironically Palindanuwara Pradeshiya Sabha has given the authorization to the project saying that this place is not safe for bathing. Several people have died over the last 50 years in this location. But, how can it be a reason to destroy a natural landscape.  This is the ugly side of the CORRUPT POLITICS.

Watawala waterfall is no more. St Cair had a narrow escape of destruction due to the public pressure.  Lakshapana also facing threats. Number of other small water falls have been killed by the mini hydro industry. We are not ready to loose Athwelthota waterfall for this development. 

Its ours. Government officials have no right to approve such destructive project in the name of development. The so called developers too have no right to destroy our nature, beauty,  livelihood and  history for rupees ad cents. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Listen to people. Respect the environment. Ensure happiness


Majority of the Sri Lankans are celebrating the victory of the joint candidate Maithripala Sirisena. They deserve to celebrate, as this is a victory of the common against some evil powers not necessarily by President Mahinda Rajapaksha but his subordinates. However, I salute President Rajapaska for facilitating smooth transfer of the power.

It’s time to think what went wrong to become people’s man to an autocrat. Many people say that power corrupt people.   But Aung San Suu Kyei, said, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” I believe this is true for President Rajapaksha.

This election results shows that majority wanted the abolition of the executive presidency which gives one man an enormous power. Also it shows that people did not like to drug politics and the thuggery. Lack of good governance was a major concern for many people. I was happy to see that people even at the local level started taking about good governance, although they may have not understood it clearly.

Good governance entails many different combinations as practice by various groups. Some also believe that better governance is more appropriate word.  Participation, Access to information, Rule of law or Predictability and Accountability are the minimum factors to ensure good governance. 

As an environmentalist I believe both good governance and environmental justice are key factors for green politics. I believe that both were missing in the last decade in Sri Lanka. It is always the case that the dilemma of the most governments of saving the environment when concentrating the GDP oriented growth and development. World summit on Environment and Development in 1992 brought the sustainable development as a concept to balance the two.

When last regime decided that growth is far more important than the environment it went against the wishes of many, while some shortsighted people are happy. As an environmentalist I was against the destructive development. I was also unhappy when the country was burrowing of too much money with high interest rates making the country indebted.

Unnecessary land grabbing by the military and others, capture of wild elephants, violation of EIA regulations, destruction of Forest, wildlife, wetlands and coastal ecosystems, made me unhappy about the last regime.

Politicizing the government agencies such as Central Environmental Authority, Wildlife Department and bringing the Urban Development Authority, Coast Conservation Department under the Ministry of Defense made me unhappy too.

Such moves allowed the past regime to dictate the development. This is how they got the approval for the Colombo Port City, Yan Oya and Uma Oya Project, Matara- Mattala Expressway, Mattala Airport and Hambantota harbor to name a few. They all violated the EIA regulations and public opinion either not sorted or neglected. Local voice not heard and no respect to the environment.

I believe Sri Lanka now has very high illegitimate debt due to the recent burrowing from the Chinese Exim Bank. According to the Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development “the debts involve the gross violation of basic assumptions of debt contracts, as well as widely accepted ethical, social, political, economic, environmental values, standards and principles and the debts cause harm to the well being of the people and communities in whose name the debts were incurred and who are the ones paying for these debts ate called illegitimate debt” are treated as Illegitimate debt. I believe Mattala airport, Hambatota harbor and the Colombo port City are some project that incurred illegitimate debt. I believe that Sri Lanka should have a clear opinion on how they deal with such illegitimate debt including cancellation.

Meantime it is equally important to either abandoned some so called development projects, which are unnecessary for the country or follow the environmental regulations if the new regime want to continue in some cases.  Under the new regime we want to stop illegal land gabbing, violation of the environmental laws including the EIA regulation. We also wanted to make sure that civil society and community voice heard in development decision making. While ensure abolition of the executive powers, next constitution should ensure right to life, right to health, right to environment and nature, right to water and sanitation as the fundamental rights. We also believe that they should respect the environment and the ecology and bring ecological democracy rather than just political democracy. We also believe that they should bring the ecological agriculture and stop heavy dependence on the agrochemicals. Restoration of ecosystem is a must today. Increasing environmental literacy is also vital for the nation.

I hope that the President Maithripala Sirisena will respect to the voices of the environmental community as he agreed during his election campaign and bring a country wide environmental policy detailing the various environmental requirement and safeguards in the next 100 days. We hope Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thero, Mr. Champika Ranawaka, Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake and rest of the political leaders will assist to keep this promise and not to make the same mistake done by the previous regime.

Pact with the Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena and Environmental Organisation's Collective

Environmental Organization’s Collective

Monday 15th December 2014 at the Mahaweli Centre

Public pact for sustainable development, to ensure environmental democracy and environmental rights
  • Ensure environmental right of all communities
  • Protection on Natural resources
  • Establish sustainable development
  • Build a green economy

Ten actions plans proposes based on the above four principles
  • Stop abuse of natural resources and ensure its protection
  • Develop a practical action plan to stop human-elephant conflict
  • Ensure public participation in all development plans
  • Developing a sustainable national action plan for waste management
  • Establish an action plan for the promotion of sustainable energy
  • Promotion of ecological agriculture and local seed varieties
  • Making eco-tourism a principal economic act
  • Increase environmental literacy
  • Proper enforcement of the environmental laws and polices
  • Ensure food sovereignty and food security through a proper land use policy


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Environmental democracy in Sri Lanka

-->Sri Lanka has very strong environmental laws and lessons learned. However, as of now, Sri Lanka is one of the country in the region that violate the existing environmental laws, regulations and principles despite that Mahindha Chinthana, the bible of the current regime has given some thoughts on the environment. 

Port city which will make a 496 hectare island in the Indian ocean does not have an EIA. Yan Oya project which will destroy 3500 acres of Forest also did not considered the environmental impacts before launching the project. There are many more examples. 

In principle people who live in close proximity to natural resources should have a say when those resources are being developed. However in many recorded instances, the communities become victims of development processes, yet are fear to access the legal process either due to lack of awareness or due to other threats. This is despite clear articulation, in some instances in the political arena that communities do have a say in the decision-making process. 

For example, in delivering the famous judgment on the Eppawela phosphate mine, Justice A.R. B. Amarasignhe stated that land and its resources belong to the people and other living beings and the Government is only the trustee of such resources. 

The reality on the ground however, does not meet this idea of ownership by the people. As most political regimes function on the notion that voting in a democratic process is an endorsement of the power exercised by the State, it has become increasingly difficult for communities to fight against efforts to destroy their natural habitat and in particular, the natural resources located near them. 

Despite regulations and laws - that in theory safeguard the interests of the communities - the ambivalence in the interpretation of such law, the lack of enforcement of the said law and the corruption involved in many development projects, make it more difficult for communities to challenge such interventions and lobby with the relevant stakeholders to take their concerns into consideration. As a result, most development processes culminate in the violation of environmental and fundamental rights of the communities, the marginalization of the local communities in assuming a role in decision-making and the destruction of the natural resource(s). The lack of a conducive civic space for the public to raise their voices against such processes further exacerbates the widening gap between and development processes environmental protection mechanisms.  

Most developing countries utilize only the environmental impacts assessment regulations to harness public opinion in such situations. However we have experienced, this is far from being an adequate, effective or enforceable mechanism to ensure due consideration is given to the environment or the people who stand to be most affected by these ‘interventions’.
Ecological democracy attempts to address the fundamental flaws in current thinking and particularly in neo-liberal economic actions that gravely undermine the sustainability factor. In doing so, it allows those affected by the outcomes of environmental issues and those whose lives are intrinsically linked to the environment to assume an active role in the decision-making processes and not limit such processes to the governments and industries and corporations. Hence, it entails the principle of equal rights for all those in the environment debate - including the public, community groups, advocates, workers, academics and health care professionals - and not be limited to safeguarding the interests of the investors and the government. 

The civil society in Sri Lanka has failed to mobilize the communities towards ensuring this democracy. In other works bringing environmental factors in development decision making is an urgent need in Sri Lanka. However, the political debate is not bringing this vital discussion adequately in the stage today. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gods, power and politics

Politicians seem to be the leading worshipers of the gods during the election time. Their dirty hands become colorful with white and yellow color threads, which also shows how much they fear about loosing the election.

Every one believes the gods and deities despite their religious beliefs. Hindu chronicles believe 33 chore (330 million) gods. The same gods are in Buddhism too. The gods and goddess are not only part of the religion and culture but has a close relationship with the nature.  When they are angry, our ancestors believed that it would end up of having a natural disaster or something bad for them. This belief is a reason for the ancient people to save the mother earth. We also have spirits in our culture who save us from disasters.

Other side of the world has only one god.  But they too have spirits. A Native American Prayer says;
O' Great Spirit,
Who's voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life, life to all the world, hear me!
I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every rock and leaf.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy, which is myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So, when life fades as the falling sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

Mother never gets angry and always kind to her children. Even the merciless children receive her kindness. But people, the children of the mother earth abused her over the time, which is resulting all disasters we are facing today.
Most politicians, who get the powers of the god to win the elections, are not feared of the mother earth unlike the common man.  Power of the common man is therefore not important  for the survival of politicians after elections. The one who has power made all the decisions despite the public opinion.
Aung San Suu Kyei, the Burmese freedom fighter once said,

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Sri Lankan politicians are mostly used their power in the last several decades to abuse the Mother Nature. Land grabbing, mining, logging, destruction of biodiversity etc., had the full support of corrupt politicians. It is unbelievable that over 60 elephants have been illegally captured from the wild since 2005.  Over 200,000 acres of public land has been captured illegally for diverse activities. Putting the political supporters onto the higher positions of the relevant environmental agencies allowed them to ignore the laws. The ecosystems that were home to diverse life forms are being destroyed this way.

Today it is very rare to find humans who care the other life forms. Sri Lankans are no exceptions. Mother Lanka is no more tolerable to natural disasters. Rains can sweep the entire dry zone, or mountains moves destroying life and livelihood. Human only concept now even promoted to politicians only concept.

The political leaders have no vision for balancing the environment and development. Those international conventions that Sri Lanka is signatory are just papers. Not even 1% of the Sri Lankan politicians are aware of our global obligations.

This political literacy is rather week among the general public in Sri Lanka. I haven’t recently heard a single politician taking on the politics rather than embarrassing the opposition leaders. Sri Lankan civil society is much weaker compare to the countries in Asia. This political culture need to an end to develop the country for the people by the people instead godfather political figures make everything happen on their interests and for their survival.
However, Buddhist custom reminds the ruler that it will rain in due season only if he is ‘righteous’. The wish of all Buddhists is summed up in the following.
“Devo vassatu kalena, Sasa sampatti hotuca, Pito bhavatu lokoca, Raja bhavatu dhammiko “

English translation is “ May gods give rain in due season, May the crops be bountiful, May the people be happy, May the king be righteous”