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Thursday December 1st, 2022

Highway project over Thalangama wetlands put on hold – CEA Chairman

A paddyfield over which the proposed highway will run

ECONOMYNEXT – Work on the second phase of the New Kelani Bridge (NKB) to Athurugiriya Elevated Highway Project will be put on hold until a firm plan that will ensure the Thalangama Wetlands and its surrounding habitat is not disturbed, is put in place the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority, Siripala Amarasinghe said.

Amarasinghe told EconomyNexgt the decision follows a meeting the CEA and other stakeholders had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently, to update him on the environmental damage the construction of the highway would cause.

A committee headed by Secretary to the Ministry of Environment, Dr Anil Jasinghe has been appointed to come up with an acceptable proposal to preserve the rich biodiversity of the area. Amarasinghe explained that the President has said that any work on the highway could commence only after implementing a plan that would not disturb or damage the environment. To this end, he said, the committee will explore internationally accepted technology that could be applied to build the highway with minimum use of access roads, land-fill and reclamation of paddy lands. Basically, the proposal must ensure that the area through which the highway would run is protected from sound and that the fauna and flora is not disturbed, he added.

He also said that the President has advised that prior to commencing any work on the highway, the 118 hectares of paddy fields and lake covered by a 2007 Gazette which declares it as the “Thalangama Protection Area” under the National Environment Act must be developed so area residents could enjoy its natural beauty. The CEA lists its importance as, ‘an area with high biodiversity, flood control, home to a large number of reptiles, birds, mammals, fish and insects, agriculture, fisheries and recreational activities’. It is also listed as an area for educational purposes and research.

Project Director of the Road Development Authority, K Selvanathan, who also confirmed the appointment of the committee, stated that one possibility being looked into to minimise damage is installing columns with smaller width size to support the roadway.

The committee is made up of the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways and other representatives drawn from the Urban Development Authority, CEA and Road Development Authority etc.

Two alternate routes have been proposed for the 10.4 km stretch that will run from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya, where it will connect to the Outer Circular Expressway. One through the highly residential area of Pothuarawa and some paddy fields, the other which will cut through a swathe of paddy fields and the Averihena Lake, which is part of the Thalangama Wetland.

While Pothuarawa residents have indicated their displeasure over their homes being impacted and even possible relocation, in the case of the other route, not only residents and those who farm the lands, but environmentalists and the CEA too have raised concerns about disturbing the rich eco-system.

While acknowledging the need for development, they point that damage to the environment if the second route is taken will be felt for generations to come and far outweighs the compensation that would have to be paid to home and land-owners.

The Thalangama Protected area is important for many reasons. The Talanagama Lake itself, believed to have been built around the 15th century, had been the bathing place for elephants of the Royal Palace of the Kotte Kingdom. The Lake is part of a network of wetlands in and around the city of Colombo, that play a key role in the prevention of floods, filtering of polluted water, and provides a livelihood and respite to residents and wildlife alike, from the rapid urbanisation that is a hallmark of present-day Colombo and its suburbs.

It is believed that nearly a hundred endemic, migratory and resident bird species could be spotted at the wetlands. As well, the Thalangama Wetland Watch reports that the Purple-faced leaf-monkey which makes it home in the environs of the Lake is one of the “25 most endangered primates in the world.’

It was only in 2018 that Colombo was declared an International Wetland city under the Ramsar Convention. Yet, urbanisation has, directly and indirectly, impacted Colombo’s wetlands, where records indicate about a 40percent loss over the last three decades.

Moreover, as Suwanadaratne who owns nearly five acres of paddy land that has been in his family for generations’ points out, any interference with these fields could result in flooding. He says that the 2016 flooding of the Malabe town was owing to landfill that took place in the Pore area in Athurugiriya when the Outer Circular Expressway was being built. “We grow heirloom varieties of rice such as Heeneti, Suwandel, Maa-wee etc. and participate in the New Rice Festival (Aluth Sahal Mangalaya) each year where we offer the first portion of our harvest. We also offer our rice to the Paththini Dewale feast in Nawagamuwa.’ According to Suwandaratne, there are close to 175 farming families in the area, with seventy-five of them depending solely on paddy cultivation for a living.

In fact, the Muttetuwe paddy field, from which rice was provided to the Palace is said to be cultivated even today.

A former Agriculture Officer Salinda Waduge explains that there has never been an issue of crop failure for these farmers, owing to the salubrious conditions, and the only snag is the shortage of labour. It will be a shame, he says, if the fields are destroyed to construct highways when all that is required is wider and well-maintained roads, which could be easily achieved by expanding roadways, 20 feet on either side. Yet another resident, Percy Perera, a veritable walking encyclopedia on matters connected to Thalangama, says that if the highway must go through, indigenous trees such as Kumbuk and Mee must be planted on either side to compensate for damage to the environment.

Amarasinghe assures that if the proposal the committee comes up with does not meet expectations, an alternative solution to the highway will be found. “We went to the President because we cannot allow the destruction of the environment, and whatever is proposed, it must first be environmentally friendly.”

(Colombo, February 11, 2021)

Reported by Kshama Ranawana

Comments (3)

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  1. Leel says:

    Best possible options is use underground tunnel, no matter the cost. Every body might be satisfied

  2. Prithiviraj Perera says:

    If the real intention is to prevent destruction and not just mitigate the ill effects, then certainly, an alternative route is a must. Usually, internationally recognized practices for preservation of world heritage sites are to even impose buffer zones around such unique and irreplaceable sites and not just mitigate losses, but, find alternatives.

  3. P.Abeynaike says:

    I suggest that using the money allocated for the project either the present road way be widened or the highway go over the existing roadway thereby averting the residential areas, paddy fields ect.

View all comments (3)

Comments (3)

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Leel says:

    Best possible options is use underground tunnel, no matter the cost. Every body might be satisfied

  2. Prithiviraj Perera says:

    If the real intention is to prevent destruction and not just mitigate the ill effects, then certainly, an alternative route is a must. Usually, internationally recognized practices for preservation of world heritage sites are to even impose buffer zones around such unique and irreplaceable sites and not just mitigate losses, but, find alternatives.

  3. P.Abeynaike says:

    I suggest that using the money allocated for the project either the present road way be widened or the highway go over the existing roadway thereby averting the residential areas, paddy fields ect.

Sri Lanka China-backed port to welcome second cruise ship

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s China-backed Hambantota Port said it was getting ready to welcome MV Azamara Quest, a cruise ship, as another passenger vessel departed.

Mein Schiff 5, operated by TUI had departed Hambantota International Port for Pulau Penang Island, Malaysia on November.

“As well as being her maiden call at the port, Mein Schiff 5 is the first passenger cruise ship to call at the port since the pandemic began,” said Johnson Liu, CEO of Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) said in a statement.

“It was undoubtedly a great boost for the tourist economy in the south when the vessel called at the Hambantota International Port.”

Mein Schiff 5’s passengers had also visited the Bundala National Park, Hambantota Botanical Gardens, Galle and Kataragama.

Passengers had explored Hambantota by tuk-tuk, while others had enjoyed the beaches in the Shangri La Hotel, the port said.

MV Azamara Quest will arrive in Hambanota on on December 05. (Colombo/Dec01/2022)

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Sri Lanka’s shares gain in mid market trade

EXONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s shares gained in mid market trade on Thursday (1), pushed up by strong positive sentiments on interest rates easing in line with inflation and speculation on government to hold talks with multilateral creditors ADB and World Bank for a possible loan facility.

Market has continued to gain for the past four sessions.

“Shares were moving on positive strong sentiments flowing in from yesterday (30), we are seeing a rally in the hotels, while the retail favorites such as LIOC and Expolanka,” analysts said.

Positive investor sentiments have been established, from positive comments from the Governor of the Central Bank over market rates eventually seeing an ease despite the fears of a domestic debt restructuring as inflation falls, increased liquidity in dollar markets, and the inter-bank liquidity improves.

Analysts further stated that, Treasury related stocks are also activated due to downward movements in yield.

All Share Price Index (ASPI) gained by 1.4 percent or 123.41 points to 8,774.64, while the most liquid share gained by 1.31% or 35.68 points to 2,765.

The market generated a turnover of 1.6 billion rupees at 1130 hours. (Colombo/Dec1/2022)

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Sri Lanka electricity losses from overpriced fuel, no tariff hike considered: regulator

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board’s high operating costs are partly due to excessive prices paid for fuel and no tariff hike is being considered, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, Janaka Ratnayake said.

The CEB itself does not buy fuel but depends on state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Lanka Coal, another state firm to buy fuel. Both firms are periodically caught in procurement scandals.

“They are paying about 385 plus rupees per litre for furnace oil,” Ratnayaka told EconomyNext.

“That is too much. From the global market we can buy it to much lower price. It can be imported below 200 rupees,”

“I ask the government to take the necessary steps to create a system to import furnace oil, like they did for fuel, to be imported at the lower price levels. If that happens, we can go without going for a price hike.”

Sri Lanka’s CEB generally gets furnace oil and residual oil from the domestic refinery and usually do not import furnace oil.

The refinery however is not regularly operating due to inability to get crude amidst the worst currency crisis in the history of the island’s intermediate regime central bank.

Ratnayake had earlier brought to light import costs of the CPC.

Pushing for operations efficiency of the CEB is a role of the regulator. Regulating costs based on global benchmark prices to push for procurement efficiencies is a standard practice. However the PUCSL is not the official regulator of the petroleum sector.

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Sri Lanka power tariff revisions sought in Jan and July: Minister

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told parliament that cabinet approval was sought to twice yearly tariff hikes in January and July of each year.

No Electricity tariff hikes are being considered yet, Ratnayake said.

Wijesekera blamed the regulator as well as successive administrations for not regularly revising power prices and pushing the sector into crisis.

In Sri Lanka activists had also blocked cheap coal power. (Colombo/Dec01/2022)

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