Uma Oya project: will there be light at the end of the tunnel? | Sunday Observer

Uma Oya project: will there be light at the end of the tunnel?

This Sunday (16) marks the end of the 10-day suspension period during which all drilling operations in the Uma Oya Multi-purpose Project ceased. The Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment promised that drilling machinery from the lower level of the tunnel would be withdrawn until a solution was found for the water leakage.

This however, is not the first time that the Uma Oya project has been temporarily suspended. Nearly every year, since the project commenced in 2008, it has been plagued with protests by residents, environmentalists and politicians who claim that the project does not hold water.

Project sans a proper plan

President Maithripala Sirisena was prompted to respond when residents staged a hartal on June 28 in Bandarawela. Residents spilled on to the streets demanding that they be compensated and the project halted.

The President who was in Hatton the following day, echoed similar sentiments, and called the residents’ protests ‘justifiable’. He added that feasibility studies had not been done accordingly and that residents had to bear the brunt of the issues arising out of a project that had no proper plan.

70% of work completed

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera who is a member of the Cabinet subcommittee inquiring into this project said, the controversial Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UMDP) cannot be called off in totality. He added that nearly 70 percent of the work was complete and that the Sri Lankan government had met 15% of the total cost.

“The project valued at US$ 529 million has been completed with the GOSL meeting 15% of the cost and a US$ 450 million loan from the Export Development Bank of Iran. But, only US$ 50 million has been paid because of the fallout from the US trade embargo,” he said, adding that it was impossible to turn back the hands of time.

State-sponsored disaster

“The present government believes, the Uma Oya project is a government-made-disaster,” he said. “A subcommittee has been appointed to look into the project and assess the extent of damage to the environment and ground water resources.”

He said, his committee has decided to call for reports from the University of Moratuwa, Peradeniya and the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) before reaching a decision.

The Minister said, future decisions with regard to the Uma Oya Project will be taken based on the report from the universities, a technical report from NBRO as well as the findings of the report compiled by a team of Norwegian experts who will be arriving in the country on July 31.

Drilling machinery is to be flown in from Switzerland before July 18, specifically, for this project. The Switzerland government acceded to a request the President had made during his official visit to that country in March, earlier this year.

AG’s Department to investigate

Meanwhile, the Auditor General’s Department has also taken steps to conduct an investigation into issues arising from the Uma Oya project. Auditor General, Gamini Wijesinghe said, a number of issues pertaining to the project need to be investigated, and added that a team has been assigned to look into this matter. The 10-day suspension came after President Maithripala Sirisena summoned those involved in the project for an urgent meeting in an attempt to find a solution to problems that have arisen.

During this meeting, the President ordered that a sum of Rs. 300 million be allocated to the Badulla District Secretary’s office to provide relief to residents who have been affected. This is to be done after obtaining an estimate from the NBRO, on the extent of the damage. 


[Cabinet decision]

Compensation before Sept. 15

The Ministerial Sub Committee on the Uma Oya Multipurpose Project has directed relevant officials to pay compensation for victims of the Uma Oya project before September 15. The valuation for this purpose will be completed by August 1. The government has already allocated Rs. 300 million as compensation through the District Secretary.

Due to the water leakage of the Uma Oya Karandagolla end, residents of many areas got affected and a Ministerial Sub Committee was appointed to look into their issues and propose remedies. The Committee headed by Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and State Minister for Mahaweli Development, Mahinda Amaraweera met at the Ministry of Mahaweli Development, last Thursday.

Minister Vijith Vijayamuni Soyza, Minister Dilan Perera, Minister Lakshman Seneviratne, Chief Minister of Uva Province, Chamara Sampath Dasanayake and the Secretary of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development, Anura Dissanayake and Ministry officials were present.

The Committee noted that the drinking water crisis is one of the main issues in the affected areas. As an alternative, the Committee decided to transport water by train from Ohiya to Diyatalawa and supply water to the residents through the Distribution Tank of the Diyatalawa Water Board. The other areas will be covered with water bowsers.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to implement the ‘Visal Bandarawela’ water scheme soon, at a cost of US$ 100 million. Over 15,000 families would benefit from this project.

Minister Amaraweera said, 50 acres of Craigwatte will be taken over by the government within the next two weeks and the people will be resettled there.

He also said, the security forces are in the process of assisting, in addition to the officials engaged in these activities. Meanwhile, some people are accusing the officials sabotaging the beneficiary services. The Ministerial Sub Committee has decided to take disciplinary action against officials who fail to carry out their duties as assigned.

The Minister further said, steps have already been taken to provide compensation to the people who are being paid under the Super Lark scheme, and the Government will take all possible measures to minimize the issues faced by the people, the Minister added.