Ask the Minister: Matters of Public Interest
A chat with Anuradha Jayaratne, Deputy Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment
Some of our readers will be very interested in getting to know the progress of the present government and the future plans of the ministers. With the endeavour of creating awareness in this regard, Life Online met up with some ministers and asked them a few questions. Their answers will be carried in this weekly column. This week, we speak to Anuradha Jayaratne, Deputy Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment.
The final stage of the gigantic Mahaweli scheme is the Moragahakande, Kaluganga project. When will it be completed and is it going according to plan?
When you take the Mahaweli concept which was a 30 year plan, we have to remember that it was Gamini Dissanayake who initially prioritised the important aspects of the scheme and reduced it to 10 years.
The last stage of this scheme is the Moragahakande Kaluganga project. Our President was determined to complete this as he has been witness to the problems faced by the Rajarata people. There were drinking water problems, kidney diseases spreading among the people, farming issues and many other factors that needed sorting out. This will be the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. It is six times bigger than the Parakrama Samudraya. The Moragahakande Dam was completed in a record time of 8 months and the reservoir is being filled with water now. We plan to complete the Kaluganga section also and fill it with water by December 2017. When the Moragahakande project is completed we can take water up to Hurulu Wewa and Mahakanadarawa. Actually the cost of constructing the canals to carry the water is much more than the cost of constructing the dam. In this case it’s a 104km canal. The other canal which carries water from the Kaluganga is 94km, that’s from Dambulu Oya to Mee Oya. Taking the water to the necessary areas is as important as constructing the reservoir.
Especially as President Maithripala Sirisena is the Minister of Environment also, he was very particular about constructing all the canals passing through wildlife areas underground so that there is no hindrance to the animals. This way, the cost increases tremendously, but we need to consider all factors.
There have been some allegations that water is not been given to areas such as Jaffna and Iranamadu. Can you explain?
Yes, the Chief Minister stated that we are not giving water to Iranamadu and Jaffna. This is purely for political gains and not a correct statement. All the money we got for these canal projects were from the ADB. Although we had requested for the funding of the whole project, one of the conditions of the ADB was that we have to complete the first stage and watch for one year if there was enough water before they would allocate money for the next stage. After the feasibility was checked and approved only would they give the rest of the money. We will be continuing the projects as planned and these areas will get water in due time.
There is no shortage of rainfall in Sri Lanka and yet we face a severe water crises during drought periods. Why is that?
When the plans for the Mahaweli scheme were made 30 years ago we had seasons and a pattern for rainfall. If this continued in the same manner we could have gone forward beautifully but now there is no proper weather pattern. Sometimes it rains only twice a year and then a lot of water gets wasted. If it rains 4 times a year like before then there is no problem. With the present climatic conditions we have to plan on how we can increase our capacities and retain the water that is within the country.
We need to find a long term solution to minimise the impact of the climatic conditions. That is our next project. We need to now construct more reservoirs. The previous 30 year plan was perfect and would have worked well, unfortunately the climatic and weather changes have obstructed the success of the project.
What measures have been taken to protect the people from an unimaginable disaster if there is a breach in a dam?
An area around every dam has been acquired by us and declared a secure zone. Also, we have identified certain areas where the dams might breach and in those areas we have marked certain higher elevated areas as safe zones for people to run to, in case of some disaster. Otherwise there will be panic and people will be scuttling all over not knowing in which direction to run. There are markings to indicate how high the water level can rise in case of a breach. Also we have educated these people on what to do if there is a problem.
Massive amounts of sand is being dug up for the construction industry from areas such as Manampitiya. Won’t this have a diverse effect on the Mahaweli project?
There are certain areas that get destroyed environmentally if sand is removed. There are also other areas where sand has to be removed to maintain the ecosystem. We have identified a state technical company that removes sand from certain places after properly analyzing how much and from where exactly sand could be removed without disturbing the ecosystem. However, we can’t do this forever. We have to find other solutions if we want to protect the environment.
One solution is to remove sand from certain wildlife areas where sand has to be removed from anyway. But it has to be systematically done with proper supervision. Only the government authorities will be engaging in this process. Another solution is to use sea sand. Our people have a misconception that sea sand is not good for construction but in many parts of the world sea sand is washed and utilized for this purpose.
Garbage is a huge issue the country is facing at present. What is your take on this matter?
Today, this garbage dumping problem is a national issue. For example, if you take Kandy, we have the same problem. When I took over my duties in this Ministry, what I noticed was that in 2010 a particular company was awarded the tender for waste disposal in Kandy. Up until now this company has not done anything about it. They have only been renewing their license which has to be renewed every six years. Of course the project report is very attractive with power generation, recycling, compost, dumping sites etc., but nothing is actually happening. So we cancelled the licenses and selected another company. The new proposal was presented in parliament twice, then it was tabled at the Economic Committee and then handed over to a steering committee which included provincial council members, the Chief Minister, UDA representatives and a few others who can follow up and get this done. My main aim is to see that this project gets underway before I leave this Ministry. Then the garbage issue in Kandy will be solved.
Will this take a long time to implement? And how can you ensure that this company will not drag it on like before?
It will take about one and a half years to get this project going. From the time the company signs the agreement they have to take the full responsibility of garbage disposal and they have to manage the dumping site. That way they will also make sure that the construction happens fast. If they delay they will be spending about Rs. 3 million a month to dispose of the garbage anyway. This was one of the conditions we incorporated in the contract and they agreed to it before issuing the environmental certification. Now all the approvals have been obtained so we can commence construction operations soon.
What are the other projects you are planning for the people in your electorate?
I have proposed a project and have requested for a grant of USD 6.5 million from a Chinese company called China South Climate Change Fund for a housing project in the Kandy District. The concept has been agreed on and the details have to be worked out. This is to build 4500 houses that include solar panels with two way metres, all free of charge. It is for the low income families like the farmers. Until the meters run up to Rs. 2000 it will read a zero value. This Rs. 2000 saving will be a great relief for the farming community. Then we are also starting a project where women who stay at home can earn something by starting up little home garden projects.