Empty development promise keeps old ferry working

[TamilNet, Monday, 26 May 2003, 03:14 GMT]
The Batticaloa district has one of the most underdeveloped road networks in Sri Lanka. Many parts of this network remain disconnected by three lagoons that separate most of the district's large hinterland from the coast due to long years of neglect by successive regimes in Colombo. Tamils say most parts of the northeast were subjected to systematic economic deprivation for many decades since the island's Sinhala majority established firm control over the country's finances with inflexibly unitary constitutions in 1972 and 1978, which, they charge, were made without their endorsement.

Map showing ferry points (click for a larger map)
Thousands of people in Batticaloa still depend on ferry services established by Dutch and British colonial rulers to travel to and fro.

Occasional promises by Colombo politicians to build causeways across the lagoon to link the few dilapidated interior roads of the hinterland with the main coastal road were never fulfilled, as no money was made available to start work on the projects to build the causeways.

At Manmunai Thurai (Jetty), the district's main ferry point 10 kilometres southwest of Batticaloa town only the memorial foundation stone laid by a ruling party politician in 1982 remains the only witness to Colombo's promise to build a causeway to ease the woes of the region's farmers.

Although the Batticaloa lagoon lies spread along the district's coastline for 56 kilometres, there are only two dilapidated causeways to link the hinterland where more than 60000 people live.

There are three ferry points at Manmunai, Ambilanthurai and Mandur. There are four points at Kaluthavalai, Kinnaiyadi, Santhiveli and Nasivanthivu where the lagoon crossing is by canoe.

the memorial stone for the Manmunai causeway laid in 1982 (Click for a larger image)

The ferries are old and have begun to creak under the heavy traffic these have had to cope with after the 12-year travel restriction on the district's hinterland was lifted last year.

The traffic is heaviest at Manmunai, particularly during harvest time.

"During peak harvest we ferry as many as a hundred vehicles a day", says the fare collector at the ferry point.

In 1982 Colombo promised to build a causeway at Manmunai. A foundation stone was laid amid much fanfare. Work never began as Colombo diverted the funds it had initially promised for the project. Only the foundation stone remains today close to the jetty on the western side of the lagoon at Manmunai.

the old ferry at Manmunai (Click for a larger image)

In the past, during the war, the Special Task Force (STF), the elite counter insurgency arm of the Sri Lankan armed forces, controlled the three ferries at Mandur, Manmunai, and Ambilanthurai and all the boat points on the eastern side of the lagoon's coast. The STF also occupied the temples by the ferries at Mandur and Manmunai.

Travellers were subjected to search and only a few authorised vehicles were permitted to take the ferry. The points were closed by 5.30 p.m.

Ferrymen had to deposit the small out board motors (OMBs), which powered the flat-bottomed shallow draught vessels, at the local STF camp every evening.

The STF shot any canoe found transporting persons across the lagoon after the ferry points were closed for the day.

Colombo spent no money during the war to repair the ferries and jetties. "Each journey across the lagoon is an ordeal because the ferry is old and creaking and the jetty's on either side are destroyed", the fare collector on the Mandur ferry told Tamilnet.

Earlier this month a new ferry was given to the Manmunai point by the Asian Development Bank funded Northeast Community Restoration, Development (NECORD) project.

the new ferry moored in the lagoon Batticaloa town before being towed south to Manmunai (Click for a larger image)

The arrival of the new ferry was considered a welcome boon to travellers who had to suffer under the scorching dry zone sun as the old vessel moved slowly across the lagoon's expanse.

But during the test run it was found that the new ferry draught was not enough carry the usual load.

The old ferry continues in service.


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