Feature Article

Civil group fights against Upper Kotmale Hydro Project

[TamilNet, Sunday, 12 June 2005, 05:10 GMT]
Mr E Thambiah, an opponent of the Upper Kotmale hydropower scheme and organizer of People's Campaign Against Upper Kotmale Project (PCAUKP), a countrywide grassroots organization with members from all communities, recently spoke to TamilNet on the reasons for their campaign to stop the project. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), however, believes that the project is necessary to fuel economic growth of Sri Lanka.

Mr.E.Thambiah, representing People's Campaign Against Upper-Kotmale Project
Mr.E.Thambiah, representing People's Campaign Against Upper-Kotmale Project
According to CEB website, "[The Upper Kotmale project] will construct a runoff-river hydropower plant (150 MW) on the Kotmale river, a tributary of the Mahaweli River (upstream from the existing Kotmale Dam), to meet the need for power demand after 2008 in an environmentally and socially sound manner. By meeting the increasing demand for power, the project aims to contribute to the country's economic growth."

However, Mr Thambiah maintained that the project will result in more than 470 families losing their homes, will cause excessive environmental damage and will result in loss of large tracts of fertile land.

Excerpts from Mr Thambiah’s interview follow:

St Claires Fall
St.Claires water fall (Photo: CEB) Click on image for a larger version
TamilNet: Can you give the readers a background to the Upper Kotmale project?
Thambiah: The project site is located on the Western slope of Nuwara Eliya Mountain Range, which is the central mountainous zone.

In 1985 a Consortium of Japanese consultants sponsored by Japan International Agency Bank proposed Upper Kotmale Hydro Power project consisting of two-hydropower units at Caledonia and Talawakelle with 209 mw-combined capacity. A 27 km network tunnels will augment the power plants.

In Talawakelle there will be a concrete gravity dam near the confluence of Nanuoya with Kotmale oya. A diversion tunnel 5.25 km long will be built from Puna oya and Pundal Oya. A low concrete dam of maximum height 15m and length 110m is proposed with a reservoir capacity of 1 million cubic meters active storage. Originally 170 mw was expected from Talawakelle power station alone.

At Caledonia there will be concrete gravity dam across Kotmale oya below the confluence of Agra Oya and Dambagastalawa Oya to impound a reservoir of capacity 30 million cubic meters active storage. The Caledonia Power House will have on installed capacity of 40mw.

TamilNet: Why has the project taken this long to begin implementation?
Thambiah: The project has been fraught with controversy from the time it was proposed. The proposal was rejected three times by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) but the Secretary, Ministry of Forestry and Environment in 2002 approved the project.

TamilNet: Where is the funding coming from?
Thambiah: The joint venture agreement was signed by and between Sri Lankan government (CEB) and Japan International Co-operation Agency Bank in 2002 and the said Bank has agreed to grant a loan of US$ 384m for the completion of this project by 2007.

The UKHP will be the major project in the Island and also it was on the list a potential power for 30 years.

According to the government's recent documents potential power is 150 Mw but the Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy said 445 Mw could be generated. In that case the project will be the largest in Sri Lanka and will be flooding a larger area .

Upper Kotmale Project
(Photo: UKHP website) Click on the map for a larger version
TamilNet: Why does your organization object to the implementation of this project?
Thambiah: I can list several reasons. First the environment will be irrecoverably damaged.
  • Fertile lands will be lost. While only 20% of world electricity is generated by hydropower in Sri Lanka nearly an unacceptable dependence- 76% - of energy is hydro power. Alternative energy sources must be found.
  • The life span of Hydro Power project is limited only to 30 years and the soil cannot be used for cultivation. The land is permanently lost..
  • Presence of crystalline limestone will lead to soil erosion and land slides. It will lead to water leaks as in the case of Samalawewa project.
  • The diversion of stream flow of Kotmale Oya severely will impair visual quality of several waterfalls: St. Clair, Devon, Ramboda, Puna Oya, Pundal Oya and St. Andrews
  • The stoppage of the flow of the water falls will result in microclimatic change will adversely affect not only the vegetation of the area but also the tea plantation and vegetable cultivation, which would have a major impact of the economy.
  • Volume of water held in Talawakelle reservoir will exert pressure on the mountains. There are three major dams in Nuwara Eliya and another dam will cause serious damage to the mountains.
  • Absence of down streams will endanger fish, fresh water crabs, amphibian lizards mammals and orchid species etc found in the area.
  • Tropical rain forests will be affected..
  • Underground seepage can cause damage to structures in adjoining villages
  • Building tunnels can affect rock formations and slopes, and ground water tables
Secondly, there will be negative socio-politic, economic and cultural fallouts from the Upper Kotmale project.
  • The implementation of the UKHP is depends on the loan facilities provided by the Japanese Bank. Sri Lankan government has given assurance that Japan can invest and have their industries in the area and use the electricity generated by the scheme. Experts say the 150mw is only enough to fulfill the need of the proposed Japanese factories.
  • Training Institute of Hydro Power will accommodate only Japanese researchers and technological experts on a long term basis. Japan intends to gain territorial and economic foothold in Sri Lanka through this project.
  • Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims who have owned their lands for generations stand to lose their lands.
  • During previous hydro power projects hill country Tamils suffered heavily. They were left on the roads without relocation or resettlement. There is no assurance that this will not happen again. Also, changes in population density may adversely impact the political representation of hill country Tamils.
  • Induction of Security Forces into the area to protect the Project infrastructure will affect normal and democratic life of all the people of that area. Militarization may lead to communal disharmony among the different racial groups.
TamilNet: What actions has your organization taken and do you think you will be successful in stopping this project from proceeding?
Thambiah: We are certain that we will be able to mobilize enough opposition to force the government to abandon the project.

People’s Campaign Against was formed in 2001 to coordinate peoples protests against the project. This organization consists of political parties, trade unions, mass organizations and individuals including the members of Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Up Country Peoples Front (UCPF).

We organized a signature ampaign in 2002 where we collected over one hundred thousand signatures against the project. Mr. Chandrasekaran, leader of UCPF supported it and demanded compensation for the people who will be uprooted. Mr. Arumugam Thondaman, leader of CWC, supporting and told the public that government has agreed for an alternative proposal submitted by his party, in place of the original plan.

On 27th April 2005 there was a mass agitation in Bogawantalawa town organized by the Peoples Campaign Against UKHP. On the 08th May 2005 there was a protest meeting and a procession organized by Malaiyaga Ilainger Mantram in Talawakelle in Solidarity with the People's Campaign Against UKHP.

On 15th May 2005 there was a successful protest day observed in upcountry and the Devon waterfalls at Talawakelle held a centralized agitation near. On that day estate and the workers of other sector were on strike, shops and offices were closed.

We held a protest in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station at 4.00 pm on 3rd June 2005. The aim was to carryout nation wide agitation to pressurize the government to give up UKHP and to protest against the granting of loan for this UKHP which is disastrous for the environment, people and the entire country as well.

TamilNet: What are you planning to do in the future?
Thambiah: We had a very successful convention on 10th April 2005 at Hatton. We passed resolutions that laid out our course of future actions. The convention,
  • resolved to carry out a house-to-house propaganda campaign to educate the people about the disasters of the project.
  • called upon all political parties, trade unions and other organizations to take up the protest against this project in their May Day rallies.
  • resolved to carry out a variety of agitations in Colombo and to carry out pressure campaigns in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan to cancell loan facilities offered by the Japan International Agency Bank.
  • resolved to carry out international campaign through the parent organization as well as by its International Branch that has been set up in London.
We are determined to ensure that the Upper Kotmale Project does not go forward, Mr Thambiah concluded.

However, the CEB's campaign explain the imperatives of using hydropower due to lack of alternative resources of fuel. "Most of Sri Lanka's hydropower resources have already been developed, making this project the last of the new large-scale hydropower plant projects. To expand Sri Lanka's power-generating capacity and to ensure a stable power supply that is not affected by the weather, there are plans to direct efforts toward the development of thermal power generation and thus to shift to a more balanced structure of electric power generation. However, since Sri Lanka is a country that lacks its own sources of fuel, it is important that it fully develop its hydropower sources, and this project is highly necessary for achieving this goal," the website of UKHP website said.

External Links:
UKHP: Upper Kotmale Hydro power Project


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