Feature Article

Champoor Tamils should demand 1 bn compensation, political-demographic guarantees

[TamilNet, Friday, 26 June 2015, 22:37 GMT]
The focus on Champoor so far by the new regime has been to get rid of the Chinese-affiliated Rajapaksa's ‘development’ family enterprises in Champoor. The India-oriented project of constructing Trincomalee Thermal Power Plant (TPP) was also part of the same ‘Industrial Zone’ game, conceived by Colombo involving all the powers locked in the geopolitical game of occupation. The geopolitical exploitation and the structural genocide will continue with a new model of conspiracy, which would be hatched by involving new actors unless the Tamils conceive a concerted struggle against the game without aligning themselves with any of the players, informed civil activists in Trincomalee told TamilNet on Friday. Meanwhile, a Tamil expert on the topic was of the opinion that Tamils should demand compensation for the destruction caused to the civil property, after the military seizure.

More than the compensation, what the Eezham Tamils should demand, is international guarantees in solid political format from the involved players, against demographic genocide in the name of ‘development’ and guarantees on the territorial integrity of the nation of Eezham Tamils, the activists in Trincomalee said.

“Eezham Tamils should vehemently oppose the construction of Trincomalee TPP at Champoor. The coal power plant will again bring competing global power players into the Champoor region in a new wrapping to continue to the structural genocide of Eezham Tamils in the name of ‘development’,” the activists in Trincomalee further said adding that the 818 acres subjected to the recent Gazette notification based release, was only the beginning of the big game.

Model of Champoor Power Plant
A visualised model of the 2x250 Mega Watt Champoor coal power plant (Trincomalee Thermal Plant) is to be built by New Delhi's National Thermal Power Corporation Limited in partnership with Ceylon Electricity Board. The TTP will spread over an area of about 505 acres outside the 818 acres of lands were the subject of the recent gazette notification. The power generation process is to be based on pulverised coal fired technology, in which the chemical energy of the coal is first converted into thermal energy, which is then converted into mechanical energy through a turbine and finally into electrical energy through a generator.

In the meantime, a Trincomalee expert, with in-depth knowledge on Champoor, severely criticised Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian R. Sampanthan, who hails from Trincomalee. The Tamil expert, who did not wish to be named, argued that Mr Sampanthan had been taking the ITAK and the TNA for a ride, blindly acquiescing with the Indian-assisted construction of the Trincomalee TPP.

As long as the Trincomalee TPP project remains alive, the danger of Tamils permanently losing their hold on Champoor, Koddiyaar Bay and the entire Moothoor East, will be present, the expert said.

”The TNA attitude is to contain the Moothoor people without rising against the environmental and developmental disasters,” the expert said while explaining the Champoor ‘development’ narrative.

After an intense battle with the LTTE in August 2006, the SL military, which seized control of Moothoor East, took a group of journalists from Colombo to Champoor, in a propaganda move aimed at showcasing its victory.

The Sinhala journalists who went there reported that there were several houses that had survived the battle and that the resettlement of people could resume soon. The hospital and other public buildings had also survived the artillery barrage, the Sinhala journalists reported at that time.

However, the Sri Lankan State didn't allow the people to access their settlements. Champoor was transformed into a combined military and economic zone. The entire Moothoor-East was soon to be ‘developed’ into a Heavy Industry Zone.

A map showing occupied military and economic zones with important places in the surrounding area
A map showing occupied military and economic zones adjacent to the proposed Trincomalee Thermal Power Plant at Champoor with important places in the surrounding area [Source: Environmental Impact Assessment Report]

The GS divisions targeted by SL military and economic zones of occupation
The GS divisions targeted by SL military and economic zones of occupation [Map courtesy: Environment Impact Assessment Report]
Within the following two years, all the houses and public buildings were completely destroyed leaving no traces of the previous civilian settlements in most parts of Champoor.

Further, the SL State deleted the records of the existence of two GS divisions of Champoor East and Champoor West form the administrative records. The concerned GS officers lost their jobs. The uprooted people of Champoor were told to approach other GS officers in Moothoor East in an attempt to deny their collective claim to retrieve their lost residential and agricultural lands. The SL military was harassing the people insisting them to receive alternative lands. But, the people stood steadfast despite the deteriorating living conditions without proper assistance.

* * *

R. Sampanthan and K Thurairatnasingam, were representing the Eezham Tamils in Trincomalee at that time.

“Why did they fail to expose the systematic destruction of the entire village when the political avenues were at their disposal,” asks the Tamil expert from Trincomalee having in-depth knowledge of the region.

Although free expression of Tamil aspirations are severely compromised in the island, the TNA politicians had two particular avenues, the SL Parliament and the limited legal space within which they could have lodged cases to keep alive the issue.

Mr Sampanthan intentionally avoided the articulation of the matter although the grassroots remained firm. The TNA politicians were only parroting what they were told by external powers that the people should be resettled. And, they failed to highlight and expose the serious destruction taking place in Champoor.

“It is a critical matter affecting almost 10,000 acres of lands in the Trincomalee district. But, Mr Sampanthan avoided taking the matter to the courts,” the expert said.

“It was clear that Mr Sampanthan, who wanted to be friendly with New Delhi, was thinking that it was counter-productive to demand immediate resettlement of people, as it would be detrimental to the designs of establishing the Trincomalee Thermal Power plant. He was buying the needed time for the plan. The TNA politician was concerned that the people, if fully resettled, would start complaining about the Trincomalee TPP,” the expert opined.

“When the [US-oriented] Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), led by Packiyasothy Saravanamuttu, took an active role engaging the CPA in a ‘struggle’ on behalf of the people of Champoor as early as in 2007, the TNA and the ITAK remained as mere spectators without contributing to bring forward necessary evidences and claims of destruction to the civilian properties to the courts,” the expert noted.

But today, when the new regime has opted to cancel the seizure of a section of lands (818 acres) and has nullified an earlier Gazette notification, the TNA politicians are jumping into the bandwagon claiming credit without having any plans of advancing the future cause of the concerned people.

Not only the TNA, but all the Tamil politicians have failed to claim compensation from the Sri Lankan State for the destruction of properties of the Tamil people in Champoor, the expert said, adding: “It is critical that people understand the workings of the concerned minds. They want the construction of the Trinco TPP to precede any large-scale resettlement into Champoor.”

The TNA has also failed to address the concerns of more than 600 families, whose lands are still occupied by the Sri Lanka Navy, including two temples and two schools (Champoor Maha Viththiyalayam and Sri Murugan Maha Viththiyaalayam).

More than 1,000 houses have been systematically destroyed in Champoor. “If you calculate using an estimated minimum of 1 million rupee per house, the claim comes up to 1 billion,” the expert noted questioning why the [India and US oriented] Sampanthan and Sumanthiran have failed to take up the critical issue of compensation.

Sampanthan's fear is baseless, the expert said.

“India has already secured its strategic interests in Trincomalee through the Indo-Lanka Pact of 1987, in which Tamil sacrifices were exploited by New Delhi to secure India's own interests. We were only given a useless provincial council in which you have no right to revenues or no right to obtain foreign loans or grants to look after your own affairs,” the expert added.

“If India commences the operation of the Trinco TPP as planned, Japan will also follow,” the expert hinted.

* * *

Champoor HIZ 1
The location of Heavy Industry Zone [Image Courtesy: SLGI Website]
Champoor HIZ 2
Stage 1 Site [Image Courtesy: SLGI Website]
Champoor HIZ 3
Master plan of Stage 1 Site [Image Courtesy: SLGI Website]
Champoor HIZ 4
SLGI indicates future stages of occupation [Image Courtesy: SLGI Website]
Transhipping facility for coke and thermal coal
SLGI has been planning to construct a transhipping facility for coke and thermal coal [Source: SLGI Website]
Trincomalee Gateway Park
Visualised ‘vision’ of the SLGI of transforming the land of Eezham Tamils into Trincomalee Gateway Park
The ownership of the private and public lands, which were acquired under the clause of public purpose (or ‘development’ purpose), cannot be easily alienated to any private firm, the expert said citing the precedence-setting SL Supreme Court case (No 352/2007).

The SL Supreme Court case, which the expert was citing, was popularly known as the Water’s Edge case. It was filed against former SL President Chandrika Kumaratunga by Sugathapala Mendis. The case was won by the petitioner on the basis of SL President's actions in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Ms Kumaratunga, despite having SL cabinet approvals for almost all the decisions and transactions, was found guilty and was ordered to pay 3 million rupees as compensation to the State. The SL Supreme Court also declared the transfer of title and lease of the lands to Asia Pacific Golf Course Ltd., null and void.

“As evidenced in that case, any seizure of lands intended for public purpose should be kept at the minimum-necessary level. What has taken place in Champoor is a gross violation,” the expert said.

Former SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa was alienating the Champoor lands, which had been seized by the SL State on the basis of public purpose of ‘development’, to the Singapore based Sri Lanka Gateway Industries (SLGI), a private limited, which was part of a group of companies that were owned by Rajapaksa's close relatives and brokers having close Chinese connections.

The then SL Minister of Investment Promotion estimated the value of the entire project to a mega 4,000 USD. It was named as ‘Sampur Heavy Industry Zone’.

The SLGI had already ‘invested’ 20 million USD in the project, as it was claimed in January 2014.

The SL minister under Mahinda Rajapaksa was further claiming that the SLGI had rehabilitated a jetty in Champoor.

The SLGI plan also included the CEB/NTPC Limited Power Plant – 500 MW (2 Mtpa coal throughput) and an SLGI Power Plant in the first phase. NTPC is India's largest energy conglomerate, which is an Indian Central Public Sector Undertaking that comes under the Indian Ministry of Power.

The SLGI's plan also includes an iron ore and one of the two coke (fuel) plants, a stockpile yard and a deep-water jetty in the first phase. The second phase was to consist of a number of heavy industry establishments such as a steel company, ship-building company, auto-mobile plant and several other small industries like sugar production in the seized lands. The SLGI plan was also referring to ‘additional allotments’ for phase 3.

The SL Supreme Court, now investigating the Champoor case, has instructed to maintain the status quo as under the Rajapaksa regime till the final verdict is delivered on the case filed by the SLGI.

“The petitioner of the case is SLGI, who is fighting against the Sri Lankan Government. But, Mr Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are using that case for their electoral politics instead of initiating legal actions from the Tamil point of view,” the expert added.

“The SLGI now claims that it has invested a lot of money into Champoor project. Did SLGI invest money to destroy the properties of Eezham Tamils? If so, why are we still not legally challenging the SL State for the destruction of properties,” the expert questioned.

* * *

Layout plan of the Trinco TPP
Layout plan of the Trinco TPP on topological map [Source: EIA Report]
General Layout Plan of the Trinco TPP
General Layout Plan of the Trincomalee TPP [Courtesy: Environmental Impact Assessment Report]
“I have seen the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the coal power plant project. The IAR has not taken in to account the real demography of the resettled Champoor and Koddiyaar Bay,” the expert noted.

For example, the EIA states: “The proposed construction areas in Koddiyar Bay (Pipeline route and intake structure) and Shell Bay (Pipeline route and outfall structure) are not used for commercial fishing and the nearest boat-landing sites are at about 1 km from these sites. However, the construction activities may hamper the movement of the boats/ endanger the safety of fishermen. In order to avoid the same, the construction area shall be cordoned off, clearly marked and made visible during both day and night periods.”

Similarly, the real density of population of the resettled Moothoor East has not been taken into account by those behind the EIA, the expert said.

The EIA states: “The area surveyed and the surrounding area is presently uninhabited. [...] The area now is covered scrub and there is no agriculture being done in the area.”

The present EIA report has been prepared by New Delhi based Mantec Consultants (Pvt.) Limited.

“If the people are allowed to resettle, a new EIA report would be required and it would question the feasibility options. This is why Mr Sampanthan and others are reluctant to push for a speedy resettlement,” the expert further said.

Isopleths showing SO2 concentration during monsoon seasons in Champoor
Isopleths for Maximum Incremental Concentration of SO2 (μg/m3) due to Operation of Trincomalee Thermal Power Project (2x250 MW) without Flue Gas Desulphurization during Northeast Monsoon [left] First InterMonsoon Season [middle] and Southwest Monsoon [right]. [Courtesy: EIA Report]

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