Colombo Telegraph

EIA Report On The Environmental Impact Of The Colombo Port City

By Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda

Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda

A representative group of over hundred people are submitting their responses to the Director General of the Coast Conservation and Coastal Management Department at Maligawatta on the 6th of January. A period of 30 days was given to the general public to submit their comments on the EIA report on the Colombo Port City. If the authorities were genuinely interested in obtaining public opinion on the assessment, they should have been sensitive to two important realities.

Firstly, an important of document of such nature should have been presented to the general public in a simple language with limited technological and scientific jargon because those directly affected by the project are ordinary citizens of this country and would not be qualified to understand it in technical and scientific language. It is to be regretted that the Coast Conservation and Coastal Management Department has been so insensitive to the above fact.

Secondly, the call for such exercise should not have been called during the month of December. It is simply due to the reason that many who live in the coastal areas, who are deeply affected by the Colombo Port City project, celebrate one of their most important and most popular feasts of their Faith. It is impractical and insensitive to expect from a community to read and understand 400 page document containing so many technological data, maps and diagrams when they are deeply engaged in such a religious and cultural event.

It should be emphasized therefore, the concerned authorities should have published the EIA report either well in advance of the festive season or thereafter. This makes us wonder whether the government was really sincere and serious in receiving the public opinion or was it an attempt made merely to hoodwink the people.

Therefore it is with much regret that people respond to the call of the government for comments on the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report on the proposed Colombo Port City.

Further it is no secret now that this Colombo Port City project is causing serious environmental problems due to the extraction of rocks and mining of sand from the sea. The total quantity of rock materials needed to reclaim the sea is 3.45 million of cubic meters (EIA report, p.95). For this purpose, the authorities have identified 11 quarries from the districts of Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara. The report also notes that only 43% of the available granite materials will be required for the project. The report then concludes that the impact of rock extraction would be negligible.

The question, therefore, is: Did the authorities take into account the adverse impact that extraction of the rocks 4.57% (3.45%+.12%) of granite would have on the environment from where the rocks would be extracted. If not, on what basis do the authorities conclude that the extraction would cause only a negligible impact?

The traditional wisdom of the people tells that water level of the area depends mostly on the granite rocks and if the granite rocks are destroyed the ground water level in the area will definitely decline. Surprisingly, the EIA report mention nothing on the impact of rock destruction on the ground water level in the area.

Another matter that the EIA report has ignored is the impact of rock extraction on the very rich in bio-diversity: a variety of organisms and species such as plants, herbs and tiny animals live in the shrubs found on the rocks. The EIA report has not estimated the impact of rock destruction on the bio-diversity found in the locations from where the rock will be extracted.

The extraction of sand by mining sea-bottom from Hendala to Basiyawatta of Thalahena will create another significant problem due to the deprivation people of their livelihoods as many live on fishing in and around that area. The EIA report too has recognized this aspect (EIA, p.88). As such, it proposes that efforts would be taken to minimize the impact on fishing grounds (EIA, p.25). But the report proposes nothing about the measures that would be to be taken and how they would be carried out.

Although it recommends that fishermen would be informed of the time when extraction of sand would resume and end, they fail to consider that when the breeding grounds for the fish is destroyed it would not be recovered quickly. The report also does not mention when exactly the fishing grounds would recover or the fishermen could return for fishing to earn their livelihoods. Sadly, the report haphazardly, highlights only the damages the project would cause to the fishing grounds and to the livelihoods of the fishermen and recommends, insensitively, an allocation of 500 million rupees as compensation.

In our view, it is an attempt to hide the truth namely that this project is causing a grave violation of fundamental rights of the fisher community. We wish to question how and why the authors of the report have ignored this fact. It is a clear sign that the report has purposely drafted in favor the investors.

It also should be brought to the notice that that the report mentions that there are only 9692 fishermen in the area of Negombo fisheries division. The numbers are very much higher than that is given in the report. The experts team has not taken into account the lagoon fishermen and ‘Katudel’ fishermen. There is a very large community of small traders of fish who seems to have been completely forgotten in the report. When all those numbers are taken into account, the number of fishermen in the area should rise to about 30,000.

It is a known fact that the Negombo lagoon that was one of the riches in Asia is already a dead lagoon. There is a strong fear that life of the lagoon will be further weakened due to sand mining and the construction activities of the Colombo Port City.

It is felt by the fishermen who live along the coastal area of Kammalthota to the Rathmalana that their income has been already reduced due to the depletion of fish resources as a result of sand mining. The fishermen of Modera complain that due to sand mining they suffer the loss of their seashore which was used to tie up their boats. The sand mining is also causing a serious impact on the reef located in the shallow sea. There is an imminent danger of the reef falling apart if sand mining process continues. That would be a disaster affecting the population living in the whole of coastal area.

Another grave failure on the part of the experts of the report is that they have not calculated the cost of 3.45 million of cubic meters of rock materials and 65 cubic meters of sand that we perhaps are giving as a donation to China. The report has also no information about the cost of the damage and destruction that the project is causing to the natural environment. It is the responsibility of the experts to provide such information to the people.

It is with regret we bring to your notice that when the so called experts make a statement in the report such as that the damage the project would have on the environment is “negligible” without making a proper study. That indicates that they are underestimating the adverse impact that the project would have on the environment in favour of the project proponent. The experts by doing so seem to betray their independence.

It has to be mentioned also that although the committee which created the EIA report consists of experts in various fields but there is a doubt whether there has been any expert who had the competence to study and advice on the field of oceanography and eco systems.

Finally one of the serious flaws in the report is the failure on the part of the team to recognize the extent to which this project violates the fundamental rights of the indigenous communities. Nevertheless the fact is that it has begun to happen.

Therefore, the Yahapalana Government should abandon this project without further delay as promised by the President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinhe during their election campaigns.

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