The Colombo Telegraph learns that vital documents relating to the Northern desalination project proposed for Maruthankerny, Thalaiyady, Jaffna have been released by the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB), following the NWSDB being summoned by Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI) Commission last week.
Colombo Telegraph was informed by activists in Maruthankerny who had been agitating on the project for a long time, that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA), the Environmental Management Plan Report (EMP) and the Feasibility Study (FS) regarding Maruthankerny being selected for the Northern desalination project among other documents had been made available to the public under RTI.
The proposed Maruthankerny Northern desalination project had led to peoples’ protests heightening from last year. Students and residents at Maruthankerny, Jaffna alleged that the proposed project to turn sea water into drinking water negatively impacted fisherfolk of the area as well as the eco-system and the coastal environment. Criticism was levelled against the Northern Provincial Council and Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran for not being sufficiently concerned about the negative impact of the project.
In Sri Lanka, many major developments projects are undertaken with poor EIA and EMP assessments which are not available to the people even though the law requires that these are public documents. The disastrous Uma Oya project in Bandarawela commenced during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, which has turned a temperate up-country estate region into a hell-hole where the people’s houses are cracked by sub-standard material being used and there is deprivation of water resources across the region, is one example. One of the main criticisms levelled by environmental activists against the Uma Oya project is that the EIA was conducted by people with insufficient expertise.
In the case of the Maruthankerny Northern desalination project, the EIA and EMP were obtained under the RTI Act when all efforts elsewhere had failed. Maruthankerny activists hailed this as a significant victory for them.
It is also learnt that the RTI Commission had warned the NWSDB regarding its mandatory duty under the RTI Act, No 12 of 2016 to appoint an Information Officer as the Officer had yet not been appointed. Notices were served by the office of the Commission on the head of the NWSDB as the Act allows the CEO of any authority covered by the RTI Act to be cited as the Information Officer if the Information Officer is not appointed.