By Ranil Senanayake –
While the stench of the Meethotamulla tragedy is still in the air and while the politicians and their advisors are scurrying around pointing fingers, it is time for us to take to task those corrupt persons who issue EIA’s to facilitate any dirty business. A Government that voluntarily accepts to get environmental clearance for actions that will affect the populace, just to please ‘investors’ or to free them from their obligations, is a government that is robbing our safety of its citizens for short-term gain.
Now that it is obvious that the ‘assurances’ given to the population of Meethotamulla, only brought disaster and loss, it is time to re-visit the ‘Port City’ and the assurances that this nation has received. In September 2015, the following observation was made in the national media. It asked for the sections of the EIA that dealt with the impact on air quality, water availability, power production and garbage disposal from this Port City. Of course there was not the slight response from the Ports Authority representing the Government of Sri Lanka, just an assurance that it was safe.
With the huge, highly consumptive population that is suppose to people these new high rises, the current garbage crisis will be increased exponentially and it is not the dwellers of these new cities and megapolises who will have to die under garbage mounds, it will be those unfortunate poor, living in the areas with least political power. The question that was posed to the promoters of the Port City in 2015 was this; “we are already choking in our garbage, will Colombo be the repository of garbage for the new city?” There is no provision for garbage disposal other than to say that the government will deal with it. We all know now how the government deals with it! With this new city with no responsibilities nor obligations to us, must we say goodbye to the old city now destined to come a slum of the new city?
The other factor ignored by the creators of the EIA for the port city was our right to breathable air. The medical studies on the city of Colombo indicate that over 50% of the citizens living there suffer some degree of respiratory problems. This statistic is a consequence of the quality of air that we have to breathe. The air quality though poor is kept reasonable fresh, by the input of air from the ocean.
Constructing a multi story barrier to the clean ocean breeze that Colombo currently enjoys, will be shut it off any fresh air entry forever. In its place Carbon monoxide, Ozone, dust and PM2.4 will increase. There is no reference at all in the port city project documents available to us that addresses blocking the inflow of fresh air into Colombo. There is nothing in the documents that indicate the levels of Carbon monoxide, PM2.4, Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen that will be produced by the port city. There are no studies to indicate how these pollutants will flow and if they will affect the citizens of Colombo.
Given our recent experiences at Meethotamulla, one has to be very cautious of the permissions and permits that they issue. The EIA on the port city demonstrates the partiality of the government towards the ‘investors’ against the interests of the citizens of this nation.
The guiding principles for its formulation of the SEIA for the Port City states:
“(b) The Terms of the Agreement entered into between the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, acting on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), and CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd (the Project Company), … stipulates inter alia that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)/GOSL is responsible for securing the required environmental permits and approvals.”
Such an undertaking by the GoSL can be seen to be in direct violation of its responsibilities under Article 27 subsection 14 (of the Constitution):
“The State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.”
This means that when the Government of Sri Lanka agrees to get all the approvals that Parliament of Sri Lanka has set up to protect its citizens and preserve their rights, it is like a snake swallowing its own tail !
As the Government has agreed to supply the water to the new city, there is no indication as to where the water to run this city will come from. We all know that water is becoming harder to access due to the decreasing availability of water in the Kelani watershed. With our Government agreeing to provide water without stipulating where it will obtain the water from, at a time of a competitive demand for water between the new city and Colombo, it is not hard to guess who will get it, Colombo will have to get used to having fewer baths.
Then there is the question of power; will Sri Lanka have to suffer the health ill effects of fossil carbon-fired power plants to supply the new city with its needs? Is this the reason that there is such eagerness to build more and more polluting power plants?
If we leave the obtaining of environmental safeguards from the port city project only to the government the price that we will have to pay is obvious. Even at this late stage, there must be a strong public voice. We must ensure that the Phase 2 EIA is conducted properly and examine any construction on the reclaimed land done without the phase 2 EIA
Phase 2 EIA: Construction of the buildings and infrastructure of the Port City. This EIA study will be based on the concept master plan and infrastructure requirements submitted to the UDA (and described in this SEIA in Chapter 2). The construction of permanent structures/built environment on the landfill will take place only upon receiving necessary approvals for the Phase 2 EIA study.
To begin any activity stipulated above without the phase 2 EIA, would mean a contravention of the law. Meethotamulla is the illustration of the price to pay when officials become corrupt and subvert the law. Let us await the Phase 2 EIA for the port city and keep a close eye on the goings on at the landfill.