Uma Oya

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Sajeewa Chamikara

It is safe to assume that Uma Oya Multipurpose Development project has been one of the most environmentally destructive initiatives that have been carried out in Sri Lanka. Due to the adverse effects of the construction of tunnels and bunds, necessary for the projects, around 4750 families from Bandarawela, Hali Ela, Welimada, Uva Paranagama, Ella and Wellawaya divisional secretariats, which belong to Badulla and Bandarawela districts, have been affected. In the last few months a number of water sources, vital for agriculture in the area, have dried out due to the leaks which have occurred due to the tunneling. This has meant that hundreds of wells have died out and thousands of acres of agricultural lands have become unusable. Moreover the drilling has made the earth unstable which in turn means that thousands of buildings have been damaged. While thousands of people whose property was damaged demand compensation, those who had been initially displaced after government took over their land for the construction of the project complain that they have not been compensated. In addition farmers who depended on 19 irrigation schemes, including Bathmedilla Irrigation Scheme, that feed from the Uma Oya waters, have also affected by the Uma Oya Project as the water allocated for these minor irrigation schemes become increasingly limited.

Who is responsible for this disaster?

The current administration is also responsible for this disaster although it was the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration which initiated the project. The current administration is aware that the project was initiated violating a number of environment laws using a false Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and that intellectuals, environmentalists and the residents of the area oppose this initiative, however by allowing the project to go on, the current administration has ensured that they are also partly responsible for this ecological catastrophe.

The Central Environmental Authority (CEA), which approved the Uma Oya Project although it was obvious that the EIA was faulty, must take responsibility for the massive damages caused by the Uma Oya Project. Moreover Sri Jayewardenepura University whose academics lead the EIA, is also responsible for the after effects of the project. However at the end of the day those who suffer are not politicians, the officials at the CEA or the academics at the university, but the ordinary people of Uva Province.

The project was initiated by Mahinda Rajapaksa in a bid to shore up the 'development projects' in Hambantota that desperately needed vast quantities of water. Displacement of people During the construction of the 15.15 kilometer tunnel, from the newly constructed Mahathatilla tank to the Karandagolla underground power station, areas along the tunnel were devestated. Makulella, Heel Oya, Kurunkude Gama, Hevenwala, Udu Ulpatha, Beddearawa, Liyangahawela, Veheragala Tenna, Kurundugolla, Egodagama, Udaperuwa, Medaperuwa, Ampitiya, Palleperuwa, Karagahawela, Boralanda, Rajakotuwa, Angurukotuwa, Puhulpola, Dikkapitiya, Ihala Kotawara, Pahala Kotawara, Ambadandegama, Thanthiriya, Keenigama, Dova, Dikarawa, Medahinna, Bindunuwewa, Watagamuwa, Gediyarodha, Ettalapitiya, Samachetiyagama, Panangala, Mirahawatte, Purana, Doolgolla, kandearawa, Mahaulpotha, Badulugastenna, Maduwelpathana, Kirioruwa, Isuru Uyana, Arawatte, Udeswedduma, Walasbedda, Kebillewela North, Kebillewela South, Visaka Mawatha, Eranawela, Mahagalahinna, Kolatenna and Abayapura villages have lost the use of wells. Moreover 7100 houses have been damaged and have become uninhabitable. 42 houses in Bandarawela divisional secretariat and 15 houses in Ella divisional secretariat area have been completely destroyed. Those whose houses have been completely destroyed have been provided houses on rent, however most of those affected by the project have not been compensated in anyway.

A number of villages were also affected by the construction of a 3.9 kilometer tunnel, carrying water from the proposed Puhulpola Tank to Mahathetilla tank. Residents of Lunuwatte, Medapansala, Dikkapitiya, Puhulpola, Koskanuwa and Balathotaella have seen their houses been damaged, their water sources dry out and their farm lands destroyed. Apart from private residences 23 places of worship have also been damaged by the tunneling of the Uma Oya project. Among these are several historically important places of worship including Dowa Raja maha Viharaya, Heel Oya Purana Viharaya, Makul Ella Purana Viharaya and the Muslim mosque at Palleperuwa. Moreover cracks have appeared on most of the buildings of Makul Ella Vidyalaya (school), Bandarawela Central College and Dharmashoka Central College, which have become unusable.

The EIA report for the project has not warned of any of these consequences, mainly because those preparing the report had not conducted the nevessary surveys and tests. It is now obvous that the EIA report was extremely faulty and is one of the weakest EIAs conducted in Sri Lankan history.

These side effects stared soon after the underground tunneling for the project commenced. The tunnel, carrying water from Puhulpola Tank to Mahathetilla tank, has been now completed. Those in charge of tunneling facilitated the excavation by detonating explosives underground. Almost nine kilometers, of the tunnel carrying water to the underground power station from Mahathetilla tank, have been competed using two Tunnel Boring Machines. However with the end of the tunneling for this phase, massive environmental damage has commenced and it is obvious that if the planned 26 kilometers of tunneling takes place the entire range of mountains in Uva province would be destabilized leading to unthinkable destruction.
Currently the construction of the main tunnel which was takplace from Mahathetilla tank to Karandagolla has been halted at Panangala. Meanwhile the construction of another section of this main tunnel, from Karandagolla to Mahathetilla, had to bing e halted at Dikulpatha due to uncontrollable water leaks. The first major water leak and sinking of the land took place in Makul Ella while the second occured at Udaperuwa. Due to these two water leaks all water sources from Ambadandegama to Weheragala Tenna, Makul Ella, Heel Oya, Palleperuwa and Udaperuwa have dried out. All water sources used by residents of Keenigama, Buindunu Wewa, Hapugalulpatha and Dik Ulpatha are currently being dried out due to a third water leak which occurred recently.

All this tunneling has taken place in areas with metamorphic rocks which are more resistant to deformation and weathering than sedimentary rocks. Thus the tunneling has destabilized ground leading to cracks appearing on the surface, which in turn has caused cracks to appear on the buildings in these areas. Moreover as ground water seeps deeper due to the destabilization, the surface water also lowers depriving water for agriculture and general consumption.
In 37 grama niladari divisions in Badulla district, around 3090 wells and 45 water sources have completely dried out. What is extremely worrisome is that already a number of catchment areas of Heel Oya, Galekka Oya, Kakkutu Arawa, Nanu Arawa, Gal kande Arawa, Ambagaha Kandura, Viyali Waguru Ela, Deiyange Kumburu Ela, Welangala Ulpatha Ela, Iluk Arawa Wewa, Welitenne Arawa Ela, Bedde Arawa Ela, Amunu Dowa Ela, Panangala Wewa, Minuwan Ulpatha Wewa, Palleperuwa Ela, Dik Arawa Oya, Kurundugolla Oya, Nattarankandura Ela, Kirinde Oya, Badulugastenna Oya, Budunge Arawa Ela, Galle Arawa Ela, Dik Ulpatha kandura, Diyawetunu Kandura, Dehigas Arawa Kandura, Pita Kandura and Badulu Oya have dried out. The above mentioned water sources are vital for the farming of the area.

Around 2200 acres of farm lands which fed off these canals and rivers have been abandoned since late 2015. Moreover Ravana Ella, which is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sri Lanka, have also dried out. In addition water sources like Bindunu Wewa, Aluthgama Peella, Dik Arawa, maha Wanguwa Peella, Nanu Arawa, Gal Ekka Peella, Isuru Uyana, Pallekaruwata Peella, Palleperuwa, Peelle Arawa peella, Medaperuwa Peella and Badulugastenna Peella, which are vital for the daily needs of those living in the area have also dried out in recent months.

As a temporary solution for this dire lack of water 4511 families who live in 37 Grama Niladari divisions have been given water tanks to store water distributed by 57 bowsers. 642 families who have seen their farm lands devastated have received Rs. 266.5 million as compensation. However the aid was only given for one farming season and 642 families are only a fraction of those who have been affected. Families with damaged houses have been paid compensation from Rs. 1500 to Rs 12.7 million. However most people with damaged houses have received no compensation at all and only a few individuals with political connections or bargaining power have received any kind of compensation.
As mentioned above water bowsers are used distribute water to those without any access to water. However affected families only receive water only once in a few days and they receive between 500 - 1000 litres of water per week. Unfortunately, assistance can’t be provided to those living in difficult to access areas because water bowsers and tractors carrying water can't reach them. These people have to walk long distances to access water and some who are doubtful about the quality of water carried by bowsers have resorted t buying bottled water.

In addition people who receive water find it difficult to store the water they receive. Some household use a water tank while others are compelled to store the water in various cans. But this means that these families can’t store enough water till the next water delivery and they have to travel long distances to get access to water.

As mentioned above 2200 acres of farmland has been completely destroyed by the floods as underground water leaks have drained the surface water. Many other farmers also find it increasingly difficult to continue. This in turn has led to the loss of thousand s of tons of vegetables and has pushed the prices of vegetables up in the market.

Another problem facing farmers who have lost their harvest is the complexity of the compensation process. Initially the Department of Agrarian Services officials paid compensation after recommendations from the chairman of farmers' associations. Now the farmers, expecting compensation, need to provide a copy of a freeholder's deed, proof of asset transfer, survey plans, bank account details and a completed application which has to be certified by the chairman of the farmers' association. This means that farmers have to fill in a lot of paper work and spend money on obtaining the necessary documents.

The reason for the introduction of this complicated process was the discovery that Department of agrarian Services officials and office bearers of farmers association had misused significant funds earmarked for compensation. Some office bearers of farmers’ association s had manipulated the system so those not affected by the project receive compensation while those who have been affected were stuck in limbo. Agrarian Services officials and office bearers of farmers associations who have been found guilty of such misuses must be investigated and punished.

The disastrous plan for Uma Oya

උThe disastrous consequences of Uma Oya was not unexpected. We had insisted that this project would be an unimaginable ecological disaster in 2008, when the project was sin the planning stage. However those in power were only interested in building a larger than life image and making a pile from commissions, thus our warnings were unheeded. Although the initial estimate for the project was US $ 250 million, Iranian FARAB Energy and Water Project Company was given the task of completing this project for US $ 553 million. Thus leaders of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration have embezzled more money than the estimated cost of the project. Iranian EXIM bank provided a 20 year loan for the project without conducting any technical evaluation.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration took large loans from such financial institutions because these institutions were willing to fund any harmful project and it was much easier to get commissions. By this time reputed financial organizations were not willing to fund projects in the country, therefore the Rajapaksa administration turned towards institutions like Iranian EXIM bank.

The feasibility of such a project based on Uma Oya was first considered in 1987. The German consulting firm LAHAMAYOR carried out the feasibility study. Once again in 1991 the Central Engineering Consulting Bureau did a feasibility study and presented it to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which rejected the proposal citing that it has failed to adhere to accepted international norms. Between 2002 and 2003 a Canadian Consulting Firm SNC - LAVALIN also carried out a feasibility to study to determine the possibility of a multipurpose development project based on Uma Oya. In all these studies attention was said on the feasibility of constructing two tanks in Puhulpola and Dayaraba. When this proposal was presented to the ADB in 1991, the rejected the proposal stating that there are numerous technical issues with the proposal and as transferring water between water basins. However since the Iranian Bank didn't consider such objections as valid concerns, the Rajapaksa administration had no problem in obtaining a colossal loan to implement the project. With this aid Uma Oya project was inaugurated on Tuesday (29) at Wellawaya, with the participation of Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickramanayaka, Iranian Commerce Minister, Meer Kashami and Energy Deputy Minister Rasul Shahir.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved on 20 February 2008 the Cabinet memorandum presented by Minister of Irrigation on February 12, 2008. There were several stated aims which were producing electricity, providing irrigated and drinking water and supplying water for industrial projects. Among the projects that were to be supplied water are the Mattala Airport, Hambantota Port, Hambantota Industrial Zone and Hambantota Oil Refinery. The Iranian bank of course was not interested in the violation of the people’s rights or the various technical faults. Although institutions like the World Bank or ADB pays attention to the impact of a project on the people, the Chinese and Iranian financial institutions that funded the various projects of during the Rajapaksa Administration paid no heed to such issues. These institutions are also not responsible for any issue that arose from the projects that they fund. For example the Chinese Government stated that they are not responsible for the effects of the Port City Project and it is up to the Sri Lankan government to deal with any consequence.

The pre-feasibility study report of the project commenced only after placing the foundation stone on 20 July 2008. This was done by Mahab Ghodss Consulting Engineering Company. By November 2010 the University of Sri Jayewardenepura prepared a three volume EIA report on Uma Oya Project on behalf of the Ministry of Irrigation. This was made available for public comment for 30 working days from December 27, 2010. Environmental organizations, farmers associations, community based groups and a number of those affected by the project submitted a large number of objections, the highest number ever for an imitative, to the Central Environmental Authority during this period. Not to be outdone the CEA approved the report on April 2012 giving it conditional approval. However the construction of the project had already commenced and thus the EIA report was just an eyewash. The permission given by the CEA gave a bad example which encouraged others to violate environmental laws. Ultimately it is the people of the area that have to suffer the consequences.

The errors of the EIA

The EIA for the Uma Oya project was one of the weakest such reports in recent years and was a main contributor to the devastation which has occurred. The EIA was so carelessly prepared that it had even omitted a section on Study of Alternatives. The academics that had prepared the report had merely taken off sections from previous reports on diverting Uma Oya waters to Southern Sri Lanka and the report was merely a document to justify the project. In fact it is safe to say that the report had not looked at any negative impacts that can arise from the project.

If the study was conducted properly the EIA report should have identified three separate occasions to construct the tank and the tunnels. Then out of the three the best location should have been selected. But since those conducting the EIA have not followed these basic procedures, the commencement of the Uma Oya Project ended up being a massive disaster.

The rainy season for the Uma Oya basin and the Southern Province fall around the same time, during the North Eastern monsoon season. During this period the capacity of tanks and other holding areas in the Southern Province are full and thus can't hold the water directed to the province from the Uma Oya project. Thus it is obvious that this project is not the most productive one, however the Rajapaksa administration ignored this reality for personal gain.

There is nothing in the EIA report on the destabilization of the soil, the impact on underground water and the water sources. The underground tunneling has had a devastating effect because these run through areas that are highly prone to landslides. Due to this there is a possibility of intense landslides, increase in soil erosion, higher rate of sediment gathering in water sources and the depletion of ground water during the entire period of tunneling. However there was no reference to this in the EIA and now the people of the area have had to suffer the consequences.

The cost of the project

This project is targeted to be completed by the Iranian Company named Farab, within five years. Total expenditure is estimated to be Rs. 76,316 million out of which Rs. 24,600 million will be at the expense of the Sri Lankan Government. The expenditure estimated for construction work is Rs. 60,842 million. 85% of it will be granted by the Export Development Bank of Iran where as the Sri Lankan government will foot the rest of the bill. In addition, an estimated sum of Rs. 15,475 millions pertaining to costs of land acquisition, resettlement, environmental mitigation, restoration of the irrigation network, project management and consultancy is to be covered by the Sri Lankan government itself.

The main reason why the reclamation and resettlement during the project was delayed was because the state does not have the necessary funding for this. The EXIM bank of Iran wanted to ensure that the money they gave as a loan returns to Iran through getting an Iranian contractor to build the project. Moreover Sri Lanka has to pay back the loan in 20 years. The Iranians didn't want to be involved in resettlement and compensation because the money spent on that would remain in Sri Lanka.

The impact on irrigation schemes due to Uma Oya project

The water basin of Uma Oya is around 720 square kilometers. 65% of it falls under the Uva Province and 35% Central Province. A 350 square kilometer catchment area of Uma Oya will be upstream to the tanks which will be built under this project. Under the project 145 million cubic metres of Uma Oya water will be diverted to Kirindi Oya, out of which 30 will be used as drinking water and for industries while the rest will be used for irrigation schemes.

Downstream of Puhulpola and Mathetilla dams, built under the Uma Oya Project, there are a number of small, medium and large scale irrigation and hydro power projects. These projects assist those living in Udaperuwa, Hawelagama, Galpadi tenna, Weliara, Diyakole, Pahaminithota, Horathota, Deegalla, Pallegama, Panakanniya, Mahakumbura, Medipokuma, Bambarapana, Hathkinda, Maswatte, Wetalawa, Halaniha, Yalagamuwa, Boramada, Mudagamuwa and Bathmedilla areas. Providing water for Rantembe reservoir, Bathmedilla, Mahathetilla and Minipe schemes are among the mass scale projects established downstream Uma Oya. When the Mahaweli project was planned, water from Uma Oya was diverted to Rantembe Reservoir which in turn was used to irrigate a large area. If the Uma Oya water is taken away all these projects would be adversely affected and will lead to the destruction of large agricultural areas. Thousands of farmers would lose their livelihoods and large quantities of vegetables will not be produced.

Moreover Uma Oya is a vital source of water for the Mahaweli B and C Zones and if the water is diverted elsewhere a large number of people living in these areas would be adversely affected. This will not only be a violation of their human rights as well as an economic catastrophe. The harvests from these areas are the fruits of hundreds of millions of dollars invested for the Mahaweli Project and the government will have to invest similar amounts of money to create alternative sources of water.

The nature of the Uma Oya project

Uma Oya project is a two part project. First phase is to produce electricity while the second phase is for irrigation. For these objectives a number of underground tunnels have to be built. In the beginning of the project is the construction of two tanks to divert water from Uma Oya. Puhulpola Tank will be constructed on the Puhulpola Oya, one of the main tributaries of Uma Oya. Water collected there will be taken to Mahathetilla tank, on Mahathetilla Oya, through a 3.9 kilometer long and 3.5 meters diameter tunnel. From the Mahathetilla tank the water is taken to the underground power station at Alikota Ara, Karandagolla, through a 15.15 kilometer long and 4.3 meters diameter tunnel. The underground power station, 618 metres below surface, is to produce 120 megawatts of power and is expected to contribute 231 giga-watts hours to the national grid. The generated power will be taken to Badulla through 132 kilowatt high voltage transmission lines. These lines, 27 kilometers long, go through Ravana Ella Sanctuary and will divide the forest . This will have a grave impact on the biodiversity and the catchment areas.

After power is generated the water is taken to Alikota Ara Tank, through a 3.33 kilometers tunnel which is 4.1 meters in diameter. This water is then taken to Kirindi Oya. Moreover the water will also be diverted to Kuda Oya Tank, built on the Southern Alikota Ara canal, a newly constructed structure 26.8 kilometers long. The canal is to provide water for a large number of farmlands. Another canal, Left Alikota Ara canal will take water to Handapanagala Tank.

The project aims to newly develop 4500 hectares and 1500 hectares that are already being used by people. A number of development activities are planned in Badulla, Hambantota and Moneragala Districts including the construction of tanks, dams, tunnels, access ways, new canals, underground power stations, resettlement areas, new farmlands, high voltage transmission lines, office complexes, labour camps, sites to excavate construction materials, storage units and areas to store soil and rock removed during constructions and excavations. These activities will take a significant amount of land.

Seven separate tunnels will be built as a apart of the project. These seven tunnels constitutes of the 3.9 kilometer long tunnel that takes water from Puhulpola Tank to Dayaraba Tank, the 15.15 kilometer long tunnel that takes water from Dayaraba Tank to the underground power station, the three tunnels with a collective length of 2.24 km built to access the fore-bay tanks in this conduit at three different locations, a 1.44 km tunnel built to access the hydropower station and to convey the high-voltage electricity transmission line to the surface and the and the 3.33km conduit which transfers water from the power house to the Alikota Ara regulating reservoir. The overall length of the tunnels add up to 26 kilometers while the amount of soil estimated to be removed during the excavations can fall between 440,000 cubic meters to 1,110,000 cubic meters.

The river in which the Puhulpola Tank is built on is referred to as Puhulpola Oya, Dangolla Oya, etc. by those living in the area and is one of the two main tributaries of Uma Oya. The Puhulpola Oya originates from Piduruthalagala Mountain and is fed by catchment areas in Hakgala Strict Nature Reserve and Kandapola - Seethaeliya Reserve. It travels down Welimada River, creating the Bomburu Water Fall. Puhulpola Tank is built on this rivulet at the 104 kilometer post along Badulla - Welimada Road. The dam is 45 meters tall and 210 meters long. Its six meters in width. The capacity of the Tank is 18.5 hectares and was supposed to be built on farm land that belonged to 128 families. 98 houses were also located in this area. Residents of Divikotawara and Puhulpola villages, along the Southern bank of the Tank, and residents of Ihala and Pahala Kotawara, along the Left bank of the Tank, as well as some people living near the Welimada Town have been displaced by the construction of the Tank. Moreover three kilometers of Badulla - Welimada road as well as access ways to Ihala and Pahala Kotawara villages have also been submerged.

The other main tributary of Uma Oya, Mahathetilla Oya, which originates at Horton Plains and flows through Balagala, Dambetenna and Haputale links up with Puhulpola Oya at Demodara, below Welimada Town, to form what people recognize as Uma Oya. The second main tank, Dayaraba or Mahathetilla Tank is being built at Etampitiya. The dam is 50 meters high, 142 meters long and six meters wide and has the capacity of 15.6 hectares. Farm lands that belong to 69 families were submerged due to the construction of the tank.

Due to these two construction and the increasing of capacity of Handapanagala Tank a large number of farm lands will submerge. Moreover a number of new canals will be built under the Alikota Ara water control Tank and Kuda Oya Tank and Handapanagala Anicut will be built damming Kirindi Oya. The irrigation scheme commenced from the Alikota Ara water control Tank which has the holding capacity of two million cubic meters. Its Southern bank Canal goes up to the proposed Kudaoya tank, a length of 26.8 kilometers. This canal will provide water to 11 tanks and six anicuts including Batala Ara Tank, Buduruwagala Tank, Dingiara tank, Karuwalakanda Tank, Alugalle Tank, Kirimetiyawa Tank, Meegasara Tank, Dambaara Tank, Daha Ate Tank, Maha Ara Tank and Polkatu Tank. The overall area earmarked for development is 624 hectares. The water from Alikata Ara ends up at Kirindi Oya. From the proposed Handapanagala Anicut, a new canal is being built to feed Handapanagala tank. The Southern Bank Canal of the Handapanagala Anicut provides water for 750 hectares and the Left Bank Canal of the Handapanagala Anicut provides water for 1539 hectares.

663 hectares will be provided water from Southern Bank Canal of Kudaoya Proposed Tank. In addition the water diverted from Uma Oya will be sent to Lunugamwehera Tank through Kirindi Oya. It has been proposed to provide irrigated water for a number of areas, through the Southern Bank and Left Bank Canal of Lunugamwehera Tank.

Farm lands and livelihoods destroyed by the project

In the areas that are earmarked for the two tanks, a significant number of people grow paddy and vegetables, especially potatoes. Paddy is grown during the Maha Season while vegetables are grown in the Yala season. 153 metric tons of paddy, valued at Rs. 4.6 million, have been lost due to the loss of these farm lands. 135 metric tons of vegetables, valued at six million rupees, have also been lost. These are the estimates of the government, however our research has indicated that the actual sum might be twice the government's estimate.

Alikota Ara Tank has been built displacing 25 families residing in Kurugama and Kotikanbokka grama niladari divisions and submerging 350 acres of paddy fields. Nagahawela yaya paddy field in Kurugama grama niladari division and Kamarangawa, Medawela and Kosgahawela paddy fields in Kotikanbokka grama niladari division are the submerged paddy fields. Those displaced have been resettled in Thelulla on 40 perch plots and those who lost farm lands are to be given land in the area developed under the Handapanagala Tank.

The loss of 350 acres of paddy lands is a blow to the rice production in the country. This in turn affects our food security. Paddy is grown mainly during the Maha season while some farmers also grow during the Yala season. An acre of paddy land, on average, produces 90 bushels or 1800 kilos. Thus the total loss from the destruction of the paddy fields is 630 000 kilos.

Those displaced due to the construction of Puhulpola and Mahathetilla tanks have so far not being resettled. 140 acres of Puhulpola, Divithotawala, Kotawara Pallegama and Kotawara Udagama villages were taken over for the construction of Puhulpola Tank. 54 acres were taken over for the construction of Mahathetilla Tank. Those displaced have been resettled in 50 acres in Moragolla, 25 acres in Miragahawatte and 16 acres in Ketakella. However they have not been adequately compensated and have not been given lands for agriculture. They also lack infrastructure necessary to fulfill basic necessities and there are some who have not been given any compensation. There are a number of issues in the resettlement process and this is a gross violation of their human rights.

Another 33 families lost their houses and farm lands due to the construction of Kuda Oya and Alikota Ara Tanks in Wellawaya. They have also been resettled in areas without any access for livelihood.

Those displaced by the Puhulpola Tank have been resettled in a areas which used to be tea estates on a steep incline. There is also no access to water and when they were resettled those with personal connections to divisional secretaries received better deals while those who needed the most help often ended up with the worst. Those resettled were given plots of land between 10 to 40 perches. Those who got 10 perches find it almost impossible to build a house in that plot of land given the steep incline.

The authorities have also valued the lost farm lands at an extremely low rate and have not taken into consideration the productivity of individual plots. A lot of people claim that they collect harvest thrice a year from their land and that the government has valued the land at extremely low rate.

Farmers in the area grow crops thrice a year. From January to June they plant paddy. From early July to January they plant vegetables, mainly beans and tomatoes, in two batches. Some farmers have harvested between 10 000 to 15000 kilos of tomatoes, valued around Rs 200 000, from a 40 perch land in one season. Around 3000 tomato pants are planted in a 40 perch land and each plant produces between 5 to 8 kilos. Moreover in one bean harvest a farmer can collect about 700 to a 1000 kilos. Farmers also plant other crops like pumpkin, Kohlrabi, radish, etc. in a smaller scale. However such a plot of land has been valued at Rs 10 000 a perch.

Most of these farmers have seen their crops damaged 12 times in the last few years and the government has decoded only to compensate one harvest. Moreover those who have lost their farm lands have been given alternative lands in areas developed by Handapanagala, which is a long distance away from where they have been resettled. Handapanagala is situated in Wellawaya, Moneragala and farmers from colder areas like Welimada are not accustomed to farming in dryer and warmer areas. Not only do they have to engage in unfamiliar agricultural practices but also they have to travel a long distance to reach the farm lands. Thus we have seen a large number of people fining employment in the nonagricultural sector.
Those who have been resettled in Meeragahawate have not yet been given deeds and the officials have not marked the plots of land in which they are to live. In some cases the surveying has only been done after people built houses and this has created serious issues. People also find it impossible to get a bank loan because there is no deed.

Those who have been resettled in Meeragahawatte also find it difficult to obtain clean drinking water. The existing water supply is contaminated and there have been no attempts to purify this water before supplying to the people. 64 families have been settled in 19 acres at Meeragahawatte most of them have been given plots on land in steep inclines Building a house in such a land costs a significant amount of money and the compensation given to them is not adequate for this.

Most of these resettled here are vegetable farmers; however they do not have access to water necessary to continue farming. This has also meant that they have to purchase all their food, although in the past they used to grow most of the food they ate. Thus their cost of living has also gone up although their livelihood has collapsed.

80 families, from Ihala Kotawara, Pahala Kotawara, Thanahena and Udagama, who were displaced when the Puhulpola Tank was built are resettled in Moragolla, Uva Paranagama. These also face an acute shortage of drinking water. They are also unable to farm in the plots of land given to them, between 10 to 40 perches, because they have no access to irrigated water as well. Although these people have continuously appealed to the Badulla Valuation Department Office to revalue their former properties and provide a just compensation package, so far nothing has been done.

Prior to being displaced residents of Ihala Kotawara, Pahala Kotawara, Thanahena and Udagama used the water from Kotawara Maha Ela and Karagaharawa canal for agriculture. 100 acres of paddy land thus farmed have been taken for the construction of the Puhulpola Tank. Around 15 families who were removed to make way for this tank had previously engaged in animal husbandry and now they are unable to sustain the cows they had.

57 more families were displaced when Handapanagala Tank was expanded under the Uma Oya Project. Seven families out of the 57 were fisher families. 28 houses had also been destroyed. However it does not seem that they will be compensated or resettled and thus those displaced are facing great adversities and mental trauma.

Cabinet approval, National Involuntary Resettlement Policy and the violation of fundamental rights

ජThe Cabinet of Ministers on 30 May 2012 approved a Memorandum by then Minister of Irrigation Nimal Siripala de Silva to commence resettlement and compensation of those who would be displaced by the Uma Oya Project. The Memorandum recognized that due to the construction of Puhulpola, Dayaraba (both on the upper valley), Alikota Ara and Kuma Oya Tanks (on the lower valley) and the expansion of Handapanagala tank a significant number of people will be directly impacted. The Memorandum identified that due to the construction of Puhulpola and Dayaraba Tanks and adjoining tunnels 538 families will be displaced. Construction of Alikota Ara and Kuma Oya Tanks and the expansion of Handapanagala tank would displace 176 families. Moreover the Memorandum stated that 64 rent paying farmers would have lost their livelihoods and that 280 families would lose their houses.

Those displaced from the Upper valley were to be resettled on Moragolla Watte, Dayaraba Watte and Meeragahawatte and were to be given plots of land between 10 - 40 perches. Those displaced in the lower valley were to be resettled on Naigal Ara, Thelulla, Aluthwela and Siyambalagune and were to be given plots of land between 10 - 40 perches.

Those who would lose farm lands, including rent paying farmers, were to be given two acres of land as compensation from the lower valley. The Cabinet Memorandum states that those who had been living in state land from before June 15, 1995, those living in rented hoses, rent paying farmers and subsidiary families all deserved compensation in the form of a hose and land. However officials in charge of acquisition and resettlement have ignored this memorandum and this has adversely affected those who had to give up their property to make way for the Project. Instead of assisting the victims grama niladaris, agrarian services officers, divisional secretaries, valuation officers and the Project Manager do their best to deprive the victims of aid promised by the government.

A number of valuation and appeals committees were established by a cabinet paper approved on July 05, 2012. However these committees have not acted with any transparency or democratically. The divisional secretary is the chairman of these committees and other members include the provincial valuer, district surveying officer, a representative need by the Project and an agrarian services officer from the area. Appeals committees were appointed to address issues that arise from the actions of the valuation committee. The appeals committee is headed by the District Secretary and other members include the Senior Surveying Officer of the district, a senior officer representing the chief valuer, assistant commissioner of Agrarian Services and a senior engineer representing the Uma Oya Project. Thus these committees have been established in Welimada, Uva Paranagama, Ella, Hali Ela and Wellawaya divisional secretariat area. However the heads of these committees on many occasions have prevented people from complaining. The valuation officers have behaved in an arbitrary manner and the appeals committee have for the most part turned a blind eye to the issues that have arisen.
Resettlement activities should be conducted according to the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy which insists on the minimization of social and economic impact of resettlement. According to gazette extraordinary issued on April 07 2009 issued according to the LAND ACQUISITION ACT, No. 09 OF 1950 lists the regulations that are effective for the acquisition where intention of acquisition is published under Land Acquisition Act, on or after 17.03.2009.According to this gazette land acquired for a project must be assessed on market value and all the expense, from valuation of land to resettlement, should be borne by the project implementing agency. The implementing agency must also provide those displaced with economic assistance until their lives return to normal. However none of this has happened and officials seem to be taking advantage of the ignorance of the people.

According to the Sri Lankan constitution 'All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law,' (Section 12. (1)). Section 14 G states that all citizens have 'the freedom to engage by himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise,' while section 14 H states that all citizens have 'the freedom of movement and of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka.' Moreover as a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 Sri Lankan government has the obligation to protect the Human Rights of its citizens. Article seven of the UDHR states that 'all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.' Meanwhile article 17 of the UDHR states that 'everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
However most of those who have become victims of the Uma Oya Project have been deprived of these rights. When acquiring land for the project the officers have intimidated, mislead, inconvenienced and have used force. Buildings were razed before those displaced by Puhulpola Tank had the time to relocate their belongings. The valuation process was a farce for the most time and the victims did not even given the opportunity to appeal to address perceived injustices. This is a blow to the public trust in the law and the fairness of the institutions.

Because of the Uma Oya project a significant number of people in the area have been deprived of the right to engage in a lawful occupation, as well as the right to live in a land of their choosing. Farm land used by the victims has been completely taken away. Those engaged in animal farming have also lost all. Moreover they have been told that they will not be compensated for their loss and most have become laborers for their survival. Thus it is evident that the Uma Oya project has violated the rights of many.

Violating the National Environmental Act

From its inception Uma Oya project has been a violation of the national Environmental Act. According to gazette no 772/22 issued on June 24, 1993 under this act, states that an Environmental Impact Assessment report should be conducted an prior written approval must be obtained before commencing 'All river basin development and irrigation projects excluding minor irrigation works (as defined by Irrigation Ordinance chapter 453,) Reclamation of Land, wetland area exceeding 4 hectares, Extraction of timber covering land area exceeding 5 hectares, Conversion of forests covering an area exceeding 1 hectare into non-forest uses and Clearing of land areas exceeding 50 hectares.
Although the Uma Oya Project is subject to all the above conditions, the foundation stone was laid ignoring the necessity to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment. The EIA report was only prepared two years later in 2010; this is a violation of the national Environmental Act.

Seven years after the EIA report was handed over it is obvious that it was a faulty EIA and the Central Environmental Authority has finally blacklisted the academics that were behind this report. However it has not taken any steps to suspend the conditional approval granted for the EIA, which is the reason why the project goes on. This is also a violation of the national Environmental Act.

ජාAcquisition of land for Uma Oya project, resettlement and compensation

Around 2030 hectares (5022) acres have been taken over in Welimada, Uva Paranagama, Ella, Hali Ela and Wellawaya divisional secretariat areas for various constructions related to Uma Oya Project.

Table 1- Shows the extent of land taken over from various areas for the project.

Reason for taking over land Grama Niladari division Extent of land (Ha)
Construct Puhulpola tank Puhulpola
Kotawara Pallegama
Kotawara Udagama
Construct Dayaraba tank Meeragahawatte
To construct Dayaraba access way Meeragahawatte 3.05
Tunnel exit access way Karandagolla
Power station access way Iluk Arawa 5.46
Tunnel exit gate and access way Nagolla and Koboregama 7.6
Storing the disposed Karandagolla
Camp site Puhulpola
Resettlement of the displaced Moragolla Watte
To build substation Hunu Ketiya 4.2
Built Alikota Ara tank Kotikanbokka and Nagolla 145
Expand Hadapanagala tank Neluwagala 34.32
Hadapanagala left bank canal construction Pubudu Wewa
To build the canal from Alikota Ara tank to Buduruwagala tank Kotikambokka
Alternate land to replace paddy fields that were taken over Pubudu Wewa

196 house had to be removed as the land they were built in were taken over by the Uma Oya project. These include 70 houses in Puhulpola, 3 in Meeragahawatte, 15 in Kotawara pallegama, 45 in Kotawara Udagama, 5 in Nagolla, 30 in Alikota Ara and 28 in Handapanagala. Those who lost houses from Puhulpola, Divithotawala and Meeragahawatte grama niladari divisions of Welimada divisional secretariat area have been resettled in Ketakella while those who lost houses in Uva Paranagama divisional secretariat area have been resettled in Moragolla Watta. Those who lost houses in Wellawaya divisional secretariat area have been resettled in Thelulla. Families have been given plots of lands of 10, 20 and 40 perches and sub families have been given 10 perches each.

Table 2 - lists out how resettled families have been given land in compensation.

Resettled area 10 perch land 20 perch land 40 perch land Total
Meeragahawatte 30 (14 sub-families) 15 19 64
Ketakella 21 (sub-families 10) 02 12 33
Moragolla Watte 18 (sub-families 15) 18 39 75
Thelulla - - 28 28

Table number 03 shows the funds given to people to build houses after the value of their properties were assessed.

Table 3 - Manner in which compensation for housing was paid

Divisional Secretariat Area Number of families that received compensation Total amount paid (In Rs. millions)
Welimada 103
Uva Paranagama 60 93.349
Wellawaya 33 32.095
Total 196 325.597

An allowance is paid for 120 families that lost their livelihoods due to the Uma Oya Project. A family member gets paid Rs 2000 per 18 month. Maximum amount of money paid to a family is Rs 8000. Table number 04 shows the number of families that received compensation.

Table 4 - Number of families that receive livelihood compensation

Divisional secretariat area Number of families that receive livelihood compensation Compensation paid (In Rs. millions)
Welimada 49 5.844
Uva Paranagama 45 5.093
Wellawaya 26 1.834
Total 26 12.771

Land has been taken over for the Uma Oya Project, according to sub section 1 of the amended Land Acquisition Act and the details of the acquisitions are given in several gazettes. These include No 1863/3 gazette notification of 19 may 2014 and 1886/57 gazette notification of 31 October 2014. According to those compensation has been paid for a number of acquired lands, which are detailed in Table 5..

Table 5 - How compensation for land has been paid

Divisional secretariat area Plots of land gazetted to be taken over No of plots that have been compensated for Compensation paid (In Rs. millions)
Welimada 583 316 144.991
Uva Paranagama 337 47 19.413
Ella 35 32 14.971
Wellawaya 341 175 87.544
Hali Ela 102 - -
Total 1398 570 266.918

Farm lands that have been taken over for the Uma Oya project has been compensated, which has been detailed on Table 6.

Table 6 - How compensation for farm land has been paid

Divisional secretariat area Number of farmers who got compensation Compensation paid (In Rs. millions)
Welimada 65 9.140
Uva Paranagama 8 0.292
Ella 28 0.840
Hali Ela 28 0.275
Wellawaya 13 3.166
Total 142 13.713

One of the biggest issues regarding compensation is that not everyone affected has been treated fairly. When compensation was paid for lands taken over for the construction of Puhulpola tank a businessman and businesswoman have been lavishly compensated. The businessman has received Rs 26.5 million while the businesswoman received Rs 15.2 as compensation. On the other hand a large number of farmers have received small sums as compensation.

There have also been a number of irregularities when assessing the value of land taken over for the Uma Oya project. Those who have lost their lands since 2013 have only been compensated for only one harvest season although 12 harvest seasons have been lost. None of those who have lost farm land have been given alternative farm lands. However those who were not directly affected by the project have received alternative lands and compensation based on the recommendations of the grama niladaris. Indrani Rathnayake, grama Niladari for 53F Kotawara pahalagama grama niladari division that belongs to Uva Paranagama divisional secretariat has included Ms. DM Gnanawathi, sub family of her daughter and four other families that she is in good terms with in the list of people that deserve compensation. They have no constructed houses in the land they were resettled on.

In 2016 divisional secretaries informed those whose lands were taken over by the project, but with doubts about the ownership of the land, that the compensation money earmarked for them will be placed in the court. However no further steps have been taken to inform those people about how to claim their compensation. Moreover the compensation of some people, although they have proof of the ownership, has been delayed by officials due to personal animosity. Since there such cases are widely spread there is a need to appoint an independent committee to solve these issues, investigate malpractices and to ensure justice.
The adverse effects on the lower valley due to Uma Oya Project and the land grab in the area earmarked for 'development'
While there is widespread chaos and destruction, politicians have already made plans to build hotels on the border of the Handapanagala Tank which is to be expanded under the Uma Oya Project. Former chairman of Wellawaya local council Rohana Wanniarachchi has encroached on Handapanagala tank reserve and state land adjoining it. At a time when those displaced by the expansion of the Handapanagala Tank are in limbo without a place to live, it is disgusting that politicians have made plans to reap the benefits of the project. One must not be surprised that some politicians are mainly concerned with enriching themselves instead of assisting the people who have been affected by the project. This is something that the voters must keep in mind.

Those who lose farm lands due to the Uma Oya project are to be given alternative lands from clearing up forests around Alikota Ara tank, Kuda Oya tank and Handapanagala tank, in the Kirindi Oya water basin. This will lead to a number of harmful scenarios including loss of forest cover in the catchment areas of Kirindi Oya. This will ensure that the Lunugamwehera tank will be filled with sediment at a much higher rate, due to the increased soil erosion. Meanwhile the alternative farm lands lie near Wetahira Kanda reserve which is an area that is frequented by elephants. When human activity affects the habitats of elephants it always leads to human elephant conflict that will have a devastating impact on both man and animal.

Welimada and Nuwara Eliya, which are situated above the tanks that will be built as a part of the Uma Oya Project, are areas that have a high soil erosion prevalence. Moreover a number of forests in the Kirindi Oya water basin will be cleared up to resettle those displaced. This will also lead to further soil erosion and all this will lead to the filling of Lunugamwehera tank and other tanks which are to be built by sediment. This will ensure that the objectives of the project will not be met as this leads to lowering of holding capacity.

A large number of areas that are to be developed for agriculture through the Uma Oya project are secondary forests, grass lands and forests which are areas that animal farming is prevalant. When these areas are cleared up the land for animal farming decreases which will compel owners of these animals to resort to grazing in protected forests. Already grazing cows have become a major threat for Udawalawa and Lunugamwehera national parks and this problem will intensify with the Uma OuYa development Project.

Transforming the destructive Uma Oya Project into a sustainable project

Those behind and leading the Uma Oya Project have no understanding of these issues and thus the project has left destruction and devastation in its wake.

What is worse is that we have spent significant amounts of funds on this project, which is bound to end in failure, that could have been spend meaningfully on other matters. At present the Sri Lankan government has had to spend a large amount of money to resettle and assist those who have been displaced by the project and this allocation has not even been budgeted as project expenses. We must also think deeply about the justice of spending tax rupees of the people, often taken as indirect taxes which affect the poorer segments of the society more, to patch up the fallout of a disastrous project, which was implemented ignoring our warnings. Thus we would like to implore those in charge to immediately out an end to the project and look at the alternatives that we can take.

We recommend that the tunneling associated with the project must stop immediately as the side effects of tunneling have been an ecological, economic, cultural and social disaster so far. Steps must be taken to refill these tunnels. However we can still use the tanks that are being built as a part of this project. Puhulpola and Mahathetilla tanks can be used as storage units for Uma Oya and to ensure that there is a constant supply of water for the valley below Uma Oya. Alikota Ara and Kuda Oya, built along Kirindi Oya and the expansion of and Handapanagala tank can also be used to improve the storage capacity of Kirindi Oya. On the other hand instead of clearing up 4500 acres of forest land in the Kirindi Oya water basin, they can be protected as catchment forests to ensure the water security of Weheragala and Lunugamwehera tanks.

The underground power station must be removed from its current location and studies should be done to determine the electricity generating capacity of the Uma Oya River.

Moreover the destruction of forests upstream of the Kirindi Oya and Uma Oya rivers must be hated and steps should be taken to replant destroyed forests. This will ensure the water security of these rovers and a constant supply of water will also greatly benefit the existing agriculture lands. Instead of increasing the farm lands, the focus should be on ensuring that there is an adequate supply of water so that farmers can engage in agriculture in both Yala and Maha seasons. This will ensure that farmers in Wellawaya and Thanamalwaila are satisfied.

A proper mechanism should also be established to ensure that the compensation process is just and transparent. A mechanism to supply water hose who had lost access to water must be established and those displaced must be resettled systematically and in a meaningful way.

These steps will minimize the damage caused by the project. When we take sustainable measures, everyone will have to make some sacrifices, but that’s worth it because these sacrifices will ensure the wellbeing of the entire nation.

Farm lands lost due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Farm lands lost from the Mathetilla irrigation scheme due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

People displaced due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

උමා Houses that were destroyed due to the tunneling associated with the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

How the land has sunk in Bandarawela and Ambadandegama after cracks appeared on the ground

How Uma Oya project excavations are taking place

Uma Oya

Farm lands destroyed due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Wells destroyed due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Water sources destroyed due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Underground tunnels built

The foundation stone laid at Wellawaya to mark the beginning of the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Water leaks occurring due to the underground tunneling associated with the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

Dams being built

Farm lands and grass lands lost due to the Uma Oya Multipurpose development Scheme

People using water tanks and plastic buckets to hold water

Farm lands destroyed

The water sources used by the public, now died up

Lands in Mirahawatte where the displaced were resettled. These lands are unsuitable for habitation

Women attempting to collect drinking water

Women attempting to collect drinking water

Water bowsers dispensing water

Uma Oya Project plan