Uma Oya project to go ahead: Minister

Mahinda Amaraweera

The government will go ahead with the completion of the Uma Oya Multi-purpose Development Project as the majority of work has already been completed, Mahaweli Development State Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said yesterday.

“The project would resolve water issues in the Moneragala District and while the last government also planned to take water to Hambantota through it, due to protests, we have limited the project to Moneragala,” the Minister said.

“We also expect it to serve the Badulla district,” the minister said addressing a media briefing at the Fisheries and Aquatic Resouces Ministry.

He stressed that contrary to various reports, almost 45 percent of the project had been completed when the government took over office in 2015.

According to the State Minister, it would take another three years of remedial measures to bring back the water table to normal after the project had dried up many of the brooks in the area.

“At this point, it is better to complete the project and resolve the environmental problems than stop it all together,”the Minister said.

Amaraweera who is part of a three member Cabinet Sub-Committee to look into the issues surrounding the project undertook a tour of the area and recently submitted his findings to the President.

On Thursday evening, the Ministry of Mahaweli Development released a statement stating that drill machines at the lower sector of the tunnel will be removed within the next ten days and excavation work would be suspended until a water leak is fixed.

“The Swiss team which was consulted for the project has recommended that we use a more modern machine for excavations which can seal the leaks after drilling. We should have used such a machine from the start but that was not done. We are going to bring down the parts needed for that,” Amaraweera said.

A team from Norway too is set to visit the country on July 31 and the Minister added that the government take further action based on their report which is expected to be submitted by August 15.

“We will seek both local and foreign expertise on it. But thus far it has become clear that a project of such nature and magnitude needed a more in depth environmental impact assessment than what had been done,” he said.

“Our reports also indicate that these drilling machines were more suitable for desert conditions and not sensitive environments like ours. If we used the right machinery, such water issues would not have arisen,” he added.

The state minister also revealed that the Iranian company; FARAB Energy and Water Project Company contracted to undertake the project had no experience in this area and it was their first such project.“Perhaps they were recommended by the Iranian government. We are not sure, but all this would be looked into by the Parliament Select Committee appointed to investigate into it,”he said.

Iran, said Amaraweera had initially provided a loan of USD 50 million for the project in 2008 but the funds had dried up later on.

“The project is now fully funded by the government and was expected to cost Rs.80 billion in total but with the recent environmental disaster, costs are expect to increase significantly, he added.

“We have thus far spent Rs.67 million,”Amaraweera said.

(Source: Daily News – By Zahrah Imtiaz)