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Sunday, 16 August 2009

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New development drive in South



A comparison of the present Colombo Matara route
and the proposed highway

Kolombata Kiri Apata Kekeri was the popular slogan used by the then JVP to instigate Southern uprising in the late 1980s.

They infused the revolutionary thought into the youth that while the Colombo elite were enjoying themselves all the luxuries the Southern people were given stepmotherly treatment by the then government. There could have been some truth in this as most of the development priorities were focused in the Western province.

The present government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is himself a Son of Ruhuna observed how violently the Southern inspirations were crushed with no attention being paid to human rights, making Sri Lanka a 'killing field'.

As soon as President Rajapaksa took office he did not want history to repeat itself, but addressed the needs of the youth in the country.

The best way to do this was to get the youth involved in the country's economic development and to give effect to it he launched a series of development programs which previous governments thought to be quite impossible.

One of the biggest development projects that has been undertaken is the construction of the Hambantota Port which is the second most important development project after Mahaweli.


Work in progress at the Hambantota Port.

An artistís impression of the proposed Hambantota Port

In the past, Hambantota was a sleepy, old seaside township reminiscent of those grand old days of Leonard Woolf, who was the Assistant Government Agent-Hambantota (1908-11). Hambantota was also labelled as an under privileged district ignored by the successive governments.

Master Divers Chairman, Ariyaseela Wickramanayake who is also the President of Maubima Lanka Foundation said that he had proposed a Port for Hambantota over 15 years ago to all governments that were in power.

Nearly 200 vessels pass Hambantota everyday, which is closer to a prime international shipping route and the economic benefits the country could yield from this are immense.

"I spent my own money to conduct surveys. However, no government took me seriously and finally thanks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's initiative the port project has become a reality," Wickramanayake said.

Today a bag of cement is sold at Rs. 750 and a decade ago it was around Rs. 150. "If this project started 10 years ago Sri Lanka would have saved several billions of rupees," he said.

The construction of the Hambantota Port is strategically important to Sri Lanka, as the country would be in a position to handle general cargo and repair work speedily.

The shipping industry will continue to remain one of the dominant industries in our country as it plays a vital role in cargo transport. We are quite impressed with the progress of construction work on the port project and with its completion the country is poised to handle an increased volume of cargo and containers.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is planning to start operating its upcoming Port in Hambantota by November 2010, said (SLPA) Chairman, Dr. Priyath B. Wickrema.

Work on the port will be completed five months ahead of the scheduled date. The construction of the first phase will be over by October 2010," he said.

Wickrema also said "We have completed more than 50% key wall, 40% Excavation work and 100% of the Breakwater construction". The first phase will consist of two general purpose berths, one bunkering berth and a small Craft berth which will be 120 meters long." The project includes a gas-fired power plant, ship repair unit, container repair unit, oil refinery and a bunkering terminal.

The Board of Investment will call for proposals from willing investors to invest in such projects as cement bagging and grinding, fertilizer bagging, warehousing, food processing, bulk transshipment, car transshipment and car assembly projects.

The Indian car manufacturer, Maruti is also expected to put up an assembly plant in Hambantota.

CEO, Hambantota Chamber of Commerce Azmi Thassim said that with the development of the Port several other projects too have got off the ground.


Harvesting at the Hambantota saltern.


With the lifting of travel advisories by certain countries tourists visiting Yala have increased. A leopard is one of
the rare sights in Yala.

"The Korean government is building one of the biggest Auditoriums in the country at Hambantota while several other investors are rushing to the area to make assessments," he said.

He said that several yachts are expected in the new port and it will be a fillip to tourism in the area.

Dulani Guruge, Director Peacock Beach Hotel, Hambantota said that they plan to build a new apartment style hotel to accommodate both local and foreign officials who would be residing in Hambantota. "We are also upgrading our hotel and conference facilities to meet future demands," she said.

In addition to the port, an airport too is planned which will make Hambantota a destination serviced by airlines.

Construction work has now commenced to extend the railway link from Matara to Kataragama. This will not only benefit passengers but also help the agriculture sector.

One of the biggest problems faced by the agricultural sector is the post harvest losses estimated to be around 25 percent. A railway extension would enable the farmers to transport products to Colombo with minimal damage.

In addition to the proposed rail track, the road network has been so developed that those plying to Kataragama may think that they are driving on South Highway in Malaysia.

Another ambitious project is the 50 feet wide road to Potuvil linking the South with the East.

One of the other development projects is the Colombo Matara Expressway which would be ready by next year. This is a first of its kind in Sri Lanka. The present five-hour drive from Colombo to Matara would be reduced to less than two hours!

"The Southern Province has a proud history of over 2000 years and it was called the "Ruhunu Rata" in the past. There is a strong need to revive economic prosperity and to bring about the past glories by making the best use of bountiful resources in the Southern province," says Southern Province Chief Minister, Shan Vijayalal De Silva.

"In the Southern Province, 40% of the population is living without the minimum basic requirements. It is our responsibility to redeem the people from this predicament. It is clear that we have the potential to achieve firm economic prosperity by harnessing our physical and human resources according to a set plan. "Several private investors are constructing Mini Hydro-power stations, Bio Gas, Solar Energy etc. to provide electricity by making use of existing water resources, which are going waste at present. This is a good solution to the present power crisis.

The two Hambantota Salterns too are being re-developed to increase capacity to meet the demand.

The timely decision by the government to provide special incentives to investors who are starting up business outside the Western province too is helping the southern development drive.

The government is also providing assistance to the fisheries sector by building cool rooms and also support the Inland Fishing Industry to promote fish culture that is an essential component in our daily food.

The Galle harbour is also being developed and when completed it would also have the special facility for yachts and sail boats to bring in high spending tourists. To meet the rising demand several new hotel projects too have got off the ground.

These development projects would certainly create employment opportunities for over 100,000, it is estimated.

The people in the South are very resilient, as they have bravely withstood two youth insurrections in 1971 and 1989 and also the devastating tsunami and now Southerners look for a brighter tomorrow as they feel they are not alienated.

 

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