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Sunday, 3 January 2016

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Port City project:

New EIA report ignores ecological issues - Environmentalists

The governments of Sri Lanka and China are about to take a final decision on the proposed Colombo Port City project. However, environmental organisations have protested against the move pointing out that several legal, environmental and socio-economic issues still remain unresolved in this controversial project.

A spokesman of the Sri Lanka Nature Group and Co-convenor of the Movement Against the Port City (MAPC) Thilak Kariyawasam said the government cannot re-launch the project only by negotiating with the Chinese government ignoring these serious issues.

A top level Chinese delegation is due here this month to take a final decision on the project. The MAPC spokesman stressed that the government should explain to the people about the grave issues of this project before entering into an agreement with the Chinese government. This is a massive corrupt deal by the previous regime which misled the public and violated the law of the land. This agreement which is still a secret, violates the law of the land and is, therefore, not in keeping with international arbitration.

There is no proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and therefore, it is an illegal agreement. On the other hand the original agreement has been signed by two Chinese nationals, Kariyawasam said.He said the government too is not handling this case in a transparent manner and is attempting to implement the project without resolving the main issues.

The government should publish all documents including the agreements signed with the Chinese agencies, he said.

The MAPC spokesman said this project cannot be handed over to the Urban Development Authority (UDA) directly, according to the laws of the land. Since there is reclamation of the sea and the creation of new land, it comes under the purview of the President.

It should go to the Land Ministry and only after the declaration of the area as urban it should be handed over to the UDA. The SLPA has sought a Supreme Court ruling on this matter.

Earlier the project was under the SLPA and that too was illegal. The SLPA has no powers to reclaim the sea. The EIA prepared under this government has also ignored serious environmental issues.

A committee headed by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe decided that the first EIA of the project was incomplete. It was done by Uni Consultancy, an association affiliated with the academic staff of the University of Moratuwa. A new EIA has been prepared by the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) and it too has overlooked the main environmental concerns of the project. The new EIA divided the project into two, the reclamation of the sea and construction work of the Port City.

This is a wrong approach and the environmental impact should be assessed together because to implement the project the EIA should be approved. The new EIA has not paid attention to the National Environmental Act and it was carried out only under the provision of the Coastal Conservation Act. The Archeological Impact Assessment has also been skipped due to the cost and time factor.

The Environmental Impact Assessment, especially to marine bio-diversity, and sea sand mining from three sand deposits in an area of over 100 sq km is not satisfactory and underestimates its adverse impact. The socio-economic impact on the fisheries community has also been underestimated. According to the first EIA the proposed land area of the Port City was 233 hectares and in the new EIA it is 269 hectares.

The first EIA estimated 12 million square metres of stone for the project. However, in the new EIA only 3.5 million square metres of stone are needed. This is a huge difference and the report has not explained how this happened. The environmental, socio-economic impact of the supply of these stones is not mentioned in the report. It needs huge stone slabs around 700-5,000 kg in weight. The people involved in the preparation of the EIA have conflicting interests and one consultant to the government is also working as a consultant to the Chinese company. It is also reported that top officials in the committee under the Prime Minister do not allow government officials to express their frank opinion and real issues of the project, Kariyawasam said.

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