Ruwan­pura: RDA pushes ahead with­out EIA re­port

CEA sources crit­i­cal of process as be­ing 'in­side out'

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - FRONT PAGE - By Namini Wi­jedasa

The Road Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (RDA) has started ac­quir­ing land for the US$ 1.8 bil­lion ( Rs. 275 bil­lion) Ruwan­pura Ex­press­way even be­fore a manda­tory en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment (EIA) and an eco­nomic fea­si­bil­ity study are com­pleted, prompt­ing Cen­tral Env i ron­ment Au­thor­ity (CEA) sources to de­nounce the process as ‘in­side out’.

Tens of fam­i­lies have been is­sued notices un­der the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act's con­tro­ver­sial Sec­tion 38( a) which al­lows for im­me­di­ate takeover of land on grounds of “ur­gency” with com­pen­sa­tion to be paid in the un­spec­i­fied fu­ture. It is not clear what the ur­gency is as nei­ther the EIA nor fea­si­bil­ity study is ready. And there is still no bud­get to pay landown­ers for the prop­er­ties they will for­feit.

The RDA has al­ready ad­vanced Rs 314 mil­lion to a con­sul­tancy firm for the fea­si­bil­ity study which was ini­tially given out for 32 weeks but is still not fi­nal, de­tails ob­tained un­der the Right to In­for­ma­tion ( RTI) Act re­vealed. The job was as­signed more than two years ago, in Novem­ber 2014, to Maga Neguma

Con­sul­tancy and Project Man­age­ment Ser­vices (Pvt) Ltd which sub­con­tracted it to Skills In­ter­na­tional. A penalty was not im­posed for the de­lay. The agree­ment was merely ex­tended.

Mean­while, the EIA-which is cru­cial as the ex­press­way will tra­verse en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive areas--is yet to be pre­sented to the pub­lic for com­ment. “We have to see it first to gauge whether it is suit­able enough to open out for pub­lic com­ment,” a CEA of­fi­cial said, on con­di­tion of anonymity. Sev­eral areas along the pro­posed trace, run­ning 73.9km from Ka­hathuduwa to Pel­madulla via Ho­rana, are prone to dis­as­ter.

Eigh­teen per­cent of land ac­qui­si­tion is now fin­ished in the 26.3km stretch from Ka­hathuduwa to In­giriya while 40 per­cent of pre­lim­i­nary de­sign work is also done. “The RDA is vi­o­lat­ing every step in the book in its rush to push this through,” the of­fi­cial pointed out. “What will they do if the EIA is re­jected or there is a call for the trace to be changed? Or if the fea­si­bil­ity study deems the project to be eco­nom­i­cally un­vi­able?”

The Au­di­tor Gen­eral’s Depart­ment has also queried the process, the Sun­day Times learns. Civil works con­trac­tors have not yet been se­lected. It has not been de­cided whether to re­quest pro­pos­als from a nom­i­nated con­trac­tor for the first sec­tion or to go for a Build, Op­er­ate and Trans­fer (BOT) op­tion, project of­fi­cers said in re­sponse to the RTI ap­pli­ca­tion.

How­ever, a Cab­i­net mem­o­ran­dum dated Au­gust 2016, ob­tained un­der RTI, states that the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Eco­nomic Man­age­ment (CCEM) de­cided in July last year that the project should be di­vided into four sec­tions. “...and tech­ni­cal and civil works of each sec­tion of the Ex­press­way should be in­vited from one of the four com­pa­nies iden­ti­fied for that par­tic­u­lar sec­tion which were rec­om­mended by the Chi­nese Govern­ment,” it states.

This is no dif­fer­ent to the much-vil­i­fied un­so­licited pro­pos­als process that was fol­lowed by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion which led to al­le­ga­tions of cost in­fla­tion and cor­rup­tion. The Cab­i­net mem­o­ran­dum clearly states that the “sin­gle pro­posal” op­tion will be cho­sen, in vi­o­la­tion of a de­clared Govern­ment pol­icy of open, trans­par­ent bid­ding.

The memo re­veals that the first sec­tion from Ka­hathuduwa to In­giriya was to be par­celled out to China Na­tional Tech­ni­cal Im­port & Ex­port Cor­po­ra­tion; the sec­ond 21km sec­tion from In­giriya to Ka­hengama to China Na­tional Aero-Tech­nol­ogy In­ter­na­tional Engi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion; the 12.7km stretch from Ka­hengama to Dela to Hu­nan Con­struc­tion Engi­neer­ing Group Cor­po­ra­tion; and the fi­nal 13.9km sec­tion from Dela to Pel­madulla to China Har­bour Engi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

Mean­while, the Na­tional Phys­i­cal Plan­ning Depart­ment (NPPD) of the Min­istry of Me­gapo­lis and Western Devel­op­ment has al­ready voiced strong con­cern about the ex­press­way say­ing it cuts through “cen­tral frag­ile areas” that are cru­cial to con­ser­va­tion of the coun­try’s wa­ter sources. It pre­vi­ously sent let­ters to this ef­fect to the RDA, CEA and oth­ers.

The Draft Na­tional Phys­i­cal Plan-- ex­pected to be ap­proved by the Na­tional Phys­i­cal Plan­ning Coun­cil headed by Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena next month--ques­tions the re­quire­ment for both the Ruwan­pura and Cen­tral Ex­press­ways. It strongly flags the sen­si­tiv­i­ties and frag­ile na­ture of these areas.

“If one wants to de­velop more than that, we will have to for­get the beauty, salubrity and her­itage and in­crease car­ry­ing ca­pac­i­ties, in­vest­ing huge sums on ar­ti­fi­cial in­fra­struc­ture,” said Ja­gath Nan­dana Mu­nas­inghe, NPPD Di­rec­tor Gen­eral. “This is the same in Rat­na­pura and the frag­ile area of the Sabaraga­muwa prov­ince.”

The NPPD has pointed out that four ur­ban metro re­gions--other than the Western Me­gapo­lis--are pro­posed to be de­vel­oped in Trin­co­ma­lee-Polon­naruwaDam­bulla; JaffnaKilinochchi; Ham­ban­tota; and Bat­ticaloa-Am­para. This will at­tract a ma­jor share of the coun­try’s fu­ture pop­u­la­tion.

“Such at­trac­tion will re­sult in de­pop­u­la­tion trends in the study re­gion within the next 30 years, and thereby cause a de­crease in travel de­mand within the study area,” it states, re­fer­ring to the re­gions the Ruwan­pura Ex­press­way will cut across. “The growth fac­tors used in the fea­si­bil­ity study to forecast travel de­mand could have con­sid­ered such trends.”

In­stead of ex­press­ways, Dr Mu­nas­inghe said, the NPP pro­motes rail­way im­prove­ments be­tween Colombo and Kandy and Colombo and Ham­ban­tota via Rat­na­pura. “That is less costly, en­vi­ron­ment friendly and there­fore more fea­si­ble,” he pointed out.

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