Pro­posed steel plant in­con­sis­tent with Trin­co­ma­lee De­vel­op­ment Mas­ter Plan

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION/ISSUE - BY KEERTHI ATHAPATHTH­U (The writer is a re­tired pub­lic ser­vant who may be con­tacted via: ban­daraatha­p­[email protected])

If there was one char­ac­ter­is­tic that could de­fine the four and a half years of the ‘Ya­ha­palanaya’ gov­ern­ment, it would be ‘In­con­sis­tency in Pol­icy’.

Be­fore the outbreak of the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis last year, the two main stake­hold­ers of the gov­ern­ment — the United Na­tional Party (UNP) and the United Peo­ple’s Free­dom Al­liance (UPFA) — pulled in opposite direc­tions on many mat­ters of na­tional im­por­tance. Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena and Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe hardly saw eye to eye on crit­i­cal is­sues shap­ing and defin­ing the fu­ture of the coun­try.

Af­ter the end of the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis last year, the SLFP was re­duced to a mere op­po­si­tion party and the UNP was en­trusted with the task of run­ning the gov­ern­ment with a hos­tile Pres­i­dent at the helm, at least un­til the next Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

How­ever, many thought the res­o­lu­tion of the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis would at least al­low the UNP to run the gov­ern­ment with a co­her­ent and con­sis­tent vi­sion en­abling the party to de­liver some results on the ground be­fore it seeks a fresh man­date at the next elec­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, it has now be­come clear that the in­con­sis­tency in pol­icy is still a dis­tant dream for the gov­ern­ment and each gov­ern­ment institutio­n is op­er­at­ing in its own silo.

Trin­co­ma­lee De­vel­op­ment Mas­ter Plan

Last year, Me­gapo­lis and West­ern De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Patali Champika Ranawaka handed over a mas­ter plan for Trin­co­ma­lee dis­trict to Prime Min­is­ter Wick­remesinghe and for­mer Op­po­si­tion Leader R. Sam­pan­than, out­lin­ing key strate­gic de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in the area for the next 30 years.

The project saw the de­vel­op­ment of Trin­co­ma­lee as an ex­port hub by cre­at­ing a clean industrial ecosys­tem, which can add value to the al­ready abun­dant agri­cul­ture, aqua­cul­ture, min­er­als and re­sources in its hin­ter­land.

The project also vowed to re­po­si­tion Trin­co­ma­leeas the Eastern Tourism Hub, by in­creas­ing re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity through the de­vel­op­ment of the Colombo-trin­co­ma­lee eco­nomic cor­ri­dor and the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­ter­na­tional air­port in Hin­gu­rak­goda.

How­ever, De­vel­op­ment Strate­gies and In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter Ma­lik Sa­ma­rawick­rama said in Par­lia­ment last week a Cab­i­net pa­per seek­ing ap­proval for a bil­lion dol­lar steel man­u­fac­tur­ing and ex­port plant in Trin­co­ma­lee would be pre­sented to the Cab­i­net soon.

Steel plant

It goes with­out say­ing that a steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plan does not find res­o­nance with the mas­ter plan for Trin­co­ma­lee de­vel­op­ment for a num­ber of rea­sons. While the Trin­co­ma­lee de­vel­op­ment mas­ter plan en­vis­ages

‘clean in­dus­tries’ for Trin­co­ma­lee, the steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plant will yield di­a­met­ri­cally opposite results.

Many have al­ready pointed the plant will in­evitably re­sult in toxic waste prod­ucts, acid rain­caus­ing Sul­fur Diox­ide, heavy metal residues and gaseous out­flows, caus­ing an ir­repara­ble dam­age to the ecosys­tem of Trin­co­ma­lee — an en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive area and home to the coun­try’s largest nat­u­ral port.

The es­tab­lish­ment of a steel plant in Trin­co­ma­lee ad­ja­cent to port will also make a se­vere im­pact on the Trin­co­ma­lee port de­vel­op­ment plans. It is also im­por­tant to take into ac­count the grave pub­lic health risk posed by a steel-man­u­fac­tur­ing plant es­tab­lished in the vicin­ity of a po­ten­tial ‘tourism hub’ in the Eastern prov­ince.

It is worth­while to ex­am­ine has to how the pro­posed steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plant will de­rail the 30-year de­vel­op­ment plan for Trin­co­ma­lee. A steel plant ad­ja­cent to the Trin­co­ma­lee Port will pre­vent clean, high-value in­dus­tries from com­ing into the area. This will hamper sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in the prov­ince while de­ter­ring in­vestors who are keen on fueling clean and high­value in­dus­tries.

It is quite ev­i­dent that the BOI is at­tempt­ing to pro­ceed with this project in a hap­haz­ard man­ner, with­out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the need for har­mo­niz­ing it with the longterm eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan for Trin­co­ma­lee. This is the same lack of co­or­di­na­tion that has plagued the State sec­tor un­der the watch of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment.

While this writer does not in­tend to dis­pute the im­por­tance of at­tract­ing investment­s of this sort to Sri Lanka, the lo­ca­tion of this plant needs to be re­assessed and reeval­u­ated given the far­reach­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic con­se­quences of the project.

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