Petition to the United Nations concerning human rights violations connected the Southern Transit Development Project (STDP) (Background Facts)

BACKGROUND FACTS

Proposed Expressway

The proposed expressway from Colombo in the Western Province to Matara in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka starts from a point on Highlevel Road in the village of Makumbura in Kottawa and ends at a location on the Matara-Akuressa road in the village of Hittetiya inGodagama.

This is an access controlled highway of approximately 128km. There will be only a few entry/exit points (interchanges). Whilst it will be 2-lane at the Southern end and 4 lane at the Colombo end initially provision would be made for expansion of the full length of expressway as a six lane divided facility.

The expressway is to reduce the traffic on Galle Road that is said to be beyond its capacity close to Colombo and to act as an initiator of development in the South.

During early 1990s and then again in mid 1990s the RDA prepared possible traces for the expressway. In 1996, at the request of the RDA, the University of Moratuwa (UOM) carried out the necessary Scoping along the trace and prepared the EIA report for the expressway . As there were no funds for construction of the Expressway the EIA was not submitted for approval.

In 1998, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) along with the Japan Bank for International Corporation (JBIC) offered loans to fund the proposed expressway. To determine a trace the ADB requested consultants Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA) to produce a design that would meet the requirements.

The RDA then suggested a trace they had designed earlier. This was called the Original trace (OT). Following a discussion a compromise was agreed where 60% of the route was from the design made by the RDA and 40% from the design made by WSA. This was called the Combined Trace (CT).

The reason given by the designers WSA and the RDA for the change from the OT to the CT were that the OT was not financially viable because of lack of traffic and that the CT destroyed much less housing.

In 1999 the University of Moratuwa updated the EIA with the information of the CT.
The proposed traces of OT and CT traverse through four districts , namely, Colombo, Kalutara, Galle and Matara.

The CT deviated from the OT at the Northern end in an area called Bandaragama while at the Southern end from Boralukade, through Akmeemana up to Kokmaduwa. At the Akmeemana deviation the CT runs over the Grama Niladhari Divisions (GND) of: Boralukade, Walpita North, Poddala, Meepawala, Meegoda, Pedinnoruwa, Happawana, Dorape, Angulugala, Kahanda, Mawella, Kodagoda, Horadugoda, Kokmaduwa.

At the parallel section along the OT, the following GNDs are affected:

Narawala, Thalgasyaya, Niyagama, Ambagahawila, , Ihalagoda South, Ihalagoda Colony, Weliketiya, Halgasmulla.

Environmental Impact Assessment required

The NEA requires the proposed expressway to undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. This involves Scoping (discussions with all those affected), a thorough technical review, preparation of an EIA, public comment period, technical review by the Project Approving Agency (PAA), in this case the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and approval by the PAA.

The objective to be achieved by the EIA process is to analyse and assess the overall feasibility of any project so that the State and the people would be fully aware of the ‘cost’ in terms of the environment, social burdens and spend that would be involved in the implementation of such project. In this process identifying and studying of possible alternatives to the proposed project is also vital. It is not merely a study of “general area or terrain” but a study of an alternative that during the study is identified for the location of a project. This understanding of the EIA is critical in this matter.

CT and OT studied in the EIA Report

Detailed surveys were done on the CT and OT for environmental, social, financial and agricultural impacts. These were done on corridors depending on the nature of the impact. For example for land and house acquisition, a corridor of 400 feet (122m) was used which had been marked by the RDA on the ground.

Applicants’villages outside CT, OT corridor

Neither the CT nor the OT ran through the applicants’ properties and the EIA report does not indicate that the said traces run through their villages. Further the applicants’ lands are not within the 122m corridor either along the CT or OT studied in the EIA report.

Of the two traces the EIA report recommended the CT as the best financial, social, agricultural and environmental alternative.

APPROVAL GRANTED

The CEA by its letter dated 23.07.1999 informed the RDA the Project Proponent, of its decision to approve the expressway, subject to a number of conditions. . The said conditions include the following:

move the trace from the CT to the OT near Weras Ganga/ Bolgoda lake wetlands (Condition IX) site the proposed expressway to avoid traversing through Koggala and Madu Ganga Wetlands (Condition X) site final trace to minimize relocation of people (Condition F1) obtain fresh approval in terms of Regulation 17(1)(a) in respect of any alterations that are intended to be made to the project (Condition III).

By the said letter of approval it appears that the CEA has approved the CT. In effect the CEA approved the CT with two conditions. In the North the trace was to be moved to the OT at Bandaragama near Bolgoda Wetlands. The trace was to be sited to avoid traversing the Koggala and Madu Ganga wetlands in the South.

Alteration of the Approved Project

The RDA without complying with the conditions laid down by the CEA, created a new trace altogether. This altered trace will be referred to as the Final Trace (FT) hereafter. FT runs through a large number of properties including the Applicants’ houses and lands, which will be compulsorily acquired, and the applicants subjected to involuntary resettlement.

The Applicants neither had notice of the alteration of the project nor an opportunity to comment upon the said alteration.

It was only in or about March 2000, the Applicants became aware that the RDA had altered the approved CT. They learnt that the alteration would require the acquisition of their lands and the demolition of their houses.

Final Trace was never studied

The FT as an alternative roadway was never studied. This fact has been conceded before the Committee of Justices appointed by the Court of Appeal to investigate the facts as mentioned in the communication. See paragraph 3 of Page 7 of the said Court appointed committee’s report annexed as E.

The FT was never even conceived of at the time the EIA was conducted in 1999. The FT neither follows the OT nor the CT. At the Southern end, i.e. near Akmeemana it takes a completely different route and traverses the GNDs of:

Niyagama, Ambagahawila, Ihalagoda West, Pinnaduwa, Godawatte, Ankokkawala, Weliketiya, Halgasmulla

It is apparent that near Akmeemana, although the OT and the FT have only the GNDs of Ambagahawila and Niyagama as being common, and here too even though the GNDs are the same, the routes of OT and FT are totally different, with the houses being affected in each being different and being much greater in number in the case of the FT.

The cost of the three alternatives of the expressway in terms of housing displacement alone is as follows:
CT- 622 houses, OT- 938 houses, FT- 1315 houses (press releases by the RDA quoted by television now say 4.000 houses to be destroyed)
FT having a higher housing displacement is a violation of condition F1 of the CEA’s letter of approval.

The only information available in respect of the FT is the number of houses that would be destroyed. The RDA did not tender to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court in the actions filed by the applicants any documents to show the other costs of choosing the FT over the CT or the OT, i.e., no cost of displacement, loss to agriculture, cost of resettlement, loss of waterways, impact on the natural waterways, impact on the natural environment, impact on wildlife and birdlife, impact on drainage systems, impact on fauna and flora or any of the other details in respect of which the CT and OT have been evaluated in the EIA report.

By the RDA’s own records and excluding the numerous houses that have been conveniently ”omitted” by the RDA in their survey of houses, the comparative figures of housing displacement on the stretch from Boralukade to Kokmaduwa (being the points at which the FT deviates from the CT and OT at the Southern end)
CT- 52houses, OT- 44 houses, FT- 467 houses

CT was the choice

The EIA carried out by the UOM is an extremely comprehensive document compiled after exhaustive analysis by a team of highly qualified and technically competent personnel.

In another action before the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka relating to the question whether or not the EIA report in question adequately studied the option of the railroad the RDA and CEA themselves have unreservedly endorsed the EIA report. The Judgement in this case noted that the CEA had chosen and approved the CT as the best trace.

In the action filed by the applicants in the Court of Appeal the RDA and CEA sought to retract the very position that they urged in respect of the same EIA report. They have attempted to convince the Court that the EIA was inadequate and incomplete and that the recommendations of the EIA report are unreliable and wrong.

The EIA report and the CEA in its letter of approval categorically endorse the CT as the best of the options studied.

Alteration requires fresh approval

An alteration of the aforesaid nature requires fresh approval under the NEA as explained in the section on background law and Condition III of the CEA’s letter of approval.

The applicants neither had notice of the said alteration nor an opportunity to comment upon the alteration of the proposed route. Therefore, the applicants are being deprived of their property without a hearing and without the benefit of the legal provisions for assessment, comments and hearing contained in the NEA and its regulations as explained in the section on background law.

Officers of the State Party are taking action to force the Applicants out of their homes and lands.

On or about 15.08.2002, several surveyors together with officials from the RDA and armed police officers invaded the lands and premises of the applicants and proceeded despite protests to illegally and forcibly survey their lands and further threatened, intimidated and harassed the applicants and caused damage to some of their property.

In July 2004 and again in August the District Secretary has published in the Government Newspapers notices to acquire properties from the Applicants. This can be completed and the Applicants dispossessed within five weeks.

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