The Port City Project, which was suspended by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena in March last year, six months after it began construction, has now been given the green light to proceed and will be done in phases, instead of in one go as a mega project. According to the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka, there were legal issues that hampered the progress of the Port City Project, but these issues have now been addressed to a large extent.
“The agreement for this project was earlier with the Ports Authority, but under the new agreement it will either come under the Urban Development Authority or the Ministry of Megapolis.
“The primary change that has been made from the last agreement was that earlier the Chinese were given free hold of a percentage of the reclaimed land area, but under the new agreement it will be a lease hold instead. This lease will be limited to 99 years,” said Minister Ranawaka.
Supply of sand and stones
Further, on the environmental concerns, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report has now issued certain guidelines on the manner in which sand and stones are to be obtained for the filling of the sea. According to the minister, in the past there were no guidelines and the sand as well as the stones were simply taken from wherever they pleased for that purpose. The supply of these resources was handled by traders and they simply obtained these supplies without any environmental concerns.
According to the new agreement however, areas for obtaining sand has been identified, where it has no impact on the fishing activities. The new agreement stipulates that sand should be obtained more than 15 km away from the coast, from a section of the sea area that comes under the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation (SLLR&DC), and other specified areas. For the supply of rock stones, places such as Dompe have been identified and it has been specified that instead of transporting the rocks by land, to use barges to transport the rocks obtained from locations close to the shore line.
“Further this project will be phased out rather than being rushed within a short spell. The proposed 233 hectares to be reclaimed will not be done in one go and will be done in phases and will take place in stages until 2030. This will enable the funding to be phased out in stages too according to a proper plan. The investors too need not put in a huge investment and wait for a long period for the returns. When it is done in stages, the investment too can generate income while the development is also in progress,” said Ranawaka.
On the environmental aspect, the minister said that the phasing out of the project will also give them a chance to evaluate the environmental impacts and monitor it to minimise any adverse impacts and mitigate them effectively.
“No matter how much we speculate, no one can definitely assess the environmental impact unless in an actual situation as nature is not predictable. Hence phasing it out will make it easier for us to identify the impacts and take appropriate action to correct any faults. Unlike if it is done in one go, and we have to deal with certain environmental impacts in a sudden manner, which will be difficult, assessing the environmental reactions stage by stage will make it easier to correct and deal with such impacts. “In addition to the Port City, many other side projects will be initiated around the project area, such as ship building, dry dock operations, maintenance operations, etc.
Even fishing industry related small boat repairs and other peripheral services will also be established in and around the port city,” said the Minister.
However the Minister denied that the Sri Lankan government had to pay the Chinese firm damages for the delay in commencing this project.
The project operations have yet not recommenced so far and is awaiting the EIA guidelines. The minister added that the project will proceed according to these EIA guidelines. Ranawaka expressed hope that the project will commence by the middle of this year after the Prime Minister’s visit to China.
He said that the two countries’ leaders will then come to an agreement regarding the progress of the port city project.
The 1.4-billion-dollar project, which will be the first of its kind in South Asia, began construction adjacent to the Galle Face Green and near the Colombo Harbour in September 2014 under the previous government.
The Ministry of Ports and Shipping, in an official letter to the CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt.) Ltd. last week, said that the company could resume the construction of the project immediately. The approval for the project was given after it remained suspended for a year.
Meanwhile, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya General Secretary Udaya Gammanpila charges that the current government had decided to abandon the Port City Project forgetting that the foundation stone for this project was laid by the Chinese president Chen Fenjian.
“Halting this project was an insult to that nation and a slap in their face. Unfortunately because of the short sightedness of this government, China got upset with us and we lost billions of dollars of foreign currency inflows, and our country was dragged into an economic crisis.
“The government has now realised it and are now running behind China again. But the Chinese have now raised their demand and have asked for compensation for the loss occurred during the stoppage of the project. Their equipment and personnel have been idling for a year and they expect compensation. However, the Sri Lankan government had said that they were unable to pay it in cash and agreed to compensate in increasing the extent of the port city area.
“So they have increased the extent. They have made the situation worse due to their ignorance and lack of understanding of China’s position in the world, in the present context,” said Gammanpila adding that as a result of their ignorance, the entire nation has to pay for it.
Source URL: The Sunday Leader