By Gazala Anver
Photos by Pradeep Samarawickrama
The Warathenna Hydro Power Project, the construction of which is taking place on the Mahaweli River, between Peradeniya and the Katugastota Highway, has not received a license of approval by the authorities.
Construction is however taking place, posing threats to the people living in the area as well as endangered species of aquatic life in the region.
Central Environment Authority (CEA) Chairman, Charitha Herath told The Sunday Leader that the project was submitted by the Asia Hydro Power Generation Private Ltd., to the CEA in 2007. The CEA however directed the project to the Mahaweli Authority (MA) of Sri Lanka. A three year license was given by the MA, but construction did not begin until after the license had expired.
“Despite a request for the renewal of the license,” Herath said, “the CEA has not given concurrence for the project.” On this issue, the MA Director D.M.C Dissanayake merely said “I don’t have time” to speak to the media.
According to scientist Pradeep Samarawickrama however a river bed blast brought to surface three dead but fully mature species of Green Labeo, (scientific name Labeo fischeri). The Green Labeo, until recently, was believed to be extinct, said Samarawickrama. Of the three fish, two were female with egg sacs intact, showing that the fish were in fact breeding in that particular spot.
“There was no record of these fish for twenty years until they started blasting the river bed to increase the dam water capacity. This is destroying their habitat,” said Samarawickrama, adding that this will leave the 2 km long stream completely dry.
According to environmental lawyer Jagath Gunewardena, there were discrepancies in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. “The EIA is approved after going through the report prepared by the project proponent,” he said. In this case, the EIA was approved by the MA. “One aspect of approval is having mitigation measures. If unforeseen things happen while the project is in progress, then the project approving agency should tell the project proponent to suspend the work temporarily, until they could come out with suitable mitigation measures,” he said.
“In this project, they may not have foreseen the destruction of aquatic life, especially of critically endangered fish. Now that it has happened and more blasting is yet to occur, more serious damage would happen unless mitigation measures are put in place,” said Gunewardena.
In addition, Gunewardena said that in the case of a protected species, using explosives that may cause harm or destruction to fish or aquatic resources is prohibited under Section 27 of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act as well as the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance. “Even though the intention may not be to kill fish, the fact that it happens is enough grounds for them to be liable for negligence,” he said.
Scientist, Samarawickrama also added that the area has been declared a landslide hazard area. “The blasting is also endangering the lives of the 50 odd families in the area,” he said. D.M.C Dissanayake meanwhile said that he has sent an investigation team to the site and can only speak after the report is filed. He refused to coment on the matter any further.
Despite repeated attempts to contact the Managing Director of Asia Hydro Power Generating Pvt. Ltd, Deepalal Wijeratne was not available for comment.
The Director of the Geological Survey and Mine Bureau which gave the approval for the blasting was also unavailable for comment.