Irrigation Prosperity Drive Facilitates North and South
By Naalir Jamaldeen
Listed below are excerpts of an interview Ceylon Today held with the State Minister of Rural Irrigation and Tanks Development Anuradha Jayaratne.
“During the reign of King Pandukabhaya, Sri Lanka was known as the Granary of the Orient. Today more than 65 per cent of rain water is drained to the sea without being utilised. This water should be used to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. We must arrive at a situation when Sri Lanka is able to export excess locally produced food. The Government has given priority to the development of the irrigation sector with a view of uplifting the living standards of thousands of rural folk who have been depending on the agriculture sector for their livelihood and making them prime contributors to the advancement of the national economy” said State Minister Anuradha Jayaratne.
Under the Vari Saubhagyaye (Irrigation Prosperity) drive of the Government, 5,000 tanks and reservoirs, irrigation canals and other fresh water bodies that are in a dilapidated state across the country will be renovated in order to provide an uninterrupted irrigation facilities to farmers during the Maha and Yala Seasons.
State Minister Jayaratne noted that under the Vari Saubhagyaye programme, the President and the Prime Minister have allocated Rs. 4 billion to develop the irrigation systems in 25 districts. Based on the importance, a list of projects has already been prepared for implemention with the participation of the Irrigation Department, the Department of Agrarian Development and the Mahaweli Authority.
On par with the development and renovation of reservoirs and tanks, a programme to beautify the catchment areas of reservoirs and tanks will be undertaken by planting trees in the catchment areas. Fingerlings will also be released into tanks with the view of improving the living standards of local community who are engaged in freshwater fishery industry. The Government is intending to address the most important issues prevailing in the irrigation sector before the end of this year.
Kandy District projects
“The Kandy District has adequate water resources and with the view of making use of it for the betterment of the people various irrigation development projects will be implemented covering all Divisional Secretariat Divisions in the district under the Vari Saubhagyaye programme and sufficient funds were allocated for this purpose. In addition to this, nearly 252 minor irrigation systems in the district will be developed at a cost of nearly Rs 300 million before the end of this year,” said the Minister.
What is the availability of qualified persons in the local community and why soldiers are being used to carry out the construction and renovation works of reservoirs, tanks, canals and anicuts?
A: The Government has given due recognition to talented villagers with the view of providing employment for them. The Government has launched a programme to provide 100,000 employment opportunities to sons and daughters from poor families who passed their grade eight but failed their G. C. E. (O/L) examination.
Vacancies prevail for minor employees in the Government institutions including the entities, functioning under the Ministry of Irrigation. Countrywide, there are nearly 1,200 vacancies for minor employees in the Irrigation Department alone. It has been intended to utilise those who passed grade eight and failed G. C. E. (O/L) to undertake the development and renovation works of irrigation systems. The Civil Defence Force (CDF) personnel have been selected to renovate canals, reservoirs and anicuts in the Puttalam District and a team consisting of 25 CDF personnel has been deployed to construct anicuts, canals and dams in the Kandy District. The individuals who were selected for employment are undergoing training and will be recruited after the completion of their training.
Has the Irrigation Ministry called for international bids or has it received any loans to construct dams and reservoirs in the country?
A: We obtained a loan of 675 million US Dollars from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to implement major irrigation projects. Included are the North Central Province Maha Ela, North Western Province Maha Ela, Moragahakanda, Kaluganga and Minipe Left Bank Development projects.
The Government is not in a position to obtain commercial or development loans from abroad and is planning to implement all development projects including the irrigation sector development projects utilising locally raised funds and Rs. 4 billion was set aside for this purpose so far.
Local machineries, local technology, Sri Lanka military engineering unit and Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) and local construction agencies are the main stakeholders of the irrigation and agriculture sector development projects.
What steps have been taken so far to prevent reservoirs and rivers getting polluted?
A: We have drafted a special plan to minimise the number of water bodies, predominantly the tanks, rivers and canals, situated near the cities are being polluted and the project site has been divided into two sections such as the tanks situated facing the Kurunegala and Dambulla and Dambulla and Anuradhapura main roads. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has also been signed with the SLLRDC in this connection.
When we commence a programme to clean water bodies, the real issue in connection with it appears from another place and this issue must first be solved before coming to the particular subject. We are intending to commence renovation works soon. The project will also consist of the construction of a walking track and playing area for children and installation of equipment required for an outdoor gym at suitable places.
18 tanks have been selected for development along the aforesaid road stretch and 6 of them will be developed with all the said facilities which include walking path, kids play areas, a juice bar, a sales centre providing opportunities for self-employment to domestic women. More recreational facilities will be set up at suitable locations within the catchment area in this manner to attract local and foreign tourists.
The Thirappane tank, Ulankulama tank, Galkulama tank and part of Nachchaduwa reservoirs which are situated facing the Anuradhapura Marathankadawala main road will be developed while beautifying the catchment areas.
The Thibbatuwewa tank, Malawa tank, Madiwatta tank and Ulankulama tank facing the Dambulla Maradankadawala main road, three small tanks which are situated in the downstream of Ibbankatuwa reservoir, Maligattenna tank and Saluwapullana tanksituated facing the Galewela- Dambulla main road, four tanks such as Kalahakele tank, Puwakpitiya tank, Galapita tank and Kudawewa tank situated facing Melisiripura Galewela main road and Bathalagoda tank, Thalgaswewa tank, Ambanpola Marshy land situated facing Melsiripura-Kurunegala main road will be developed and beautified.
What about the Uma Oya Multi-purpose development project?
A: Owing to certain mistakes, left when the construction works of this project was undertaken the underground water in the highlands of the project area seeped through the tunnel and underground water including the wells dried to the bottom and cracks started appearing on the walls to an uninhabitable level.
The construction works of the tunnel is now over and the tunnel has been completely sealed using high technology. Now, there is no any seepage in the tunnel and we are confident that when these areas receive heavy rains the underground water level of these areas will increase. Now, the construction works of canals and reservoirs in the downstream part of Uma Oya project has ended and a huge amount of compensation has been paid to farmers whose valuable cultivable lands were taken over when the project was implemented. We hope to complete the project and commission to people soon.
How about facilitating the North with irrigation facilities?
A: Constructing a big canal is the only possible means to provide irrigation facilities to the Northern Province of this country. A mega irrigation canal called Northern Maha Ela will be constructed and the project is expected to be commenced soon to bring water up to Iranamadu and Huruluwewa tanks through the Northern Maha Ela diverting the Mahaveli Ganga to Polgolla or Bowathenna or Moragahakanda reservoir and once the projects was over, thousands of acres of cultivable lands will come under plough in both Maha and Yala Seasons.
A 28-kilometre-length tunnel is to be constructed along the Northern Maha Ela and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa inaugurated the construction works and laid the foundation stone at the project site.
The construction contract has been given to the China State Engineering Construction Company. The funds for this project have been raised from the ADB loan.
The constractors have arrived at a consensus to complete the construction works in four years following a request extended by the Government, earlier it had been decided to complete in six years. By 2024, the project is expected to be completed.
State Minister Jayaratne expressed confidence that after the tunnel was constructed irrigation facilities can be provided through Northern Maha Ela till Iranamadu without any obstacle.
He lamented that more than 65 per cent of water resources of this country goes to the sea and feasibility studies are being conducted to construct a eight-kilometer-long tunnel from Hatton to Kotmale to divert excess water of Kelani Ganga and Walawe Ganga to Mahaveli Ganga and once the project is over, it will divert the water to Northern Maha Ela after storing it in Moragahakanda reservoir.