Uma Oya project: MR says damage done minimal if measures were taken

28 September 2017 11:03 pm - 16     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said today that the Uma Oya project was started on a proposal submitted in 2005 by the then Minister of Agriculture Anura Kumara Dissanayake, though his party has now decided to jump on the present government's bandwagon in blaming his government for the negative consequences of the project.

In a statement, he said the first water seepage had only taken place in late December 2014 just days before the present government came into power.

“The environmental harm it has caused could have been averted if remedial measures had been taken at that time. However the new government took no action to correct it as it was too busy persecuting the opposition,” he charged.

He said the Uma Oya project has come in for much criticism in recent times.

“The JVP leader stated in Parliament that as a result of ground water seeping into a tunnel being constructed as part of the Uma Oya project, wells, streams and springs in the Bandarawela area had run dry and that thousands of acres of agricultural land have been affected. After things started going wrong, the JVP, ministers and various NGO activists started make statements laying the blame for all this on me and my government,” he said.

The full statement is as follows:

The Uma Oya project

The Uma Oya project has come in for much criticism in recent times. A few days ago it was reported in the media that the Kirindi Oya tributary which flows past Bandarawela had suddenly gone dry as a result of this project.

The leader of the JVP stated in Parliament some weeks ago that as a result of ground water seeping into a tunnel being constructed as part of the Uma Oya project, 2,333 wells, streams and springs in the Bandarawela area had run dry, and cracks had appeared in 4,625 houses, six temples, one mosque and three schools in the area due to the change in ground conditions, and further that thousands of acres of agricultural land have been affected.

After things started going wrong, members of the JVP, ministers in the yahapalana government and various NGO activists have been making statements aimed at laying the blame for all this on me and my government.

One minister said that this situation had come about because I had wanted to divert water to Hambantota to irrigate land in my village. The President also stated that this project had been carried out due to ‘political requirements’.

The Uma Oya project consists of constructing a dam and reservoir across the Uma Oya at Puhulpola from where water would be diverted via a 4 km tunnel to another dam and reservoir constructed across the Mahatotilla Oya in Dyraaba. Water from this second reservoir would be channeled through a 15.3 km tunnel to a hydroelectricity powerhouse.

The outflow from the powerhouse is to be diverted via a 4 km tunnel into the Kirindi Oya, to provide water to parts of the Moneragala and Hambantota districts. The diversion of the Uma Oya has been under discussion for well over sixty years.

The idea was first mooted in 1959 in a study carried out by the United States Operations Mission and the Canadian Hunting Survey Corporation. It also featured in the United Nations Development Programme/Food and Agriculture Organisation Master Plan (1968-1969) for the Mahaweli project.

Studies regarding the Uma Oya diversion project were also carried out by the Lahmeyer International Company of Germany in 1989, by the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) in 1991 and by SNC Lavalin Inc of Canada in collaboration with the CECB in 2000. During the UNP led government of 2001-2004, at inter-ministerial meetings held in December 2003 and February 2004, chaired by the then ministers of power and energy and irrigation Karu Jayasuriya and Jayawickrema Perera with the participation of all the ministers and MPs of the Uva province, it was decided to implement the proposed Uma Oya scheme as a high priority project.  

On 26 January 2005, under the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, Cabinet approval was granted to proceed with the Uma Oya project, based on a cabinet paper submitted by the then Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Land and Irrigation, Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The Deputy Minister of this ministry at that time, was Bimal Ratnayake. The JVP Minister’s Cabinet Paper bearing No: 05/0036/039/002 dated 4 January 2005 stated the following:


“For the development of the South East Dry Zone in Sri Lanka, (particularly Hambantota and Moneragala districts) there is no other alternative unless water is diverted from Uma Oya to the South East Dry Zone.”

“Strategy for economic development of both Hambantota and Moneragala districts changed during the recent past and diversion of Uma Oya to Kirindi Oya is now seen in the perspective of recently conceived Ruhunupura development. The infrastructure of Ruhunupura development consists of the development of the Hambantota harbour into one of the modern harbours in the region, international airport in the Moneragala district, and an oil refinery. It is expected that the Hambantota harbour will attract a large number of ships sailing in the Indian ocean. Also a large number of industrial activities are expected to take place in and around Hambantota including tourism. For all these new developments, projected water requirement has been estimated as 100 MCM in the year 2030. In the absence of a reliable source of water in the area, water from Uma Oya is seen as the only alternative to supplement this requirement.”

“Therefore high priority should be given for this project.” 


It was only after all of the above had taken place under previous governments that the Uma Oya project appeared in my 2005 presidential election manifesto as a priority project. The JVP supported my candidacy at the 2005 presidential elections and Uma Oya was made a priority project of my government.

From winning the war against terrorism to building highways, harbours and power plants, my government did many things that previous governments had only been able to dream about, but never implement.

Uma Oya was one such project. On 27 November 2007, consequent to consultations held earlier that year by the then minister for enterprises development Sarath Amunugama and the then minister for power and energy John Seneviratne with the Export Development Board of Iran (EDBI) and Farab Company of Iran, an MOU was signed with the Iranian government under the terms of which the EDBI would finance the project and Farab Company, would prepare the detailed engineering design and carry out the physical construction.

The contractor Farab Company is owned by the Iranian government and a team of engineers from the irrigation ministry, CEB and CECB had checked the credentials of this company and its experience in handling similar projects.

In 2008, a Cabinet appointed Negotiating Committee got the contract price fixed at USD 514 million. Though the contract was signed in 2008, construction did not commence until 29 November 2011 until the Central Environmental Authority gave it clearance and a full feasibility report acceptable to the engineers of the Irrigation Ministry, Ceylon Electricity Board and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau had been received.

Ground water seepage is inevitable when drilling tunnels and measures have to be taken to prevent it. According to information available to me, the water seepage has taken place because the German manufactured drilling machine did not have the additional components to fully seal the tunnel as it moved forward.

This was apparently due to the project consultants failing to provide the correct advice. The first seepage of water had taken place only in late December 2014 just days before the present  government came into power. The environmental harm it has caused could have been averted if remedial measures had been taken in time. However the new government took no action because they were too busy persecuting the opposition.

The JVP was also too busy persecuting the Rajapaksas and helping the UNP to run the FCID to make representations to the government to rectify a problem that had arisen in the only major project ever initiated by a JVP Minister. 

I now learn that the necessary equipment has been obtained from Germany.

Whenever a large scale infrastructure project is implemented, there will be communities that are adversely affected. When the accelerated Mahaweli project was implemented, the entire Maskeliya town had to be shifted to make way for the Maussakele reservoir and the Teldeniya town had to be shifted to make way for the Victoria reservoir.

The extent of water seepage during the drilling of the Uma Oya tunnel, may not have been anticipated. But in projects of this magnitude, even unanticipated contingencies have to be provided for. Many large projects were implemented during the nine year tenure of my government, and some displacement of people did take place, but there was no public unrest because problems were identified early on, and compensation packages provided to the satisfaction of those affected.

Such alertness and efficiency is however lacking under the present government. Today, the situation is such that if a citizen loses his house in a landslide or flood or some man-made disaster, he will be living in a tent or a school until the next government comes into power. There is now agitation over issues that have emerged in the construction of the Central Highway which have not been resolved by the government.

Those affected by the unforeseen problems that have emerged in the implementation of the Uma Oya project have had to endure the consequences of the inherent inefficiency of the present government.

  Comments - 16

  • maddog Thursday, 28 September 2017 11:20 PM

    mhinda rajapakse still thinks he is only one who lives in sri lanka is clever than any other people live in sri lanka.

    Mahila Friday, 29 September 2017 01:11 AM

    So,what action was taken from early December 2014 to 8/01/15? Perhaps the government of that time was very busy with election of the President and secretary to the President too was busy with Sil redi distribution so he also failed to activate emergency measure and rectify the tunnelling process. Self Service is highly important.

    nick Friday, 29 September 2017 02:21 AM

    uma oya could have prevented if the full funding put into practice instead of 75% commissions & the rest for the project same is going to happen for kandy express way as certain minister is very famous for commission via DM Android App

    Technical officer Friday, 29 September 2017 04:12 AM

    Yes sir but who pocketed the money meant for PROPER CONSTRUCTION. It is you, your family

    Sincere Friday, 29 September 2017 12:30 PM

    Anura proposed and Mahinda did! Both are in the same boat!

    stardust Friday, 29 September 2017 01:10 PM

    This is not true. The water leaking problem in Uma Oya started much before end 2014.started via DM Android App

    malij Friday, 29 September 2017 02:06 PM

    The ex-Prez still thinks that he could hood wink people all the time. If he had heeded the early warnings of the environmentalists on Uma Oya project and was not in such a mighty hurry (it is plain that it was to pocket the kickbacks) to start it, such a huge carnage would not have happened. Now he is comparing this fiasco to Mahaweli project, where the displacements (due to reservoirs) and resettlements were part of the project which was planned well ahead and executed accordingly. Uma Oya is a classic example of sheer greed surpassing everything else, including blatant disregard for procedures and expert advice, which has ended up in misery for so many innocent people.

    alex Friday, 29 September 2017 03:36 PM

    there is nothing wrong or irregular with the then agriculture minister proposing this project. MR is trying to blame the then minister Anura Kumara and current govt. for not taking timley action to rectify a situation, where as the problem was created by MR by pocketing more than half the funds for the project and not heeding to engineering experts opinion and not following tender procedures in order to pocket the commission

    gamini Friday, 29 September 2017 03:37 PM

    Adoy MR go and tell these fairy tales to the buffalos in Hambantota

    Dharshana W Friday, 29 September 2017 04:43 PM

    MR has this habit of releasing press statements from time-to-time in the present time dimension, of which actions he himself has been totally accountable (and claimed to be so) during his reign as a regime.What he has conveniently forgotten, (or preserves to have forgotten) is that he has been at the root of many state sponsored terrorism, and ethnically conflicting events during his time by either supporting them indirectly or deciding to look the otherway as it deemed opportune. I am from Bandarawela, and the end result for the people in the locality is dire, with no signs of any relief from the formal lines of authority.I salute Mr. Samantha Vidyaratne, in his solo quest for proper vengeance ( in money and kind) for the people of Uva who have been effected by the Uma Oya project.I do hope that the people' voice would be heard in this instance where the government has erred grossly, and yet expect the general public to pay ( and suffer) for their mistakes.Regards,Dr. DhaW

    Engineru Mhaththaya Friday, 29 September 2017 05:33 PM

    Dear Ex President,It is pathetic to note that you are trying to disassociate with the responsibility.It is a known fact that how the EIA preparation was done without having technical details to assess the impacts, and how you and your brother put CEA under pressure to approve the project (those days, no pressure is required, just mentioning that President want to proceed with the project was sufficient).You are saying that if sealing was done while tunneling is in progress, this leakages wouldn't have happened. May I asked whose period those equipment were brought in, and who has approved those. It is a fact that the equipment brought to the country were only suitable to use in deserts (where interception of ground water is a non-occurrence). The company chosen didnt have any experience of the type of they are doing at Uma Oya. Who has selected that company and approved the company for the said contract? How can you simply become innocent on these. Dont try to fool the people

    Mandy Friday, 29 September 2017 05:55 PM

    Trying to cover up will not help that you gave the contract to Iran that only do desert tunelling - hence water leak. Why did we not have these problems with five dams/tunnels which were bigger under Gamini D's Mahaweli Scheme by British Swedish and other western contractors. Explain that if you can..

    malij Friday, 29 September 2017 06:37 PM

    MR is getting bogged down more and more in the cesspit he is already in as he tries to shift the blame on others in a pathetic display to gain the voter confidence. People already know that the whole sordid fiasco was due to his total manipulation of the entire project to his personal advantage.

    Nimal Friday, 29 September 2017 09:02 PM

    Likewise, issue statements explaining the circumstances that led to the murders of Thjudeen and Lasantha and the disappearance of Eknaligoda.

    Haramanis Friday, 29 September 2017 09:21 PM

    Tech Officer and Engineru Mahattaya etcIt is obvious that you do not have experience on underground works and tunneling in particular - there are always Unforeseen problems - they have to be solved by good engineering and good management of the effects. The latter was unfortunately not done by the Project Management team and the administrative and political authorities in time - until it became a disaster

    ralahamy Saturday, 30 September 2017 07:54 PM

    By trying to blame others for the sad plight of Uma Oya, The ex-leader is indirectly admitting that he knows next to nothing when it comes governing the nation. a true leader takes responsibility for the errors of his subordinates, even if he not the direct worker, engineer, planner or machine operator. That is the quality of the leader who protects his workers. Here we find just the opposite. Everybody is wrong except the leader. This shows the quality of the man.

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