JVP Uva Provincial Council Member Samantha Vidyaratne, who also spearheads the people’s movement against the controversial Uma Oya Project, spoke about the current status of the issue and the political future of his party. The excerpts of the interview:
- MR’s rule implemented it with disregard to environmental concerns
- Current rule proceeded with bulk of its work
- President cannot simply wipe off his hands attributing the crisis to the former rul
- It is important to stop the project right now before further damage is done
- Over 7000 houses have been damaged now
- More than 3000 wells and natural water springs have dried up
- JVP undergoes changes in political complexion, but no compromise on its policies
- JVP is not there to ensure victory for MR or MS
- It has to work for socialism as ultimate goal
- JVP is committed to its founding principles
Q Now, 78 percent of the work associated with the Uma Oya Project has been completed. How viable is it to terminate the project at this juncture?
We were opposed to the implementation of the project from its inception. We took this position as it is destructive. We still take the same stand. It is true that there is water scarcity in Wellawaya, Tanamalwila and Hambantota. Our fellow citizens in these areas are in dire need of water for cultivation. The Uma Oya project isn’t an option for them. If their issue regarding water was addressed, a canal should have been built instead of a tunnel. I proposed it to then Minister Chamal Rajapaksa. This project has to be stopped forthwith.
Q Already, the government has spent a lot on this. Won’t it be a waste of money to scrap the project at this point?
We believe the loss will be even greater unless the project is scrapped right now. Rs.76 billion has been estimated for this project. Eighty five percent of it has been taken as a loan from Iran to be repaid in 20 years. However, the environmental cost of the project is vast. It is incalculable. As many as 7000 houses have been damaged. Also, places of religious worship have been affected. Roads have caved in. Even the Badulla-Colombo Road isn’t spared. As a result of this project, 3112 water springs and wells have dried up. We cannot estimate this damage in financial terms. Two streams- Heel Oya and Amunu Oya- have dried up. How can one estimate this environmental cost in financial terms?
More than 15 kilometres of the main tunnel have now been constructed. Five more remain incomplete. That will be the most environmentally damaging part. It’s important to stop the project right now. There is corruption involved in the execution of this project.
This has been executed disregarding environmental rules and regulations. When it was launched, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) hadn’t been completed. When we were about to resort to legal action, the EIA was drafted. By that time, work was in progress to a great extent. This is unlawful in that sense. There was no feasibility study even.
This has been executed disregarding environmental rules and regulations. When it was launched, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) hadn’t been completed. When we were about to resort to legal action, the EIA was drafted.
Q The current regime, including President Maithripala Sirisena, holds the former government responsible for the crisis involved. What is your view?
It’s simply to wipe off its hands in this regard. After President Sirisena assumed office, we, along with a team of academics and environmentalists, made representations to the Environment Ministry. That was in March, 2015. At that time, only 16 percent of the work had been done. The financial progress of the project was 42 percent. Finances were used for the purchase of vehicles, machinery and the construction of circuit bungalows. They remain useful even though the project is cancelled. We proposed to the President to stop work at that moment. There was nothing much to be wasted. Now, 78 percent of work is completed. Then, if former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is responsible for 16 percent of the work, President Sirisena should be held responsible for 62 percent of work. We cannot allow him to wipe off his hands off simply.
Q What is your opinion on the move to consult foreign experts to determine the future of the project?
We urge the President to take steps to seal points where water leaks from the tunnel. Otherwise, it will cause more and more earth cracks, wall cracks etc. Millions of litres of water a day are lost due to leaks from cracks. The construction firm has no technology to address this problem using healing materials. Sri Lanka does not possess adequate expertise in this regard. We find this expertise in Japan, Canada, Germany and Norway. We asked the President to seek foreign expertise at least.
In fact, there are Sri Lankan experts working overseas. There is a world renowned geologist called Shane Attanayake. He is domiciled in the United States. I asked the President to look for him and bring him here for consultations. The Norwegian team is supposed to arrive on August 1. By this time, further damage would have been caused.
Q Against the backdrop of crisis after crisis in the country, how does the JVP brace for politics in the future?
People look for alternatives when they face a crisis. They do so when their future looks bleak. Now, the UNP-SLFP government is in place. When the Rajapaksa rule was riddled with corruption, frauds and nepotism, people looked for an alternative. The Ranil-Maithri government was the alternative. This government is also on the wane now. Now, people are considering their next options. We are getting ready to give leadership to it. I am not saying that we have gained enough to form a government. We are in the process of soliciting support from intelligentsia right down to the ordinary people. This is a good opportunity.
Q However, the JVP played a crucial role in the installation of this government. Alongside, there is an allegation that JVP is giving covert support to this government. What is your response?
We are not ready to protect this capitalist rule covertly or overtly. We have acted openly when the country is faced with a crisis of any sort. We are opposed to both the UNP and the SLFP. Some elements are politically bankrupt. They think we are responsible for their bankruptcy. Those who make such allegations think that the JVP is meant for Mahinda’s survival. We are not for him. In 2005, we worked for him openly. We supported him with the expectation that he would establish communist rule. At that time, there was separatism. It had to be defeated. Then, the UNP accused us of aiding and abetting that rule. We didn’t become its cat’s paw then. Today, we are criticizing the political camp led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. We are not the cat’s paw of anybody. The JVP hasn’t been created to ensure victory either for Mahinda or Maithri. We have a separate agenda. We have to ensure that it’s achieved.
Q Yet, your role at the last Presidential Election ensured the victory of President Sirisena clearly. What is your response?
That has to be understood in this way. We had several options at that time from a practical perspective. One was to field our own candidate. Or else, we had the options of supporting either Mahinda or Maithri directly. We didn’t do any of them. We only informed our position to people. If we had fielded our candidate, we could not have won. It was obvious to anybody. We gave up on that option accordingly. There was no way for us to help Mahinda. We wanted to ensure his defeat due to his corrupt, antidemocratic rule coupled with nepotism and family rule. Also, there was no way for us to get on the stage with Maithri. Suppose, we supported him, then what would have been our predicament today? We asked people to defeat Mahinda. Yet, we didn’t ask people to vote for Maithri either. We had no basis to recommend him (Maithri) to the people to be elected as President. We only said Mahinda had to be defeated. We also said we couldn’t give any assurance on what Maithri had in store for the country.
Q Finally, your party position has given advantage to President Sirisena. Do you accept this?
It is clear. This government gained power as a result of a phenomenon created by Mahinda Rajapaksa. The conduct of Mahinda Rajapaksa only created the political ground ideal for Maithri to become President. It wasn’t done by us. We didn’t ensure victory for anybody. But, we created the background to defeat Mahinda. Maithri’s ability is Mahinda’s inability.
The JVP has to expose any corruption if found. When we do so it may inevitably give an advantage to another political party.
Q How far do you stick with the original founding principles of the JVP?
We have a capitalist system governing the country. It has failed in Sri Lanka repeatedly. Capitalism has no solution to offer to the problems here or elsewhere. Otherwise, it’s not the weakness of individual rulers, who led the nation to the present problems. Capitalism only creates problems. It’s common to the whole world. If there is a unique socialist approach in the world, there cannot be racism (in any form), religious fanaticism, and poverty. Then, the world doesn’t rely on superstition any more. If a socialist system is at work, people won’t take on each other for petty, jealousies and hypocratic reasons. Socialism is the answer to the problems. We haven’t deviated from it.
We don’t deviate from the core. With the advancement of science and technology, there is a change in the way how people think. In keeping with it, we have been amenable to changes in the complexion of our policy line, but not regarding the core.
Q Can you give an example where you have changed the complexion, but not the core of your policies?
For example, a tree has both bark and trunk. Bark can be shown. But the tree has to be felled for the trunk to be seen. Likewise, socialism can be seen once it’s implemented only. Be that as it may, you can judge us by our conduct. We have seen changes in our political complexion. Yet, we remain committed and dedicated as usual without being subject to change at all.
People look for alternatives when they face a crisis. They do so when their future looks bleak. Now, the UNP-SLFP government is in place. When the Rajapaksa rule was riddled with corruption, frauds and nepotism, people looked for an alternative.
Q When you talk about tour party’s dedicated commitment, there are allegations that the JVP leaders, unlike their predecessors, are after material comforts now. Also, there is an allegation that some leaders have struck deals with the ruling side. What is your response?
When Comrade Rohana Wijeweera lived in the past, the situation was different. We shouldn’t have remained with the same scenario. We have to adjust our political outlook. We don’t dress ourselves in the way our forefathers did. Our housing is different to theirs. We have adjusted ourselves in keeping with the changes in the environment. Our past leaders remained committed to the cause. The present leaders also have the same level of commitment. We serve people without receiving payment. There was no one there to give a monthly support to Comrade Wijeweera at that time. Maybe there is someone willing to do so now. Maybe we are able to dress better than in the past. Maybe we are nicely shaved today in order to look pleasant. We are well attired, thanks to items gifted by well-wishers.
Q I am not referring to the improvement of quality and quantity of items you use. There are allegations about the present JVP leaders having underhand deals with the capitalist rulers as you call. How do you respond?
I reject these allegations. There is no deal. On and off, we have worked openly with the capitalist parties as warranted by the situation. We engaged in an armed struggle. Today, we engage in democratic politics. We have to acquire that new political complexion to win people over. It might have been misinterpreted by someone. That’s backward thinking. We have to move forward.