resident Maithripala Sirsena in a stoical revelation yesterday said there was a close link between the ceremony held to lay the foundation stone to the ‘Moragahakanda-Kaluganga Multi-purpose Development Project’ (MKMDP) on January 25, 2007 and sowing the first seed of dissent and disappointment in his mind on the Mahinda Rajapaksa government that ultimately festered into a regime change in January 2015.
On the eve of the national ceremony to enshrine treasures and relics on the main Kaluganga dam today, President Sirisena said “From my school days I have witnessed how the people in Rajarata suffered in their every aspect of life due to the lack of clean drinking water and water for cultivation. Therefore, taking them out of these perennial hardships was my dream and with the riding of the political ladder step by step, I developed much hope on realizing my dream,”.
President Sirisena revealed that there was a fully-fledged Cabinet reshuffle three days later on January 28, 2007. In the new Cabinet I had been given a less influential portfolio of the Agriculture and Agrarian Services Ministry after removing me from two major portfolios of Agriculture, Irrigation and the Mahaweli Development Ministry and Environment and Natural Resources Ministry.
In the afternoon of January 27, 2007 party seniors like Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mangala Smaraweera and S.B.Dissanayaka had been called to Temple Trees to discuss the following day’s cabinet reshuffle and the premiership. In a compromise after many agreements and disagreements, Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka was named as the Prime Minister. Thereafter I was called to the upper floor to further discuss the new portfolios.
"The Moragahakanda Dam, would be a 65-metre (213 ft) high gravity dam. The dam would create the Moragahakanda Reservoir"
At that meeting, President Rajapaksa asked Basil Rajapaksa to show the list of members of the new Cabinet to me and the latter gave me a list with names of Cabinet ministers to be appointed the following morning. I made a few comments as a party senior on the merits and demerits of certain appointments. However, my name was not there in that list. Then Basil gave me another list and in that I had been given the portfolio of Agriculture and Agrarian Services. Highly dejected and heartbroken, I asked why I had not been given at least the Mahaweli Development Ministry after laying the foundation stone to the MKMDP a couple of days ago. I asked the two as to how I could face the people in Rajarata after this and there was no positive response.
Basil said they had decided to give the Mahaweli Development Ministry to brother Chamal Rajapaksa as a new ministry. Then, President Rajapaksa asked Basil to give the Mahaweli Development Ministry to me. (Onna oka dheela dhanna) Ultimately the both agreed to give me the subject without including it in the portfolio.
During the 2005 Presidential poll campaign at which Mahinda Rajapaksa contested from the UPFA, he asked me as I was the political authority at that time in Rajaparata, and what to address at the massive rally held at the Hingurakgopda ground. I explained the seriousness of the water problem in the North-Central Province and told him to give a pledge that he would implement the MKMDP if he was elected to the Presidency.
Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga also asked me the same question when she came to Polonnaruwa during the 2004 Presidential poll campaign and I gave the same reply to her.
I raised the issue of launching the MKMDP several times with President Rajapaksa in and out of the Cabinet and the answer was that there were no funds. Then on my relentless persuasions, it was agreed to launch the project without money.
Thereafter I summoned the Finance Ministry Secretary Dr. P.B.Jayasundara and representatives of global financial bodies, the World Bank and the IMF and persuaded them to fund the project. Thus, creating the opportunity to lay the foundation stone on January 25, 2007 for the MKMDP.
There was a huge nation-wide publicity campaign for the stone laying ceremony. Cut-outs and posters were seen everywhere to the biggest ever multi-purpose development programme in the country which was bigger than any scheme under the Mahaweli Development programme; be it Victoria or Randenigala or Rantambe.
The stone-laying ceremony was a huge success and there were over 10,000 people gathered at the rally. There was no doubt that the entire Rajarata, North and East were to benefit on completion of the project and I would have become very popular like late Mahaweli Development Minister Gamini Dissanayaka who with late National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali challenged the leadership of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. In fact, the emerging signs were not good.
My friend, Minister Dulles Alahapperuma who was in charge of the publicity campaign called it the ‘Mother of all Development Projects ever implemented in Sri Lanka’.
Unfortunately, there were no funds arrived for the project. The project was shelved for several years. The actual estimate for the project was Rs. 70 billion, but to day as a result of the deliberated delay to launch the project by the previous government, it had snowballed to Rs. 120 billion.
The Moragahakanda Dam is a large gravity dam, and the main component of the larger and more complex Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga Project, currently under construction across the Amban River at Alahara in the Matale District, is the largest ever multi-purpose development project in Sri Lanka and the reservoir is bigger than that of the Parakrama Samudraya.
" Basil said they had decided to give the Mahaweli Development Ministry to brother Chamal Rajapaksa as a new ministry. Then, President Rajapaksa asked Basil to give the Mahaweli Development Ministry to me"
The larger combined project involves the construction of the Moragahakanda Dam and Reservoir, along with the separate Kalu Ganga Dam and Reservoir, for irrigation and power generation purposes. Both these sites would be located approximately 10 km (6.2 miles) apart. The total development cost for both sites would be approximately Rs. 48.145 billion (approximately US$370 million) and is being carried out by SMEC Holdings and Sinohydro of China.
The Moragahakanda Dam, would be a 65-metre (213 ft) high gravity dam. The dam would create the Moragahakanda Reservoir, which would have an active storage capacity of 521,000,000 m3 (1.84×1010 cu ft) of water) at a surface elevation of 185 metre (607 ft). Two additional embankment saddle dams would also be build to contain the Moragahakanda Reservoir. The reservoir of the Kalu Ganga Dam would be linked via a tunnel. Water from both, the Moragahakanda and Kalu Ganga reservoirs, would be primarily used to support agricultural needs to an area of at least 81,422 hectares (814.2 km2). This would increase rice production by 81% or 109,000 t (240,000,000 lb), amounting to an estimated monetary benefit of US$1.67 million, annually. The reservoirs would also create a source of inland fishing, generating approximately 4,700 tonnes (10,400,000 lb) or the monetary equivalent of US$1.67 million, annually.
Along with the reservoir of the Kalu Ganga Dam, an increase of 64,000,000 cubic meters of potable and industrial water supply could be ensured by 2032, to the districts including Matale, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee and Polonnaruwa.
Water from the Moragahakanda Reservoir would be used to power the 25 MW Moragahakanda Hydro-electric Power Station, also currently under construction. The substitution of this hydro-power with traditional fossil fuel power generation is estimated to save up to US$ 2.49 billion annually. Construction of the power station costs approx. US$382 million.
The construction of the dam and reservoir also required the construction of multiple access roads and re-routing of existing main roads, as well as the construction of the 300-metre (984 ft) long Moragahakanda Bridge would cost Rs. 308 million.
Prsident Sirisena recalled that the concept of the Moragahakanda development project had been mooted first by late Communist leader S.A.Wickramasinghe and later during Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayaka governments.
Commenting on the accelerated Mahaweli Development Project, President Sirisena said the Russian engineers who compiled a feasibility study on the project had planned to complete it in 25 years with environment impact in mind but President Jayewardene wanted it in six years.
He added that the MKMDP has paid attention to all negative impacts of a development project when the blueprint was drawn and has addressed all environment, social and cultural impacts when the construction progresses.