The damage caused to the breakwater near Parakrama Samudra
The 8 feet wide jogging track stretching up to 1.7 kilometres will cost 34 million rupees
Farmers’ associations and the Buddhist clergy weren’t informed about the project and as a result these parties took a stand against the destruction of the reservoir bund
There are water leaks in four areas on the reservoir bund
Critics point out that the road can be closed near the first and second canal sluices and be used for jogging
If the money can be used to construct side walls of canals it would have been useful for farmers
The authorities point out that only those with narrow political agendas are trying to oppose these development activities
Before launching this project I discussed with irrigation engineers and we planned to construct the jogging track while ensuring the protection of the reservoir and its heritage”
- Roshan Ranasinghe State Minister
The UDA has given money to the Irrigation Department to launch the project. I only intervened to solve this issue and now I am forced to take responsibility. There was no proposal to construct the jogging track down the reservoir bund”
- W. A. Dhanasiri Polonnaruwa District Secretary
The initially proposed jogging track which was to come up on the left side was later built on the right side of the bund due to a decision taken by the current ministers and engineers. I took the lead in constructing a gym and a jogging track. I cannot say more than that,”
- Maithripala Sirisena Former President
The construction of a jogging track on the breakwater of the Parakrama Samudraya has been a controversial topic for some time. Irrigation Department data reveal that the 8 feet wide jogging track stretching up to 1.7 kilometres will cost 34 million rupees. Earlier it was reported that this project was an extension of “Pibidena Polonnaruwa” project and the Urban Development Authority had handed over the project to the Divisional Irrigation Engineer’s office in Polonnaruwa. However later it was identified that it was not a project under ‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’, but was under the UDA and money was allocated this year for the project; for which the plan was made years ago. The construction of the project began not so long ago after the Polonnaruwa District Development Committee gave its approval. Farmers’ associations and the Maha Sangha (Buddhsit clergy) were not informed about the project and as a result these parties took a stand against the destruction of the reservoir bund to construct the jogging track.
Priests from across the Polonnaruwa District said that there are many development activities taking place in Polonnaruwa that should be prioritised. “Instead of giving priority to those activities the authorities have started to construct a jogging track. There is no proper drainage system even though highways have been constructed in Polonnaruwa. During rains water on the road floods shops in several areas. Some drainages are closed. There is no bus stop. Many people in Polonnaruwa have contracted Covid-19. There are many problems in Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre in Welikanda where beds have no oxygen supply. Side walls down the first and second canals have not been constructed and this can cause a destruction. Food prices have risen and people barely eat. These issues should be given priority. People in Polonnaruwa have more urgent needs than a jogging track. The authorities are not considering these needs,” added some priests who aired their views to this newspaper.
A walking track exists near the proposed walking track
This jogging track was previously planned to be constructed on the left of Parakrama Samudraya towards the second canal near the Pulleyar statue. A Social Activist in Polonnaruwa A. Nimalsiri said that State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, Polonnaruwa District Secretary and officers of the Irrigation Department met six months ago to plan this project. “It was decided during the meeting to construct a road to the left of the reservoir bund connecting it to the main road. It was also decided to allow vehicles using the road over the reservoir bund to move in one direction. It is questionable as to how the proposed road was later constructed on the right side of the reservoir bund.
“There are many folklores as believed by ancestors in Polonnaruwa about Parakrama Samudraya. One of the folklores says that in case the reservoir bund is destroyed there is a golden boat and an oar that could be found hidden in the construction which can be used to uplift the lives of people. It will be wise to consider whether the previous plan to make the walking path on the landside was changed with the motive of obtaining this golden boat and oar.” Nimalsiri added.
Ven. Shashrapathi Panditha Diyasenpura Nandarathna Thera, the Head Priest of Bendiwewa Mahindarama Vihara, said that this was not the first ever development activity which emerged to destroy Parakrama Samudraya. “Several people earlier attempted to start a seaplane and boat service here. We could defeat the people behind these projects through a united effort. After the jogging track is completed seaplane and boat service will begin. That is why we formed ‘Parakrama Samudraya Surakeeme Sanwidhanaya’ with the Buddhist priests and farmers’ associations to stand against this current project. Now attempts are being made to drive fear into public officers and somehow construct the walking track. Public officers in Polonnaruwa are forced to give into politicians for the fear of losing their jobs,” said Nandarathna Thera.
“A large Backhoe-loader is placed at the reservoir bund and this should not be done as the bund has already cracked. There are water leaks in four areas on the reservoir bund. That is the same reservoir bund over which the jogging track is to be built after pushing rocks along the breakwater into the water. The irrigation engineers should fix those leaks instead of wasting public money. The Buddhist priests together with 28 farmers’ associations will stand against this planned construction to ensure the project is suspended. The road can be closed near the first and second canal sluices and be used for jogging. That road is not useful for vehicles. There are many roads which can be used for vehicle movement instead of driving over the reservoir bund. It would be better to look for other options instead of damaging the breakwater.” the priest added.
The gym constructed by the previous regime seen near the proposed walking track
The reservoir bund was destroyed during the 1978 cyclone and floods. The bund was destroyed near the Pulleyar statue and the former Minister H.G.P Nelson took the lead in rebuilding the breakwater at a large expense for the protection of the reservoir. Representatives of farmers’ associations said that the attempts taken by the present Government to remove the rocks of the breakwater could make the reservoir bund more vulnerable. “As rocks up to 700 metres of the breakwater have been removed the bund is washed away during heavy rains and gets deposited in the reservoir. The bund of the reservoir was protected during heavy rains in 2007 using sand bags.
The reservoir bund cracked even before, but the irrigation officer at the time said that there was no reason to fear. We will not let anyone make the reservoir bund vulnerable again with the construction of the jogging track,” representatives of farmers’ associations said. P. K. D. Wijerathna of Aluthwewa East Farmers’ Association said that building of the jogging track at the expense of removing the rocks of the breakwater would not be allowed. “The tank belongs to the farmers and we were not informed of this project. A Backhoe-loader was brought to the area in a hurry to remove the breakwater. People connected to this can earn money only if the project is completed. That is why they are trying to complete the project somehow,” said Wijerathna.
After the jogging track is completed seaplane and boat service will begin. That is why we formed ‘Parakrama Samudraya Surakeeme Sanwidhanaya’ with the Buddhist priests and farmers’ associations to stand against this current project. Now attempts are being made to drive fear into public officers and somehow construct the walking track”
-Ven. Shashrapathi Panditha Diyasenpura Nandarathna Thera, Head Priest Bendiwewa Mahindarama Vihara
Destroying country’s heritage
“There is no use of earning money from tourism after destroying our heritage and culture. Similar development projects conducted amidst the opposition of farmers have failed by now. If the money can be used to construct side walls of canals it would have been useful for farmers. We receive money from farmers’ associations to maintain canals. That money has not been paid in three years. Now they are maintained by farmers’ associations. The Irrigation Department, which does not grant money to maintain canals, is trying to construct a jogging track for the wellbeing of people and it is quite an issue,” Wijerathna added.
Earlier it was reported that this project was an extension of the ‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’ project, but it was later identified that the ‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’ project concluded last year. Former President Maithripala Sirisena when contacted said that there was no proposal to construct a jogging track by removing the tank breakwater under the ‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’ project. “The initially proposed jogging track which was to come up on the left side was later built on the right side of the bund due to a decision taken by the current ministers and engineers. I took the lead in constructing a gym and a jogging track. I cannot say more than that. I made an announcement to the media. I am not aware of plans to start a seaplane and boat service near the reservoir.” Sirisena added.
The project would be launched after assuring that that project causes no destruction to the reservoir or its bund after constructing 20 metres of the track where the rocks have been removed in the breakwater as a pilot project”
- Retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Nanayakkara UDA Chairman
State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs Roshan Ranasinghe responding to the allegations connected to politicians in Polonnaruwa said that this project would not destroy the breakwater or the reservoir bund. “Before launching this project I discussed with irrigation engineers and we planned to construct the jogging track while ensuring the protection of the reservoir and its heritage. Earlier sluices and hotels were built and heavy vehicles moved over the reservoir bund, but no one opposed these activities. Polonnaruwa requires a successful development plan, but some people are trying to hinder such activities under the influence of politics.
The Mahanayaka Thera, Anunayaka Thera, chief incumbents and the Buddhist clergy in Polonnaruwa- who love the environment- approve these activities. The other side of the reservoir bund should also be developed to suite the 21st century and that would increase the value of the greatest creations of King Parakramabahu. Only those with narrow political agendas are trying to oppose these development activities. The overall population in Polonnaruwa will stand with me in implementing these development activities successfully. In order to gain tourist attraction this project is essential and this will begin soon.
The blessings of those who oppose this project are not necessarily required. Money allocated for one project cannot be used for other projects and cannot be returned to the Treasury. This project was launched with the intention of attracting tourists and developing Polonnaruwa and the allocations made cannot be used instead to fulfill the basic needs of people. Covid-19 will be gone. If Polonnaruwa should be further developed after the pandemic, plans should made from now onwards. Therefore the project would begin soon. Around 50-60 tipper trucks loaded with rocks travel over the reservoir bund and no one opposes that despite the huge damage those trucks cause. The problem is political. Those who opposed the removal of rocks from the breakwater were the same persons who opposed the government’s decision to eradicate rice mafia. This reveals their political intentions,” said Ranasinghe.
UDA allocated money
Polonnaruwa District Secretary W. A. Dhanasiri said that he was not involved in the project. “This is solely under the UDA. The UDA has given money to the Irrigation Department to launch the project. I only intervened to solve this issue and now I am forced to take responsibility. There was no proposal to construct the jogging track down the reservoir bund. The area was only inspected and I went there because Minister Roshan visited the place. This is not a project under ‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’. Constructing the jogging tracks was not my proposal either.
‘Pibidena Polonnaruwa’ project ended last year. I have no power to suspend this project. As this project is included in the annual plan of the UDA, they have allocated money this year after many years. I do not know whether a seaplane or boat service would be launched through this project. It was proposed at the district development committee where I am the convener. Decisions are taken by officers and politicians in the committee. On that day the project received approval,” said Dhanasiri.
Representatives of the ‘Parakrama Samudraya Surakeeme Sanwidhanaya’ said that the former president built an outdoor gym and a jogging track 500 metres away from this proposed track and constructing a jogging track after removing the rocks of the breakwater is unacceptable.
UDA Chairman Retired Major General Udaya Nanayakkara said that at present the project had been suspended temporarily in the face of opposition. “The project would be launched after assuring that that project causes no destruction to the reservoir or its bund after constructing 20 metres of the track where the rocks have been removed in the breakwater as a pilot project. If there is opposition against that the project would be halted.
Construction of the 20 metre stretch is yet to begin. The request was made to have the track constructed towards the breakwater of the reservoir bund through the Polonnaruwa district committee. Calling this project a jogging track was a mistake of the UDA. We should have called it a visiting area and none of the issues would have arisen. The Irrigation Department was given this project because it has knowledge on irrigation. Some people opposed this project and therefore this was suspended. There is no proposal to support seaplanes or a boat service and it is not under the UDA. If people are against this project it would not be implemented and the allocations would be used for another project. If it is suitable to close the road near first and second canal sluices and allow people to use the road as a jogging track, the authorities should take such a decision,” said Maj. Gen.Nanayakkara .
“During a meeting of the Parakrama Samudraya Surakeeme Sanwidhanaya on August 30 it was said that a single construction activity would not be allowed on the breakwater. A programme was planned by the Irrigation Department and the authorities to be held on 31 August to convince the Buddhist clergy that this project does not destroy the bund. But due to strong opposition from the ‘Parakrama Samudraya Surakeeme Sanwidhanaya’ that programme was cancelled.
Irrigation Engineer in charge of Parakrama Samudra Asela Udayanga said that this project would not be launched amidst public opposition. “We halted the project temporarily. Constructing this jogging track has no effect on the bund. The bund will remain the same whether it is built or not. We are of the opinion that the project would not be launched amidst public opposition. The project was proposed to be constructed down the reservoir. People have come up with bogus stories about seaplanes, boat services and treasures. There is a leakage on the bund and the engineers are always inspecting that,” said Udayanga.
Authorities in the area said that the construction of the jogging track has been suspended temporarily considering the opposition from the public. They maintained that discussions would be held with the protesters and a decision would be arrived at after explaining to them about the planned construction. They affirmed that a decision has not been taken to suspend the construction completely.