The controversial bridge being constructed
- Damana Divisional Development Committee had stated that the purpose of constructing the bridge was to enable villagers to take their crops and products to the market on time
- The controversial bridge under construction across the RB- 17 canal is only 160 metres long and made only to benefit a few families
- Priority was given to construct a bridge for farmers, but the bridge under construction only benefits three families
- The RDA maintains that if there are five houses, a bridge as well as roads can be constructed
- A bridge is under construction across the RB-17 canal because of the presence of a rock on Third Lane
Foundation stone being laid to construct the bridge
Around 350 - 400 families live in Paranigama W.27/A Grama Niladhari Division in Ampara district. More than 350 acres of cultivation lands of these villagers - whose main occupation is farming - are located in a village called Meegahapallama. The bridge in the area, built 40 years ago, is dilapidated and is at risk of collapse. Tractors, other vehicles and lorries loaded with paddy use the bridge to commute despite the risk. More than 150 families have made several requests to politicians to construct a bridge; if such a facility is built it would provide access to their fields.
The need for this bridge has received much attention during meetings of the Damana Divisional Development Committee. Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association President M. G. Munidasa said that 10 million rupees was allocated when the divisional development activities were listed prioritizing the need to construct the bridge at Meegahapallama. Its construction was to begin soon. Damana Pradesha Sabha Chairman, a Grama Niladhari officer, a development officer, an agricultural research officer, a Samurdhi officer and presidents of village societies were present during the meeting, according to him.
"10 million rupees was allocated when the divisional development activities were listed prioritizing the need to construct the bridge at Meegahapallama. Its construction was to begin soon - M. G. Munidasa,
President of the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association ”
The development committee had stated that the purpose of constructing the bridge was to enable villagers to take their crops and products to the market on time and to ease daily transport issues and thereby enhance the livelihoods of communities. Meegahapallama Village Development Association Secretary Rohana Kumara said that the bridge was to be named “Bridge Connecting Hearts”.
“However dropping the proposal put forward by the farmers’ association and the divisional development committee, the construction of the bridge has instead begun across the RB-17 canal connecting it to the ‘Third Lane’ in Southern Paranigama in Higurana at an estimated cost of 6.6 million rupees. MP Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, who has been elected to Parliament from Ampara representing ‘Wiyath Maga’ is said to have taken the lead in constructing the bridge across the RB-17 canal, Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association Secretary Kumara alleges.
"The proposed bridge by the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association has been approved and will be constructed soon. The bridge across the RB- 17 canal is not the bridge proposed by the farmers. The estimated cost for this bridge is 6.6 million rupees - MP Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, (Resident)"
The distance between the ‘Third Lane’ located close to Paranigama junction in Wale Kade on the Ampara-Colombo main road and the bridge under construction across the RB-17 canal is only 160 metres. We are not sure as to why public funds should be spent on building a bridge spanning such a short distance. The ‘Third Lane’ connecting to the Dambana-Siyambalanduwa main road is 14 feet wide. A distance of 100 metres on this lane, spanning a total of 160 metres, is laid out with concrete and that area is 9 feet in width. Instead of developing the rest of the road why this MP is constructing a bridge merely for the use of eight families related to him at a cost of 6.6 million rupees is not known, says Kumara.
"We sent a letter signed by 90 farmers requesting not to build a bridge there and instead build a bridge for the benefit of the farmers. We haven’t received any response for the letter yet from state officials or politician - Rohana Kumara, Meegahapallama Village Development Association Secretary”
“We sent a letter signed by 90 farmers requesting not to build a bridge there and instead build a bridge for the benefit of the farmers. Copies of this letter were sent to the president, MPs of Ampara district, the Governor, the District Secretary, Divisional Secretary and MP Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa. We haven’t received any response for the letter yet from state officials or politicians,” said Kumara.
Through the staging of many protests, members of the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association have requested for the carpeting or laying concrete on the Third Lane or building of another bridge.
The foundation was laid to construct the bridge across the RB-17 canal in March. By now 75% of its work has been completed. The bridge has been named as ‘Bridge Connecting Hearts’. However that name was initially suggested by the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association for the proposed bridge; that would have helped farmers reach Meegahapallama fields. The signboard says that the bridge has been built to facilitate transportation of products of farmers and these words were also suggested by the association. Its representatives confirmed that the bridge has been built somewhere else using the proposals and the name suggested by farmers. A bridge is under construction across the RB-17 canal because of the presence of a rock on ‘Third Lane’. If the rock can be removed and the ‘Third Lane’ can be carpeted to be used by the eight families, the money spent on the bridge could be used for another development activity, critics point out.
Residents, who are to use the bridge under construction, are not commercial cultivators. The bridge is being built to meet the needs of eight families and this is happening despite there being a road spanning 160 metres in length and 14 feet in width. Instead of constructing that road the authorities are building a bridge. However they have also taken steps to remove the rock on ‘Third Lane’ to widen the road. The authorities turned a blind eye to the fact that 6.6 million rupees was spent on constructing a bridge at a place which is of no use to anyone.
"I refute the allegation that I influenced the building of a bridge, which was constructed using the public fund. It was the MP who granted the large bridge when I requested for a small bridge. It was the Ampara RDA Chief Engineer who decided that the bridge was suitable to be built there. This is not the bridge proposed by the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association - Kamal Piyathilaka, (Resident)”
Kamal Piyathilaka, a resident who has benefited from the bridge, said that he had requested the Pradesha Sabha and the Divisional Secretary to have the rock obstructing the road, to his home, be removed. As his request was not fulfilled he had requested from MP Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa for a bridge. “I requested for a bridge before, but it was not granted. I did not think the MP would build a bridge across the canal at a cost of 6.6 million rupees. My wife says when I asked for a cup of plain tea, the MP had given me a cup of milk tea,” said Piyathilaka. “My house is 160 metres away from the Ampara-Colombo road. And the road mentioned is 12 feet wide. There are eight houses along this road. I could not take my vehicle in because of the rock. The owners of the land, which is situated near the rock, are my relatives. They did not allow us to remove the rock. The contractor of the bridge later had discussions with the land owners and renovated the road. I could not even buy a luxury car because of that rock; hence I had to buy a small car. I refute the allegation that I influenced the building of a bridge, which was constructed using public funds. It was the MP who granted the large bridge when I requested for a small bridge. It was the Ampara RDA Chief Engineer who decided that the bridge was suitable to be built there. This is not the bridge proposed by the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association,” said Piyathilaka.
"Even if the bridge is in my division I was not aware of it until its foundation was laid. The bridge has been built on the needs of eight householders. MP Thilak has taken the lead in constructing the bridge therefore he should be contacted for details - Mahinda Mangala Gunawardena, Damana PS Chairperson”
Piyathilaka was lost for words when he was asked whether the families on ‘Third Lane’ were engaged in commercial farming. When questioned about the transport of crops as mentioned in the signboard on the bridge, he said that the bridge was useful to bring paddy to his uncle’s house. “The bridge in the signboard is not this one and the proposed bridge is not my concern,” he added.
MP Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa said that people request for roads and bridges through written letters and by making requests to the development committee prior to elections. “Those requests will be fulfilled through the RDA and their opposition is expected. People opposed the bridge under construction across the RB-17 canal. The proposed bridge by the Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association has been approved and will be constructed soon. The bridge across the RB-17 canal is not the bridge proposed by the farmers. The estimated cost for this bridge is 6.6 million rupees” said Dr. Rajapaksa.
"We are working according to the political authority. If there are five houses, a bridge as well as roads can be constructed. We only have to build bridges in places suggested by politicians in the district - K. A. M. Ismile,
RDA Ampara District Chief Engineer ”
When inquired whether constructing the road instead of the bridge for the eight families was a better option, he said that the bridge was planned based on the issues they faced at the time. “I did not plan to build the bridge to cater to personal needs. The RDA decides on the quality and the cost of the bridge. When I visited the area I noticed that eight families were affected because there wasn’t a bridge. Some of them could not take their vehicles inside their homes because of the issue that existed on the road. Therefore I planned to construct the bridge for those eight families,” Rajapaksa said .
I did not notice that the signboard mentions about giving access to fields. People asked for a bridge and I gave them one. They did not mention about their farms. The RDA Chief Engineer is responsible for its cost estimation. I informed to halt to constructions of the bridge because it is not suitable for the area. There was no letter opposing the construction signed by people until the foundation was laid. If there had been one, the authorities could have halted the construction.” said Dr. Rajapaksa.
Damana PS Chairperson Mahinda Mangala Gunawardena, who is a Damana Development Committee representative, said that he had not recommended the building of a bridge across Meegahapallama or the RB-17 canal or to construct the road. “I am not in that committee. Even if the bridge is in my division I was not aware of it until its foundation was laid. The bridge has been built on the needs of eight householders. MP Thilak has taken the lead in constructing the bridge, therefore he should be contacted for details,” said Gunawardena.
Attempts made to contact the development officer proved futile. It was also not possible to contact the Samurdhi officer.
Damana Agricultural Development Officer H. P. I. Nilmini Kulatunga said that the bridge was proposed to be constructed in the Meegahapallama farming zone and the place where the bridge is being built was not recommended by the committee. “Damana PS Chairman was also in the committee. Priority was given to construct a bridge for farmers, but the bridge under construction only benefits three families. Kamal is a good farmer with a beautiful garden, but he is not a commercial cultivator,” said Kulatunga.
GN officer of Paranigama W 27/A GN division Podimenike said that she was newly appointed to the division. She said that there were no development activities after her appointment. She told this writer to contact the former GN officer for past details. Former GN officer I. A. Wadasinghe said that there were decisions taken during the development committee and the decision to construct the Meegahapallama bridge had been noted. “I am not aware of the bridge now being constructed. You may contact the PS for more details. The PS Chairman participated in the development committee meetings,” said Wadasinghe.
Ampara District Development Committee Chairman MP W. D. Weerasinghe said that allocations were made to build a bridge. “MP Thilak took the lead to build that bridge following a request. The villagers informed me of the bridge and I asked them to contact the MP and halt the construction. It has not happened and the bridge is being constructed. The MP should be flexible with such a request and I also think it would lead to a better decision,” said Weerasinghe.
Meegahapallama Farmers’ Association has made a complaint to the Eastern Province Governor Anuradha Yahampath. She innitially said that she had not received a letter of complaint. She contacted this newspaper later and informed that she had received a letter and the Intelligence Division has conducted an investigation. According to her the bridge is being constructed for the use of eight families as they had no other access and the other bridge would be built soon. “This bridge which is coming up is not made after scrapping the plans for the other bridge. The RDA has recommended that the bridge be built in that location,” she added.
RDA Ampara district Chief Engineer K. A. M. Ismile said that politicians in the area locate places to build bridges. “They inaugurate such projects displaying signboards. After constructing the bridge the 160 metre road would be constructed connecting it to the Ampara-Damana main road. We are working according to the political authority. If there are five houses a bridge as well as roads can be constructed. We only have to build bridges in places suggested by politicians in the district,” said Ismile.
Ampara District Secretary D. M. L. Bandaranayaka said that he had also learnt about the development and had informed Damana Divisional Secretary Udara Nanayakkara to look into the issue.
Attempts made to contact Damana Divisional Secretary were futile. Administrative Officer of Damana Divisional Secretariat I. L. Mohammed Razak said that investigations are being conducted by top officials following complaints received in connection with this construction. He told us that we should contact the Divisional Secretary for further details.
When this newspaper contacted Stae Minister of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure Nimal Lanza said that he would look in to the issue.
The proposed bridge being constructed