Sri Lanka: Mega Mess in Development

by Ranil Senanayake

( April 12, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a nation whose environment was once clean and benign, we have now begun to suffer the wages of a Government appointed to protect the health and well being, letting destructive development become the state norm. The trendin public health deterioration is so acute that at a recent medical meeting on the subject,Prof O.A. Ileperuma stated that 45% of hospital admissions are for respiratory disorders.

The quality of air in the city is degrading and the levels of airborne particulate matter are on the increase. Why the negligence? Do we not have laws to protect the health of the public? Do we not have laws that seek to protect the well being of our citizens? Does not the GoSL have a responsibility to protect our health? The unfolding tragedy of the air quality of Kandy town is a case in point; surrounded by hills, the city develops an ‘inversion layer’ of heavy, polluted air that does not easily escape due to these physical barriers to air movement.

Thus, the citizens of Kandy face the spectre of increasing rates of respiratory disorders for themselves and their children. The air pollution problem of Kandy is magnified by its geographical situation, but it need not be, with no physical barriers to airflow, it had a much better quality of air than Kandy. But ‘Urban Development’ today seems to refer to built environment and infrastructure, to mega constructions, with no heed to the impacton health and well being of the citizens. Why do government institutions act against the interest of the citizens that they are supposed to serve?

A glaring example is the shady deals and conflicts of interest around the ‘Port City’ project can be seen by the The Executive Summary of the December 2015 Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment for the Colombo Port City. It demonstrates a disturbing and troublesome conflict of interest issuefor the GoSL.

The guiding principles for its formulation the SEIA states:

“(b) The Terms of the Agreement entered into between the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, acting on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), and CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd (the Project Company), … stipulates inter alia that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)/GOSL is responsible for securing the required environmental permits and approvals.”

Such an undertaking by the GoSL can be seen to be in direct violation of its responsibilities under Article 27 subsection 14:

“The State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” It means that the Government of Sri Lanka agrees to get all the approvals that Parliament has set up to protect its citizens and preserve their rights. If so, who is watching after the rights of the citizens of this nation?Most certainly, not the government!

This maybe compared to the Environmental and Social Framework of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Annex Environmental and Social Policy: the onus is placed squarely on the Project Proponent:

67. Roles and Responsibilities of the Client. The Client: (a) assesses the Project and its environmental and social risks and impacts; (b) prepares the Project’s environmental and social documentation, in accordance with the ESP and ESSs; and (c) engages with people affected by the Project and other stakeholders, through information disclosure, and meaningful consultation in accordance with the ESP and ESSs. The Client furnishes all required information, including executive summaries and reports on the environmental and social assessment, all of the Project’s required environmental and social documentation, and monitoring reports, to the Bank for review.

68. The Client is responsible for complying with its environmental and social obligations under the Project in accordance with the legal agreements with the Bank governing the Project. To ensure that contractors appropriately implement the agreed measures, the Client includes the relevant environmental and social requirements in the tendering documents and contracts for goods and services required for the Project.

The activities of the promoters of the project, demonstrates a connivance that is not in the national interest and goes against the rules of both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Bank who is supposed to finance the deal. Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA’s) are being issued to cover any aspect of their crookedness, as it surfaces. This allows them to skirt national laws and genuine concerns that citizens have of impacts on their well-being.

In yet another SEIA for the Colombo Port City the Sri Lanka Land and Reclamation Development Corporation, titled Off Shore Sea Sand Extraction Project at Kerawalapitiya, the SLLRDC states that they have been requested by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development to supply 40 million cubic meters of sand over three years from a reservation previously earmarked to supply up to 4 million cubic meters annually over 15 years. The environmental and social impact of this action goes unchallenged, where are the state watchdogs who are supposed to check, such excesses?

Now we should go back to the air quality of Colombo as compared to Kandy. Once the air quality of the city was reasonable, but with the massive construction of poorly situated buildings the air quality has worsened. The concrete mass is starting to create a ‘heat island’ effect. Colombo is developing an inversion layer not because it has hills on either side. It is building concrete hills to block airflow. If you are someone who travels to work early in the morning, just look at the haze that lies like a blanket over Colombo.

Now, has the SEIA mentioned anything about the effect of large constructions in front of Colombo? Anything about air quality? The CECB/ SEIA Report – Proposed Colombo Port City Development Project/ December 2015 ES / Page 1 clarified this for us, it states:

= Phase 1 EIA: For Reclamation, sand extraction and construction of coastal structures to protect the landfill and landscaping aesthetics for the proposed Colombo Port City. This SEIA is a continuation of work connected to Phase 1 and being carried out as a supplementary to the approved EIA for 200 ha. Reclamation works will re‐commence upon this SEIA receiving required approvals.

= Phase 2 EIA: Construction of the buildings and infrastructure of the Port City. This EIA study will be based on the concept master plan and infrastructure requirements submitted to the UDA (and described in this SEIA in Chapter 2). The construction of permanent structures/built environment on the landfill will take place only upon receiving necessary approvals for the Phase 2 EIA study.

So it seems that the current sorry excuse for an SEIA was only part of the phase 1 EIA. We need a Phase 2 EIA before construction. Now to see who is going to write an EIA for the proposed constructions and what it will say about the impact on the air quality of the City of Colombo.

Waiting for the Government to tell us if are going to be negatively affected by any of their ‘investors’ is waiting in vain as the “GOSL will volunteer to be responsible for securing the required environmental permits and approvals” What is going on? This incestuous activity does not bode well for the citizens who will be affected.

Should not the citizens of Colombo ask for some computer modeling of the impact that new mega buildings will have on air quality so that we can see how tall constructions could be before they begin to negatively affect the air quality of Colombo? If some public spirited IT persons could model the effect of large constructions in front of Colombo and put the results on the web for all to see, we could see beyond the lies and platitudes being fed to us through poorly researched and partial SEIA’s. To leave the planning of our future to this lot without open public debate, will certainly compromise the future of our children and their children too.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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