11/28/2008, 00.00
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Power plant on the upper Kotmale has inhabitants on their knees

by Melani Manel Perera
The project, designed to meet energy needs, is bringing hardship and problems for the inhabitants of the villages in the region. From civil society, protests against the government, which has not maintained its promises. Tourism and the job market also being harmed.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The building of a hydroelectric power plant on the upper Kotmale is almost complete, but civil society is protesting: the government has not kept its promises, and day by day the population is facing more problems.

The first phase of the project, begun in 2006, is 80% complete. Work is expected to conclude in 2010, at an overall cost estimated at 950 million dollars. The civil society network Praja Abhilasha (PA) and the movement People to People Dialog (PPD) explain to AsiaNews that the costs for the population in the area are much higher than expected, and are calling for a general revision of the project.

The plant on the upper Kotmale is being constructed to respond to the energy needs in the southern part of the island, and at full capacity it should produce 150 megawatts, taking water from the Kotmale, a tributary of the Mahaweli.

Francis Raajan, local coordinator and secretary of the PA, explains that the inhabitants of the areas of Holyrood Estate, Rathnilagala Division, and Thalawakelle are the hardest hit by the revolution brought to the area of the power plant. "At the beginning, the politicians were against to this project but they internally supported the project after that they gave their co-operation to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) directly because they were able to get some high posts and power from the project side. Therefore they canvassed door to door during the night time and said, 'Please support the project'. After that, people began to support the project, but now the affected people realize the impact and suffering."

After conducting a direct survey, the PA and PPD have drawn up a list of problems generated by the project, and by the lack of respect for the promises that the politicians have made to the people. In spite of the fact that a school, a supermarket, a city hall, and a movie theater have been built, many of the homes into which families have been relocated are inadequate: they are small, poor in quality, and built with inferior materials. The hydroelectric plant has also had a negative impact on the conditions of the population. Jobs have been cut, agriculture is languishing, and the road network and transportation system have not been sufficiently developed.

Schools are now farther away for the children, who have to walk at least three kilometers to reach them. The consequences of the project are also being paid by tourism connected to natural beauties like the waterfalls of Devon, St. Claires, or Puna, with their water being diverted to the upper Kotmale.

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