After protests by residents, environmentalists and politicians, the Government abandoned its idea of building two internal airports in Kundasale and Nuwara Eliya. Now the Government has come up with another quixotic project – to convert the Uda Pusselawa narrow gauge railway line to a broad gauge line from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya.
This line was built by the British mainly to transport estate produce – tea from Brookside to Nanu-Oya – and passengers, mainly Indian labour. The line served a purpose at the time and was financially viable. Because road transport is cheaper and faster, this line was scrapped in 1945.
Whenever an infrastructure project is under consideration, a feasibility study should be conducted by experts to assess the socio-economic benefits. The project goes ahead only if the project is found to be worthwhile and beneficial.
Has the Railway Department or the Ministry of Transport conducted such a study for the Nanu Oya-Nuwara Eliya broad gauge line, or is this yet another fancy idea of a politician or a political party?
Not many people will want to take a railway ride from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya that takes twice as long as the bus ride.
Perhaps those who advocate wasteful expenditure had tourists on their minds. But then, how many months of the year do tourists, local and foreign, visit Nuwara Eliya? Three months, at most.
The railway track would remain idle the other nine months, incurring maintenance and wage expenses. Our railway is already running at a huge loss. We have heard and read that the projects undertaken in the South, including Hambantota, have brought little financial or social benefits. Cricket matches played in the Hambantota cricket grounds do not attract capacity crowds of 5000, while the stands are full at the matches played in Colombo. The response at Pallekele was hardly better, as we saw on TV. The Hambantota harbour project is not what the government expected.
The Uda Pusselawa project may interest the Indian company working on the Northern Line, and the Southern Express railway line. By the way, was this express track necessary?
The Indian loan was utilised mainly to employ their own men and purchase materials and machinery from India, while our experienced labour force and officials simply looked on. In short, India provided the loan, and then used the funds to suit themselves, leaving us to repay the loan with interest. The Government should ask itself whether tourism is the answer to economic development, at the expense of our culture and heritage. In Thailand, the tourist trade thrives on vice, quite forgetting the Pancha Seela. Ours is the only country that preserves the Noble Teachings of Lord Buddha.
S. Weerakone Banda,