EFL opposes hydro-power project near forest reserve
The Environmental Foundation Ltd (EFL) has filed action in the Court of Appeal seeking to squash the approval given by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) for a hydro-electric power project to be started at the Bomuruella falls, on the upper reaches of the Uma Oya, at Perawella, Nuwara Eliya.

The respondents are the Central Environmental Authority, the Conservator-General of Forests, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and Manikawita Hydro-Power Development (Private) Limited.

The proposed hydropower project is located on lands administered by the Forest Department in the Kandapola - Seetha Eliya Forest Reserve, which is rich in biodiversity. The elevation of the planned weir or barrier will be around 1750 metres (over 5250 feet) above sea level and the project is planned to have a capacity of 9.2 MW. It is to be downstream of the existing Bomuruella irrigation reservoir, which is tapped by cultivators in the area.

Although the project is located in an environmentally sensitive area, there had been no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) - which is a public process of evaluation of the possible damage caused by such a project, EFL said in a statement.

Instead, an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) Report, which is less complete and not open to public comment, had been prepared. The CEA published a newspaper notice in March 2004, wherein the public was informed that it had been decided to grant approval to the project on the basis of this report.

However, no site inspection was carried out to evaluate the engineering geological features pertaining to the general slope stability and drainage pattern of slopes between the weir and the tank, EFL said.

The report itself recommends that further studies be carried out to evaluate slope stability and identify earth slip/slide prone areas of the hillside along the water conveyance route. The power house is to be constructed at an elevation of approximately 1270 metres above sea level and the necessary slope excavation could affect the stability of the hillside.

EFL considers that grave and irreparable loss and damage will be caused to the natural environment by implementation of this project. In particular it fears that there is a grave danger of deforestation of natural forest with consequent loss of endemic flora, and a grave danger of consequent soil erosion and earth slips that could have serious implications for inhabitants in the lower regions of these hills.

Due to the removal of trees, soil erosion and degradation of land is inevitable, especially along the conveyance canal route and the penstock path due to the steep angle of the slope. The project falls within an important catchment area and will require the felling of approximately 1420 trees, affecting rainfall patterns.

The IEE Report indicates that the competing water requirements of this project and of the cultivators whose lands are already irrigated by the waters of the Bomuruella reservoir, together with irregular rainfall patterns leading to irregular stream flows in the river can cause problems in the future.

EFL states that an IEE, as defined by the National Environmental Act, is only a report for the purpose of assessing whether the environmental impacts of a project are significant and if it discloses that the project may have significant impacts, the Project Approving Agency (in this instance the CEA) is duty bound to call for an EIA which is a considerably fuller study and includes a description of less environmentally harmful alternatives and the reasons why such alternatives were rejected.

In terms of the National Environmental Regulations, an EIA has to be made available to the public and the public given an opportunity to comment on it prior to a decision being taken whether or not to approve the project. EFL holds that the Conservator General of Forests had requested the CEA to carry out an EIA in respect of this project.

It has subsequently learned that both the Chairperson of the CEA and the Conservator General of Forests approved the project on the erroneous basis that a prior opportunity had been given to the public to comment and that no public comments had been received.

EFL states that no such opportunity for prior comment was given to the public nor was this project disclosed to the public prior to the publication of the previously mentioned notice of approval in the newspapers.

It considers that, in the light of the serious environmental impacts of this project as evident from the IEE, and important questions about the viability of the project, the decision to grant approval to the project on the basis of an IEE without calling for an EIA are irrational, arbitrary and unreasonable.

EFL has therefore filed a plea in the Court of Appeal asking that the project approval given by the CEA and the annual permit granted by the CEB be quashed, that an EIA Report be called for in respect of the project and made available for public comment and that an interim order be made, restraining Manikawita Hydro-Power Development (Private) Limited from implementing the project pending the conclusion of the EIA process.

Back to Top  Back to Business  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.