Norochcholai: Agitation continues unabated

By Hiran Priyankara

Campaigns against the Norochcholai coal power project will continue despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa going ahead with the foundation laying ceremony for the project, organizers of the protest campaigns said yesterday.

As President Rajapaksa went ahead with the ceremony, more than 2000 persons gathered at nearby St. Anne’s church premises to protest against the project. The protest took the form of a prayer service.

The protestors at St. Anne’s Church

The decision to go ahead with the project came despite agitation campaigns in the Kalpitiya area during the last decade. Moves by the previous government to implement the power project in three different places in the area failed as the protest dissuaded the State from going ahead with the project. Norochcholai is the fourth place selected. In one instance the protestors even dared to set fire to some machinery to stop the project from going ahead.

The protest took a violent turn when once a 10,000-strong crowd blocked roads, forcing the police to open fire, leaving one man dead. The family of the dead man is left to fend for itself today.

The protestors include people from all three communities and the campaign has gone on unabated ever since.

It started again a couple of weeks ago but police responded by erecting road blocks from Talawila road junction to Kalpitiya, much to the inconvenience of residents. Army, Navy and Air Force personnel numbering around 2,000 were brought to provide security.

The place where the President was to address the gathering was heavily guarded due to speculation that an LTTE attack was possible.

Though the security forces have the right to protect the President, to scare protestors away is not definitely within their purview, residents said as it was tantamount to a violation of human rights. But in spite of roadblocks and other obstacles, people gathered in their numbers to voice their protest at the church premises. Some Catholic priests who met senior security forces personnel were seen requesting them to instruct their men not to harass the protestors.

SSP Roshan Perera was seen giving strict instructions to the priests to ensure that the protestors did not spill over from the church premises in an attempt to create trouble. They were told that should that happen the security forces would use force to dispel any unruly crowd.

Presidential Security Division officers check the headgear of one of the dancers who was performing at the ceremony preceding the unveiling of the commemorative plaque for the Norochcholai power project. Naval gunboats, off the coast, were part of the security placed for the President. Pic. by Dinuka Liyanawatte

As the helicopter carrying the President descended to its landing spot, the protestors hooted loudly raising their hands skywards.

At 10.50 am, the time the President was to lay the foundation stone, church bells pealed in protest.

Earlier,Minister Mahindananda Gamage headed a group of 28 on a six-day tour of China in April. They were taken to see a coal power plant situated 150 km from Bejing. The tour was arranged by the China Machinery Export and Import Corporation which is to handle the project.

A Puttalam UC SLMC member S.R.M. Munizi who went on the tour said that though his group was taken to the coal power plant no one was taken inside to make a detailed study of it.

The power plant with a 2400 MW capacity was located in a desert area which cannot be compared to the Norochcholai site, he said.

Fr. Weimann Crusz of Nirmalapura had this to say on the project. “The President had promised the Archbishop that he would not allow a power project here. We cannot understand the change in his stance. We don’t understand as to why the authorities hide the truth from the people. We don’t call it development when things are not to the liking of the people,” he said.

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