Eppawala project may draw criticism again

By Bandula Sirimanna

Lanka Phosphate Ltd (LPL) is going ahead with a plan to produce single super phosphate fertilizer from Eppawala but the project could draw the same criticism as in 2000 when a controversial US company was involved.

Informed sources say LPL is to call for international bids for the project and among those in the running – through some front companies – is US-based Freeport McMoran which was involved in the earlier attempt.

Recently the Central Environmental Authority approved the Environmental Impact Assessment report for this project subject to specified terms and conditions. A senior company official said foreign firms will be invited to enter a joint venture to mine and manufacture single super phosphate fertilizer. He said the fertilizer could be used by farmers for paddy and other short-term crops.

Under the joint venture, it is aimed to produce around 45,000 metric tonnes of single super phosphate per annum, by crushing 120,000 metric tonnes of appatite from the Eppawala deposit. Apart from single super phosphate it is also planned to produce triple super phosphate, and rock phosphate .

An earlier plan to extract this resource from Eppawala under a joint venture in which Freeport McMoran was the foreign party was blocked by residents, environmentalists and scientists who successfully canvassed the Supreme Court against the project on the grounds of harming the environment and residents losing their lands among other matters. In a June 2000 judgment, the court ordered the Government not to go ahead with the project.

Protestors said if Freeport McMoran was allowed to mine Eppawala at the rate of 100,000 tonnes of raw phosphate for export for five years, its deposit would have depleted in 25 years.

The Sunday Times reliably learns Freeport is planning to return to the project using two other US companies as fronts – Cargill (a major seed producer) and Agrico – and chanelling the bid proposal through some Chinese companies. It is learnt Cabinet Paper has been submitted indicating that Chinese expertise was forthcoming for this project.

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