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Sri Lanka's biggest river basin development project

Gaveshaka looks at how the Mahaweli development programme progressed

It's 28 years since Randenigala, the largest reservoir constructed under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme was opened by President J. R. Jayewardene marking a significant milestone in the biggest river basin development programme conceived in Sri Lanka.

While the reservoir manages Mahaweli water, which is being released to Mahaweli C and Mahaweli B zones, the Randenigala hydroelectric power station generates 126 megawatts of electricity. The project mainly consisted of the construction of a 94 m high, 485 m long rock-fill dam across the Mahaweli river, creating a reservoir of 860 million cu.m., and building a power house on the left bank immediately downstream of the dam. It also included the construction of a steel lined tunnel 6.2 m diameter, 270 m long to convey water to the power house to run the turbines. The triple gated chute spillway is capable of
discharging the probable maximum flood waters.

There are a number of islets within Randenigala which adds beauty to it. In addition, the Randenigala dam provides a spectacular view. It can be accessed though Raja Mawatha from Kandy or through Mahiyangana-Minipe Road.

The Randenigala Project, the fourth major multi-purpose under the Mahaweli Programme is located about 26 km below Victoria and 6 km upstream of Minipe anicut. From here, the main right bank and left bank canals divert the Mahaweli waters for irrigation. It is also the reservoir with the largest storage capacity, at full supply level.

It was in November 1982, that construction work on the Randenigala Project, one of five major Mahaweli projects, was started. Its power potential was considered crucial for meeting the power shortfall forecast for 1986.

By the time work in the Randenigala project was begun, several others under the Mahaweli Development Programme were already underway. The first project in the Master Plan was the Polgolla diversion which had been inaugurated in February 1970. It was commissioned in February 1976. By early 1976, 52,800
hectares of existing paddy land in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee districts were benefitted by the Polgolla and Bowatenna complexes. By 1984, 28,800 hectares of new land in the Kandalama and Kalawewa areas known as System 'H' had been completed.

The progress of the development project meant settling farmer families, setting up of new townships, village centres and hamlets. At the same time facilities for vital necessities like education, health and agriculture had to be provided.

The largest integrated rural development multi-purpose programme ever undertaken in Sri Lanka was based on water resources of Mahaweli and allied six river basins. Main objectives were to increase agricultural production, hydro-power generation, provide employment opportunities, settlement of landless poor and flood control. The programme was originally planned for the implementation over a 35-year period.

In 1977, after a new government with J. R. Jayewardene as Prime Minister was elected, it was decided to accelerate the implementation of the Programme. For this purpose a separate ministry titled the Ministry of Mahaweli Development was established in 1978, with Hon. Gamini Dissanayake, Minister of Lands & Land Development being given the responsibility of the speedy implementation of the development programme. A separate authority, The Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka was created in 1979, to be in charge of all aspects of the programme.

A major factor for the success of the Programme was the ready response of several countries to finance the various headworks under the Project. The Government of the United Kingdom agreed to finance the Victoria Project, Canada the Maduru Oya Project, Federal Republic of Germany the Randenigala Project, Sweden the Kotmale Project and Japan the Moragahakanda Project. Meanwhile, the Governments of USA, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Australia and International Agencies agreed to finance the downstream development.

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