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Extracts from Chapter 10:

A Barren Field: Colonisation and its Costs 


 To disturb anyone in the actual and long possession of territory has in all ages been considered as repugnant to the general interests and feelings of mankind


- Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis (The law of war and peace) Ch.4, 1625 AD


The present government’s scheme is to settle [Sinhalese] along the Padaviya border and eventually form a line of Sinhala defence from Padaviya to Nedunkerni


- Don Mithuna column, The Weekend, 2nd December 1984

10.1 A Saga of Abortive Episodes

Lanka’s ethnic discord presents its minorities with unavoidable and painful questions about their lives and dignity. It is impossible for them for us! to run away from these questions, and yet Rajani, with whom this book began, did not place ethnicity at the centre of the country’s crisis. She saw political developments and ideologies of conflict primarily as our failure to free ourselves from the shackles of neocolonialism…

The present Rajapakse regime is a conglomeration of parties that sparked off the Southern internecine violence of 1987 through belligerent opposition to the political settlement of the Indo-Lanka Accord. The assortment included the SLFP, MEP, the forerunners of the JHU, and a faction of the JVP, which then engaged its present allies in a tryst with death – purely over power. These players are bound by nothing more than their anti-minority ideology. By contrast, what remains of the Lankan left continues to try to work across ethnic lines to challenge neoliberal economic policy. On the uses of communal aggrandizement to push neoliberal reforms, an India-based commentator communicated the following:

Narendra Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’, which he wants to foist on the whole of India, is very much like this: Viciously neoliberal policies that favour industrialists but pauperise and dispossess large numbers of Hindus, which combined with Hindu nationalism that gives the Hindu petit bourgeoisie and lumpen proletariat a sense of power that comes from the brutal treatment meted out to minorities, especially Muslims; lauds him as the saviour of the Hindus from these minorities who are supposedly trying to destroy them. How one responds to this is extremely important, and Tamil nationalism is as self-destructive as Muslim extremism is in India. United resistance across communal lines is the only way forward – which is no doubt why the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) is being persecuted so badly.” 

The Indian Left, although better organised, faces an uphill task. The main trend associated with neoliberalism is the transformation of the economy and financial institutions to facilitate large inflows of foreign capital, either as loans to the government and local banks, into shares of formerly public companies or into investment in tourism. The only security the country can offer the lenders, is its land and natural resources. A government that borrows, and that to waste on its cronies, invites colonialism in a new guise. Most loans from China are insured against repayment with a Chinese state-owned company (FN.9), which pushes up the cost of borrowing. It is an aspect of the radical shift in our largely self-contained financial institutions and a warning on the far-reaching consequences of abuse.

10.2 Lanka’s Liberalisation Experience

10.2.1: War Against Minorities as the Tradeoff: Moves towards trade and exchange rate liberalisation in Lanka came about because people were tired of shortages and queues and voted for change in 1977. But we have wide choices in how we liberalise. In Lanka, the measures were enforced in such a way as to reinforce class hierarchies that determined privilege and existing patronage networks on which governments depended for their survival, while those left out faced bleaker prospects. The result was the State’s increasing reliance on coercion.  

The Jayewardene government liberalised trade selectively (it freed imports on items such as chillies and onions produced in the North but protected from competition the Southern farmer who produced rice and potatoes). Meanwhile, contrary to neoliberal orthodoxy, it expanded the state sector by canvassing massive loans in the name of infrastructure development (Dunham and Jayasuriya[1]).

In retrospect, the outcome of this borrowed expenditure was to flatter Sinhalese egos, and reward patronage networks and compliant officials by creating white elephants. Thus Patrick Peebles says of Jayewardene’s Accelerated Mahaveli Development Programme begun in 1977 (AMDP) in the Journal of Asian Studies (Feb.1990): “[The UNP government of President Jayewardene] consciously evoked a Buddhist past in which the Dry Zone provided resources for a cultured civilization. Officials of the Accelerated Mahaveli project appealed directly to this mythical past in which Tamil Hindu Invaders were hated enemies, to mobilize Sinhalese Buddhist support.”

The World Bank and other donors tolerated the Government’s chauvinistic pomp and exacerbation of social and communal cleavages for the sake of the ‘reforms’: “If there were to be some tampering with a central aspect of the welfare state (subsidized rice), there had to be an alternative program which caught the imagination of the people. The accelerated Mahaweli was the centrepiece of that alternative vision. In the Government’s political judgment, if the Bank wanted to provide effective support to the radical policy change, it needed to support the Mahaweli (World Bank 1986, Report 6074, in R. Venugopal[2]).” The World Bank later admitted diplomatically that it was a dead loss:  


“The funding of the AMDP was a very controversial issue in the Bank, particularly because it occurred ‘before the full engineering and economic studies usually required by the Bank were available’ (World Bank 1986). A 2004 review of one of the largest of the World Bank’s six Mahaweli loans downgraded the project outcome rating from ‘unsatisfactory’ to ‘highly unsatisfactory’, describing how the development effectiveness of the scheme was ‘extremely limited’, and how the incomes of resettled farmers have declined over time, with mean incomes now below the poverty level (World Bank 2004).” (Venugopal, ibid)…Nevertheless writers on Lanka have marvelled at Lanka having been a forerunner of economic liberalisation for three and a half decades and make the curious point that this course was rendered easier by the war which opened up new avenues of patronage. The question that comes to mind is what have the ‘reforms’ got to show after three and a half decades?

We have largely run down quality free education that opens the door to newer forms of economic activity and more equitable investment that would fit the unemployed rural youth to rise above the level of menials. Compared with the 5.2 percent of total government expenditure on education in Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu spends 12 percent, Kerala 14.6, Singapore 18.6 and Malaysia 21.6 (Appendix 8).

The end result is that even postwar we are hooked on to the war economy, warring with phantoms with soaring zeal, with little prospect of healthy investment to provide decent, sustainable employment. In place of demobilising a bloated Army, it has been turned virtually into an official mafia further impeding the economy. 


Neo-liberal economists repeatedly told us to bear with the inconveniences of today and wait for a new dawn. After more than a generation alas, that dawn evades us. Even more bizarre is our deepening addiction to white elephant economics – a formula for enrichment of a few and to sweep potential trouble makers under a military carpet. The latter would at best become a cheap source of menial labour for cash crops.

Rajani’s political task was to break out of this vicious cycle and to unmask hypocrisy. In the spirit of her work, this chapter examines present trends in Lanka’s colonisation (transmigration) schemes. An influential lobby of elite actors clamours vigorously for the State to brandish its power and repressive apparatus to Sinhalise the North-East, which their scholarship claims was lost to invaders and interlopers (Ch.13 of Arrogance of Power). But in reality they are pied pipers leading their followers to violence and misery.

10.2.2 The Legacy of Irrigation Schemes

…The ensuing civil war became a new source of patronage by drawing unemployed rural Sinhalese youth particularly from Amparai, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Moneragala into the security forces. The same areas were leading ‘beneficiaries’ of earlier colonisation schemes, where agricultural incomes were shrinking. The 31 percent of youths in the age group 18 – 30 from these areas who are unemployed, would have risen to 43 percent if not for jobs in the security forces (Venugopal[3]).  

10.2.4 China and Rajapakse’s White Elephant Economics


Mrs. Bandaranaike who succeeded Senanayake in 1970 avoided the grandiose and concentrated rather on increasing agricultural production (which was later undermined by Jayewardene’s open economy). Her daughter President Chandrika Kumaratunge[4] (1994 – 2005) reserved the Moragahakande scheme that was part of the Mahaveli Plan to top up water shortage in the neighbouring Mahaveli Systems in Anuradhapura District – the shortage resulting from the prioritisation of hydropower in the AMDP.


There was hardly any water to do more. But particularly after the end of the war in 2009, Rajapakse wanted to use the Moragahakande scheme to revive the abandoned NCP Canal to carry water to the North for large scale Sinhalese settlements, a relic of Jayewardene’s legacy in dealing with Tamil political demands (Ch.20, Arrogance of Power).


The Rajapakse government’s model to raise money was derived from Jayewardene’s scheme. Projects became patently a pretext for massive loans to feed his patronage networks. He unabashedly used his patriotic cover as the vanquisher of the LTTE to advance market reforms aggressively. In terms of Sinhalese settlement, his model was drawn from C.P. de Silva. Settlement meant the dispersal of pauperised Sinhalese peasantry as military protégés (to create tame new electorates!), and to hobble Tamil activism at the root.


If Moragahakande water is used as President Kumaratunge intended, to increase cropping intensity[5] of Mahaveli lands in Anuradhapura District, from 1.55 to 1.85, it would lead to genuine production and some relief of distress. By overstretching the small amount of water and establishing settlements that were bound to run dry, Rajapakse is going to produce only misery for the unwanted Sinhalese dispersed under military supervision as a guard against the tendency to rebellion evidenced in Gal Oya, Moneragala and Kantalai settlements in 1971 and 1988. There is however an object lesson from C.P. de Silva’s electoral defeat in Polonnaruwa in 1970 – a protest by those left out or impoverished.


Unlike with earlier dam builders where it took several years for the propaganda to wear off, Rajapakse’s creations are naked white elephants, starting with the harbour and international airport in his home district of Hambantota. The problem was money. Lanka’s position was much weaker than in the 1970s. Most funding agencies insist on feasibility reports and the World Bank was wary, particularly after local protest over environmental destruction and the displacement of over 200,000 people forced its pull out from the Sardar Sarovar dam project on India’s Narmada River in 1993.


The Japanese came forward around the year 2000 to fund a coal power station and the Moragahakande dam project. Japan pulled out of the coal power project in Nuraichcholai consequent to the strong local protest. The Australia-based company SMEC International was commissioned to study the feasibility in particular of the NCP Canal. Its report (IAR[6]) released in October 2010 stated: “At present the cropping intensities in System H, IH, MH and D1 are below 2.0 and there is thinking whether we should firm up these existing irrigation areas before we try to develop new lands. The decision in this regard has to be resolved as it has more social and political implications than technical.” The indirect message was, drop it! Japan, which was due in early 2011 to sign an agreement for a loan of USD 225 million, pulled out of the project.


China: It was at this time that China expanded its loan commitments in Lanka as the Government’s ideal lender. China not only funded the white elephants in Hambantota and the fitful coal power station in Nuraichcholai, but also had apparently no qualms about it.

China’s calculation is simple. Threatened by a domestic financial meltdown owing to a high ratio of non-performing loans, China’s loans to Lanka go into the books as good credit. As Lanka has never defaulted on repayment, it helps to improve the rating of China’s banks. It looks deceptively easy in the short term. The West and the World Bank would remain indifferent to such waste as long as Rajapakse goes ahead faithfully with ‘reforms’. But whenever international agencies write down Sri Lanka’s credit rating, it will undermine China’s comfort with Lanka (see Appendix 6).  


10.2.5 Military as Official Mafia


China’s role in the Moragahakande and Yan Oya irrigation projects, its building in the North military establishments on pilfered and common lands, besides phony irrigation schemes, has made it a major player in the militarisation of the North-East.[7] Government defence spending in 2013 stood at 11.5 percent of total, up from 10.4 the previous year – compared with 6 percent in India and Malaysia (Appendix 8).


Chinese loans, defence purchases on Chinese credit, and the astronomical defence budget in peace time are means by which patronage is extended to the Military. A disturbing indicator of collusion between the Military and crony businessmen is the former opening fire at Sinhalese civilians in Weliveriya protesting against the poisoning of their drinking water by a glove factory, on 1st August 2013, killing three…


10.3 Failures of Irrigated Settlements


Coming to colonisation schemes themselves, one notable drawback is the large population that is left out. Often people at the tail end of irrigation schemes find themselves without water. The late Mahee Wickremaratne, a civil servant who worked on the Gal Oya and Mahaveli projects, felt disturbed enough to tell this author in 1995 that the Gal Oya project concentrated its resources on the settlers to the neglect of the local Tamil and Muslim villages and the old villages of Sinhalese who settled down there after the Kandyan rebellion of 1818.

In the North Central Province, while 40 percent of the population is covered by layout irrigation systems, 50 percent live in old (purana) cultivation areas. While 80,000 hectares (ha) of rice land depends on Mahaveli water sufficient for 50 000 ha, 85 000 ha of paddy land lies outside the Mahaveli system with 245,000 ha of Chena lands mainly around small tank cascade systems (Sakthivadivel et al[8] ).

Pressing the poor into settlement schemes with declining incomes and water availability has perpetuated poverty in generational waves. The late Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake told the Tamil leaders in 1993, as related to this writer by the late A. Thangathurai, that colonisation was no longer a political option because there is no more water. Even where water was available there were costly engineering errors.

An experienced irrigation engineer sensitive to the ethnic issue told us that a key problem is to do ‘with the infamous mcms (quantities of water in mega cubic metres) that led to the failure of most of the irrigation projects the world over. The volume of water from a reservoir is easy to measure and regulate, but the problem everywhere is the totally fictitious rainfall and river flow data in rural areas.’ He added:


“If you take Uda Walawe and Lunugamwehera (Kirindi Oya) irrigation projects in the South, you completely leave out the ethnic issue and you can easily show how technically incompetent and socially incoherent designs created these really sick white elephants. Mind you, these were designed by Sri Lankan ‘experts’.” The writer contended that foreign consultants brought in by the donors simply work on the technical data provided by the Government, and being indifferent to the politics underlying these projects ‘provided battle drawings’ for the [ethnic] ‘chess games’ of corrupt local rulers. Their impact on supposed beneficiaries, he described as ‘infrahuman’.  


As to recent schemes, take Moragahakande. The consultant Lahmeyer earlier estimated the inflow into the dam site at 963 mcm. Later the Melbourne-based SMEC reduced the estimate to 700 mcm (IAR op. cit.). The difference is large and critical for the intended beneficiaries as far away at the tail ends as Padaviya and Weli Oya. After being settled, the people will be confronted with water scarcity. Estimates from available rainfall data in near locations and topography are prone to large errors, and are part of the game of engineering…  


10.5 Waters of Wrath: Summary of Current Trends


The hidden aspect of colonisation of the northern and eastern areas of Lanka, which the rulers strive to hide, marks clearly its character: the defrauding of Sinhalese peasantry after flattering them. The first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake cast on settlers in Padaviya, the heroic aura of the ‘last bastion of the Sinhala’ – a call for defence against the proverbial Tamil invader. The Padaviya farmer has paid a high price for the unsolicited honour.


Padaviya today faces a cropping intensity (FN.7) much below 1.0, signifying dire poverty. Several governments have promised them water. However, water from the new scheme in Moragahakande is to be used only marginally to relieve distress in the Padaviya region – to raise the cropping intensity to 1.0 at best. The bulk of the water is destined for planting ideological pawns on the Line of Sinhala Defence in Weli Oya.


The manner in which the settlements have outstripped water availability would mean that within an even shorter space of time, the new Sinhalese settlers would be in the same straits as earlier Padaviya settlers. Is it merely a coincidence that Padaviya is the worst hit by the scourge of chronic kidney disease that continues to mystify?


The End Note to this chapter deals with the Iranamadu and Giant’s Tank Systems, which shows that the bogus promises behind which the Government tries to press pauperised Sinhalese into commandeered lands in the North-East, could lead to conditions of famine during years of low rainfall (see also Ch.9). The Safety Factor is a hallowed concept in Engineering. Here even engineers appear to be complicit in driving humans to extremes of want by designing political human settlements on widely flawed data and poor analysis. 


The Environmental Foundation pointed out that the heavy investments the Government makes on Chinese credit are highly destructive of the environment while accomplishing little of value even for Sinhalese: For example the Yan River reservoir would destroy 4000 ha of agricultural lands, 1400 ha of forest and 240 water bodies, while purporting to open only 650 ha of new land locally for cultivation.


Fake development using Sinhalese hegemonic symbols, adversely affects all concerned. Both the Sinhalese and Tamils would eventually be pauperised. Our planners do indeed create lots of water on paper and fragile new settlements threaten to destabilise settlements as a whole. For example, water from the Moragahakande scheme, which was in 2000 promised to relieve distress in System H, is now being diverted to open up Sinhalese settlements in Manal Aru-Weli Oya 


The problem of extending settlements is tied up with hydropower. Over-extended settlements would pressure the Government to curtail water sent for optimum power generation at Victoria Reservoir and release it to save a few settlements. Ironically, hydropower, which generates about 40 percent of Lanka’s electrical energy, represents one of the last vestiges of national sovereignty. It is completely our own. The first Chinese-built coal power station at Nuraichcholai commissioned in 2011, had by mid-2013 to be shut down over a dozen times.[9] Local engineers have through the media charged the Chinese with manoeuvring to take ownership of the station in lieu of loan repayment, giving China in effect overall control of the national grid. With India set to build another coal power station in Sampoor (Ch.8), intrigues will worsen.

Like colonisation schemes, coal power is another instance of failure to build a national consensus. The site considered ideal by many experts was Mawella east of Matara, which provided a landing site as well as river water. It was shifted to Nuraichcholai after protests in Matara that coal power would turn the region into a polluted desert. The Government lied about the purpose when it surveyed an alternative site in Nuraichcholai, a Muslim and Christian area, leading to police firing at protesters. The Government had its way, but was forced to sign an agreement not to tap ground water from the farming neighbourhood, but to use water from a desalination plant.

Sampoor: Trincomalee with its port facilities and water from Kantalai reservoir was another option. The decision to establish a coal power station at Sampoor was made purely in the context of the Tamil civilians being shelled out in 2006. Sampoor, now a high security zone, is an agriculturally rich peninsula of 56.4 square miles. Those displaced from arable acres of watered land would at best get a tiny fraction far inferior.  

To add insult to injury, the Government has leased out 97 square kilometres (37.5 sq. mi.) of land in Sampoor as a special zone for heavy industry[10] to Gateway Industries, which is closely tied to the ruling family. Such zones are normally sited on a river bank. From where it would get the vast quantities of water needed is a mystery. This has become the hallmark of Sri Lankan planning, which is guided by malice rather than rationality…  

Basis for Estimates: Water requirement for paddy cultivation in an area is determined by water duty: the height of water required in cultivation for a year or season. This admits wide variation: 2.08 m a year for Huruluwewa and 3.75 m for Kalawewa RB (IAR op. cit.). It is lower in older schemes where the ground has hardened and percolation is less. In general soils which are grumusols (clayey) have lower water duty (e.g. Giant’s Tank) and soils that are alluvial (sandy, high percolation) have higher water duty (e.g. Iranamadu). More generally, we will use the water requirements in S. Arumugam (ibid.), p. 9: Winter cultivation 4 ft (1.22 m), Summer 6 ft (1.82 m).

The ongoing Moragahakande Project intends to supplement the estimated 700 mcm flow to the dam from Amban River, by tunnel flow from damming Kaluganga – estimated flow 208 mcm[11]. Allowing 250 mcm for residual flow in both rivers, the estimated water available from Moragahakande is optimistically about 650 mcm[12].

10.7 System L: Buying Misery on Chinese Credit

After Japan pulled out of the NCP Canal project about the end of 2010, it was evident that the Malwathu dam project, which was earlier to receive water from Moragahakande through the canal, must stand alone.[13] Extra water for the Malwathu River has to come from the Polgolla diversion of the Mahaveli River, additional to the 875 mcm per annum already destined for System H. The Mahaveli flow at Polgolla is estimated at 2344 mcm p.a. (IAR), from which the balance of 1469 mcm is destined for hydropower generation at Victoria Reservoir. Initially System H was to receive 1270 mcm, which was reduced to 875 when in 1985 power generation was prioritised in the AMDP. 


In place of the NCP Canal, water (FN.20) is presently to be sent from Malwathu Reservoir to Kokkavil (System K). Moragahakande water, one infers, is now meant to feed the proposed Yan-Wahalkada reservoir and System L through Hurulu Reservoir. Asian Tribune announced on 4th November 2011 that the Chinese Company CAMA was undertaking the Yan Oya Project (formally launched in August 2012) under which a large reservoir will be constructed at Angurugasweva across the lower side of the Yan River, water from which is to be diverted to another major reservoir in Padaviya, and from this source to Weli Oya for irrigation of 9496 hectares.

As early as 2009, the Mahaveli Authority used its draconian powers over land to fell forests illegally in the Kokkilai Reserve. The Green Movement of Lanka forced state officials to stop the felling and filed a fundamental rights action in the Supreme Court against the Mahaveli Authority, Environment Ministry, Forest Department and Timber Corporation for destroying 3,920 acres of forest in the Kokkilai Forest Reserve.[14] 

The official state mouthpiece, Daily News (22 May 2010), sought to mitigate the illegality by claiming that the deforestation is for resettlement of the ‘displaced’. Ethnicity is not the only factor in this game of narrow loyalties. The Government wanted to relocate the Sinhalese Christian (RC) fishing community from Kokkilai into the new area so that the southern end of Mullaitivu could be turned into a Buddhist site. The Supreme Court ruled on 11th March 2011 barring the Mahaweli Authority from destroying any forestland for development work. It is such irritants of spasmodic judicial independence that led to the servile Parliament impeaching the Chief Justice.

Resettlement was just a blind for the pursuit of the ‘Line of Sinhala Defence’. The land being cleared was on the boundary of Trincomalee and Mullaitivu Districts. Other actions under ‘resettlement’ conformed to this pattern. Displaced Tamils said, in a petition to the President (see Uthayan 11 Apr.2012), that 656 owner-families who farmed 2,540 acres of land in Kokkilai, Kokkutoduwai and Karnattukerni have been denied access by Sinhalese with the backing of the Sri Lankan Army (see Ch. 9).

Notwithstanding the court ruling, Director General Mahaveli Authority, Gamini Rajakaruna, requested the Conservator General of Forests to release 12,900 hectares from the Padaviya Forest Reserve for a resettlement drive and development work by a letter of 27th March 2013. Pointing out that the request violates the court ruling; the Green Movement told The Sunday Leader that the land requested lies in the North Central Province where there was no displacement and no need for resettlement. This order to clear the forest points to the planned settlement on 9496 hectares of new land reported by Asian Tribune, including rain-fed paddy lands to which Tamil owners have been denied access. It explains the Rehabilitation Ministry’s figure of 121,140 persons (37,932 families) ‘resettled’ in Mullaitivu by 31st December 2012, suggestive of plans to raise the Sinhalese population in Weli Oya to 25,000 – 13,000 more than projected at the beginning of 2012.   

The government plan is to complete what was left uncertain in 1984 – clear the Tamils out and militarise the area. The plan as appears is to clear the forest in the Ma River basin all the way to Kokkilai Lagoon. As in 1984, following the planting of prisoners in System L, life for Tamils in their remaining villages of Kokkilai, Amarivayal, Thennamaravady and Kokkutoduwai would become impossible, if it has not already.  

10.8 Burning borrowed Fortunes on Pauperisation of the Peasantry

Launching the Chinese funded Yan River project (USD 210 million) on 17th August 2012, President Rajapakse promised relief to farmers coping with cultivation intensities well below 1.0 (one season’s cultivation), particularly in the NCP areas of Kebitigollewa, Padaviya, Weli Oya and Madawchchiya. The promise was utterly misleading. 

The plan is to dam Yan River about halfway between Horowapotana (50 percent reliable flow at 115 mcm) and the sea (215 mcm outflow) making available about 135 mcm of water for the reservoir, after allowing a modest 30 mcm for continued river flow. According to the 1969 Master Plan (IAR), the land to be developed in the Yan River scheme was 11,300 ha. Of the water requirement of 345 mcm, the balance 210 mcm was to come from the NCP Canal.  

The water available from the Moragahakande scheme, also under the Chinese, is realistically about 650 mcm (see above). What remains from local demands (Matale and environs) was to be conveyed to Hurulu Tank along the first 21 miles of the original NCP Canal route. The double-banked canal will permit the siphoning off of water on both sides by desperate farmers. Meeting local demands in Matale and the NCP, including theft, would require at least 200 mcm. Farmers under Hurulu Tank have long been promised 45 mcm to raise their cropping intensity from 1.3 to at least 1.85.

If the old Master Plan were to be followed in land development, the water available for Padaviya (including Padavi Sripura in Trincomalee), System L, Kebitigollawa, and Madawachchi is at best = 650 (from Moragahakande) – 210 (Yan Oya Scheme) – 200 (local demand) – 45 (Hurulu Scheme) = 195 mcm p.a.

The water requirement for System L in IAR is 985 mcm to upgrade 8100 ha of existing cultivated lands and open up 30,900 ha of new lands. To raise the cropping intensity in 8100 ha of old lands in Padaviya where the present cropping intensity is about 0.5 or so to a respectable 1.85 would require 197 mcm. That is what the old NCP canal project proposed doing besides developing 31,000 ha of new lands for round-the-year cultivation. The demands above would leave nothing for new lands in System L.

The Mahaveli Authority wanting 12,900 ha of forests cleared suggests more extensive settlement than the 9,496 ha reported in late 2011. 9,496 ha would require at least 290 mcm of water annually. The water demands above would not permit this – demands dictated by the golden rule to firm up existing settlements before embarking on new. 

As disclosed by the Irrigation Ministry’s additional secretary P.U. Wickremaratne[15], the old scheme in the Master Plan sketched above is ruled out. What the new plan which prioritises the ideological Weli Oya settlement proposes is no more than to increase cropping intensity of old settlements in the region from 0.75 to 1.0. Ivan de Silva, Secretary to the Ministry of Irrigation, admitted that the current situation was even worse: “With this project, the people in the Padaviya area can cultivate 3,000-4,000 hectares of existing paddy lands. For the past 20-30 years, these people could only cultivate 50 percent of existing paddy lands (The Nation 9 Jun.2013).” Besides, what a leader of the Padaviya farmers said along the same lines in 2007, suggests is severe environmental degradation underlined presently by chronic kidney disease.[16] 

The current plan involving massive deforestation is further bound to degrade the environment and provide merely marginal relief for the distress of low cropping intensities in Yan Oya and Padaviya. Raising the cropping intensity of 8100 ha in Padaviya from 0.5 to 1.0 requires 49 mcm annually. This means all other claims on the water from Moragahakande, including water theft, the claims from farmers in Matale, System H, Huruluweva etc need to be met with 650 (water from Moragahakande) – 290 (Weli Oya) – 49 (Padaviya) = 311 mcm of water annually.  

Expectations from Moragahakande, far exceed capacity. Environmental degradation adds to the demand for water that cannot be met. The Island (3 Oct.2009) reported the complaint of a group of 500 farmers in Gokerella, who said that Hakwatunaoya tank had run dry due to the wanton felling of trees. They demanded a supply of water from the Moragahakande reservoir, several years from completion. There are 35,000 families in the NCP to whom the Government promised land (Secretary Mahaveli Authority, Irvin Silva, Sunday Observer, 25 Jul.2010). Then, according to Mahaveli Director General D.M.C. Dissanayake, another 100,000 families want land in the NCP (Island 8 Feb.2011). Taking into account the existing deficit of 395 mcm from the Polgolla diversion, the NCP’s additional water burden is well over an impossible 2,000 mcm if they each receive half a hectare (nearly 1 acre) of land. As powerful as it appears the Mahaveli Authority could guarantee little, least of all water.

Unstable as Water: The case of Huruluwewa: Huruluwewa that was restored in 1953 irrigated 4300 ha of paddy with 79 mcm of water annually from Yan River.[17] Given the local water duty as 1.26 m for summer and 0.82 m for winter (IAR Table 2.6), the scheme attained a cultivation intensity of 1.81. Under the Mahaveli Scheme, an additional 75 mcm of water was given for Huruluwewa (Table 2.5 of FN.14) and a few smaller schemes, and the cultivation area was increased to 6560 ha. The water was ample for the requirement of 136 mcm to cover two full seasons. Then farmers along the route of the canal, who were left out, began siphoning off water towards the downward slope of the embankment. The cropping intensity for Huruluwewa lands dropped frequently to 1.0 or less (IAR op.cit. Table 2.5). This meant that most of the 75 mcm of Mahaveli water channelled went missing. After negotiations with local farmers in the late 1990s, The Mahaveli Authority provided more water for Huruluwewa: up to 35 mcm, as indicated by the rising of cropping intensity by 0.4 to 1.43, during 2004/5. The solution was only temporary. A. Abeynayaka et al.[18] tell us how the best laid plans go awry:

When [Mahaveli] officers removed the siphons [from unauthorised tapping], local politicians forced them to put the siphons back.”

D.L.O. Mendis has pointed out that water from Moragahakande that would flow along a double banked canal for 21 miles is ideal for tapping.[19] As freely as the Mahaveli Authority takes liberties with the lands of war-affected Tamils, it dare not use force against Sinhalese peasants stealing water meant for distant Weli Oya. The Government could only hope that the Sinhalese it planted in the North would stay on when the water runs out. The greater likelihood is captured by the newspaper headline ‘Mahaveli Authority turns forest lands into bare lands’ (The Sunday Leader 14.Apr.2013).

It all points to what we said at the beginning. The Government is intent on Sinhalese settlement in the North-East at any cost. Promises of water to older settlements, though regularly made, would not be kept. Against rival demands for water, any water that could be conjured up on paper would be used for Sinhalese settlement in the North. Even if a settlement is established the durability would be short in the face of overstretching of limited resources, theft or political pressure for reallocation of resources by those left out. Most settlements will eventually follow Padaviya whose cropping intensity dropped disastrously below 1.0. The farmers in the North who survived the war would increasingly find their water and land resources robbed for fragile military-backed Sinhalese settlements. Neither Tamils nor Sinhalese can profit from such a situation…

10.10 The Cost of Ideology

The Line of Sinhala Defence project was from the start fraught with mass murder. We give below an extract from a document given to us by Mr. R. Sampanthan MP around 2000, for the writing of ‘The Arrogance of Power’. The information was documented accurately by a network of organisations in which the late Mr. K. Kanthasamy played a pivotal role. Mr. Kanthasamy facilitated the presentation of evidence before the Sansoni Commission, which had been charged with inquiring into the communal violence of August 1977. But the incident below took place in ‘Weli-Oya’ – System L – on 15th February 1985. The Minister for National Security, Mr. Athulathmudali claimed that 52 Tamil separatists had been shot and killed at no loss to the security forces, but the document prepared by local citizens’ groups disagreed:

On the contrary all those killed were Tamil farmers [and their family members from Kokkilai, Kokkuthoduvai, Karnatukerni, Nayaru, Chemmalai, Kumulamunai and Alampil]. On 15th February 1985, some of these people who were farmers trekked towards their villages to harvest their crops [which they had sown in their respective villages before they were forcibly displaced in December 1984]. Many of them were shot and killed by the Armed Forces. Helicopters flying low fired at the people…Many of [the dead] were females. At the time of harvesting, stacking and threshing the paddy crop, it is customary for all grown up members of the family to partake in the task. Subsequent reports indicated that well over 100 Tamil civilians had been mowed down by the Armed Forces…A physical check in each of the [five] refugee camps in Mullaithivu, revealed that 130 Tamil civilians who had gone to their villages from the refugee camps on 15th February are missing and are presumed killed.” (The list attached to the original document, giving the dead or missing camp-wise, had 36 women and a boy V. Muthulingam of 12 years). It is their lands that the Mahaveli Authority is today giving the Sinhalese settlers it inducted.

This was but one among several massacres of hundreds of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan forces from December 1984 to the following May in Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar, areas singled out for demographic transformation and now given a fresh spurt by the Rajapakse regime. These murders had the further consequence of enabling the LTTE to push its claims as the sole champion of the Tamils – and their avengers, when in Anuradhapura they massacred 120 Sinhalese civilians in May 1985.

To break the legacy taking us on the road to genocide, these relationships must be documented and understood by the Sinhalese. Instead, we are treated to discussions based on self-serving accounts by ex-military men mixed up in mass murder. This history makes it hard for Tamils to trust Sinhalese in the armed forces or in official positions, and renders reconciliation a Promethean task.


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[1] David Dunham and Sisira Jayasuriya, Liberalisation and Political Decay: Sri Lanka’s Journey from Welfare State to a Brutalised Society, , October 2001


[3] Rajesh Venugopal, The Politics of Market Reform at a Time of Civil War: Military Fiscalism in Sri Lanka, Economic & Political Weekly, 3rd December, 2011 vol. xlvi, no. 49

[4] Kanishika Goonesekera, “Moragahakanda at what cost?,” Daily Mirror, 2 Jun.2007

[5] A piece of land usually allows two seasons of cultivation. If x percent of the land is cultivated in winter and y percent in summer, the cropping intensity would be (x + y)/100.

[6]Initial Assessment Report – Updated Mahaweli Water Resources Development Plan, SMEC International Pty Ltd. in association with DHI Water and Environment (Denmark), Ocyana Consultants, Sri Lanka and Project Management Associates, Sri Lanka, Oct.2010

[7] The Government has awarded several contracts to Chinese firms on ‘unsolicited proposals’, which lack transparency and did not pass through normal tender procedure and competitive bidding. The bulk of the costs are loaned by Exim Bank of China. Examples are Trincomalee’s Outer Circular Road (USD 259 million), High Altitude Sports Complex in Nuwara Eliya (USD 115 m). Cost overruns and delays would force additional loans: The contract package for the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway was revised from USD 292 m to USD 337 m. Most projects also have provision in the agreements that require Sri Lanka to insure (with a Chinese state owned insurance company) against repayment of the loans in question.

[8] R. Sakthivadivel, C.R. Panabokke, C.M. Wijeratna, Nihal Fernando, K. Jinapala, R.B. Bandula Sirimal; Pre-Project Technical Assistance Study for Proposed Area Development Project of North Central Province, Prepared for RH&H Consultant/ ADB, 1995

[9] , of 9 Oct.2013 reported that the plant scheduled to open on 22 Mar.2011 was delayed by an outbreak of fire on 24.Oct.2010 and faced further shutdowns from fires in Aug.2011 and 18 Jan.2012.


[11] C.M. Madduma Bandara, University of Peradeniya, in ‘Issues in Environmental Impact Assessment of Large Scale Reservoir Projects in the Humid Tropics: The Case of Kalu Ganga at Laggala Pallegama in Sri Lanka’, Kandy, Dec. 2006, International Conference of Water in the Tropics

[12] Minister Sirisena: As it is, 725 million cubic metres of water [from Amban River] goes to waste and with the implementation of this project, it could be reduced to 225 million cubic metres (Island 27 Jan.2009)

[13]The Minister for Irrigation Mr. N.S. de Silva told The Sunday Observer (8 May 2011): “We are planning very large irrigation schemes for the North under the NCP canal scheme. Under this project, the excess water from Malwathu Oya will be taken to Vavuniya and to other Northern areas.” The following year, he said “The NCP canal is taking water from the Malwathu Oya to the Iranamadu reservoir, irrigating lands between Anuradhapura and Iranamadu” (Island 1 Oct.2012). In the original plan for the NCP Canal (see End Note), it was to discharge water for Malwathu Reservoir from Kapirigama in the east and proceed northwards to Iranamadu. After the initial fanfare, nothing more was said about the Canal for over a year.



[16] : “Although there were heavy rains in other parts of the country during the monsoonal seasons, [Padaviya] received only short spells of rain throughout the past 50 years. As a result, out of 17,000 acres of paddy land only 6,000 acres of land were cultivated annually in Maha (Winter) Season.”

[17] Sakthivadivel et. al. 2.3.6: It was observed that after the construction of Huruluwewa Reservoir, the average annual flow at Horawapotana reduced from 197 mcm to 118 mcm.

[18] Issues arising from water encroachments along Hurulu Weva Feeder Canal, 2007,

[19]Another danger of the proposed NCP canal is that there will be theft of water from both sides all along its northerly course from Moragahakande reservoir. Conflict over water will add an east-west dimension to the existing north-south ethnic conflict. ” (Daily News 31.12.2001)

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