Thambuttegama farmers Losing their calm before the ‘storm’

Published : 12:02 am  March 6, 2018 | No comments so far |  | 


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People engaged in agriculture lament over proposed water supply project 


The Dailymirror visited the farmer communities living in the left bank of the Rajanganaya reservoir. Several of them had had a meeting with the President to bring a solution for this matter. Speaking to the Dailymirror,  a few residents of the area along with farmers shared their thoughts.   


Given its fertile soil and greener pastures, the main occupation in the Anuradhapura District is farming. From paddy to banana, coconut and vegetables, these farmers generate income through fresh produce. However due to the recent drought conditions, these farmers couldn’t get the best use of the Yala and Maha seasons. The Rajanganaya tank provides water to over 35,000 families and these farmers have so far worked during both seasons. The proposed water supply project is supposed to distribute water to three Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions including Thambuttegama, Galnewa and Thalawa. However, the farmers recently protested that this project will consume more water than estimated and it would affect farming. As a result of a protest staged on February 28, 60 farmers were arrested following a clash between the Police and the protesters and 51 of them were released on bail yesterday.  

In an attempt to shed light on this issue, the Dailymirror   recently visited Thambuttegama and spoke to some individuals including the Police and the farmers with the help of area resident Nilantha Ekanayake. 


They attacked us first: Police B-report

According to the B-report submitted by the Police the people who protested ignored the court order produced by the Thambuttegama Magistrate. The protest was staged by farmers representing 64 farmer associations in the right and left banks of the Rajanganaya Dam. They began the protest on the Kala Oya Bridge and obstructed the main road. In order to limit any inconvenience caused to the public, the Police team diverted the traffic onto alternative routes. Therefore vehicles travelling from Anuradhapura to Kurunegala were diverted via Giribawa while vehicles moving from Kurunegala to Anuradhapura were diverted via Meegalawa.   

The report further states that the protesters then started moving towards the Police junction. When the Headquarter Inspector Priyantha and a team had gone to handover the court order to Rajanganaya Unified Farmers Association President Nihal Wanniarachchi, the protesters refused to accept it. They had said that in order to make an impact the protest had to be violent. They have further said that they will protest until someone in the Government sends a letter saying that the project has been stopped. In turn they surrounded us (the Police) and started attacking. From the attack, nine Police officers were injured while around 100 Police officers got involved to counter the attack.   

During this incident clauses 140, 146, 410, 314, 316, 315, 157, 332, 344 and 149 of the Penal Code had been violated. As a result 60 people were taken into custody and 15 were released on bail.   

This is a Government project implemented under proper procedures 

Speaking to the Daily Mirror Anuradhapura District Secretary R. M Wanninayake said that obtaining water from reservoirs for drinking purposes is not new to this area. 

“With the permission from the Department of Irrigation and the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, water is being extracted from reservoirs such as Thuruwila, Nuwara Wewa and Tissa Wewa. Therefore a similar proposal has been put forward in connection with the Rajanganaya reservoir as well. 

People in areas such as Galnewa and Nochchiyagama don’t have drinking water. Therefore this project was proposed to provide drinking water to these people. This isn’t a private project or a bottled water project as mentioned in certain social media sites. This is a Government project which is being implemented under proper procedures. The construction part is being handled by a Chinese company. In Rajanganaya, close to 30,000 people are farmers. In addition to that other cultivations such as banana, coconut and various other vegetables too can be found. Hence it is the most fertile area in the Anuradhapura District. The main reason behind this protest is the fear that the farmers have that they would not have enough water to work with in their paddy fields if an equal amount of water is used for this project as well. But the NWSDB has affirmed that they will only extract the amount of water permitted by the Irrigation Department and this too will be in future.”Wanninayake said.   

Wanninayake further said that only the initial stages of the project are currently being carried out. “They are not extracting any water yet. The project will commence in 2021. In case of a drought the extraction of water will be controlled, so that farmers would not be affected. All these matters were discussed with the farmers, but they still haven’t understood the purpose behind the project. If these protesters staged a peaceful protest without inconveniencing the public, there wouldn’t have been any issue,” he continued.   

When asked if the project would commence, Wanninayake said that it had been suspended. “The project hasn’t commenced, so there was nothing to suspend anyway. The NWSDB also agreed to it and now we have requested from the authorities to re-inspect the amount of water to be extracted and educate the farmer communities in the lower banks about the project before commencing it. The reason for the low levels of water have no connection with any project, but they are due to the adverse drought conditions that have prevailed during the past few months. There are many ways in which water will be wasted such as when spill gates are opened. The NWSDB will go ahead with the project only with the approval of the irrigation department. This approval has already been given. We have to consider the problem of kidney disease and this is why we have implemented a project of this nature. In future, farmer communities will be informed once the project commences,”said Wanninayake.   


Project at its tender evaluation stage 
According to a source that wished to remain anonymous, the project proposal was passed through several authorities before receiving cabinet approval. “Tenders were called at the time when Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Finance minister and loan agreements were signed in 2017. It has been estimated that in 2033 approximately 18,000 cubic metres of water would be utilised per day from Thambuttegama area by the population that’s forecast. The project is expected to commence operations in 2021 and the water demand in Rajanganaya would be close to 44,000 cubic metres per day. Currently the project is in its tender evaluation stage. 


It has been estimated that in 2033 approximately 18,000 cubic metres of water would be utilised per day from Thambuttegama area by the population that’s forecast


The amount of water extracted for this project is negligible when compared to what is being utilised for farming practices. 

There is no bottled water project as mentioned in certain media reports. This is a Government project aimed at providing a solution for the kidney disease problem in the area. 

People extract water from shallow wells and this project is expected to provide water to around 92,000 people.”the source said.   

The source further said that 50% of the advance payments have been made on contract basis and the project is funded by the Chinese Development Bank. “With this protest the project would be delayed and therefore we would have to pay more interest. 

This is a huge loss to the country. Under this project it has also been proposed to minimize losses incurred due to distribution canals,” the source added.   

Rajanganaya reservoir 
Pics by KushanPathiraja



We need to protect this resource


“We don’t have any issue with them over providing us with drinking water. The Rajanganaya area is quite fertile and the farmers work both during the Yala and Maha seasons. If such a project is commenced it would have a major impact on the farmers. There is a tank called Neelabamma. So why can’t they take it there because that water anyway goes to the sea. Once the project is implemented the authorities would control the water in the tank and farmers would not have sufficient water to do their work. This is a resource which we need to protect,” said Amarasinghe.   


Around 35,000 families depend on this tank 


“Farmers in the right and left banks of the Rajanganaya tank utilise water from more than 86,000 acre-feet during both Yala and Maha seasons. Usually there’s enough water in the Kala Oya, but with the recent drought conditions we don’t have sufficient water for farming and other purposes. This time, water from 14,000 acre-feet have been utilised due to these conditions. On top of this if another drinking water project is started it will be a challenge to all farmers because they will give prominence to such a project. Around 35,000 families depend on this tank. Earlier a plan was drawn to obtain water from the Moragahakanda reservoir and sent it to Kala Wewa along Jaya Ganga to Kon Wewa and establish the purification system there. But the Rajanganaya tank is where water collects from Kala Wewa and provides water for the farmers to work during both seasons,” said W. K Samitha Indika  


Prez and PM should take immediate action


“People somehow find drinking water. Farming is important for us. To address the kidney problem filtered water is being distributed throughout the area. Every house has a filtering system and this problem is mainly in the Anuradhapura area. Certain Policemen were in civil and they kept attacking us. The project was initially proposed at Kon Wewa, but after they saw all the water at the Rajanganaya tank they shifted the project here. Therefore we urge the President and the Prime Minister to take immediate action.”  said  Sanath Ranwala


They attacked me as well 


“The Police attacked us first. They in fact attacked me as well. While we were in remand we didn’t even get water to drink. Several others were treated quite inhumanely. The farmers sat on the road and were awaiting for an answer from the District secretary. This canal narrows as it proceeds further down and those people don’t even have the water that we get. If this project becomes a reality they would suffer more than us. Only tea and rubber don’t grow in these areas, but we have many plants which grow in the wet zone thanks to this tank,” said Anuradha Pushpakumara.


We will continue to protest

-M. A Manjula

“They want to draw water from the nearest source. We asked them to start this project from Neelabamma because water anyway flows to the sea. Since this project hasn’t been implemented yet, we still have doubts. If no water fills the distribution canals, we would not have all the greenery that we see today. The prevailing drought is quite adverse at times and the only way of survival is this tank.We didn’t want to get in to a fight at any point. Our main objective was to get down an official and find a solution to this problem. The Government didn’t interfere at all. Since we didn’t find a solution we went to the Thambuttegama junction. We asked them not to attack us. The media didn’t show how we were attacked first. We will continue to protest until this project comes to a stop,”   said M. A Manjula President of the Saliyaraja Farmers Association.


The Govt. should treat farmers better


“If this project is implemented farmers would lose water in close to 25,000 acre-feet. Therefore it’s turning out to be a bigger issue than we expected. As a result we staged this project and it’s unfair to commence such a project without educating the farmer communities. It is the farmers that provide rice to this country and the Government should be treating us better.”   said Wasantha Kaluarachchi


Facts about the Thambuttegama Water Supplying project

  • Benefitted population : 92,000 (as estimated by 2033)   
  • Estimated cost :Rs. 18,075 million   
  • Contractor : CATIC CHINA GEO ENG JV   
  • Distribution zones :Thambuttegama – 28 GramaNiladhari (GN) divisions   
  • Galnewa – 4 GN divisions   
  • Thalawa – 12 GN divisions   
  • Main features of the project : Water intake from the right bank of the Rajanganaya tank   
  • Water treatment plant   
  • Three water tanks   
  • Water pumping system (40km)   
  •  Water distribution system (135km)   
  • Domestic water connections   
  • Source :Rajanganaya tank   
  • Amount of water extracted per day : 18,000 cubic metres