New Kelani Bridge-Athurugiriya elevated highway: Thalangama EPA to be re-gazetted
Legal Draftsman incorporating amendments
CEA approval pending; EIA mandatory
CEJ petition opposing highway to be heard
By Maheesha Mudugamuwa
The Environment Ministry is to re-gazette the Thalangama Environmental Protection Area (EPA) that had been declared so by Gazette Notification No. 1487/10 issued on 5 March 2007, to pave the way for the construction of the proposed elevated highway project from the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya, The Sunday Morning learnt.
It is learnt that cabinet approval has already been granted and that the necessary amendments are currently being made by the Legal Draftsman’s Department.
Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Director General Hemantha Jayasinghe said that the CEA had not yet given its approval for the said road construction, adding that through the amendments that would be introduced to the previous gazette as recommended by the Cabinet, the road is supposed to be constructed in an environmentally friendly manner.
He told The Sunday Morning that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be conducted and that the CEA would thoroughly observe the entire process and any negative impacts to the wetland.
According to the CEA, the amendments, as suggested, would change the prescribed activities within the protected area by allowing for the construction of the proposed elevated highway.
The elevated highway project is designed to be implemented under two phases.
The first phase of the project is a four-laned section of road with a total length of 6.9 km originating from the New Kelani Bridge and ending up at Rajagiriya while phase two of the project would extend from Rajagiriya up to Athurugiriya (10.4 km), connecting with the Outer Circular Expressway.
The project is to be constructed by the China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC), which already has a large project portfolio in Sri Lanka on a Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) basis while the awarding of the construction contract to the CHEC was approved by Cabinet in April based on the recommendations made by the Cabinet-appointed negotiating committee.
The construction work is scheduled to be completed by 2025.
According to the Road Development Authority (RDA), the full ownership of the elevated highway would be handed over to Sri Lanka after 18 years from the completion of the construction. It is the first ever BOT project launched in Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, a writ petition has been filed in the Court of Appeal by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), seeking an order preventing the construction of the elevated highway over the Thalangama EPA.
In their petition, the petitioners have stated that while recognising the uniqueness of this area owing to its ecological, hydrological, and historical importance, and following the conduct of detailed studies and research by the CEA, the Thalangama Tank and its environs were declared an EPA under the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 as amended, by way of the Gazette Extraordinary No. 1487/10 dated 5 March 2007.