A historic milestone | Daily News

A historic milestone

It was a dream come true, not only for President Maithripala Sirisena who waged a lone battle during the previous regime to get the Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga project off the ground but also for 21 million Sri Lankans who waited for more than a decade to see it become a reality. Speaking during the ceremony held to mark the release of water to the Kalu Ganga reservoir in Laggala, President Sirisena described it as the “happiest day” in his life and predicted it will spur a massive development drive to rejuvenate the country’s agricultural hinterland. This is indeed a watershed moment in the country’s annals. It was also fitting that the new reservoir was named after legendary engineer Dr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe.

As the President said, the Moragahakanda and Kalu Ganga reservoir development scheme, the biggest in the Mahaweli system, is a permanent solution to wipe away the tears of the Rajarata people who were affected by an acute scarcity of water for decades as there was no proper irrigation system. Moragahakanda and Kalu Ganga will not be an isolated project as it will be followed by several other irrigation and hydropower projects such as giant canal systems, Upper Elahera Ela and a few others. Combined, the two new reservoirs are many times bigger than the Parakrama Samudraya, itself one of the biggest reservoirs (tanks) in the country.

The Moragahakanda project completed at a cost of US$ 1,150 million will end the water scarcity in several districts including Matale, Polonnaruwa, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. It will provide irrigation facilities to 81,422 hectares in the Dry Zone. The 102 Km Rajarata channel system will connect to the Mahakanadarawa Tank via Huruluwewa. The construction of the 96 km long Wayamba Channel system will commence in February. Both channel systems will supply water to 1,500 small tanks in the Dry Zone. Upon completion of the two channel systems around 94,000 hectares of paddy land can be cultivated throughout the year. Apart from providing water for agriculture purposes, the project will provide drinking water to millions in the dry zone who are severely affected by health issues such as kidney disease. The project will also add 25 Megawatts to the national grid through the power house attached to the main dam of Moragahakanda.

It is important to recall that this project almost did not get off the drawing board, if not for the valiant efforts of President Sirisena during his tenure as the Mahaweli Minister. He recalled that even though he commenced the project on January 25, 2007 as the then Mahaweli Development Minister, the former President did not give any support or assistance to carry out the project. As a result, the project stagnated for five long years. Water could have been released for irrigation six years ago if the project went ahead as planned. This is yet another instance of how development – and the people – can suffer as a result of petty political revenge. At least now, a mechanism should be evolved to ensure that no individual or Government can unnecessarily hold up essential development projects that benefit the public regardless of the political issues involved. National policies must be formulated to continue development projects irrespective of political developments.

Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganaga will join the rest of the Mahaweli system to revitalize the country’s agricultural fortunes. Lest we forget, Sri Lanka is primarily an agricultural nation with a proud irrigation-based civilization. In fact, some of the reservoirs (tanks) built by ancient kings still work perfectly, leaving modern engineers astonished at the level of precision and engineering. The Mahaweli project is the very embodiment of this proud heritage. It was originally planned as a 30-year venture, but the Government of President J.R. Jayewardene accelerated it, given the multitude of benefits to the country’s rice-growing hinterland. There were three objectives of the project – irrigation, drinking water supply and power generation. Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga have several more benefits – pleasure boating/tourism and inland fisheries are among them. We should also pause for a moment to express our gratitude to the hundreds of families who willingly scarified their ancestral homelands and houses for the project. On its part, the Government has built an entire new township replete with all facilities for these families.

With Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga in full flow, the months long droughts will no longer pose a huge problem to the farmers in the North Central Province and elsewhere from now on as water will be available year round. This will benefit not only paddy farmers but also cultivators of other crops. It is also vital to manage the paddy cultivation and storage prudently, to prevent an unnecessarily excessive harvest at least until we identify viable export markets for our rice varieties. In fact, Post Harvest Losses (PHL) is a big factor in local agriculture which adversely affects the farmers. A mechanism must be introduced to reduce or eliminate PHL in local agriculture possibly with foreign expertise. We should also take a critical look at water management in agriculture as water is a very precious resource. The waters of Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga must be used prudently with the future generations in mind. 


 

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