Connect with us


NCP and North: Water availability



by Neville Ladduwahetty

A report in The Sunday Times of 17 October, 2021 states: “US $243 million (around Rs. 48,600 million) has been earmarked for a 27-km tunnel, considered the longest in the country under the Upper Elahera Canal Project of the Mahaweli …. Under the overall project, a 98-km network of canals and tunnels are to take water from Moragahakanda to Mahakandarawa wewa….”

The report however, does not indicate what quantities of water are to be delivered. However, the report confirms that the quantities of water to be delivered are sufficient to reach Mahakandarawa wewa which is about 6 km north-east of Mihintale. If so, it must mean that parts of the North Central Province (NCP) and Northern Province (NP) beyond the vicinity of Anuradhapura would not be receiving water from Moragahakanda.

This article attempts to analyze the data in two reports by Consultants to ascertain the capacity of the Upper Elahera Canal Project to deliver water to the NCP and NP. Since the focus of the report in the Sunday Times was on “bypassing protocol”, the answers to the above questions should be the responsibility of those who designed the network of canals and tunnels to furnish the answers. In the absence of such information, an analysis of water availability under two conditions is presented herein in a form different to the one that was presented in an article titled “Policies call for coordination in power sector” (The Island, October 12, 2021). The first was water availability when the network of canals and tunnels under construction is completed, and the second is upon the completion of the infrastructure needed to transfer water from Randenigala to the Kalu Ganga and through the latter to Moragahakanda and the Upper Elahera Canal.



The Report prepared for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, dated December 2014 by Technical Assistance Consultants on behalf of the ADB, in Paragraph 21 (p. 343) states: “The study has shown an increase in the diversion capacity at Moragahakanda to 974 MCM annually, required for the Upper Elahera Canal (UEC) and NCP canals addition to 617 MCM to the Minneriya Yoda Ela. The supplemental diversions from Kalu Ganga (772 MCM) Bowatenna (496 MCM) reservoirs and its own watershed (344 MCM) are adequate to cater the water demands under UEC.”

According to the data cited above, the ONLY sources of water available PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTING the infrastructure needed to transfer water from Randenigala to Kalu Ganga and eventually to Moragahakanda, is from Bowatenne 496 MCM, and water in its own catchments amounting to 344 MCM: a total of 840 MCM. When the waters needed by the five ancient five tanks are deducted i.e., 617 MCM, the balance available to be diverted to the UEC is 223 MCM.

An independent study carried out by SMEC International (Pvt) Ltd for the World Bank titled “Updated Mahaweli Water Resources Development Plan”, dated November 2013 states in Appendix 5 Table 5.1, p.9 that the Downstream Release from Bowatenne is 651 MCM, the catchment inflow into Moragahakanda is 313 MCM, making a total inflow of 964 MCM. From this inflow, since 573 MCM has to be diverted to the ancient five tanks, the amount of water available for the UEC is 391 MCM.

Therefore, according to the data in the two reports, the quantity of water available to be transferred to the UEC when the network of canals and tunnels is completed is ONLY 223 MCM or 391 MCM, respectively. This water availability is in the range of the demands of Mannakkattiya-Eruwewa-Mahakandarawa (155 MCM) and Huruluwewa (126 MCM), making a total of 281 MCM according to paragraph 151 in the Report titled “Environment Impact Assessment Report” prepared for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management” by the Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau (Pvt) Ltd. Since these three tanks are in the vicinity of Anuradhapura it could be concluded that under Condition One, it is realistically not possible to divert water beyond Anuradhapura. Furthermore, since the water available for transfer from Moragahakanda is in the range of 300 MCM, the network of canals and tunnels under construction would be under-utilized, on the basis that they were designed to carry 974 MCM or 964 MCM of water cited in the two reports.

This conclusion is subject to 496 MCM or 651 MCM quoted in the two reports being transferred to Moragahakanda from Bowatanne. This may not be the case if water from Bowatenne to Moragahakanda is curtailed in order to divert more water from Bowatenne to meet the demands of North Western Province. Thus, the network of canals and tunnels under construction would be further under-utilized.

Under the circumstances, where no infrastructure exists to bring more water to Moragahakanda, the conclusion objectively reached from the analysis of data in both reports is that the quantities of water available are NOT sufficient to meet the demands of the NCP and the NP beyond Anuradhapura.


In order increase water availability beyond Anuradhapura, the proposal is to transfer water from Randenigala augmented by water from Hasalaka Oya and Heen Ganga along the way together with water in 128 sq. km of the Kalu Ganga catchment (say76 MCM). Since the water demands in these two small tanks are 75 and 56 MCM respectively, Randenigala would need to divert 772MCM less (76+75+56) which is 565 MCM annually. Diverting 565 MCM of water from Randenigala, which is equal to the active capacity of the reservoir would have a serious impact not only on power generation at Randenigala but also on the amount of water available for diversion to the right and left banks of the Mahaweli at Minipe. Therefore, diverting water to Moragahakanda from Randenigala should be reconsidered. Diverting water to the NCP and NP at the expense of power generation and water availability to the East of Sri Lanka is a clear instance of contradictory policies that have been actively pursued by successive governments.


According to the Mahaweli Development Authority’s Master Plan, “In 1961 the government of Ceylon requested assistance from the special fund of the united nations to survey the Mahaweli Ganga Basin and the Dry Zone areas in the North and Central Provinces…. The plan of operation was drawn up and signed on 12 October, 1964 on behalf of the government of Ceylon, the United Nations Special fund and the food and agriculture organization of the united nations acting as executing agency. The co-operating government agency was the ministry of land, irrigation and power”.

“The project was designed to achieve the following objectives:”

“• To provide basic information on the land and water resources of the Mahaweli Ganga Basin and the Dry Zone areas of the North Central Provinces;

• To provide an overall water management plan with a view to the effective use of water for irrigation and power generation;

• To provide technical plans, preliminary design of works, cost estimates, priorities, phasing and financing needed for implementation of the plan” (Master Plan).

“The project area covers 39 percent of the whole island and 55 percent of the Dry Zone. It includes the Mahaweli Ganga basin, the basin of the Maduru Oya and rivers in the north central part of the island”.



What is evident from the network of canals and tunnels under construction as part of the UEC is the assumption that someday sufficient water would be transferred from Randenigala to the NCP and beyond to the NP. Having made such an irrevocable decision, it appears that every prospect is being explored to make it work regardless of consequences to power generation, to agriculture on the left bank of the Mahaweli at Minipe and interests in the Maduru Oya Basin. The folly of transferring water from Randenigala is compounded by developing the Upper and Lower Uma Oya schemes to augment the loss of water at Randenigala and at Minipe. However, notwithstanding such augmentation, nearly 300 MCM from Randenigala would yet be needed to meet the demands on the UEC.

It is only an attitude of come what may water would be delivered beyond the NCP to the NP, that would justify the scale of over design in the construction undertaken and currently underway. This is clearly evident from the fact that although the catchment of Kalu Ganga is only 128 sq. km (76 MCM), the newly constructed reservoir with a storage capacity of 265 MCM is several times larger than its catchment.


The design of the network of canals and tunnels under construction have clearly been influenced by the comments in the Reports, e.g., “an increase in the diversion capacity at Moragahakanda to 974 MCM annually, required for the UEC and NCP canals” is available. The fact that this depends on “The supplemental diversion from Kalu Ganga of 772 MCM and 496 MCM from Bowatenne is taken for granted as an irrefutable fact, notwithstanding its inherent consequences. The approach adopted reflects an attitude that an irrevocable decision has been taken to divert Mahaweli waters, no matter the costs to power generation at Randenigala and agricultural interests on the left bank of the Mahaweli at Minipe as well as in the Maduru Oya basin.

The pertinent question that needs to be asked is: Who is accountable for such an irrevocable decision when the decision has implications that go far beyond the scope outlined in the Master Plan of the Mahaweli Authority? The project area envisaged in the Master Plan was to cover “39 percent of the whole island and 55 percent of the Dry Zone. It includes the Mahaweli Ganga basin, the basin of the Maduru Oya and rivers in the north central part of the island”. Had the scope of the UEC been limited to the recommendations in the Master Plan, the cost of the network of canals and tunnels including the Kalu Ganga Reservoir would have been considerably less. The extra cost is because what is being constructed is to transfer 974 MCM on the presumption that 565 MCM would be transferred from Randenigala.

It is a matter of urgent necessity that sanity prevails and the scope of the UEC and all issues associated with it are reviewed without delay. Furthermore, since the technical fraternity has been silent on this issue thus far, it should be their responsibility to bring matters associated with the UEC to the attention of the political establishment. It would be a shameful indictment on all concerned if corrective measures are adopted only after the farmers in the Mahaweli and Maduru Oya basins starting from Minipe raise serious objections to the transfer of water from Randenigaka to the UEC.

Neville Ladduwahetty

October 22, 2021.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Rising farce of Family Power



Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

Continue Reading


A tribute to vajira



By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at

Continue Reading


It’s all about France in Kandy !



Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Continue Reading