The Southern Transport Development Project (STDP) is an ADB co-financed project, which includes the construction of a 128-km controlled-access expressway from Colombo to the southern city of Galle, which will link up with an existing coastal road in Matara. ADB is providing a US$ 90 million loan approved in November 1999 for 55 km of this expressway, with Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) providing funds for the rest of the stretch. The construction of the road aims to help catalyze economic growth in the southern region of Sri Lanka in general and reduce traffic and accidents on the coastal road.
The number of houses to be destroyed under the Road Development Authority (RDA) plans has now reached 1300 before counting those in Akmeemana and Bandaragama. The estimate is for a further 600 at least from these two places which, when added, will be a total of 1700 houses to be destroyed, from the original consultants’ estimate of a maximum of 622 houses.
The RDA has also put the road through highly productive paddy and home gardens rather than unused lands. Residents say that the RDA Officers do this so that they can sell or use the timber and the materials from the destroyed houses. Villagers say that the Government is being totally misled by the RDA.
The Government position seems to be that the people are unaware of the ‘wonderful’ compensation package and that if they knew, they would give up their lands and homes. The villagers have been cheated and harassed by the RDA and are in no mood to co-operate with them.
The ADB and JBIC are giving long term loans to cover the cost. Although the Bank insists that their guidelines for minimum house destruction be included in their contract with the government, so far it has not insisted that the RDA follow these same guidelines. The people feel that it is a duty of the Bank to protect them from Government Officers’ misdeeds.
The public consultation that the EIA process has entirely broken down. In at least two places the Road is being run in areas where no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done. These are the biggest villages on the route.
The saga of the Southern Transport Development Project starts in 1969 with the proposal of the RDA to link Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, with Matara, a major city in the southern province. However, the recent story starts with the RDA’s initiative in 1992 to fill the paddy fields from the southern end without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). However, this was abandoned due to pressure from environmental groups to comply with the law. This issue popped up again in 1994 with the newly elected regime laying six Foundation Stones along the trace identified by the RDA through aerial photographs. This process is known as an RDA trace. This was again abandoned due to pressure to produce an EIA under the local regulations. The main reason for this radical approach was because it was discovered that the lack of development in the Southern Province was one of the reasons for the youth uprising in the southern part of Sri Lanka in 1972 and 1988.
Since 1996, the RDA studied the road trace together with the ADB consultants, and an EIA report was published in 1999. During these assessments, ADB consultants identified a separate trace which is called the ADB Trace. As a compromise, the two traces were merged into the so-called Combined Trace. The Central Environmental Authority (CEA), however, imposed certain conditions after having two public hearings and one condition was to change the trace in Bandaragama (in the western part of the road) and in the Koggala area (in the southern part of the road) in order to protect the two big wetlands known as Bolgoda and Koggala. An EIA was completed for a three-kilometer corridor, but when the trace was changed it jumped beyond the corridor.
The RDA started its implementation without studying the changed traces, violating the ADB policies and Sri Lankan environmental laws. They also denied newly affected people from participating in the EIA process. According to the affected people, more than 40 kilometers of the road was not in the studies. Also, the CRP initially found 72% of the new trace is out of the scope of the documents presented to the ADB for approval.
Since 1999, affected people have been appealing to the Human Rights Commission, the Sri Lanka Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. At the beginning of 2004, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court decided that these communities’ human rights have been violated and ordered the RDA to pay Rs. 75,000 as compensation for each person. However, the Supreme Court did not intervene to change the Appeals Court’s decision not to change the road trace. These affected persons finally went to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2004 and the decision is still pending up to now.
ADB INSPECTION CLAIMS
In 2001 eleven complaints were made to the ADB’s Inspection Panel. However, they were rejected by the Inspection panel on different technical grounds.
ADB REJECTS INSPECTION REQUEST!
ADB Management responded to the Gama Surakeema Sanvidhanaya (GSS) complaint on February 11, 2002, dismissing the allegations as unfounded and not attributable to the Bank. The Bank claimed that the allegations against the ADB were not supported by sufficient evidence and that the GSS failed to demonstrate “direct and material adverse effect caused by ADB.”
On April 15, the villagers of Gelanigama received word that their Inspection Request had been rejected by the ADB. GSS maintains that the grounds for the Bank’s response are incorrect, and have promptly conveyed this to the Bank. GSS also feels that the Bank management’s response was extremely legalistic and showed little sense of duty or regard for the Requesters.
Affected communities from Kahatuduwa, Gelenigama, and Akmeemana have filed separate requests from Inspection at the ADB. The first of four Requesters — Gama Surakeema Sanvidhanaya (GSS) – filed a formal complaint in August 2001, addressed to ADB President Tadao Chino.
In order to send the actual Inspection Request, the community of Gelanigama had to ask for the ADB to send them the policies relevant to the project. These policies were not available in the community’s local language and due to the lack of resources.
On 14 March 2002, villagers from all along the planned route of the Southern Expressway Matara came to Colombo to protest against the building of the road. They came to show the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), who are the main financiers of the road, how much they are suffering because of the road project.
Hundreds of people from 12 villages — Akmeemana in the South, Kurundugaha-hatekma, Bandaragama, Polgasovita, Galanigama, Palpola, Gamagoda, Dodangoda, Pantota, Elpitiya, Etkadura, Kokmadoowa, Sultanagoda — are angry with the way the Road Development Authority (RDA) had thrown aside the original project plans as a result of alleged influenced by the past Government to make the road avoid the land of Government ministers and friends. This campaign was organized by the Sri Lankan Working Group on ADB.
ADB ACCOUNTABILITY COMPLAINTS
Affected People lead by the Joint Committee of the Affected people, with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Working Group on ADB, NGO Forum on ADB, Bank Information Center, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth Japan, Oxfam Australia, etc., made the complaint to the ADB’s Special Project Facilitator in 2004. Although it was accepted the consultation process was failed during the mediation stage.
As a result of the complaints made to the Compliance Review Panel, the review was conducted and the Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank approved the Compliance Review Panel (CRP) report and its recommendations on 12 July 2005. The ADB’s Compliance Review Panel, which was established under its new accountability mechanism in 2004, conducted a series of visits and consultations and found that there were many violations of the ADB policies during the design and implementation of the project. The CRP initially found that 72% of the road is out of the scope of the initial project design.