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Tuesday 25 July 2017
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The fertile Valikamam soil that is being grabbed on one side and degraded on the other

The fertile Valikamam soil that is being grabbed on one side and degraded on the other

Valikamam North and Valikamam South are two areas in the Jaffna peninsula of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka which is naturally blessed with fresh water resources and fertile red soil that is ideal for cultivation of crops. In the Valikamam North Divisional Secretariat area (Tellippalai) there are 44 Grama Sevaka Divisions that comprise about 163 villages. From among them people are completely displaced in the case of 67 villages and these areas are occupied by the army in the name of High security Zones.

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Similarly, the Valikamam South (Uduvil) Pradeshiya Sabha area comprises 30 Grama Sevaka Divisions that boast of fresh water resources and fertile red soil and has a dense population of farmers. The power generation plant of the Ceylon Electricity Board called the “Uthuru Ulani” and the privately owned “Northern Power” plant installed under the agreement with the CEB are situated in Chunnakam in the heart of the farmlands.

Electricity is generated at these two power plants functioning with petroleum fuel and power is supplied to the people of the Peninsula. Though the Jaffna peninsula is receiving electricity from the hydro-electric power plant in Laxapahana, it is being augment with power from the Chunnakam power plants.

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In the meantime, oil leaks have been observed into the well-water in areas surrounding these two power plants. Though it was observed for the first time in 2012, the public didn’t have proper awareness about this phenomenon. On account of the attitude of unconcern on the part of the authorities, the spread of the oil leak has been observed in concentric circles around the power plants.

However, it has been observed that this spread has been more towards the North. It is believed that the contributory factor has been the subsoil water movement which is from South to North.

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Following the inaction if the Central government and the lethargy of the Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Central Environment Authority, the people affected by this pollution filed action in the Mallakam Magistrate’s Courts under the complaint of ‘public nuisance’. The Public Health and Medical Officers of these areas have filed a separate action regarding this matter.

As the waste disposal management of these two power plants is not satisfactory, the waste oil is allowed to enter the soil and seep into the Sub-soil water. This leads to the destruction of the water tables in these areas. The petitioners have annexed the laboratory test reports of the water in those affected wells.

According to these reports the tolerance level of waste oil in drinking water is 1.0 mg/l, whereas the observed level is 3 to 7 mg/l in the well-water of these areas.

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There is great fear that if the people use the water contaminated with waste oil for drinking purposes, they will contract blood cancer, dysfunction of the kidney, fits and other incurable diseases. If it is used for agriculture, the concentration of heavy metals in waste oil will affect the consumers of agricultural produce and livestock.

In the meantime, some comments have been aired from certain individuals in these areas that the legal action seeking an end to the life-threatening situation caused by the seeping of the waste oil into the wells has been prompted by some miscreants and the petitioners have been portrayed as terrorists.

They claim that this is a law-suit of those who are connected with the LTTE terrorists or members of groups that wish to sabotage the peace that has been restored for the Northern people.

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In Valikamam North the displaced people from the High Security Zones are still living in camps for more than 25 years and they have not been offered any alternative dwelling houses in resettlement areas. Now the subsoil water in areas where the rest of the Valikamam North people live is being also polluted.

No constructive action has been taken by Members of Parliament who obtained their votes or those who have captured power in the Provincial government or the Pradeshiya Sabha representatives who engage in administration by collecting taxes.

The Provincial Council enjoys full powers in the field of environmental protection as provided for in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (Provincial list, 37th item). A candidate who introduced himself as an environmentalist during the Provincial election campaigns is holding the post of Provincial Minister. However, he has not taken any action so far in this matter of profound human tragedy.

If this state of affairs continues, there will come a time when Valikamam North will become an area inhospitable for human existence.

Balakrishnan Parthipan is a journalist and lawyer based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

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