The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) responding to a news item in The Sunday Times of June 21 under the heading "history being crushed for harbour" states that it has obtained all required approvals and licences to operate the quarry at Piyangala in order to produce the rock/boulders for the construction of the Oluvil Port project.
The SLPA says that despite recent press reports which indicated that the historic Piyangala rock cave, Sri Lanka’s only cave with Veddah frescos was facing imminent destruction and villagers in the Digamadulla area alleging that attempts were underway to crush the stones depicting the frescos to transport it to the Oluvil Port project, the cave in the area had not been identified by the Department of Archaeology at the beginning of the port’s project planning stage and has also not been mentioned in the Initial Environment Examination (IEE) report done for the Piyangala quarry.
The Port Authority adds that in 2006, upon a request by the SLPA to extend the quarry area, this particular rock was identified and the Archaeology Department by letter dated September 19, 2006 granted approval, subject to certain conditions to ensure no danger is done to this cave during operations of this quarry. The IEE report was made available for the public for 30 days for any observation, comments and objections. Though no such comments had been raised by the public during the time period, SLPA published the IEE report for public comments.
Having obtained the quarry licence from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau on September 18, 2007 and with all renewal permits contained for the year 2009, SLPA up to date had complied with all the conditions and operated the quarry. The Department of Archaeology has also demarcated the safe boundaries making it 100 metres away from the cave and approved the blasting beyond 100 metres from the cave. Currently, the rock blasts are progressing only within the given limits and it is open for anyone to inspect or check. The quarry is being operated by M/s MTHojgaard of Denmark, the contractor for the Oluvil Port project. The SLPA is the official licence holder.
After having obtained approvals, the Government of Sri Lanka signed the loan agreement for the construction of the Oluvil Port project with the Government of Denmark that facilitated funds through the Ministry of Finance of Denmark- DANIDA. And thereafter, SLPA signed the contract and commenced the construction of the project in July, 2008.
Currently, 95 per cent of the site preparation and mobilisation of equipment/machineries for the construction of the Oluvil Port project have been completed. It is essential to have continuous rock productions at Piyangala quarry and supply to Oluvil for the breakwater construction for the timely completion of the project. Any delays or interruptions to ongoing works would result in a financial loss to the country.
News Editor’s note: The Sunday Times in its report on June 21 highlighted the concerns of the people in the area as well as the fact that the Piyangala cave, the only cave in Sri Lanka with Veddah frescoes and a protected site was in danger of destruction as a result of the quarry. Despite the claims by the SLPA the concerns among the public still remain.
Residents claim that the Archaeology Department caved into political pressure.
Irreparable damage likely, say residents
By Wasantha Chandrapala in
Despite assurances from the authorities in the Archaeology Department that no harm is being caused to the historic Piyangala rack cave in Ampara due to rock blasting taking place in its close proximity, residents are concerned the cave would suffer irreprable damage unless the process is stopped immediately.
Villagers, members of the clergy and some politicians have come together to protest against what they see as the destruction of the rock cave, the only one depicting Veddah frescoes in the country due to the quarry operating in Piyangala to provide rock and boulders for the construction of the Oluvil port.
JVP Digamadulla district MP Wasantha Piyatissa alleged that even though the rock blasting was done at a distance, the strong vibrations caused by it is affecting the area where the cave is situated.
“We need development in the area but not at the cost of causing harm to a valuable archaeology site. This must be stopped and an alterative site should be given for the quarry to operate,” he said.
He alleges that initially the Archaeology Deparment had refused permission for the quarry to operate there but had caved into political pressure and eventually given permission.
Ven. Siridigane Siri Thilaka Thera of the Ampara Bhikku Bala Mandalaya said that the authorities had paid attention only to the construction of the Port and not enough was done to take into consideration the harmful effects to a protected site.
“I would alike to appeal directly to the President to look into this,” the Thera said.
However, there are others in the surrounding villages who say that the claims of harm being cause to the historic rock cave are exaggerated and politically motivated.
D.Siriwardena. a villager accused the JVP of trying to disrupt the construction of the Port. “This port is of immense value to the people of this country. It will give people employment and also help develop the area,” he said.
Ven. Talgamuwe Subheetha Thera, the chief incumbent of the Piyangala Temple said that the villagers are not opposing the project and no harm was caused to the village or the caves by the operation of the quarry.
The Director General of Archaeology Senarath Dissanayake said that even though the Department has granted approval for the quarry to operate, if there is any violation of the specifications given to operate in the area, they would step in to prevent any damage to the cave.
He declined to comment if the Department had been under any political pressure to reverse an earlier decision.
Mr. Dissanayake said, however there is no imminent threat of harm being caused to the cave.