NKB, a bridge of peoples, because priority has been given to the displaced | Print edition

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By Renishka Fernando

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The NKB connects the Orugodawatte and Ingurukade intersections to the Col-Katunayake highway

The construction of the new Kelani Bridge (NKB) shows that if the government is serious about doing something, it can, said an expert from the main funder, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Senior project specialist Namal Ralapanawe referred to the successful resettlement of hundreds of families to make way for the bridge. While megaprojects were often a nightmare for displaced people, the NKB project ensured that they were the priority in a way that most other recent development initiatives in Sri Lanka did not.

The NKB would be open to the people after its finishes. It would connect the Orugodawatte and Ingurukade intersections to the Colombo-Katunayake highway and is the first overdose bridge in the country. It is a combination of cable-stayed beams and concrete beams. The project was carried out by JICA, which financed it through an official development loan, the Road Development Authority (RDA) and the Ministry of Roads.

Good practices included, but not limited to, direct transfer of technology, resettlement in consultation with those affected, and equal opportunities and remuneration for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the official said. The GDR and JICA have relocated 320 families around the construction area in the “Laksanda Sevana-Salamulla” housing complex.

Efficient relocation was the main condition for a project to move forward, insisted Ms. Ralapanawe, an engineer. The guidelines of JICA and Sri Lanka should be followed to release funding. Local frameworks were the Land Acquisition Law and the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP).

The law did not require government agencies to consult with resettlers and pay full compensation, Ms. Ralapanawe said.

“People without title deed have no protection in the land acquisition law. Although NIRP is better, it still does not meet the standards of JICA guidelines and is only a policy, ”she said.

Extensive discussions took place between JICA and local authorities on the conduct of resettlement. It was an important part of the project because there were a large number of families. And the process for the NKB was very different from other initiatives, Ms. Ralapanawe said, due to full consultation with relevant parties at every step. The resettlement alone took a year to complete with enough time for people to adjust. An environmental impact assessment (EIA) took place in parallel.

Evidence of a public consultation for the resettlement action plan and an EIA are mandatory in JICA guidelines. The agency will not review a project until both are completed incorporating environmental and social considerations. These reports were then sent to an independent advisory committee in Japan, followed by a 90-day disclosure to the Japanese people during which questions need to be answered. Indeed, JICA was responsible for ensuring that Japanese taxpayers’ money was used responsibly.

In Sri Lanka, the word resettlement is narrowly defined to include only people needing to move. For JICA, however, this includes land acquisition and the resettlement action plan.

RDA Project Director Darshika Jayasekera and her team visited each household to explain the procedure. They also noted their feelings. A survey was carried out on the number of people and households affected, their economic situation and their employment.

JICA’s principle is that, regardless of title, each person displaced by the project should receive an equivalent or improved standard of living as compensation. Japanese guidelines also require that communities stay together and that resettlement places be close to places of origin so that activities like school and work can easily resume.

An official said the GDR is committed to improving living standards and has acquired units of a low-income family apartment complex from the Urban Development Authority (UDA) under construction. They were provided free of charge to affected households as compensation for resettlement. The title was transferred with the written deeds to the husband and wife.

There were two types of compensation programs. Either a family could get an apartment with title deed and moving allowances, furniture, electricity and water, or financial compensation. The GDR took teams of people to see the apartments under construction.

“Initially, some were reluctant to move. But when they saw what was going on, they agreed to relocate, ”said Ms. Ralapanawe.

The GDR organized training and demonstrations on storing food in the kitchen, using stoves, maintaining order in homes, restoring livelihoods and new jobs. There were instructions for making sandals, shoes, clothes, etc. Some men used part of the compensation to buy three-wheelers.

But there have also been negative incidents involving the disposal of garbage and narcotics, Ms. Ralapanawe said. The apartment complex consists of three buildings, two of which were occupied by resettled people who had organized a separate garbage collection with the city council. But the occupants of the other tower reportedly threw garbage out the windows instead of throwing it downstairs.

The pandemic has also resulted in an accumulation of garbage and initiatives taken by young people to clean it up have not been successful. Now there were three people from each building assigned to garbage collection. As for the proliferation of narcotics, the problem existed before the resettlement. The authorities were aware of this and sometimes followed up on denunciations. But long-term solutions were needed.

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