YAHAPALANA AND TRANSPORT
Posted on September 16th, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Yahapalana is meddling with the transport sector, from expressways to trishaws. Yahapalana said it plans to have a network of expressways. Twenty-four Road Development Authority trade unions, including the UNP-allied Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya and the SLFP-allied Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, had sent a petition to Highways Minister in 2017, opposing the proposal to develop an expressway network. The development of the expressway network will lead to a steep increase in the number of users. If privatized, the income will go to private parties, not the government, they said.

In September 2017 the Road Development Authority Engineers’ Association (RDAEA) strongly criticized the Yahapalana plan to give the management of existing and future expressways to an international company. These expressways generates income and do not warrant privatization, the Association said. Yahapalana was going to use the advance payment received from the international company to complete three other expressways. The RDAEA had come to know of this, only through a draft newspaper advertisement that they happened to see. Using the Right to Information Act the Association has asked for copies of all documents, including Cabinet papers, for scrutiny.

The RDA has a deposit of five billion rupees with the Expressway Operation, Maintenance and Management Division, which is intended for use in periodic maintenance of expressways, said the RDAEU. Yahapalana government wishes to use around Rs 4 billion of this to settle contractor bills of other divisions. These were projects where the tenders and work orders had been issued, beyond budget allocations. The union has, once again, invoked the RTI Act to obtain information, inter alia, on tenders and work orders; works issued/attended by Construction Division and EOMM Division; and any other special works including estimate amounts and tendered amounts; and money availability according to the approved programme for 2017, including non-RDA roadworks.

However, Yahapalana intends to proceed with its expressway. They include an expressway to the North Western Province, and a road and rail network in the North Central Province leading to Trincomalee port. 2017 Budget said Highway lanes would be reduced from six to four.

There would also be a Ratnapura expressway from Kahatuduwa to Pelmadulla via Horana for 73.9km.  This would start with Chinese assistance in 2016. In March 2017, media reported; ‘The Highways Ministry is proceeding with plans for the Ruwanpura Expressway amidst serious concerns regarding its feasibility and environmental impact. As far as I know, there is no design, no completed feasibility study, no approval by the National Physical Planning Department, no approved EIA, no modeling, and nothing done,” said one senior official, reported the media.

The National Physical Planning Department (NPPD) of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development had also voiced strong concerns about the proposed Ruwanpura Expressway.   The trace cuts through the central fragile areas” that are identified as crucial to conservation of the country’s water sources concluded the media report.

Yahapalana inherited the Northern expressway, started by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yahapalana   converted it into a Central Expressway from Colombo to Kandy, to be completed in four phases. Phase 1, Kadawatha to Mirigama, Phase 2, Mirigama and Kurunegala, Phase 3, Potuhara to Galagedara and Phase 4 Kurunegala to Dambulla.   Yahapalana decided to avoid Phase 1 Kadawatha to Mirigama and Phase 4 Kurunegala to Dambulla and start on Phase 2 Mirigama to Kurunegala, with a link road joining from Ambepussa and phase 3 Potuhara to Galagedara of the Central Expressway Project

The Central Expressway, from Colombo to Kandy had met with much opposition and criticism. No one seems to like this Expressway and there were many objections. The NPPD  called for a detailed study regarding the traffic impact on Galagedara town as  Phase 3 was likely to discharge all Kandy-bound traffic in that area.

The Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee of the Institution of Engineers in association with the Sri Lanka Society of Transport & Logistics held a panel discussion in November 2017, on the subject.

The Panel questioned the need for an expensive four lane expressway with interchanges for Kandy. This will create new problems of congestion in the Kandy area. It will not connect Kandy in one hour because the traffic will increase. Railway access plus a two-lane highway can be built for what is being proposed to be spent on a four-lane expressway and the travel time would be at the most 115 minutes. It was better to drop the idea and implement Phase 3. An 80 kmph two-lane highway from Potuhera to Galagedera would reduce the projected cost by at least 60 percent and the travel time difference will only be 5 minutes,” a four lane highway from Kurunegala to Galagedera would also have been less expensive.

The panel said that an intercity express railway network to Kandy which can be extended to other cities would provide superior mobility to the hill capital at a fraction of the cost. It will cost less and is the path followed by many countries today. The availability of different access modes to railway stations will make door to door travel not only fast, but comfortable and economically sustainable.” The panel showed studies of four different railway traces from Rambukkana to Kandy for a new line capable of connecting Kandy from Colombo within 90 minutes.

Critics said that Central Environmental Authority (CEA) approved implementation of the complex project without waiting for the outcome of a series of vital geological surveys and tests. The project is being implemented without due consideration for the National Physical Plan which expressly sought to discourage urbanization of hill areas to prevent natural disasters, critics added.  The Government said it has commissioned Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) to carry out an environmental and social due diligence for phase III.

The financing of Phase 3 came under question. Japan offered to finance it. The tenderers were Taisei Corporation, Penta Ocean Construction   and Wakachiku Construction. Taisei did not submit the bid security and other two companies did not participate in the bidding process. The Government of Japan introduced a fourth bidder M/s Fujita Corporation. Taisei and Fujita were to form a Consortium for the project.  Cabinet agreed. It was then observed that the officers of Taisei Company were in prison in Japan.

Television news of 19/10/17 showed those losing their lands to phase 3 demonstrating violently   as   land acquisition has started. Land acquisition of 107,975 perches or 674.8 acres was to be done under Section 38(a) of the Land Acquisition Act. This allows for immediate possession of such land on the ground of urgency” Land is vested with the State within 48 hours with compensation to be paid at a later date. Such urgent acquisition absolves the acquiring agency from hearing objections to the project.It is not clear why Section 38(a) is being employed for CEP III when the project has been in the pipeline for years.

There would be a huge human cost, said critics. From a people’s point of view, we are heading for disaster” said resettlement experts. The Road Development Authority’s (RDA) resettlement action plan” (RAP) to minimize effects of massive displacement from phase  iii is riddled with holes and spells disaster for the affected parties, experts said.

Thousands of people will be impacted     According to available data, 6,432 people from 1,742 families will be affected. There are 624 people living in the road corridor; 2,098 agricultural landowners; and 25 entrepreneurs. The majority of them will be permanently affected.  There are a large number of vulnerable households with no clear statement of support, No resettlement sites are identified.

Land owners, unaware of the need to state replacement cost have given relatively low estimates for their structures,” analysts said. Among the residential houses, the majority of them (160) believe that they need Rs. 5-10 million to replace their housing structures. Many others have given lower amounts as the replacement cost for their houses.”

There will  also be a major impact  on coconut cultivation with around 25,351 trees expected to be affected. 28,962 perches or 162 acres of paddy will also be affected. The second category of crop will be paddy in 28,962 perches or 162 acres. About 463 government properties will be hit, it says, in addition to 35 facilities like community centers, common wells and cemeteries.

Phase 4 is  also causing much concern. .It is common practice in Sri Lanka to build expressways on embankments built with soil brought from elsewhere. This filling up process requires 120,000 cubic meters of soil for a km. The gargantuan volumes of soil and boulders needed for the building of highways are supplied through razing of hillocks and excavating large pits in the interior of the country, observed Prasanna Coorey.

Structurally, this model, while fragmenting the land along the course of the expressway, that includes the ecologically sensitive areas like the wetlands and forests, has also given rise to a number of environmental (and social) problems by directly contributing to the flood debacle that we have come to experience lately.  Some of the areas affected are Idulgoda kanda, Kaduruk Kanda, Tampana, Konpola, Rokke Kanda.

Ven. Wekadawela Rahula  of Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS), who is also in the forefront of the campaign to protect the Kurunegala environment said, “This mountain range is situated three to four km from Henamulla. All these belong to the western boundary of the central hills of the country. Tampana, in particular, is a great water store. It is always soaked with water. All the water that falls down these mountains during the rains, then collect into the Venru wewa. In future, when Venru wewa reaches its spill level the water will again collect like in a tank, formed by the raised earth embankment of the expressway, worsening the floods situation in Kurunegala”.

During the last couple of weeks, the outskirts of Kurunegala town has been a hotbed of agitation against the Central Expressway Project  said the media in  October 2017. The process of acquiring land for the Phase 4  Kurunegala – Dambulla stretch of the proposed Central Expressway had caused great inconvenience to the respective land owners in Dambulla, said Athuparayaya Bodhirukkarama Viharadhipati Ven. Aluthgama Upananda ,  Patron of the Union of landowners surrendering properties for the Expressway.

Ven. Aluthgama Upananda  also  said that   problems had arisen regarding the payment of compensation to the acquired land which they discovered after discussions with officers of the Dambulla Divisional Secretariat and higher officials. Compensation payments relevant to the Dambulla Vihara’s rajakariya land was being paid to the Buddhist Affairs Commissioners Department  and not to tenant residents in the lands.

There had been no response as to the procedure adopted regarding the takeover of state lands where people were residing, either.  Since the majority of people resident in lands to be taken over were living under deep mental distress, authorities should either resolve this problem in a fair and just manner and inform them in writing about the procedure adopted in this connection.

“The lands for the construction of the expressway were identified and surveyed in 2014 during the tenure of the last government. We had meetings with the authorities then and we were told that the expressway will be built on pillars. They then categorically said it won’t be built on ground fill. They said that for land lost we will be paid compensation for 20 years ahead, and for a coconut palm, depending on the pluck, for five years ahead. Likewise, compensation was determined for paddy lands and other plantations. They were the very same officials as now. Now they deny that they ever said these. There has been ax sudden change in the stance of the authorities.

“On June 27 . 2017 the RDA told us the road will be built on a ground fill and not on pillars as we were told before. The height of the ground fill will be 20 feet, and 26 feet in some places.”We sent a petition to the President, with copies to the Prime Minister, Minister of Highways, Central Environment Authority (CEA), Agrarian Services Commissioner and 10 other institutions.. Then we had a meeting with a representative of the PM’s office. He told us the project is now planned to be built on ground fill. Any consequences, like floods, could be seen only after the completion of the project. And he tells us that’s development.

It is not practical to operate buses according to the timetables given by the National Transport Commission, said Kandy-Colombo Luxury Bus Services Association in October 2017. The time tables were impractical and both bus owners and commuters will fall into difficulties if buses are operated according to them. They  had been prepared by persons who had no knowledge of bus operations.

Buses could not be operated according to such impractical timetables, according to the new timetable, a luxury bus leaving Colombo at 5.15 am should reach Kandy at 8.30 am and it should be parked in the bus terminal at 9 am to start the return journey to Colombo at 9.20 am. Accordingly, a bus should cover the Colombo-Kandy trip in 3 hours and 13 minutes and only half an hour is available for the bus crew to have breakfast and morning ablutions. This was quite impractical.

Although an appointment was sought from the Chairman through Higher Education and Highways Minister to discuss matters, there had been no response from him on two such occasions, bus representatives said. Even though finally an opportunity for a discussion was given last week, the Chairman ended up avoiding it too saying he had no time. Chairman should take responsibility if commuters faced any accident when drivers operated under pressure according to the present timetable,  said the Association .

Yahapalana  has also  made an impact on the purchase of cars. In its 2016 Budget, Yahapalana  gave concessions for cars running on helium and nitrogen. No one was interested. Under the pretense of being environment conscious they are hitting at petrol and diesel vehicles, said critics.

In the 2018 budget, this became a reality. The ad-valorem rate was removed and  a tax based on engine capacity was introduced for cars.  There is no sense in a taxation formula based on engine capacity, said critics . A vehicle is usually assessed for tax on its power and the cost of production and not the cubic capacity of the  engine.. This decision  reduced the purchase of small cars while encouraging the purchase of luxury cars.

With the tax based on engine capacity, the duty on small cars promptly went up. The average citizen now cannot   purchase a car, it is too expensive, observed critics. Yahapalana explanation was that vehicle import duty reductions had led to increased imports of small cars which resulted in massive foreign exchange outflows and worsened traffic congestion in cities.

However, the removal of the ad-valorum calculation made the super luxury category cheaper. It practically subsidized the duty on super luxury cars. There  was an influx of luxury cars into the country, of the brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley, Range Rover, Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Most of the luxury cars and SUVs were brought in using duty concession permits which are openly sold by permit holders, said critics.

Many super luxury vehicles imported hurriedly after the relaxation of tax on them have already been cleared from the port and there are many more on the way, some by air said observers. Over 100 super luxury cars had been cleared from the port causing losses of billions of rupees to the government and over 400 units are in shipments that will arrive in the country in the next few weeks   analysts said in January 2018.

A European made model X with a CIF value of Rs.5 million (taxed at 130 per cent) will be charged with the same duty of a Japanese made model X with a CIF value of Rs.2 million (taxed at 300 per cent) thus depriving the government of a duty income of around Rs.7-10 million per vehicle. The country is  losing around Rs 25-40 million from each of these vehicles. The loss projected for the next 12 months based on 5,000 vehicles at an average of Rs 20 million per vehicle would be in excess of Rs100 billion, said analysts in January 2018.

Further, the new system creates opportunities for siphoning out money from the country as the CIF value is now not considered for duty calculations, thus aiding money launderers and anyone who wish to send money out of the country.

The increase in duty on motor vehicles less than 1000cc has been necessary in the short run to arrest the deteriorating trade deficit,  said Central Bank Governor.  The deterioration in the trade deficit was about USD 716 million over the first five months of this year. Of the amount, USD 350 million can be attributed to the increase in vehicle imports. From January to May, vehicle imports as a percentage of total imports was 6.9 percent and as a percentage of non-oil imports it was 8.5 percent,” he said.

The Rajapaksa government had encouraged the use of electric vehicles by offering a concessionary duty rate. The number of registrations of electric motor cars in 2015 was  3238. But  Yahapalana raised the duty,  and  the figure plummeted to 983 in 2016 and 161 at July 2017. Yahapalana then reduced duty but  buyers were wary and did not buy. Not a single high quality electric vehicle has been imported to the country, said analysts in February 2018. Vehicle importers cannot afford the high price. A company which had specialized in electric vehicles crashed.

Yahapalana  first said it would  be reducing taxes on electric cars by 25 percent. The duty reduction was first  given only to brand new electric cars. Later this was extended to electric vehicles ‘used up to one year’. This was not sufficient, said Vehicle importers Association. Yahapalana also proposed  bank loans to buy 1,000 electric cars in the Colombo district and  said that  50 percent of the cost will be borne by the government. This was not done either. 2018 Budget  had a proposal to increase the leasing facility for electric and hybrid vehicles,  from 50% to 70% and up to 90% for electric vehicles,  but as at February 2018, the concession has not been enforced.

The needs  of electric cars have not been attended to either. Vital technical data relating to the car, is not included in the registration papers. Electric car batteries are heavily taxed. Used electric car batteries  cannot be imported  and there are no battery disposal schemes.

Charging points must first be installed before urging people to buy electric vehicles said critics. If  there is no charging station after 100 miles, you have to leave the car there. That is why nobody brings these in. they said. The Ceylon Electricity Board has just one electric vehicle charging station in Kelaniya ,  and that is a pilot project. Petrol  filling stations  were expected to provide chagrining services ,but only a few private operators offer such facilities.

Yahapalana  also promised a loan scheme for electric three wheelers. The tri-shaw drivers were not interested. We  can’t use  electric trishaws  they need charging points ,”  they said. Also, we cannot drive for just 100 miles, we need to drive 300- 400 miles to survive.

Yahapalana  decided to  reduce the growing trishaw service. There are 1.2 million trishaw drivers in Sri Lanka , far more than is needed for a small island of 21 million, said Yahapalana. Out of the 7.8 million employed populations, 1.2 million are estimated to be three– wheeler drivers. This is a staggering 15.4 percent of the working population.

But analysts pointed out that   less than         500,00 engage in full time  tri shaw driving , Many do it  part time to supplement their income.   the average income ranges from Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 per month. There is no regulatory framework for this informal transport system. What you need is just a driving license and a tuk-tuk only. However, tuk tuk drivers have organized themselves into associations and trade unions, so that they can create and enforce their own regulations to defend their rights and privileges.

Immediately after leaving school or dropping out of school, they get a three-wheeler on lease and drive it to earn an income. School leavers only need 50,000 rupees for a down payment on a three-wheeler, money they can raise easily in loans from family, he added. Priyantha” was attracted to the profession after growing tired of the low pay and long hours at his regular job in a photo studio.”I saved some money and bought a three wheeler and now I am my own boss,” . I have more freedom and I earn twice as much.  They make money, and thanks to our sub-standard public transport system, there is a growing demand for tuk-tuk transportation. They spend more time idling on roads and junctions irrespective of how it blocks others’ way, complained Yahapalana .

Unless the young adults driving tuk-tuks do not realize it themselves, they have made a choice to be tuk-tuk drivers” or just drivers” for their entire life. By their own choice, they have decided to shut down any opportunity that they can have to continue with their education or to acquire skills in any vocational area. also they don’t receive any exposure to a formal world of work. Consequently, they hardly acquire discipline and soft-skills they require to progress in the working world. They haven’t worked under authority; as a result, they hardly have a sense of the importance of working under authority with respect and honor, said analysts.

The Professional Three Wheel Drivers’ Association blames Sri Lanka’s lack of vocational training for young graduates getting behind the wheel instead of taking up better paying jobs in under filled sectors.”Unless there are radical changes to prepare school leavers for gainful employment, they will take a short cut and start driving three wheelers,” the association said.

This glut of tuk-tuk drivers on Sri Lanka’s roads,  is  underutilized labor, said Yahapalana . There are 1.4 million 3 wheeler drivers. also school transport  divers are idling, from 7.30 when the children are dropped and 2.30 when they are picked up. This is waste of potential. If we continue like this we will not have young people to do any other job in the country., ” The tourist and construction industries are crying out for labor.

.The construction industry has been pushing for the national policy on the age limit for three-wheeler drivers to be implemented so that more people will join the industry. The construction industry, undergoing an unprecedented post-war boom, has been forced to turn to India, Bangladesh and Nepal for the 400,000 workers it needs to build the hotels and condominiums springing up in Sri Lanka’s cities.

In 2015 Yahapalana increased the duty on trishaws. Annually there were around 100,000 new three-wheelers registered in Sri Lanka until 2015, but  with the new import duty, In 2017 there were only 29,000 new three wheelers registered. it is no longer affordable to the lower middle class families as the average unit price has increased from around Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 750,000.

In 2017, Yahapalana  gazetted Motor Traffic Act Regulation No.01 of 2017 permitting only those over 35 years of age to be issued with driving licences for trishaws. But there were protests saying the law would hit the livelihood of millions of people who depended on trishaw driving. We suggested that the age limit should be 25 said  the Three Wheel Drivers’ Association So the youth cannot just stay at home. They will have to find some means of earning a living. Those who cannot find any other job will choose to drive three-wheelers. By 27, they would be ready to begin passenger transportation.  Yahapalana withdrew the order in August 2018.

Although three wheelers have become an irritation to road discipline and traffic order in the urban setting, their service is invaluable in urban suburbs and rural areas, especially from main roads to the interiors. The three wheel transport system is an informal” transport system for which demand has increased largely due to the sluggish performance in the formal public transport system.. There is no doubt that the three wheel fleet in the country provides a convenient mode of transportation in both urban and rural sectors agreed analysts.

We help people, said the trishaw drivers. The government is not providing any good form of transportation for the public. When there is a train or bus strike, it is we three-wheeler drivers who help people. During the last Railway strike, we dropped students sitting the A/L exam at school. We are in every junction to help people out.

Dhananath Fernando spoke up on behalf of the trishaw. I  live in Moratuwa, down Diggala road, a 2 km by-road from Keselwatta Junction on the Old Galle road,  he said. In my little hamlet, there are only two mini Lanka Ashok Leyland buses that operate in synchronization with the train time table from the Moratuwa Railway station to Diggala Road. Regardless of this inefficient bus operation, my saviors are an efficient and unique operation of tuk-tuks that cover a 2km radius from the railway station, enabling the commuting needs of the neighborhood.

In terms of the cost, the three wheelers engaged in this operation on this route only charge a ‘per passenger’ rate instead of a ‘per Km’ rate or a standard hire fare like almost all other tuk-tuks in the country. This means that each person has to only pay a fare of Rs.20 (despite the distance) and they take 3 passengers at a time in a single tuk.  In simple words, it is a three-passenger bus system operating at every 10-minutes intervals, continued Dhananath.

Their services are available until about 11.00 pm and I am very grateful to all the drivers operating their three-wheelers in the route and for providing us daily commuters with such an honorable and sustainable service. This is one, of the many services rendered by tuk-tuks that fail to reach mainstream newspaper headlines.

Hence why it worries me of the adverse impacts that would overcome the industry when strict regulations are imposed by the “National Council for Road Safety” where they plan to regulate three-wheelers to have a meter with printed bills starting from the 1st of August, 2018. On the surface it looks like a step right direction as it seems to protect a consumer using this service, but in a practical world there would be many unintended consequences said Dhananath.

Let’s analyze how these regulations would affect the tuk-tuk service in my area. If the tuks in my area were to adhere to new regulations and introduce a meter and a printed bill, they will no longer be able to charge a per passenger rate. Instead they have to charge a fare as per the standard meter rate. This results in someone like me, who initially only paid a Rs.20 for a one-way fare from the railway station to my house, now paying up to Rs.60 a ride, a price hike of 300%.

Personally, I don’t think that I should bear this extra cost for the sake of receiving a standard fare rate and a printed bill. Eventually, this will result in me limiting my usage of tuk-tuks as a consumer. I know that the demand for tuks in my neighborhood would reduce and this isn’t a phenomena only limited to my area, observed Dhananath.

Three-wheelers are not just merely a mode of transport. It means different things to those from different walks of life. For a rural commoner, it is an ambulance in a time of emergency. It is equivalent to a VIP Defender for an office worker, in a rush for his afternoon meeting. It is wedding car for a poor household. For entrepreneurs in urban and rural parts of the country, it is their mini lorry and companion. More than everything, it is an aspiration and product of pride for more than 1 million households in Sri Lanka.

A poor man has to shoulder a tax of Rs. LKR 420,000 on a tuk-tuk. This tax, is then used to fund loss making state-owned enterprises; provide for the excess of government sector employee’s salaries and pensions; and a continuing list of unnecessary provisions. It is not rare to find tuk-tuks with logos of European cars pasted on its body. You’d see “Audi” to “BMW” stickers galore in some tuk-tuks. This sends a strong message to the rest of society. To a poor man, it is his BMW and his Audi. In other words, it is his aspiration and it is his world, concluded Dhananath.

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