Ex-Governor Ajit Cabral’s proposal for Expressways covering the Country.
Posted on September 25th, 2019

By Prof. Chandre Darmawaradana.

The former Governor of the Central Bank (2006-2015) has made proposals with the objective of  A new impetus to revive the Economy from 2020-2025” (Island, 25 Sept-2019). These include  (1) a new elliptical expressway parallel to the coast at a distance of about 40-50 km from it around Sri Lanka, (2) a new expressway to provide easy access to both coastal belt and hinterland. (3) A single expressway from Medawachchiya to Kilinochchi. (4) Fast-tracked construction in five years.

The present writer proposed the construction of a dike-type highway along the perimeter of the Island, not only to provide transport but also to defend against rising sea levels, tsunamis, and sea erosion. It should be an ecological highway taking account of socio-economic and environmental imperatives.  Hence a 10th province, covering a maritime strip running around the island was an integral part of the proposal, impacting on the constitution, integrating the country politically and environmentally (see, October 2017,  https://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/Climate-Constitution-Sri-Lanka.pdf ).

The need for farmers and industrialists to bring their goods to markets and ports, and for imports to reach the interior are recognized by all planners. Even the  US Millennium Corporation’s proposals emphasized the need for such transport infrastructure, featuring a highway connecting strategic Trinco (the ancient port of Gokanna) to Colombo, the modern engine of development driving the Western province.

Roadways, irrigation schemes, and human settlements can be planned to solve development issues and ease social conflicts. Such schemes can resolve political problems associated with national security,  control of floods, the effect of tsunamis, etc., and move goods and people while strengthening the ecological integrity of the landmass. Such holistic planning is rarely supported by politicians who have little knowledge, want quick results, and are dazzled by foolish visions of the tallest towers or fastest highways seen in their travels.

Knee-jerk projects, be it roadways, waterways or human settlements,  can have unintended disastrous consequences. The best we can do is to formulate an overall model treating as many factors as possible.  Improvement in transport can be a win-win situation instead of improving” one sector while causing irreparable damage to others.  

                                                   [A  Chinese express train moving at 370kmh]

(1) Highways can connect as well as divide communities –  a Gokanna-Colombo highway will divide the north and south of the nation along separatist lines. Instead, a fast bullet train” moving at 300 km/h connecting Colombo and Jaffna could be the basis of national integration.  Jaffna would become a suburb of Colombo! The Romans and the British built roadways to hold together their empires. US and Canada and Russia built railroads to ensure the integrity of their confederations. The trans-Siberian connected Moscow to Vladivostok. Pointedly, the Tigers destroyed the Yal-Devi rail link to enhance the separatist agenda while the ordinary Northerner – Tamil, Moor or Sinhala benefitted immensely from Yal Devi.

Mr. Wigneswaran rejected  Mahaweli coming to the North to ensure self-determination” in spite of projected future water shortages. The behaviour of Mr. Wigneswaran is no different from the leaders of the Tamil community during the days prior to 1948 when they opposed the building of causeways connecting villages in the Jaffna Peninsula (see Dr. Jane Russell’s book, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore commission, 1931-1948). They, absentee landowners of the North living in Colombo 7 feared that providing good road access to so-called low-caste” villages will make them uppity” and that they will lose control. They also opposed the upgrading of Jaffna to a municipality as they did not wish to pay municipal taxes! It was SWRD Bandaranaike, the Minister of local government in DS Senanayake’s first cabinet, who forced the building of causeways and also gave Municipal status to Jaffna.

Clearly, the leaders of the North and East bogged down in Casteist or Eelamist ideology, have often failed to work for the betterment of the people of the North and East.   Today these leaders –  haughty lawyers are driven by ideology –  are oblivious to the urgent threat to large parts of the North and East from rising sea levels due to global warming. While they could control or drive out the Moors, they see the threat of Sinhal-Buddhist nationalism as being most urgent in the context of a militant   Hindutva ideology and Tamil Nationalism that aims to preserve its traditional ethnic voter base as its source of power. There are technological solutions to such conflicts as well when examined from a social-planning point of view, but we will not address them in this essay. The Tamil community is blessed with technically highly qualified practical-minded men and women who should take the lead in politics, instead of leaving it entirely to the lawyers.

(2) Highways and river-valley developments cutting through diverse regions become permanently disconnected ecological pockets causing irreparable harm to ecosystems important for sustainable agriculture and human health. Conflicts between humans and large animals like elephants become frequent and animals get destroyed first, and the slow decline of human health follows. Galoya, Udawalawe, and Mahaweli were planned at a time when environmental concerns were a low priority.

(3) New highways and new river-valley developments spawn new settlements (colonization schemes” in old, incorrect parlance) with little regard to consequences, especially when we have accelerated” projects. The accelerated Mahaweli program settled people in higher grounds further from irrigation rivers, canals and tanks due to lack of space, spawning the use of tube wells and shallow dugout wells in locations naturally containing fluorides and other salts in the soil, triggering an epidemic of kidney disease in the dry zone areas of the accelerated Mahaweli project. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on providing clean water to the affected areas, the government took the cheap, politically expedient step of banning the use of the herbicide glyphosate – an act similar to changing cushions to cure dysentery.

Highway development was the Mantra” of the post War developments in the West. We knew little about the enormous dangers of such expansion that are evident today in the clogged multi-lane highways and the urban sprawl of Western cities and their neighbourhoods, e.g., around Los Angeles,  greater London or Cairo. These metropolitan regions constitute huge networks of asphalt-concrete gridlocks of traffic, creating carmageddons of pollution and highly inefficient use of resources. People stuck in traffic jams develop stress, high adrenaline, and chronically high blood sugar even without eating sweets, with obvious health consequences!  Tiny little Kandy, or big brother Colombo, even without Los Angeles traffic is a pocket of pollution spawning allergies, asthma and lung disease.

Just after the Eelam wars in 2009, this writer appealed  strongly  for a network of  high-speed electric trains as the first step in infrastructure development, coupled with installing  floating solar-panel arrays placed on existing  hydro-electric reservoirs, which daytime excess power stored as water saved in the reservoirs to provide firm electric power for the night (for more details, see http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/dev-tech-2009.ppt )

Increased encroachment of the natural habitat by humans and the increased use of fossil fuels since the 1960s have to lead to a catastrophic loss of flora and fauna, acid rain, bleached coral reefs, etc.,  threatening the very planet blanketed and overheated with CO2 emissions. A strident and completely misguided call against agrochemicals orchestrated by a frightened public serves to ignore far more dangerous pollution from petrol and diesel vehicles, tractors, lorries, buses, and the effects of high levels of sub-micron particulate dust. Instead, everyone wants a car, while VIPs demand a fleet of them, duty-free” and  bulletproof”.

We depend on bees, insects, and butterflies for the pollination of flowers that give rise to crops that we eat. We depend on trees for re-oxygenation. The loss of habitat has caused a catastrophic decline in pollinating insects and birds. Today many countries like England pay for their folly in having to import bumblebees from  less developed”  Eastern Europe to sustain its agriculture! The day when Sri Lanka has to import bees and butterflies from  less developed” nations may not be far away. We are told of an energy mafia” in the Ceylon Electricity Board, working hand in hand with commission-seeking politicians. Is that why we build coal-burning power plants and stunt the land,  flora, and fauna when we have less polluting means of generating adequate amounts of firm power cheaply from solar and biomass, and within short time scales (see  Clean, practical solutions to Sri Lanka’s energy crisis,  Lankaweb, 6-May 2019  http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2019/05/06/clean-practical-solutions-to-sri-lankas-energy-crisis-i/ )?

The present writer supports the suggestion of Ajith Cabral, the ex-Governor, but modified to a ring road encircling the Island, integrated with mangrove replanting, carbon capture etc., located along the coastal periphery in the form of a dyke-highway, envisaging the rise in sea levels, tsunamis, high sea erosion and high waves that we anticipate from global warming.

Public transport in electric trans should be prioritized over Individual vehicle transport.  Fast electric train lines instead of roadways should be the first objective, inside and along the periphery. Such train lines or highways must have raised sections and large underpasses at every 10 km interval so that continuous ecosystems are maintained so that animals, insects and even root systems can safely pass across. Equivalent amounts of conserved wilderness to compensate the landmass used for building roads etc. should be legislated by reclaiming urban sprawl.

Sprawling human settlements, in the form of villages” designed with the traditional concept of Gama-Weva-Temple or Kovil” is disastrous to the environment in an age of high populations. Instead, urban sprawl in the form of settlements fed by highways should be strictly constrained. High-density high-rise habitations should be encouraged by higher taxation on individual homes. The GamUdawa” must be replaced by models where habitat encroachment and garbage production are minimized, and wilderness areas are preserved. This also implies high-yield no-till agriculture using minimum land and minimum water per kilogram of harvest, as is possible with modern scientific agriculture. These go well beyond the green-revolution model  and recycles the water and agrochemicals used, without significantly releasing them to the environment ( See Lankaweb,

26-February 2019,  http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2019/02/26/beyond-the-green-revolution-how-humanity-needs-cutting-edge-technology-to-save-itself ).

Consequently, we have to reject our nostalgic models of traditional agriculture as it yields low harvests, high methane outputs and CO2 production in composting, land tilling, weeding, slash-and-burn, etc. It poses the danger of bio-accumulation of naturally occurring metal toxins in plants due to the re-use of plant material in composting. 

Ex-Governor Ajit Cabrales plans for highway development to revive the economy have to integrate with all these considerations of ecology, food, health and high productivity needed for a densely populated island with a painfully finite land area inhabited by warring communities fighting for that land.

5 Responses to “Ex-Governor Ajit Cabral’s proposal for Expressways covering the Country.”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    “Mr. Wigneswaran rejected Mahaweli coming to the North “

    Please watch the COPE meeting with Water Board.

    Famous raiding of Killinochci Eranamadu Reservoir dam by 2 m was done + Pipeline was laid to Jaffna to provide drinking water. I am not sure whether proposed Jfffna Kilinochchi WTP (water treatment) was completed or not. However, it seems TNA objected to it and now the farmers in Kilinochchi have extended their cultivation to both Yala and Maha instead. If Kilinochchi ware is not allowed to go to Jaffana why should Mahaweli water go there ?

    NO DEVELOPMENT CAN BE DONE UNTIL PALAATH SABHAS ARE DESTROYED. Looks like only Nagananda can do it, not even JVP is even considering it. Why ?

  2. aloy Says:

    Whether the village, tank & the temple concept or the High rise dwellings concentrated in cities with all sorts of garbage and social issues which will surely leave the villages to be taken over by minorities is debatable. However we cannot afford to allow the same set of rulers who set the trend of impunity and syphoned off our forex sent in by our slave labour, mostly women working in ME cannot be allowed. To ensure this an entirely new cabinet and a new set of secretaries should be chosen.
    Two days ago I was watching the proceedings of the cope committee chaired by Hon. Handunetti. It was obvious to me the tie coat gentry who were there to answer the questions were trying to hide the fact that they have neglected a ruling by a previous cabinet not to export raw materials without value addition. When we could have exported a Kilo of Graphite in the form of Graphene at $5000 we export a ton of graphite at $2000. This is a national crime. When we could export various rare earth materials that could be derived from mineral sands (ilmenite) found in abundance at ground level in the NE we export same at the cost of ordinary sand. It was only Hon. Harsha De Silva (one of the foot-note men) who showed some kind of patriotism by relentlessly questioning those rogue officers who were there. It seems to me even the chairman Handunetti was siding with the rogues. The first thing the new prez should do is to clean these augean stables. I hope he will not promise one thing and do the same thing the current incumbent did by bringing in the most corrupt people to his fold.

  3. Lionel Says:

    With more than US $ 50 b foreign debt, is this a viable prioject for Sri Lanka? We remember, Mr. Cabral pioneered the bidding for the Commonwealth games 2018 for Sri Lanka. Luckily it was failed, otherwise Sri Lanka could have been another Greece.

  4. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    ALOY !! There was a time when my late Brother-in Law, Steve Walpola was the Chief Engineer and CEO of Mineral Sands Corporation Pulmoddai. I was a regular visitor there with my Familiy, to enjoy Sea Food Luxury. Steve told us that Illeminite, Zircon And Rutile are bought by many Countries manufacturing Rockets. It is a Gold Mine over there. On an invitation to Steve and family, to come on board a Japanese Ship for Dinner, we too joined in. The Ships Japanese Captain was around 6′.6″in height. It was first time I saw such a tall Japanese.
    On any given night, one could see over 500 Chulu lights in the Lagoon, people catching Shrimp and Crab. Beautiful sight.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    Now we have various writers with personal agendas.
    This one is from someone promoting Glyposate.
    More and more bad company is creeping back to destroy the country. Next government is getting ready to completely destroy it and escape to USA.
    Silence of the real patriots is unfortunate.

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