Northern Province’s Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has raised objections over the renovation of the Palaly airport in the Northern Province, one of the many large infrastructure projects proposed in Sri Lanka with the funding of the Indian government.
He has conveyed his position to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting here early this week in which chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Governor Reginold Cooray and Ministers of the Northern Province took part. The meeting was held to discuss issues concerning the Province.
February 2014 resolution
In February 2014, the Northern Provincial Council adopted a resolution, demanding the operation of direct flight services from Palaly to destinations in southern States of India.
Two weeks ago, at the ninth session of the Joint Commission attended by Foreign Ministers of India and Sri Lanka, Sushma Swaraj and Mangala Samaraweera, the issue of the airport renovation was discussed.
Impact on fisherfolk interest
On the Chief Minister’s objections, Thambyrajah Gurukularajah, Education Minister, told The Hindu that the Palaly airport expansion might “adversely affect” interests of the fishing community of the nearby Myladdy fishery harbour.
“Even with the present facilities at Palaly, direct flight services to Madurai or Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu or Thiruvanathapuram in Kerala can be operated,” he suggested.
Kandiah Sarveswaran, member of the Provincial Council, has said another issue is that many tracts of private lands in and around the airport are now with the security forces and their owners will like to get them back. These lands should not be disturbed for the renovation project.
Gurukularajah and Dr. Sarveswaran have said there are alternative sites in the Province if the Central government wants to set up an international airport.
Could be a major CBM: Ahilan Kadirgamar
Ahilan Kadirgamar, political economist based in Jaffna, has said the operation of flight services from Palaly to many places in southern India, return of the Myladdy harbour to the local fishing community and the issue of resettlement of displaced people would have to be viewed together.
If the government handles them properly, this will be a major confidence building measure towards reconciliation.
‘No obstacle to project’
D.M. Swaminathan, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Minister and who also participated in the meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, does not view the Chief Minister’s position as an obstacle to the project.
“His position is that the fishermen should not get affected. Fair enough. I am sure that the Indian government too would also take a rational view of the entire matter.” Yet, he is confident that the project would fructify. Mr. Cooray said the Central government would study the matter further.