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Colombo-Matara highway and land dispossession, Sri Lanka

Weak public consultation process and inadequate resettlement; ADB faces stiff opposition to a highway construction from multiple communities affected at various stages of project development


The Southern Highway (Southern Expressway) is a 126 km long highway running from Colombo to Matara and is the major part of the 130.9 km Southern Transport Development Project.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Colombo-Matara highway and land dispossession, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:Western Province and Southern Province
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Project area:unknown
Level of Investment:700,000,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:about 5600 households [2] p. 18
Start of the conflict:1992
Company names or state enterprises:Kumagai Gumi ltd from Japan - constructor
Finnroad pvt - project management and consultant
Resources Development Consultants Ltd from Sri Lanka - consultant
Relevant government actors:Government of Sri Lanka (Infrastructures development in the country and overall national development)
Ministry of Highways of Sri Lanka (executing agency of the project)
Road Development Authority (implementing agency)
Ministry of Lands
Survey and valuation department
Central Environmental Authority (Approval & monitoring, adherence to environmental standards)
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka)
Joint Organizations of Affected People of Colombo-Matara Highway
Unified Society for the Protection of Akmeemana (USPA)
Gama Surakeema Sanvidhaniya (GSS)
Sri Lanka Working Group
Green Movement of Sri Lanka
Environmental Fundation ltd (EFL)
Public Interest Law Fundation
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The highway trace was changed thanks to EJO's protests but then other communities have been affected
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Land Acquisition Act (LAA)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] H. Withanage. Southern Transport Development Project Sri Lanka. Case 1 in 'A Monitoring Framework for ADB’s Environment Policy based on Four Case Studies'. Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement with NGO Forum on the ADB. 2003
[click to view]

[3] S. Kuruppu, V. Genepola. Whose right of way? Development induced displacement. Centre for poverty analysis. Colombo, 2005

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Article published on Southern Highway Project, Sri Lanka
[click to view]

[4] Article published on (web site of focus on the global South): HONOLULU FACE-OFF: CIVIL SOCIETY 1, ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK 0 by W. Bello and S. Guttal. 2001
[click to view]

Other documents

Southern Highway
[click to view]

S. Kuruppu, V. Genepola. Whose right of way? Development induced displacement. Centre for poverty analysis. Colombo, 2005
[click to view]

Southern Highway construction A view of the working construction between Dodangoda in the Kalutara district and Kurudugahahethekma in the Galle district
[click to view]

Request for Compliance Review: Southern Transport Development Project Request for Compliance to the Compliance Review Panel (CRP). The CRP is a fact-finding body on behalf of the ADB's Board of Directors. The CRP investigates alleged noncompliance by ADB with its operational policies and procedures in designing and implementing ADB-financed projects
[click to view]

A protest in Colombo against the Southern Expressway On 14 March 2002, villagers from all along the planned route of the Southern Expressway Matara came to Colombo to protest against the building of the road.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Centre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update21/07/2015
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