Fisher folks, environmentalists and religious leaders against the Colombo Port City, Sri Lanka

The Colombo Port City Project is one of the most controversial infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka contested by the People’s Movement Against the Port City.


The Colombo Port City Project is one of the most controversial infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka [6]. The original proposal to create a Colombo Port City was made in 2004. It involved small-scale sea reclamation subjected to a thorough and comprehensive study. In 2010, there was an initial report which was not considered comprehensive enough, and the project has changed several times during the following years [7]. 

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Basic Data
NameFisher folks, environmentalists and religious leaders against the Colombo Port City, Sri Lanka
CountrySri Lanka
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Urban development conflicts
Aquaculture and fisheries
Ports and airport projects
Specific CommoditiesWater
Sand, gravel
Biological resources
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsPort City Colombo is a city development project built as an extension of the existing Colombo CBD with an initial investment of US$ 1.4 billion and an expected US$ 15 billion overall investment when completed. Spanning 269 hectares, it is a sea reclamation project joined to the current central business district. Port City Colombo is made up of 5 different precincts which is the Financial District, Central Park Living, Island Living, The Marina and the International Island.

When completed, Port City Colombo is estimated to have some 5.65 million square metres of build up space including offices, medical and educational facilities, integrated resort, marina, hotels, among others [2].

Port City Colombo, is a concept developed through the joint efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka and the China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), a Chinese multinational corporate. [2]

The project envisaged a mega city in Colombo, to be built on reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green, where 182 hectares of existing of land has been allotted.1 The Colombo Port City is portrayed as an iconic business district with shopping and water-sports areas, a mini golf-course, hotels, apartments, recreation areas and a luxury yacht marina.2 It was initially planned to be built over 233 hectares, which has now been expanded to 269 hectares after reclamation.3

On 6 March 2015, the project was suspended by the Sirisena government, citing allegations of corruption against the Rajapaksa Administration, and the absence of a feasibility study before the contract was awarded. During this period, the Chinese company incurred a daily direct loss of $ 380,000. The suspension also led to direct and indirect adverse effects on the on-site workers, both Chinese and Sri Lankans. Despite ecological concerns and allegations of corruption, in March 2016, the government resumed the port project, signifying its importance for Sri Lankan economy.

The port project has now been renamed the ‘Colombo International Financial City’. The Sri Lanka government has stated that it would be transformed into an international financial hub in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). On 12 August 2016, a Tripartite Agreement was signed by the Sri Lankan government, its Urban Development Authority (UDA) and the Chinese firm CHEC Port City Colombo Pvt. Ltd. [6]
Project Area (in hectares)565
Level of Investment (in USD)15,000,000,000
Potential Affected Population50,000
Start Date01/01/2015
Company Names or State EnterprisesCHEC Port City Colombo(pvt)ltd. (CHEC) from China
The China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC)
Relevant government actorsThe Government of Sri Lanka,

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersThe People’s Movement against the Port City,

Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThe People’s Movement against the Port City demands the abolition of the project.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.In the beginning of the conflict, wide protests highlighting negative impacts faced by the fisherfolk and local communities, as well as the adverse impact on fish breeding areas, damage to coral reefs and coastal erosion, halted the project. However, currently, the project is ongoing and the outcome is not clear. [6]
Sources and Materials

Revival of Colombo Port City Project: Implications for India (Patrick 2016, National Maritime Foundation) [6]
[click to view]


Women from the fishing community in Sri Lanka protest against Port City (Sunday Times, 27.08.2017) [1]
[click to view]

Protests against Colombo Port City Project (UCA News, 26.08.2016) [3]
[click to view]

The webpage of the Colombo Port City Project [4]
[click to view]

Sri Lanka clears the decks for controversial Chinese project (South China Morning Post, 11.12.2015) [5]
[click to view]

Why the Port City is Bad for the Country? (The Sunday Times, 12.06.2016) [7]
[click to view]

China to Build Vast Controversial Port City in Sri Lanka (The Guardian, 11.03.2016) [8]
[click to view]

China's Jewel in the Heart of the Indian Ocean (The Diplomat, 09.05.2016) [9]
[click to view]

Protests against the reopening of Colombo Port City (Asia News, 01.09.2016) [11]
[click to view]

Media Links

Advertisement of the project Port City Colombo "A World Class City for South Asia" (25.10.2017) [2]
[click to view]

The Protest organized by The People's Movement Against Port City Against Port City Project in Sri Lanka (04.04.2016) [10]
[click to view]

Other Documents

View of Land Reclamation in Colombo [9]
[click to view]

Fishing community and religious representatives protesting the Colombo Port City (2017) [1] Women from the fishing community across Sri Lanka’s western coastline gathered in their thousands on Tuesday in a strong protest against the Colombo Port City which is aggravating their livelihoods (August 2017) [1]
[click to view]

Construction at the Colombo Port City, 2016 [7]
[click to view]

Stop Port City (2016) [3] Protests of fisher people and environmentalits against the Colombo Port City Project (2016)
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorIrmak Ertör, ENVJUSTICE, ICTA-UAB
Last update29/05/2018