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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 [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]. 

"Initiated by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa with a vision to rejuvenate Sri Lanka’s stagnant economy, the project is worth about $1.4 billion. The Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa officially launched the port project in September 2014. Soon after Maithripala Sirisena became President in January 2015, however, he suspended the contract in March 2015, citing various shortcomings, irregularities and ecological issues. But this suspension was temporary in nature, and the project was revived in March 2016. The project has, nonetheless, raised questions on the Sirisena government’s probity, which came to power questioning the huge investment by the Chinese in Sri Lanka, which he argued would lead to an avoidable dependence on China" [6].

"The Colombo deal was first signed in November 2013 between the Rajapaksa Administration and the Chinese state-owned firm, China Communications Construction Company Pvt. Ltd. (CCCC)" [6].

The most debated controversial issues are ecological adverse impacts, negative impacts on fisher people, land ownership, and controversies about compensation [6].

Regarding environmental impacts, Patrick claims that "the Rajapaksa administration did not undertake any comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project prior to its approval. Activists have been highlighting the serious environmental implications of the project, especially with regard to massive granite extraction and land reclamation.

The demand for granite on the construction site has resulted in large-scale exploitation by mine owners. This has led to falling ground-water levels in the area, posing serious water shortages for the island nation. On a larger scale, reclamation and extraction are destabilizing the ecology of the region, leading to increasing natural disasters in sensitive areas.

However, the Sirisena administration has not yet addressed these environmental issues and has chosen to continue with the project" [6].

With regards to the impacts on fisher people, in 2007, the Rajapaksa administration promised a compensation of 1,000,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($ 6,294)   to each fisher affected by the project, but later failed to fulfill its commitment. The project has led to large-scale displacement of the fisher community. The large amount of sand dredged in the reclamation process is becoming a major concern for fisher people using traditional methods of fishing, usually undertaken in shallower waters. After the revival, the project company has promised to allocate 500 million Sri Lankan rupees ($314,703,90) to the fishers' income support programme through the government of Sri Lanka [6]. 

The People's Movement against Port City has been organizing a range of protests in the last years. In 2016, hundreds of religious representatives, fisher people, activists and citizens have taken to the streets of Colombo to protest against the reopening of the construction project of the Port City funded by China [11]. They claimed that the project will kill the fishermen, and expressed their concerns that the project will bring "incalculable" damage and irreversibly destroy " the whole area’s marine and biological respources" [11].

On 6th of January 2016, the People's Movement against Port City held a public hearing over the EIA report at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in Colombo with the participation of more than 300 people. At the end of the public hearing, they marched to the Department for the conservation of the coast and the Coastal Resource Management (Cccrmd) and presented an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of 400 pages, containing 128 negative opinions about the construction [11].

The protesters claim that from the beginning the project sparked the opposition of the local community, which first succeeded in securing its suspension.

They argue that the life of 15 thousand fisher people is endangered and that the drinking water, the seabed and coral reefs will be damaged. [11]

In December 2017 as well, the Sri Lankan Catholic Church has brought a range of social groups together in order to protest against the Colombo Financial City Project.

Religious leaders including Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, nuns and civic activists revealed that they believe that the rebranding of the project does not address the fact that it is illegal, undemocratic and environmentally reckless, and the People's Movement Against Port City asks the government for the abolishment of the project. They believe that the impact on the society and especially local fisher comunities will be much migger than reported, and the impacts on rock and sand mining are not well studied in the EIA. One of the representatives o f the movement, Father Iddamalgoda added that the government is interested in neo-liberal economic policies and not in the livelihoods of poor fishermen living from Hendala to Negombo. In fact, it is feared that this construction will displace about 50,000 families. [3]

However, wide protests highlighting issues faced by fisherfolk, as well as the adverse impact on fish breeding areas, damage to coral reefs and coastal erosion, halted the project.

After civic rights activists launched a massive protest in Colombo against the restarting of the project in April 2016, the environmental assessment report was redone but protesters question the impartiality of the report. [3] In August 2017 as well, women from the fishing communities across Sri Lanka’s western coastline gathered thousands of protesters against the Colombo Port City that is attacking their livelihoods.[1]. The protesters led by the women have visited community service organisations, civil society and trade unions aimed at uniting them together. The campaign would also address victims troubled by similar development projects like Uma Oya to awaken them to the impending grave disaster. [1]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Fisher folks, environmentalists and religious leaders against the Colombo Port City, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
Location of conflict:Colombo
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
Ports and airport projects
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Sand, gravel
Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Port 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:565
Level of Investment:15,000,000,000
Affected Population:50,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2015
Company names or state enterprises:CHEC Port City Colombo(pvt)ltd. (CHEC) from China
The China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC)
Relevant government actors:The Government of Sri Lanka,
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The People’s Movement against the Port City,
Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation 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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:The People’s Movement against the Port City demands the abolition of the project.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

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

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

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

The webpage of the Colombo Port City Project [4]

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

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

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

Protests against the reopening of Colombo Port City (Asia News, 01.09.2016) [11],-fishermen-and-environmentalists-protest-reopening-of-Colombo-Port-City-(Photo)-36351.html

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

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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

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

Other documents

View of Land Reclamation in Colombo [9]

Construction at the Colombo Port City, 2016 [7]

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

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]

Meta information

Contributor:Irmak Ertör, ENVJUSTICE, ICTA-UAB
Last update29/05/2018



Construction at the Colombo Port City, 2016 [7]


View of Land Reclamation in Colombo [9]


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]

Stop Port City (2016) [3]

Protests of fisher people and environmentalits against the Colombo Port City Project (2016)