Production of Cement, Salt & Chemical in the defunct factories in the North - still on the hold
Production of Cement, Salt & Chemical in the defunct factories in the Northern Province is still on the hold.
So far there is no policy decision reached for the commencement of mining and manufacturing of cement at the defunct Kankesanthurai cement factory located in the Jaffna Peninsula. Still there is no finality in the reopening of Elephant pass Saltern, as well as the caustic soda factory – Paranthan Chemicals.
These three factories were part and parcel of the life of the Northerners, but today it is all over, as the bloody conflict has forced the closing down of these factories and they remain closed for well over twenty long years – a thing of the past.
Asian Tribune contacted Dr. Willie Gamage, Secretary, Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development and he said “ Regarding Kankesanthurai Cement Factory as well as the other two factories so far no final decisions has been arrived at.” When commenting initially about the cement factory at Kankesanthurai, he said “we have not taken any policy decision. I am expecting soon a policy decision from the Government. “
He further said, even President Mahinda Rajapaksa is of the view that if in case we start the manufacture of cement, it might pollute the area. He also doesn’t want to mine the area for limestone, a major raw material needed for the manufacture of cement. It is feared that mining might lead to water entering the landmass.
That is why the Government is little reluctant in announcing a policy decision about the commencement of the cement production. When I contacted the President recently”, he said, “wait until we give you a decision later.”
Asian Tribune agrees with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as there was always the imminent danger of cement dust polluting a major portion of the Jaffna peninsula.
I still remember - we use to see a film of white dust settled on the betel and other leaves in the Tellipalai - Kollankaladi area where once the betel cultivation was famous for, as well as in the leafy vegetables grown as far as Chunnakam - 6 miles south of the cement factory.
There was a fear that the people in the area were inhaling the airborne cement dust and it was a common complaint of people having breathing difficulties and lungs disorder when the factory was earlier in operation.
Opening of the Cement Factory in 1950
The Kankesanthurai Cement Factory, one of the pioneer industrial unit in the production of cement in the country, commenced its production ‘Kankesan Cement’ in 1950 and was closed down in 1990 due to the ethnic conflict that raged the country till 2009 May.
In 1950 the factory was declared open by the then Governor General Lord Soulbury.
In 1948, All Ceylon Tamil Congress Leader and the Member of Parliament for Jaffna electorate was appointed as the Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries in the Cabinet of Late D.S.Senanayake and he continued in the Cabinet of Dudley Senanayake till 1952.
It was G.G.Ponnampalam who was responsible for building and launching of Kankesanthurai Cement Factory, Elephant Pass Saltern and Paranthan Chemical factory in the Northern Province.
All of those pioneer industrial units are now defunct – things of the past and thanks to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for bringing down all those factories to a grinding halt and rendering unemployed several thousand Tamils earlier employed in those factories .
Since the independence of Sri Lanka, there are Tamil Members of Parliament representing the Northern and Eastern Provinces, who shouted from the roof tops for the bifurcation of the country and for a separate state of Tamil Eelam, but unfortunately they were never able to set up any industrial unit either through Government investment or through Private sector involvement in the North and Eastern Province.
It was only Late G.G.Ponnampalam who was able to start those three factories in the North.
I still vividly remember that in 1950, the monocular Lord Soulbury arrived in Point Pedro in the company of G.G.Ponnampalam from Colombo on their way to Kankesanthurai to declare open the Cement Factory.
There was a reception at the Point Pedro Town Council and the chairman at that time was Late M.S.Kandiah, who was a friend of my father Late K. Thambirajah.
Mr. Kandiah invited my father to the reception accorded to the Governor General Lord Soulbury and Minister G.G.Ponnampalam.
The Minister Ponnampalam was originally from Alvai, South Alvai located, 2 miles south of Point Pedro.
I was then a 10 years old boy and my father took me along to the reception.
When I saw Lord Soulbury, for the first time in my lifetime I saw a white man and he was the first person I saw wearing a monocular glass.
Also the Governor General was a person with broad shoulders, big physique and more than 6 feet in height, where as Late G.G.Ponnampalam was a dimunitive, a small made person with dim black complexion, standing next to the Governor General - ‘shoulder to shoulder.’
These are evergreen memories and I am happy to recall them, but very sad to note all those factories which were part and parcel of our live are brought to a grinding halt due to the 30 years of ethnic conflict.
Production of Cement – an environmental problem
I again wish to point out what Dr. Willie Gamage, Secretary Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development said about the possibility available with the now defunct Kankesanthurai Cement factory. He said commencing the manufacture of Cement which causes environmental problems, instead he suggested “commencing the bagging plant, I think it won’t have any environment issues. “
Asian Tribune agrees with the thinking of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He went on to say, that the Army is still occupying the Kankesanthurai cement factory premises. We have requested the Army to vacate the factory and hand back the factory premises to the Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development. But it hasn't happened yet. We are waiting for it.
When asked whether the Ministry is making arrangements to reopen the cement factory, Dr. Willie Gamage said – Reopen means - by stages - we want to start a bagging plant by getting down raw cement from outside and bagging there ‘Kankesan Cement’ brand name and then it will give us several benefits – 1 it can offer employment to the area people – several hundreds; 2. we can distribute the bagged cement at a lesser price to the area people; 3. at the moment required cement is brought from Colombo but, by bagging it in Kankesanthurai and distributing it, we can reduce the cost. We may be able to give it to the people of the area at a cost which is at least Rs.100 less per bag.
Dr. Willie Gamage pointed out that in case you are only commencing the bagging plant, then there is no problem, but in case you intend to manufacture the cement in the factory, then it might pollute the environment.
He added, “We know the Peninsula people need cement for the development of the peninsula and a huge stock of cement is needed.”
Asian Tribune also pointed out that according to a report, country's annual requirement of Cement is about 6.5 million MT, but Dr. Willie Gamage said 40% of that is being supplied by Lanka Holcim and balance 60% by different people – like Lafarge, Kankesanthurai Cement Corporation and we are still bringing bulk of the cement from outside.
When asked whether permission would be granted to any international cement manufacturing companies to set up a cement manufacturing unit within the peninsula, especially at the Atchuvely Industrial Zone, Dr. Willie Gamage said, when the Government is not even prepared to grant permission to start the production of the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory, then how can we expect that the Government to give permission to any international manufacturing companies to produce cement in the Peninsula? He said in case if some foreign companies come forward to bagging then there might be a chance.
He said if in case they bring the cement from outside for bagging, “We can provide the space- the area for them to start a bagging plant – we can give the land area.”
He said that there is 750-acre extent of land available in the KKS Cement factory premises. He said they have some areas where the mining has been already completed. He added some areas from that demined plot could be allocated for the necessary buildings to house the bagging plant.
He added “at present I can’t give any assurance for mining and production of Cement in the Jaffna Peninsula and the mines and factory in Puttalam and other areas, the Cement Corporation had was all taken over by the Holcim.
Elephant Pass Saltern & Paranthan Chemicals
When asked as to when the saltern at Elephant Pass would commence, he said that the saltern comes under the Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development and the Ministry is interested in handing it over to private sector as the government policy is not to invest in starting government owned industrial projects. He said there was a tender to hand over to the interested private sector and the National Salt Corporation is one of the bidders and that issue is not yet settled.
When pointed out about the defunct Paranthan Chemicals, Dr. Willie Gamage said presently they are working with an investor - a Sri Lanka person and I learnt that they are also looking for some other potential investors.
Asian Tribune asked about the Tile and Brick Factory in Odduchuddan, he said presently the Odduchuddan tile factory is being operated by the cooperative people. They are already in operation now. He added that as they are a cooperative society, the Ministry has to give priority to them.
He said there are other tile factories looking for people to come forward to run it as well. He said that there are altogether 9 factories and 2 of them are not working and out of the remaining 7, Ministry has come forward to hand over two of the factories to the Defence Ministry and for the 5 tile factories he said the Ministry has to find out some suitable partners or investors.
- Asian Tribune -