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Jaffna-Chunnakam Northern Power plant reopens

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Court of Appeal issues order in favour of Northern Power Plant; employees return to work   Northern Power Plant in Chunnakam, Jaffna Re-opening of Chunnakam Power Plant by Registrar of Mallakam Magistrate Courts     With the order of the indefinite closure and eviction of employees issued by the Mallakam Magistrate on 27 January against the Northern Power Plant in Chunnakam preventing its employees from reporting to work being vacated by the Court of Appeal last week; the power plant reopened for essential maintenance and the employees returned to work on Monday, the company announced. “We brought to the notice of the Court of Appeal that the order issued by the Mallakam Magistrate on 27 January, was in contravention to the law. Following our application, the Court of Appeal granted interim relief restoring the Northern Power Plant total access and undisturbed possession while allowing authorities to carry on the necessary testing, which has stalled since the closure. This was in effect from Monday (6 April), with the Mallakam Magistrate’s Court and Jaffna High Court being duly informed of this order. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal issued notice to all 11 respondents (Applicants in the original case) to appear before court when the case was taken up on 16 April,” Northern Power Ltd’s parent company MTD Walkers Plc Director/CEO Lal Perera said. Earlier on 20 February, the Jaffna High Court allowed the Northern Power Co’s Revision Application to restore the status quo of the illegal eviction of employees from the Chunnakkam Power Plant, except generation. However, due to confusion with regard to the interpretation of the language of the order, the plant was ordered to be closed again by the Registrar of the Mallakam Magistrate. The company is hopeful that its generation operation too will be allowed to recommence by the court, as it has right throughout maintained that the Chunnakam Power Plant run by Northern Power is in no way responsible for the regrettable water contamination issue that caused hardship to the people of Jaffna. All available scientific evidence shows that the powerhouse of North Sri Lanka - Northern Power Co. Ltd. is not in any way linked to the issue of ground water contamination in Jaffna, and that such baseless allegations have been fueled by parties with vested interests, MTD Walkers Plc earlier announced. “When the plant was set up in 2007, our main objective was to serve the electricity needs of Jaffna which was in darkness. As Northern Power Company Ltd., we deny outright these baseless charges raised by parties with vested interests and not a single allegation has been so far accepted by courts or by any government authority. As all evidence presented to court points directly to another location as being the source of contamination, the company is not in any way liable for the said situation,” Perera said. He pointed out that baseless allegations had been raised with the ulterior motive of misleading the people of Jaffna against the Northern Power Company Ltd., falsely claiming that the power plant located at Chunnakkam (Jaffna) was causing the pollution of several wells located two to three kilometres away from the plant. Northern Power Co commenced the construction work of the power plant in 2007 during the height of the civil conflict when no company or individual was willing to even venture into the North, let alone build a power plant; taking all risks to provide much needed power to the people of Jaffna. Generation commenced around May 2009 and a larger population which had suffered severe hardships for over 15 years had electricity in their homes. Dedicated to serve Jaffna “We were the company at that time that contributed the major amount of power as there was no other source and because Jaffna was not connected to the national grid until 2012. The company went through many hardships especially with no road transport facility available and us having to transport all material and personnel by air or sea at a very high cost. But we did it because serving people is in the DNA of MTD Walkers,” he added. The power plant is operated with all necessary environmental licenses and approvals in place which is issued on an annual basis with quarterly checks carried out based on the conditions required by the licensing authorities. “Unfortunately, the allegation is that the waste oil from the plant is being discharged to the ground and that this was causing the pollution of wells that are located so many kilometers away. We wish to state clearly that all our waste oil is collected in tanks, sold and taken away by third parties and absolutely nothing is discharged into the ground. Waste oil fetches a good price as it is used for firing furnaces as the company makes revenue from its sale and we would not be deprived of the revenue by discharging it to the ground as alleged. If we can earn extra profits by selling waste oil, why would a commercial venture such as ours throw away valuable oil? “Unfortunately the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) and the Public Health Inspector (PHI) who are not specialists in this field of engineering are making this ludicrous allegation that oil is being discharged by us with absolutely no form of evidence to support their claim. They are basically making these claims based purely on hearsay and without any scientific methodology being employed to identify the root cause of the contamination and by whom,” he said. It was also highlighted that due to the simple fact that Jaffna has been connected to the national grid, the power plant is being used mostly during the peak loading times and as such, with the power plant operating only for few hours, there will not be waste oil volumes significant enough to affect wells 3 kilometres away. “However, we wish to highlight that a large oil lake (Oil kulam) existed within the previous State-run power plant premises before Northern Power commenced operations. This lake contained a large quantity of oil as indicated even on Google maps of the area taken over a period of time and this has been presented to court as well. Subsequently in and around 2012 the area was filled with earth and compacted as a new substation was built on this premises. Unfortunately, to date no one has questioned or looked into finding out what happened to this large quantity of oil that was contained in this oil lake,” he said. “We are strongly of the opinion that there is an unseen hand that is misleading the public of the area with some ulterior motive unknown to us to hinder our operation that is being carried out meeting all the procedural and statutory requirements mandated by the laws of Sri Lanka. The people of Jaffna have benefited tremendously from the Chunnakkam Power Plant and they must think wisely that any hindrance to the smooth operation of the power plant will affect the electricity supply and adversely impact the activities of the North. People should not be misled by these baseless allegations. “We wish to reassert that Northern Power Company Ltd. along with its parent company, MTD Walkers Plc, is always committed towards working in the interest of all stakeholders while maintaining the highest standards of corporate ethics and good governance,” he added.

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