I just had a chat on the phone with my fellow neighboring farmers in the Hingurakgoda area and they tell me a new tale out of Alice in Wonderland. So I just repeat what I heard and the reader should determine its likelihood, but the farmers firmly believe this story, which when it passes from one mouth to the next adds another dimension.
For centuries the waters of the Minneriya has been used for agriculture and primarily, for paddy cultivation, especially after it was rehabilitated in the early 20th century. Then latterly due to the size and ease there is a large fresh water fishing industry that provides the livelihood for a couple of hundred families. There is enough water generally to cultivate two seasons. Usually once the water has been given for agriculture the water level in the tank drops sufficiently in August and September when the need for water stops, and the tank then becomes a huge plain of green where the famous Minneriya Elephant Gathering takes place. This has the added benefit of making it a tourist destination, especially in the off season of August and September to fill the local hotels and provide employment to the trackers and jeep drivers and owners and related services.
Recently, I am told a tender had been given to a private party to clear the tank for the take-off and landing of sea planes. This same party I was told was also given the go ahead to begin a pleasure boat service on the Minneriya tank, which hitherto only had hollowed out wooden fishing craft. Added to that I was told trees are being cut in the Minneriya National Park to facilitate the safe landing of the aircraft, and that too is a prohibited activity in a National Park, for which permission is not usually granted.
For such aircraft landings the water level has to be a minimum, and in many seasons, once the water is used for irrigation, the level will drop below this minimum. This then implies that water will not be released for needed irrigation due to the need to maintain a minimum level and farmers will suffer substantial crop loss. I was also told that the sound of planes landing will affect the egg laying characteristics of the local lake fish and that will reduce the potential catch. Local people are up in arms but this has not reached the press yet, either because the facts I have stated may be incorrect or no one has bothered to investigate.