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Another land grab about to take place at Flood Plains National Park today?

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By Ifham Nizam

There was a plan to clear a swath of the Manampitiya-Yakkure forest for road development through the Flood Plains National Park and some local politicians were going all out to fell trees, a senior official of the Department of Wildlife Conservation said yesterday.

Senior environmentalists also told The Island that they hoped President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would intervene to prevent the destruction of the forest.

President Rajapaksa over the weekend refused to endorse the request for cleaning a three- kilometre stretch of forest to construct a road, saying he would consult a team of experts first.

Centre for Environmental Justice, Environmental Scientist, Hemantha Withanage alleged that with the introduction of 1/2020 circular nearly 700,000 acres of forests had become vulnerable.

“When Forest and Wildlife officers visit these areas, they are helpless. They have been forced not to enforce the laws and even remove long standing cases,” Withanage added.

“We got to know that the Secretary to the State Minister of Land Management, State Enterprises Land, and Property Development was to go for a site visit yesterday and a meeting would be held today (09) at Yakkure and a decision would be made to allow road development inside the National Park,” a senior environmentalist claimed.

Further, the lands belong to Flood Plains National Park at Weheragodayaya running to more than 2000 acres would be released for agriculture purposes, said Supun Lahiru Prakash, Convener, Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka.

He told The Island that “In addition Handapan villu, Manampitiya villu, Palle villu, Karapola villu, and Muthugala villu are to be released for agriculture purposes.”

Loss of huge amounts of land from the Flood Plains National Park and Fragmentation of the rest of the land by road construction would severely affect the flora and fauna of the park, Prakash said.

The flood plains are a unique ecosystem type found in downstream Mahaweli River; they will disappear, if the decision is made to expand agriculture, environmentalists warn.

“We kindly request the President to pay immediate attention to the matter and prevent the destruction of the forest.

According to environmental lawyer, Dr. Jagath Gunawardena, the area was declared a National Park under Section 2, subsection 1 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

Therefore, nobody could make any forest clearings, clear or break up any land for cultivation, mining or any other purposes, fell, girdle, tap, burn or in any way damage or destroy any plant or take, collect or remove any plant, Gunawardena said.

There are clear violations set out in Sections 5 and 6. If Section 6 is violated, a perpetrator could be arrested without a warrant, and it was a non-bailable offence, he said.

Public Service Trade Union Federation, Chairman W. H. Piyadasa said that the Forest Department had taken over the land on court orders after reporting the construction of an illegal road from Manepitiya to Yakkure through the Polonnaruwa Flood Plain National Park and the illegal cultivation in the wildlife reserve.

 



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Govt. will implement PCoI recommendations, but won’t ban BBS

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (8) ruled out the possibility of proscribing the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as recommended by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

Addressing the regular weekly SLPP briefing at the Waters Edge, Prof. Peiris, who is also the minister of education, emphasized that the particular recommendation wasn’t acceptable to the government. He described it as a difficult recommendation.

Declaring that the proscription of the BBS wouldn’t do any good, Prof. Peiris said implementation of PCoI recommendations would be the prerogative of the government.

Prof. Peiris assured that the government would implement the remaining recommendations.

Chairman of the PCoI, Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva handed over its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 1, 2021. Other members of the PCoI were Court of Appeal judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adhikari. H. M. P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as Secretary to the PCoI.

Prof. Peiris said that the Opposition could raise any issue related to the Easter Sunday carnage during the three-day debate scheduled to commence tomorrow (10).

Minister Peiris that the incumbent government would ensure a no holds barred investigation into suicide bombing spree that claimed the lives of 270 and wounded 500 others.

Alleging that the majority of those who had been severely critical of the PCoI hadn’t perused it, Prof. Peiris said that a careful examination of the dossier revealed some critically important factors pertaining to the attacks blamed on the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ).

 Prof. Peiris said that many inquired about the alleged involvement of a foreign hand in the NTJ terror project. Against the backdrop of the release of PCoI report many condemned the report claiming it didn’t address contentious issues such as possible foreign hand in the Easter Sunday carnage, Prof. Peiris said.

The SLPP Chairman said that the PCoI had made a revelation about a certain foreign organization. He declined to name the organization.

However, inquiries made by The Island revealed that FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) aka the Gulen Movement

had been named by the PCoI. During PCoI proceedings, it transpired how the previous yahapalana administration had received specific information from Turkey but it chose to ignore the dire warnings. Turkey blamed July 2016 coup attempt on FETO and its US based leader Gulen.

Referring to January 2019 explosives recovery at Wanathavilluwa, Prof. Peiris said that the PCoI emphasized the need to further investigate that particular detection. The PCoI also pointed out how further interrogation of three persons already in custody in connection with the Easter Sunday carnage could help investigators to establish the truth.

Dismissing accusations that the PCoI hadn’t served any useful purpose, Prof. Peiris pointed out that some persons arrested in Qatar were now in Australia. Prof. Peiris said that the attention of the Australian authorities were on them. The Education Minister refrained from going to further details.

Quoting the PCoI, Prof. Peiris also referred to a person, whom he called a leader of an extremist organization responsible for making an alleged attempt to cause massive death and destruction in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. Prof. Peiris said that the PCoI had recommended punitive measures against this person in terms of the relevant law.

Commenting on specific recommendations issued in respect of the Easter Sunday carnage, Prof. Peiris said that the police, CID, TID, AG and CIABOC had received those instructions. The PCoI had created a solid framework for relevant authorities to take tangible measures.

Prof. Peiris declined to comment on queries based on various assumptions meant to divert public attention. He emphasized that whatever the breakaway UNP faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) said the public however was aware they were all part of that utterly pathetic government that failed to thwart the NTJ in spite of having advanced intelligence.

Prof. Peiris called Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s vow to hang all those responsible as nothing but a joke.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris said that the previous regime caused mayhem by lifting restrictions in place to prevent undesirable persons entering the country. During Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as Secretary Defence visas were denied to the majority of those who sought opportunity to address religious issues. The yahapalana lot simply did away with restrictions and essentially failed to take precautions fearing what Prof. Peiris called political repercussions.

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Only reason for vesting Muthurajawela under the UDA

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By Ifham Nizam

The government had decided to conserve the Muthurajawela wetland under the Urban Development Authority as the Wildlife Ministry and Department could not afford to pay for the immediate acquisition of some of the land, Urban Development State Minister Nalaka Godahewa said.

Godahewa said that his Ministry had both institutions with the relevant technology and capability to conserve the ecosystem.

He said Muthurajawela would be handed over to the Ministry of Wildlife after being conserved as a Ramsar wetland.

He said so participating at the Inter-ministerial discussion on sustainable environment development. Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was also present.

Muthurajawela, which encompassed 3,064 hectares in 1990, had now shrunk to 1,200 hectares due to encroachment, the Minister said.

Minister Godahewa added that although a private company had acquired part of the wetland for some projects, steps would be taken to acquire the entire extent and make it part of the Muthurajawela Wetland Zone.

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that although the private company had planned to set up golf courses, hotels and even a helicopter yard, none of them would be allowed.

The company posed a danger to the Muthurajawela wetland, the Minister said, adding that the 700 acres acquired by it would be taken back. Therefore, no new constructions would be allowed to be carried out in the Muthurajawela wetland and it was the position of the government to conserve what remained of the eco-sensitive region and pass it on to the next generation, he said.

The Ministers emphasised that the city of Colombo was named as the first Ramsar Wetland City in the world due to the measures taken by the President during his tenure as the Defence Secretary to develop the city of Colombo under a green city concept.

The inter-ministerial coordination programme was launched last week at the Ministry of Environment to address the issues related to the environment.

A Cabinet memorandum submitted by the Minister of Environment Amaraweera to establish an Inter-Ministerial Committee on monitoring environmental issues in January was approved by the Cabinet.

The inter-ministerial coordination programme involves the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, the Ministry of Water Supply, Wildlife Conservation, the construction of elephant fences and ditches. Relevant Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimalaweera Dissanayake, Secretaries to the Ministries Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Bandula Harischandra also participated. Among the issues discussed at the meeting were the recent media reports of deforestation, especially the Muthurajawela Wetland Conservation Programme.

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Ranil predicts worst economic shocks by year end

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UNP leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government was printing money like printing newspapers.

Speaking at a meeting held at Borella on Sunday with the youth of the Green Blood organisation, affiliated to the party, Wickremesinghe said that managing the economy was not an easy task and it would take a decade for the Sri Lankan economy to bounce back.

The former PM said that the present government had printed three times the amount of money printed during the past 10 years during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 and of UNP rule in 2015.

Wickremesinghe said that the government had slashed taxes and reduced the country’s income by giving concessions to companies and big businesses; the general public did not get the benefit of such tax cuts. “The country’s revenue had decreased even before the arrival of Covid,” he said.

“The government prints money like printing newspapers because it has no revenue. We saved $ 7.5 billion as reserves. Now, it is down to $ 4.5 billion. We built the economy despite criticism. We allocated money for health.

They opposed when we planned to give tabs to students. If tabs had been given, children would have benefited during the pandemic,” the UNP leader said.

The former Prime Minister said that no development was taking place and investors were leaving the country. He added that the government had requested a loan of US $ 2 billion from India and China but it would be disappointed.

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