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Authorities keep mum over plea not to build another Elephant Holding Ground

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Neither President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nor a government representative had responded to a letter sent by environmentalists requesting that the new Elephant Holding Ground (EHG) project at Lunugamvehera National Park be stopped, Supun Lahiru Prakash of the Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle told The Island yesterday.

Prakash said that they had brought to the President’s notice that the project, funded by the World Bank, would be a colossal waste of money, at a time when the country was trying to reduce unnecessary expenditure.

“We pointed out that the existing EHG in Horowpathana had been a failure, and a recent report by the Auditor General proved that we were right. AG has said that future EHGs should be established only if the one at Horowpathana could be successfully run.”

However, Wildlife officials have already started work on the EHG in Lunugamvehera National Park and over 10% of the total park area encompassing 3,500 hectares have been earmarked for the project. The establishment of that holding ground would only lead to more elephant deaths and an increased human-elephant conflict in the surrounding areas, environmentalists have warned.

Prakash said: “The AG’s report says that according to the elephant census conducted in June 2019, out of all the elephants retained in the holding ground, 12 died; five died of malnutrition and lack of sufficient food. Another two elephants died due to being translocated to the holding ground. It was observed that the health condition of the elephants retained at the holding ground remained poor, and no follow-up action has been taken on the health of these animals.”

Prakash said that usually when elephants faced food scarcity, male elephants would raid homesteads in search of food; female elephants and calives remained in the EHG and suffered. A large number of other animals also lived in the Lunugamvehera National Park and the establishment of the EHG would also affect their habitat and survival, the environmentalist said.

“This whole concept that an elephant could be ‘rehabilitated’ by placing it in what is essentially an open air prison is ill-conceived. This idea is not based on science. Recently, a committee was appointed by the President and it submitted a report, which says the human-elephant conflict can only be solved by protecting the forests and home ranges of the elephants. Elephants are emotionally attached to the area that they are born and grow up in and there have been many instances where the animals sent to Horowpathana returned to their original habitat.”

Prakash said that over 50 elephants had been sent to the EHG at Horowpathana but only a handful were left there now and that Wildlife officials had no idea what had happened to the elephants that had left the Holding Ground.

“These animals then move through areas in which people have no experience in dealing with them. These encounters are deadly for both humans and animals. Hundreds of millions of rupees were pumped into making Horowpathana work and all that money was wasted. That is why we urge the government to stop doing the same thing in Lunugamvehera.”

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query

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SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign

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The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.

 

 

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