By Rathindra Kuruwita
Businessmen and politicians keep on clearing isolated forest areas in the North Western provinces and this is aggravating the human elephant conflict in the area in a dramatic way, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) says.
Chamikara told The Island that in recent years there had been a significant spike in the human-elephant conflict in the dry zone mainly due to the massive expansion of maize and sugar cane cultivations in those areas, usually in swathes of cleared forest lands.
“The expansion of these large commercial agro enterprises has displaced elephants from their natural grazing areas and have obstructed their ability to move from one forest area to another. Thus, the elephants are compelled to raid human settlements for fodder, and this has led to many human and elephant deaths. The people affected by the human – elephant conflict are often those who are not responsible for the destruction of elephant havens. Poor farmers unable to cope up with the increasing threat from elephants are selling their lands to large companies,” he said.
Chamikara said that between 1990 and 2000, on average, 150 elephants and 40 humans died per year due to the human-elephant conflict. However, between 2010 and 2018, elephant deaths had increased to 275 and human deaths have increased to 80 per year. The situation became worse in 2019, when 406 elephants and 122 humans died due to the human – elephant conflict. In 2020, 307 elephants and 112 humans died.
Most recently swathes of forests had been cleared at places like Kiribathpelessa, Ehetuwewa, and Kurunegala, Chamikara said. That was the main catchment area of the Palukadawala Tank and was also the home to a large number of elephants. Those were also the nindagam of Nakolagane Raja Maha Vihara, he said.
“By late September about 50 acres had been cleared and another 700 acres given to several businessmen. No one had given these individuals any approval to clear these areas,” he alleged.
Chamikara said that in the Northwestern Province, a large number of elephants lived in isolated forest lands. Those animals spend the day in the forests and come out at night in search of food. Establishing farms by clearing the forest and near the tank will clearly lead to increased human-elephant conflict in the area, he said.
“There are around 5,000 acres of forest land in Nakolagane. There are about 25 tanks in these forests. This is not only a place where elephants feed, but it is also an elephant crossing. There are many tanks that are fed by the forests as well and they are vital for agriculture. The land being cleared belongs to the nindagama of Nakolagane temple,” Chamikara said.
He said that there were four settlements in the nindagama and that clearing up forests for commercial agriculture would greatly endanger those peasants. Already the misuse of lands in the nindagama had led to many issues.
“Many hectares of the nindagama has been cleared for commercial agriculture, to establish granite quarries, soil excavation, unauthorised settlements and the establishment of unsystematic elephant fences. Because of these developments, there has been a spike in human-elephant conflict and degradation of the soil, destabilising of the soil and a drop in ground water level,” he said.
Chamikara said that it was one of the many instances where land in the Northwestern province was being misused. Despite the obvious negative effects, none of the officials had done anything to stop those destructive practices.
“The clearing of these isolated forests are having a devastating impact. Everyone sees that, except those entrusted to act against such activities,” he said.
Seeveral laws too had been violated through those projects, Chamikara said. Almost all the projects violated the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO), no 02 of 1937, amended by Act no 22 of 2009. According to sub section 9 a (01) of the Act, one needs permission from the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department to carry out any developmental activity within a mile of the border of any national park, he said.
According to sub section 9 a (02) of the Act says that to obtain permission from the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department, one needs to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment based on National Environmental Act, no 47 of 1980. Sub section 10 (c) of the Act states a person or an organization that carries out any development activity of any description within a mile of the border of any national park “shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of not less than fifteen thousand rupees and not exceeding fifty thousand rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not less than two years and not more than five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
These also violate the Antiquities (Amendment) Act No. 24 of 1998. An Archaeological Impact Assessment needs to be obtained if one is constructing and reconstructing tanks, carrying out agricultural projects, clearing areas over two acres, and carrying out combined multipurpose development activities including housing, industries and infrastructure facilities of areas exceeding one hectare in extent. This is noted in gazette No. 1152/14 dated 04.10.2000 published under Section 47, read with Section 43(b), of the Antiquities (Amendment) Act, he says.
Collective Cabinet responsibility won’t be at country’s expense
Udaya: We are ready to face consequences of revolting against backdoor Yugadanavi deal
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila says that in spite of being members of the Cabinet, he along with National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara, have supported the petitions filed against the government entering into a framework agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy in respect of Yugadanavi Power Plant, etc., as they strongly felt that collective Cabinet responsibility should not be at the expense of national security.
Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila emphasised they had challenged the Cabinet over the controversial agreement following careful examination of what he called a politically charged situation.
The Colombo District MP said that they were ready to face the consequences of legal measures they had resorted to. Minister Gammanpila said so in response to The Island query whether they could continue as members of the Cabinet after having objected to an international agreement, finalised by the government.
Gammanpila said that they had never tried to hide their intentions and they felt embarrassed by the way some in the government manipulated the very process that was meant to ensure transparency and accountability.
Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, on behalf of the government, entered into an agreement with New Fortress Energy, a company listed in the NASDAQ, on July 7, 2021, two days after Cabinet decided on the matter.
Gammanpila said they had tried to settle the issue at the Cabinet level and at the government parliamentary group. “Finally, we were left with no alternative but to denounce the New
Fortress deal and then throw our weight behind those who moved the Supreme Court against it,” Minister Gammanpila said.
The SLPP repeatedly demanded that whatever the issue the constituents should settle it within the government parliamentary group and the Cabinet.
Minister Weerawansa told Parliament on 11 November that an Attorney-at-Law would represent the trio at the Supreme Court proceedings.
Responding to another query, Minister Gammanpila questioned the rationale behind bringing in a company that hadn’t been involved in the tender process in respect of a high profile project involving the West Coast Power Limited (WCPL). The minister said that the US firm had spurned the tender process as it received an assurance as regards the contract.
The US government pushed for the deal meant to secure 40 percent shares of the WCPL at a cost of USD 250 mn, Minister Gammanpila said.
The Cabinet memorandum as regards the sale of WCPL shares, in addition to the floating storage regasification unit, mooring system and the pipelines and the supply of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) is dated 06 Sept., 2021, months after Sri Lanka entered into FA with New Fortress Energy.
Asked whether the NFF, PHU and DLF would receive the support of other parties including the SLFP, Minister Gammanpila said that those who had pledged support for their cause remained committed and confident.
In addition to the NFF, PHU and DLF with a combined strength of eight MPs, the grouping against the New Fortress deal included the SLFP (14 members), CP (1 MP), Yuthukama (2 members) and Tiran Alles. Over two dozen elected and appointed members of the SLPP are against the New Fortress deal.
Of the smaller constituents in the government, the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) has distanced itself from the campaign against the energy deal.
Minister Gammanpila said that in his current capacity as the energy minister he had been compelled to struggle against the energy project as it posed a threat to the country. Referring to the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa sacking ministers, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayaka and G.M. Premachandra in 1991, Minister Gammanpila said that the UNPers sought the Supreme Court intervention. The SC ruled that in case ministers had been deprived of an opportunity to discuss some matter at the cabinet, they could do so with the public, Gammanpila said, adding that they pursued a strategy based on that SC position.
Minister Gammanpila said that Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to create a foreign monopoly in the gas supply to the country. The situation would be far worse as the proposed monopoly would be American, Gammanpila said, noting that in spite of entering into a spate of other agreements with foreign partners under controversial circumstances, the incumbent government seemed to have perpetrated an unpardonable act.
Minister Gammanpila said that the US energy deal would deliver a knockout blow to Sri Lanka’s efforts to tap gas in the Mannar seas. The consequence of this arrangement would be far reaching and devastating as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, the minister said. If the New Fortress deal was carried pit. Sri Lanka wouldn’t be able to bring in other investors to extract gas from the Mannar basin, the minister said.
State and private sector union members on sick leave demanding Rs 10,000 pay hike
Members of several state, semi-government and private sector trade unions took sick leave yesterday (08) as part of their trade union struggle to win a number of demands including a 10,000-rupee pay hike and the cancellation of the questionable New Fortresss deal.
Unions of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ports Authority and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) have pledged solidarity with the protesting workers.
The unions held demonstrations near the Parliament Roundabout and the Fort Railway Station.
They opposed the government decision to raise the retirement age to 65.
“There are over 25,000 postal workers and about 80% of them have joined the union action. This is the case in other sectors too,” President of Sri Lanka Postal Services Union Chinthaka Bandara said.
He demanded that the government increase their salaries through the budget 2022. “Otherwise, we will resort to sterner trade union action. The cost of living has gone through the roof and the Central Bank has admitted that inflation has risen sharply. Most companies in the private sector have reduced the salaries of employees and the allowances in the government sector too have been slashed. People will have to starve at this rate, “Bandara said. (RK)
Contaminated fertiliser: Case to be taken up on May 09
By Ifham Nizam and Chitra Weerarathne
The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)’s lawsuit to stop unloading here of allegedly contaminated organic fertiliser, CA WRIT 476/2 was taken up yesterday before Court of Appeal Justices Achala Wengappuli and Dhammika Ganepola.
Taking the facts into account the Court ordered that the case be recalled on May 9, 2021.
At a previous hearing the court questioned the Attorney General whether the Government was in a position to assure that they would not allow the controversial load of fertiliser to be unloaded. In response to that request Deputy Solicitor General Nirmalan Wigneswaran, who appeared on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture informed the Court yesterday that the vessel carrying the controversial fertilizer belonging to the Chinese company has left Sri Lankan maritime space.
Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare, Ms Nilmal Wickramasinghe (AAL) and Ms Thushini Jayasekara (AAL) appeared for the petitioners on the instructions of Ms. Samadhi Hansani Premasiri (AAL).
In the petition. CEJ argued that organic fertiliser from any country could not be imported into Sri Lanka, under any circumstance, according to the regulations of the Plant Protection Ordinance imposed in 1981 and Plant Protection Act No. 35 of 1999 as it prohibit the import of soil particles, living organisms, any virus, bacteria or fungus cultures into the country, given that organic manure/compost is made of decomposing animal and plant parts, which could consist of pathogens.
However, when the samples collected from this controversial shipment were tested Sri Lankan authorities found harmful organisms. As a result, National Plant Quarantine Service did not issue any import permit particularly for this bulk stock of so called “Organic Fertilizer”, the petitioner pointed out.
It also said that based on those facts the Director General of Agriculture had issued a letter dated 22.10.2021, addressing the Chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority, requesting him to prevent the berth of the vessel carrying this stock of Fertilizer at the Colombo Port and not to discharge any of its organic fertilizer into the Sri Lankan territory claiming it carried a huge phytosanitary risk to Sri Lanka.
In addition to this Ceylon Fertilizer Company also obtained an enjoining order (on 22.10.2021) from the Commercial High Court of Colombo against Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd; the supplier and the People’s Bank, preventing the latter from making any payment under the Letter of Credit opened in favour of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd which has entered into a contract with Ceylon Fertilizer Company.
However, in spite of all these Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd officially informed The Director General of Agriculture that its consignment of fertilizer which was shipped from China on 29th September 2021 would reach Sri Lanka as scheduled.
The Center for Environmental Justice therefore had to file an urgent motion CA WRIT 476/21 on (25.10.2021) to prevent the stock of fertilizer from entering the country owing to political or public pressure.
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