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Environmentalists mull legal action over destruction of Muthurajawela wetlands



By Ifham Nizam

A group of environmentalists contemplating legal action against persons responsible for the destruction of the Muthurajawela wetlands have sought the support of the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith to push ahead with their action to protect the marsh.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church came down hard on moves to build a mega tourism project in the area, warning that it would lead to the destruction of the wetlands.

“The area is surrounded by our churches and I have asked our Parish Priests not to allow anyone to lay their hands there”, he told journalists last week.

In terms of gazette 947/13 published on October 30, 1996, the area located to the south of the Negombo lagoon has been identified as a sanctuary. This was followed by another gazette notification October 13 in 2006 by the then Environment Minister, Maithripala Sirisena identifying several lands in the area that could be used for development.

With the proposed tourism project on the cards, signboards identifying the sanctuaries in the area were removed and replaced with boards that claimed private ownership of the land.

How was the Muthurajawela forest reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Department transferred to a private company?, the Archbishop queried. “The country belongs to the people, not to the rulers, corporations or foreign entities”.

The controversy erupted over a proposal by Malwatte Property Developers to build a golf course, a hotel and many other affiliated projects within Muthurajawela sanctuary and the surrounding marsh.

The proposed project is to be located in the middle part of the marsh which has moderate biodiversity and ecological significance. Destruction of this part of the marsh for human activities and allowing human interaction during and after the construction will pose a grave danger to the ecosystem, environmentalists cautioned.

The sanctuary is an area where human activities are not allowed other than traditional livelihoods such as fishing. However, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) has given a Terms of Reference (TOR) to the company to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a prelude to securing other approvals for the proposed tourism-related venture.

Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Hemantha Withanage, said the CEA shouldn’t have issued a TOR when it was clear that a commercial project cannot be approved due to the sensitivity of the location.

This is not the right approach on the part of a public authority established to protect the country’s common natural resources, he said.

CEA Chairman S. Amerasinghe said that legal action against the developer for digging the Dutch Canal will not be pursued after it emerged that the job was done on a request by the Irrigation Department (ID)

However, this claim was contested by environmentalists, who explained that the ID has not been involved in any irrigation project in the area since 1970.

According to the National Environmental Act, No 47 of 1980 (as amended) and the EIA regulations gazette 722/22 of June 1993, “filling of more than four hectares of a wetland, removal of trees from more than one hectare needs an EIA.

Surely, the CEA is aware that Muthurajawela is a wetland with many ecosystem services which cannot be sacrificed for a development project of this nature, Withanage said.

Muthurajawela is a marsh connecting Kelani River and Negombo lagoon with a 30km long wetland area – a critically important flood control system for the Gampaha district – to drain water from paddy lands in the upstream lowlands.

As the country’s largest saline coastal peat bog, the Muthurajawela marshes are 3,068 ha (7,580 acres) in extent and. It is one of 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka. The marsh, together with the Negombo lagoon forms an integrated coastal wetland ecosystem (6,232 ha in total extent). The marsh-lagoon complex is believed to have originated about 5,000 years ago.

Jaela, Dutch Canal and Hamilton Canal were constructed during Dutch and British colonial times to regulate water in the area.

Among the endemic vertebrate species at Muthurajawela, 60% are nationally threatened. The native vertebrate fauna of Muthurajawela represents 30% of Sri Lanka’s native inland vertebrate species. This is a significant proportion, when considering the size of this wetland. Of the total vertebrate species recorded, a majority (35%) were uncommon, while 13% very common, and 5% very rare.

Muthurajawela is an important marsh for flood control, climate resilience, fish production and regulating the Negombo lagoon.

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SF claims thousands of police and military personnel leaving



By Saman Indrajith

Thousands of police and military personnel had left the services recently as they did not want to carry out illegal orders, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Parliament yesterday. According to the war-winning army commander 200 policemen have resigned during the past two months and 25,000 soldiers have left the army during the last two years.

“We urged the law enforcement and military officials not to follow illegal orders. We will reinstate them with back pay,” he said.

Fonseka also urged the President and the government MPs not to take people for fools.

“Sri Lanka owes 55 billion dollars to the world. Ranil’s plan is to borrow another seven billion during the next four years. So, in four years we will owe 62 billion to the world.

Ranil and his ministers ask us what the alternative to borrowing is. These are the people who destroyed the economy and society. They must leave. Then, we will find an alternative and develop the country,” he said, adding that the IMF loans had made crises in other nations worse.

“Ranil says that by 2025, we will have a budget surplus as in Japan, Germany and South Korea. These countries are economic power houses, and this comparison is ludicrous.”

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CEB hit by exodus of technical staff



By Shiran Ranasinghe

At least five technical personnel of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) resigned daily for overseas employment, a senior CEB official said.They included electrical engineers, electricians and foremen, he added.

“Most of them are quitting due to the economic crisis while others are simply disillusioned. Trained and experienced technical staff are in high demand in many countries,” he said.

CEB United Trade Union Alliance President Ranjan Jayalal said that the CEB had lost about 2,000 employees in recent times due to the above reasons.

“We had about 24,000 such personnel a few months ago. Now the number has come down to 22,000. A number of people had to retire on 31 December, 2022.

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Sajith questions sudden decision to charge Rs. 225,000 from students following NDES



By Saman Indrajith

The government had decided to charge Rs 225,000 from those enrolling at the Institute of Engineering Technology, Katunayake under the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA), Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said yesterday in Parliament.

Premadasa said that the institute awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences (NDES) and no fee was charged from students until 2023.The IET awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences under the three major fields of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and eight sub-fields.

“This is an institute that has created over ten thousand tier two engineers. NDES is a four year programme,” he said.

The opposition leader said that the sudden decision to charge 225,000 rupees from students at a time when the average Sri Lankan family is facing significant economic challenges is unfair.

“This institute offered free tuition. We should continue this tradition. A large number of engineers are leaving the country and we need to ensure that we have a continuous supply of engineers to ensure we can maintain our essential technical services,” he said.

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