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Environmentalists mull legal action over destruction of Muthurajawela wetlands

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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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DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL

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by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Election Commission (EC) has expressed its disappointment at controversial statements made by some public officials about elections. It says some top government official, including the Director General of Government Information, are not familiar with the basic election laws and regulations laid down in the Constitution.

The EC says it may be due to his ignorance that the Director General of Government Information has issued the Special News Release, on 29 January, claiming that ‘the gazette notification, with the signatures of the Chairman, and other members of the Election Commission, required for the commencement of the Local Government Election process, has not yet been sent to the Government Press for printing’. The EC has said such notices have to be signed and sent by the relevant Returning Officers in accordance with section 38 of the Local Authorities Election (Amendment Act) No 16 of 2017, and not by the members of the EC.

The EC has confirmed that the notices from the Returning Officers were sent to the Government Press on Monday (30).

The EC’s Media release also points out that the DGI may be unaware that Article 104GG of the Constitution states that if any public official refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to comply with the Commission he or she has committed an offence.

Article 104GG of the Constitution says: (1) Any public officer, any employee of any public corporation, business or other undertaking vested in the Government under any other written law and any company registered or deemed to be registered under the Companies Act, No. 7 of 2007, in which the Government or any public corporation or local authority holds fifty percent or more of the shares of that company, who – (a) refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to cooperate with the Commission, to secure the enforcement of any law relating to the holding of an election or the conduct of a Referendum; or (b) fails without a reasonable cause to comply with any directions or guidelines issued by the Commission under sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (4) or sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (5), respectively, of Article 104B, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

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AKD says no improvement at Sapugaskanda oil refinery since it went into production in 1969

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The capacity of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) has not increased since it was established in 1969, National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says.

Speaking at a public rally recently he that in 1969, the SOR used the most advanced technology available at the time.

“CPC started construction in 1968 and SOR started operations, refining oil, on August 5th, 1969. During that time, the CPC could refine 50,000 MT of crude oil. 55 years later, the capacity remains the same. In 1969, the CPC started with the most advanced technology available at the time. Technology has improved now. We are still refining oil with 1969 technology,” he said.

Dissanayake said that Sri Lanka built a fertiliser factory to use the byproducts of the refinery and, in 1982, a newspaper reported that 5000 MT of urea, produced by that factory, was exported to Pakistan. Today, that factory is closed.

“The CPC also had a nylon factory, as a subsidiary. We built our own nylon thread fish nets. By-products of the refinery were used as pesticides and insecticides for our pineapple and flower production. Those factories were closed, too. We had a candle industry from the by-products, we produced lubricant oil. It was sold to American Caltex. Refinery produced fuel for airplanes. It has the capacity to sell USD 1.4 million worth airplane fuel per day. We can buy crude oil, refine, and sell to ships. These are opportunities we must use to earn foreign currency. Recently this section of the CPC was privatized,” he said.

The ruling class has failed to secure even the most important assets, he said. Agriculture, land, gems, ilmenite, our natural resources, so will these rulers protect what is left, he asked.

“They have absolutely no plan to build this country. Selling our resources, closing down factories and selling valuable machinery is what they know. Every government has taken part in the destruction of the refinery. This is why we need a change in the economy. We need to transform our economy. Only NPP can do that,” he said.

The NPP leader said that the existing constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the executive president. Sri Lanka has had this executive presidential system for 40 years and executive power was used against the people, repressing them.

“Our economy was destroyed. It has done no good to this country. One man cannot develop the country. Individuals have capacities and limitations. We need to unite our capabilities to govern this country. It’s a collective effort and the NPP is the only party to undertake it. That’s the point of difference. There are talented people from all fields like history, economy, mathematics, law and so on. There are lawyers, university academics and professionals. The government has to unite these capacities and talents to bring optimum results for the country. NPP will do that. For that we have to abolish executive presidency and rewrite the constitution vesting more powers in the Parliament. We will bring about this change,” he said.

Dissanayake said an NPP administration will limit the number of Ministers to 18. He added that crossovers have distorted the democratic system and corrupted the political culture.

“People vote for them in one party but for money and positions they change political allegiance. This has become a public nuisance. Some MPs demand ransom to stay in the party. We will add a provision to the Constitution to ban crossing over,” he said.

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JVP: Where are President’s influential foreign friends?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed duties, claiming that he had very influential friends overseas, now claims he can hardly afford to pay government servants, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Vijitha Herath says.

“If anything, things are worse than before. The government is afraid of the people and is trying to postpone elections,” Herath said, adding that the March 09 local council election would mark the beginning of the end for the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration.

Herath said so addressing an NPP election rally recently.

 “They will no longer be able to pretend that the people are with them. Not that they have any legitimacy, locally or internationally, but the level of their unpopularity will be seen on 10 March,, when the poll results are announced” he said.

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