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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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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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