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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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Geneva HR vote:

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UK, Canada seek to influence member states against Lanka

The Sri Lanka Core group members, Canada and the UK, are campaigning hard to muster support for their resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka Core group consists of Canada, Germany, the UK, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi.

Canada High Commissioner David McKinnon met the Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 07.

Sources said that meetings between diplomats of those countries were rare. Bangladesh is a member o the f UNHRC. The meeting at the Canada House took place close on the heels of the UK HC Sarah Hulton meeting South Korean Ambassador Woonjin Jeong. South Korea is also a member of the UNHRC.

The 47-member UNHRC is divided into five groups on regional basis. The Asia-Pacific Group consists of Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Uzbekistan; Western Europe and Other States consists of Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK; Eastern European States consists of Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine; Latin American and Caribbean States group consists of Argentina, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela and African States group consists of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. (SF)

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CEB Chairman: Country would have been facing daily power cuts if not for MR’s initiative

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by Ifham Nizam

The country would have been facing a daily power cut of eight hours if not for the initiative taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the President, to commence the first coal fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, said Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman Engineer Vijitha Herath at yesterday’s inauguration of the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power plant in Sri Lanka.

PM Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest at the event. The CEB head stressed that if not for the Norochchoali plant the country would have lost more than Rs. 100 billion annually.

Power Minister Dullas Alahaperuma said that since the construction of the Norochcholai power plant in 2013, no large scale power plant had been built.

“Today, we are paying for this. Only small hydro power plants and solar power plants have been added to the national grid,” Alahaperuma said.

The power minister said that the LNG plant was coming up at an important time and would bring great relief to the economy which was heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

“Let there be a power sector that is not dependent on fossil fuels. The new power plant has been constructed at Kerawalapitiya, Wattala. This has been designed in accordance with international standards with minimal environmental damage. This power plant will have the highest efficiency F class gas turbine installed. The Kerawalapitiya Power Plant is a dual cycle power plant and will be completed in two phases. The installation of the first phase, or gas turbine, will generate 220 MW, which will be completed within 21 months and added to the national grid.”

Alhaperuma said that the second phase would add another 130 megawatts to the national grid via a steam turbine, which was expected to be completed in 12 months. With a total capacity of 300 MW over the next three years, the plant was expected to meet the country’s growing electricity demand, he said.

Speaking at the event Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stressed that the government wanted to provide electricity at affordable prices using the most advanced technology. There had been many delays in building power plants under the Yahapalana regime; but the current government would fast-track power projects, he added.

Minister Alahapperuma also said: “The LNG power plant will be a great relief to the economy. Renewable energy is the future. It was clearly mentioned in the President’s vision of prosperity as well as in the Mahinda Chinthana. Our goal is an economy fully armed with renewable energy.”

State Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Lansa, Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy Wasantha Perera, LTL CEO of Lakdanavi Affiliates U.D. Jayawardena, and a large number of people’s representatives and government officials were present.

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US Secretary of State names Lankan for International Women of Courage (IWOC) award

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Lankan Human Rights Activist and Attorney-At-Law Ranitha Gnanarajah is among the recipients of this year’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) award presented by the United States Secretary of State.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will host the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards virtual ceremony to honour a group of extraordinary women from around the world on Monday, March 8, at 10:00 am, the U.S. State Department announced.

The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden will deliver remarks to recognize the courageous accomplishments of these women.

Now in its 15th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice, the US State Department says.

According to the biographies of the finalists for the 2012 IWOC Awards, Sri Lanka’s Ranitha Gnanarajah, a lawyer, and Head of the Legal Department of the Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) Sri Lanka continues to fight for and defend the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country, despite threats and challenges by the state.

“Ranitha has dedicated her career to accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act by providing free legal aid and related services. As an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Ranitha has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations.”

From the inception of this award in March 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.

U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.

Following the virtual IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) virtual exchange and connect with their American counterparts.

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