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Environmentalists see dire picture evolving from road development work near Sinharaja

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Only 3% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is covered with rainforests, out of which only 65% have been declared protected areas, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara said yesterday speaking to The Island. The remaining 35% are under the control of the Land Reform Commission (LRC.)

Due to the rapidly shrinking forest cover, even the Sri Lanka’s wet zone had been affected by changes in annual rainfall patterns and water shortages, Chamikara said adding that it made protecting the remaining rain forests of paramount importance.

“This is why we are urging the government to declare all the rainforests, around the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, as protected areas. Road expansions should only take place after such a declaration. Otherwise such projects lead to the destruction of the unprotected forest areas. It is quite likely that tea cultivation and construction of hotels would follow the road expansion. This is how we view the expansion of the road leading to Lankagama. Given to misinforation being disseminated, some members of the public must be wondering whey we are opposing this road development project.”

Chamikara said that if the policymakers did not act carefully it was highly likely that the entire ecological system would collapse.

Under the Lankagama road development project, an 18-km-long and 15-foot-wide road through Madugete, Warukandeniya and Lankagama Grama Niladari divisions in the Neluwa DS area would be widened. Some parts of that road would go through forest areas that belonged to the LRC, private lands, state lands that belonged to the Forest Conservation Department and lands within the Sinharaja Forest Reserve/ National Heritage Wilderness Areas, Chamikara said.

“The road will run through several subsidiaries of the Gin Ganga. It has also been identified that 1,320 metres of the road would go through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.”

Chamikara said that the road was being expanded in violation of several provisions of the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act (No. 3 of 1988,) Soil Conservation Act (no 25 of 1951,) and the National Environmental Act (no 47 of 1980.)

“There are LRC lands adjoining the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area and a number of these lands have been cleared to plant tea. On August 04, 2004, the then Cabinet decided to claim and connect a 500 metre buffer zone to the Sinharaja forest. This decision was taken as the Land Reform Commission (LRC) under which most of the land falls, had been releasing lands to hoteliers, plantation companies and other investors, thus jeopardizing the future of the world heritage site. This has led to the loss of habitat of endemic species and catchment forests. The LRC land was to be taken on the basis of compensation being paid on later. It was expected to claim 2,490 hectares of forest land.”

The environmental activist said that President Maithripala Sirisena, who was the Minister of Environment under the previous government had signed a gazette calling for the annexation of 13 proposed forest reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. With that the total land area of the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area would have encompassed 30, 000 hectares. The presidential order granted approval for connecting proposed Ayagama, Delgoda, Dellawa, Delmella-Yatagampitiya, Diyadawa, Kobahadukanda, Morapitiya-Runakanda-Neluketiya Mukalana, Warathalgoda, Silverkanda, Handapanella, Gongala and Paragala reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. Although Sirisena signed the gazette almost a year ago, it has not yet been published.”

Chamikara also said that he had not alleged that there was a hotel owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa in the Lankagama area and it was a statement attributed to him by several websites. “We held a press conference on this and I also posted a video on Facebook. Some websites, which had not even sent a representative to the press conference have run a story attributing a claim that I didn’t make.”



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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