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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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Nightlife is essential without hindrance to other tourists, residents and businesses – Diana Gamage

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Minister of State for Tourism  Diana Gamage acknowledged that events that emanated noise should be conducted within a soundproof environment without causing any inconvenience or disturbance to other tourists who are here to relax, residents of the area and other businesses inasmuch its necessity to boost the economy by generating revenue.

She made this comment speaking at a press conference themed ‘Collective path to a stable country’ at the Presidential Media Centre today (22),

As debates continue regarding the regulation of nightlife, she urged stakeholders to consider the broader economic implications and the vital role that nightlife plays in driving economic activity and sustaining national finances. She further emphasized the importance of providing entertainment options to tourists, particularly in beach areas, which are major attractions for visitors. According to her, nightlife plays a crucial role in catering to the needs of tourists, not only in beach areas but also in urban centres like Colombo. The Minister noted that current regulations often restrict entertainment options, citing examples such as early last orders in hotels and restaurants, which may not align with the preferences of international tourists.

Drawing attention to the diverse origins of tourists, including those from the UK, France, and Germany, the State Minister Diana Gamage emphasized the need for flexibility in entertainment hours to accommodate varying cultural norms and preferences.

As discussions on tourism regulations continue, stakeholders are encouraged to consider the perspectives of tourists and the potential economic benefits of promoting a vibrant nightlife scene. The Minister’s remarks underscore the importance of striking a balance between regulation and the provision of entertainment options to ensure a memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors to Sri Lanka.

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All vocational training institutes in Sri Lanka should be consolidated into a single vocational college – President

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe during an observation tour at the Ratmalana Lalith Athulathmudali Vocational Training Centre, this morning (22) , outlined plans to consolidate all vocational training institutes in Sri Lanka into a single vocational college, offering contemporary subject-related courses.

He said that the restructuring of vocational education was  essential to align with the demands of the modern world, ensuring that the youth of the country are equipped to excel in the competitive global job market.

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Opposition threatens to move no-faith motion against Speaker over OSB

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Speaker Abeywardena

By Saman Indrajith

Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premnadasa told Parliament yesterday that the Online Safety Bill had been passed in violation of the law and unless remedial action was taken, a no-faith motion would be brought against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Premadasa said that Article 123(4) of the Constitution says, “Where any Bill, or the provision of any Bill, has been determined, or is deemed to have been determined, to be inconsistent with the Constitution, such Bill or such provision shall not be passed except in the manner stated in the determination of the Supreme Court.”

Premadasa said: “It is illegal to pass a Bill without adhering to this constitutional provision. There were nine instances where the government overlooked the Supreme Court determination on the Bill. The Speaker allowed that to happen despite our protests. The Justice Minister, too, has admitted that there are flaws in the Act. How could that happen? Rectify them immediately, or we will bring a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.”

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that even if the Supreme Court determined that a section or clause of a draft Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution, a Bill could be passed by Parliament. It could be done with either a two-thirds majority or two-thirds majority plus people’s approval from a referendum. A case cannot be filed against the way the Speaker or an MP behaved in this House as they have immunity. Former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, too, has given a ruling on this issue and we still consider it as a precedent to be upheld. With regard to the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General has instructed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to incorporate some amendments as per the Supreme Court determination and to bring other recommended amendments in the form of a separate Amendment Bill. I was not a party to that discussion. This Amendment Bill was presented to the Cabinet and approval was granted and now is at the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Thereafter, it would be referred to the Cabinet again and with that approval we can have it here in this House for consideration,” the Minister said.

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