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Johnston: Not a single tree felled for renovating Sinharaja road

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By Saman Indrajith 

Not a single tree had been cut down when a dilapidated road leading Lankagama through a section of the Sinharaja Forest was renovated, Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando told Parliament on Wednesday (25).

“We only renovated a road which was already there. The Opposition and many others accused us of constructing a new road. It is not true. People in Lankagama have been requesting the renovation of that road.  No new road was constructed, not a single tree has been cut down . There was no harm done to the environment,” the Minister said. 

Fernando made this statement after the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera asked for time to answer a question on the road through sections of the Sinharaja posed by Colombo District SJB MP Dr Harsha de Silva. Pointing out that his question to the Minister of Environment was listed in the Order Paper, Silva demanded an answer. The SJB MP queried whether Amaraeweera admitted that an environment impact assessment should be conducted when a road was constructed across a sensitive ecosystem. 

MP Dr de Silva:

“Why isn’t the government giving an answer? It is said that the road could be constructed within 90 days, then why does the government take more than 90 days to answer the question? Why are you evading this issue?” 

Minister Amaraweera:

“We are not evading or running away. I asked for time to give you a comprehensive answer.” 

MP Dr de Silva:

“Now a gazette expanding the area of Sinharaja, signed by former President Maithripala Sirisena, has been issued. It is backdated to November last year. As per the gazette what you have done is wrong. You should have conducted a study before commencing the work on the road. Now, you are taking time to give an answer after completing the construction.” 

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Fernando

: “The question was about an environment issue, and the relevant Minister will answer it. But since the road being constructed under the purview of my ministry, stress that no new road has been constructed. If you are constructing a new road then you need to conduct a study. Here the procedure is different because we are renovating a road that has already been there. You have been fooled by Facebook posts. I invited you to visit the area with me. You did not come. Has Dr de Silva ever been to Lankagama? You are from the Colombo District.

MP Dr de Silva:

“I will come with you to visit Lankagama and inspect the road when you go there next time. I am an MP for the Colombo District. I was elected with 83,000 votes, and as I represent the Opposition, I am entitled to ask questions about anything in between Kankesanthurai and Matara. That is my right.” 

Badulla District MP Chaminda Wijesiri:

“We thank you for the invitation. We could not come with you to visit the area because we were busy with the budget debate. We will visit the area later. Our question is about the destruction wreaked the environment. That damage is not repairable just because you win arguments here in parliament.” 

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena:

“There is no point in you fighting over this issue. It is an old road. It was constructed while I was the Chief Minister of the Southern Province. I still remember the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman who constructed the road had to serve a jail term. There is no point in having further arguments on the issue.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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