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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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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from 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 locked down, he said.

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