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Land grabbing of indigenous people: CEJ contemplates legal action

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by Ifham Nizam

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) is contemplating legal action against what it called ‘land grabbing of indigenous people’.

Urging the Mahaweli Authority to stop the illegal seizure of lands, CEJ Chairman, attorney-at-law Ravindranatha Dabare said the unhealthy trend could lead to soil erosion and especially the blockage of many waterways.

“We will face some critical issues if that happens”, he warned.

He said the Rambakan Oya and many tributaries have already been blocked. “What they are doing is completely illegal”.

He said these resources don’t belong to the government, Mahaweli Authority or the officials in charge. These are resources that belong to the people of the country.

“Nobody has the legal right to plunder these resources and destroy hundreds of trees, some of which are centuries old.

The length of the bund of Rambaken Oya reservoir is 1,225 meters. The irrigation area is 1,968 acres. The reservoir has a water capacity of 45,500 acre feet. The catchment area is 12,800 hectares. Around 3,500 acres are cultivated during the Yala and Maha seasons and the length of the field canals supplying water alone is more than 78 km.

The leader of the Veddah community, Uruwarige Wanniyelatho said he had earlier heard of the destruction being caused to their traditional homestead, but didn’t believe it was actually happening.

“Some people even came to my house and informed me of the plunder that was going on. Generally, I don’t give credence to hearsay. I accompanied the CEJ Chairman and have now seen with my own eyes the degradation that’s being done”, he noted.

“Everything I heard about is true. The surrounding forest is ready to be cleared. Already, a vast area has already been cleared. However, these lands that people grab and clear today are originally those of our people”, he said.

He said that “Seethala Wanniya”, “Gorikana” and “Pollebadda” were native lands his ancestors occupied. “Now, when our people go to the forest to collect material to build a house, collect fuel wood or bees’ honey, they immediately take legal action against them. But, when large scale companies destroy thousands of acres of the forest, nothing is done”, the chieftain complained.

He added: “This forest is not something only indigenous people and animals want. Forests and environment are things that everyone wants, everyone including the tiny ants and insects that we don’t even see. The whole world is talking about natural disasters caused by environmental destruction. The destruction here is happening before our own eyes. This cannot be allowed to happen. This is our heritage, our lands and our culture. They must be protected. It is our responsibility to protect it for future generations”.

The Rambaken Oya Reservoir receives water from the foothills of this forest. So, when these farming activities take place, the water source will be polluted by fertilizers and pesticides used in cultivation, he asserted.

“The poison will then enter the Rambakan Oya reservoir, which provides drinking water. We have experience. The Mahaweli movement started in the 1980s has created kidney patients in the Mahawali C area at Girandurukotte. Today, people in those areas go to kidney clinics the way children go to school. If these projects implemented, we will suffer the same fate, he warned.

Therefore, this cannot be allowed to continue. The authorities should stop this. Otherwise, I will go to the court with the Center of Environmental Justice on behalf of my generation and my homeland to stop this destruction”, Wanniyelatho said.

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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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