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Land grabbing of indigenous people: CEJ contemplates legal action



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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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in 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 lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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