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MONLAR blows whistle on another land grab in wetland sanctuary

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Only a few wetlands remain in Colombo, and they are in danger, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) says.

Chamikara said that Urban Development Authority (UDA) and Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC) have recently begun developing the wetlands around the Sri Mahindaramaya Temple, Ethul Kotte.

“The two institutions started reclaiming the wetlands within the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte Sanctuary without following any environmental laws. The decision to develop the wetlands was given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in March. Although the Wildlife Conservation Department initially opposed the development project, it has chosen to remain silent,” Chamikara said.

The MONLAR head said that during the last two decades SLLDC and UDA had destroyed a large number of wetlands in areas such as Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and Bellanwila and Attidiya.

“The two institutions have no idea about the importance of these wetlands. Because of their activities, part of Colombo is prone to floods, and the government has to spend colossal amounts of public funds on flood prevention initiatives. The reclamation and alienation of wetlands and their conversion into lakes have taken their toll on the environment. Wetlands have a remarkable capacity to hold water, but they lose that capacity when they are turned into lakes.

Chamikara said migratory bird species that arrive at the wetlands too had been affected by haphazard development projects. When the wetlands in the lowlands close to the sea are excavated, salt water travels inland and salifies the soil.

“The main reason is that the SLLDC and UDA do not have any idea about the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat of 1971 or the National Wetland Policy and Strategy for Sri Lanka of 2006,” Chamikara said.

Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte Sanctuary is home to a large number of animal species, Chamikara said. “There are 147 indigenous and migratory bird species in this wetland. There are also 18 species of indigenous fish in the canals in the wetlands.

“There are also eight amphibian species besides 67 butterfly species in this sanctuary. Among the butterflies are Tailed Jay, Crimson Rose, Lime Butterfly, Blue Mormon, Lemon Emigrant, Common Jezebel, and Plain Tiger.”

Chamikara said the area was declared a sanctuary on 09 January 1985 by gazette no 331/8. It encompasses 1,110 acres. Anyone who harms the integrity of the wetlands can be produced before a Magistrate as per the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.

“The Magistrate can fine anyone found guilty, send the perpetrator to prison, or both. The Department of Wildlife Conservation has the power to take action against those who violate the provisions of the Ordinance. Therefore, the Department is responsible for putting an end to illegal actions inside the sanctuary,” Chamikara said, adding that Sri Lanka had been a party to the Ramsar Convention since 1987.

Sri Lanka has 198,172 hectares of wetlands under the Convention.

“In 2018, Colombo was declared the first capital to be accredited as an International Wetland City by Ramsar. However, it is estimated that in the last few decades 40% of the wetlands in Colombo have been lost. The World Bank says each year Colombo loses 1.2% of its wetlands, and if it were to lose all its wetlands, the city would be flooded annually costing as much as 1% of its GDP in flood damage. Despite all this we continue to destroy our wetlands,” Chamikara said.



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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