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MP Pathirana reveals ruse resorted to by unscrupulous businessmen to grab forest lands



By Saman Indrajith

 Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana told parliament yesterday that unscrupulous businessmen had found a way to dupe officials by clearing patches in the middle of the jungle to plant tea and wait for a couple of years to clear the surrounding areas in the jungle.

 “When the officials commence investigations, they claim their tea plantations have been there for a long time,” MP Pathirana said, asking government to probe such incidents and take action to protect the forest cover.

 Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera said that he would look into the matter and admitted that continuous increase of population and some human activities had resulted in the shrinking of forest cover in the country.

 Asked whether he would admit that the North Central Province had already been reduced to semi-arid area, the Minister said that not only the NCP but many other provinces in the dry zone of the country had suffered from a long-drawn out drought between 2015 and 2018, but the NCP had not become a semi-arid are.

Minister Amaraweera said some regions in the country were affected by natural disasters such as floods, drought, landslides etc., all the time due to ill-effects of climate change.

Asked whether steps would be taken to develop national policies for environment conservation, Minister Amaraweera said that there were already many national policies in that regard as follows: National Environment Policy (2003), National Policy on Wetlands and the Conservation Strategies (2006), National Air Quality Management Policy (2000), National Climate Change Policy (2012), National Policy on Wildlife Conservation (1990), National Policy on Invasive Alien Species (2016), National Forestry Policy (1995), National Policy on Solid Waste Management (2007), National Waste Management Policy (2018), National Policy on Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Mangrove Ecosystems 2019, National Policy and Strategy for Cleaner Production  2005, National Policy on Biosafety (2011) and National Policy on Sustainable Consumption & Production (2019).

MP Pathirana said that former President Maithripala Sirisena soon before his leaving the office had signed a gazette to expand the Sinharaja forest by three times its present size, but the government had taken one year to publish it. “Subsequent, to this I saw a Facebook post by former President Sirisena that he signed 55 more such gazettes but they had not been published yet. When will those gazettes come out? Why is the government delaying them if the government is so concerned about the environment?”

Minister Amaraweera said that those gazettes would be printed in due course.

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary



There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran



But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President



The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.



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