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Proposed elevated highway across wetlands provokes uproar



Environmentalists warn that if the second phase of the proposed Elevated Highway runs across Thalangama Environmental Protection Area, Ramsar Wetland city status of Colombo may be at stake. Residents lament that one of the most residential and peaceful areas of the city will be essentially made unlivable causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

by Randima Attygalle

The construction of five new flyovers and the four-lane Elevated Expressway connecting the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya was launched by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa last month. The flyovers and the Elevated Expressway are planned to ease traffic congestion in Colombo, its suburbs and Kandy. The contract for the four-lane Elevated Expressway from the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya entailing a budget of LKR 134.9 billion was awarded to the China Harbour Engineering Corporation (Ltd) to be completed in 36 months.

The 17.3 km long expressway is to be implemented in two phases- Phase 1 from New Kelani Bridge to Rajagiriya and Phase II from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya. Phase II of the project has created controversy and uproar among environmentalists and the public as it’s to be built over the Ramsar listed Thalangama Environmental Protection Area (TEPA). Out the 10.4 km stretch of the second phase, 3.15 kms of road crosses the Averihena tank and paddy fields which are part of TEPA.

Despite Sri Lanka being a state party to the Ramsar Convention the proposed highway project is a gross violation of the provisions of the charter, charge residents from Thalangama and Averihena. Colombo District has already lost 40% of its wetlands resulting in massive floods and the proposed construction is a double whammy, they point out.

“Already water flows into our gardens when it rains heavily and erection of intrusions such as concrete pillars to accommodate an elevated highway will make things worse,” points out Prithiviraj Perera, a retired professional from the UN International Civil Service and Sri Lanka Public Services Institutions. Being exposed to noise and air pollution 24/7 would affect the quality of life of residents living on either sides of the wetland, whose homes are presently covered by trees and green habitats, Perera says.

Thalangama wetland is one of the few remaining green patches near Colombo. It is also a birds’ paradise and a haven for nature photographers. “It is a picturesque site of scenic beauty which is popular for filming of TV programmes, films and taking of wedding pictures. The area is also popular for jogging, star gazing, bird watching and environmental educational tours,” points out the senior professional who notes that destruction of an internationally recognized Ramsar Wetland will impact directly on the Green Development Principles which are championed by the government under the ‘Vistas of Prosperity’.

He says that the best alternative for the Expressway is to take the route from Makumbura, Kottawa through Ruwanpura and over the existing four lanes in Pannipitiya, right up to Battaramulla, which has already been mooted by several authorities. “This shall cause least damages to residents, housing and sensitive ecosystems with any extra costs of rerouting being financed through the issuance of ‘Green Bonds’ as done in many other countries.”

The second phase of the highway will plough through one of the most residential and peaceful areas of the city and will essentially make the area unlivable lament residents. The proposed route affects the residential property that has been in lawyer Rehan Almeida’s family for at least four generations. “According to the current route, the highway will go right across our property along Kaduwela Road in Battaramulla, completely destroying my home and partially destroying my father’s home. My brother’s house is narrowly missed by a matter of feet and will be rendered uninhabitable. The affect to our property is fatal. No amount of compensation can replace the damage caused. We will essentially lose everything, as we have been advised that the property will not be suitable for residential purposes any longer,” says Alemeida.

Several more houses and a sizeable number of small scale businesses will also be destroyed with absolutely no option to relocate, he says.

By plotting a route through the Thalangama wetlands, the country is also losing an asset which cannot ever be replaced, points out the lawyer who questions the logic of “cutting a peaceful community in half” and exposing residents to all kinds of pollution when an alternative route has been proposed by experts who have studied the impact and consequences of this project.

Almeida also charges that destruction of the environment by a project of this nature is a violation of the directive principles of state policy which are safeguarded under the Constitution. He further says that the solution is not to re-gazette the Thalangama wetlands to allow constructions but to find an alternative. “The task of the government is to safeguard our natural assets, not bulldoze them.”

Many farmers from the area who have been cultivating their ancestral paddy fields for generations lament the irreversible damage the proposed Expressway could cause to the eco system of the area. Most farmers in the area who cultivate traditional rice varieties also fear the threat of flooding if the proposed highway is realized.

It is also learnt that the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) had filed a Writ petition in the Court of Appeal seeking an order preventing the construction of the Elevated Expressway over TEPA. It is also gazetted as an Environmental Protection Area by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). Despite this, recently the Cabinet approval was given to re-gazette the area enabling the construction of the expressway whilst ‘preserving the environment.’

Director General, CEA, Hemantha Jayasinghe told the Sunday Island that the gazette is now pending observations of the Legal Draftsman’s Department. “Once the Legal Draftsman’s Department reverts with their comments, a careful EIA will be done by the CEA before relevant authorities decide if construction would continue or not along the TEPA,” Jayasinghe said.

To recognize the importance of cities and urban wetlands, Ramsar Convention introduced the Wetland City accreditation scheme in October 2018. It provides an opportunity for cities that value their natural or man-made wetlands to gain international recognition and positive publicity for their conservation efforts. Under this scheme, 18 cities including Colombo have been listed as the first Ramsar Wetland Cities. Colombo is the only Ramsar wetland City in South Asia and the only capital city to be accredited.

“Thus it is important for Sri Lanka to continue to protect the wetlands in Colombo in order to maintain this status. If the second phase of the Elevated Highway is to be built, it will cause significant impact to TEPA, one of the two protected wetlands in the Colombo Ramsar City site. (the other is the Jayawardenepura-Kotte Sanctuary),” points out Prof. Devaka Weerakoon from the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo. Prof. Weerakoon, an authority on wetlands, warns that such a move may result in withdrawal of the Ramsar Wetland city status of Colombo.

“This will be most unfortunate as many agencies worked very hard to achieve this status. Therefore, de-gazetting the EPA and building the road that is currently one of the options being considered, should not be taken as a major achievement but another example of a short-sighted decision taken under the label of development.”

TEPA provides many ecosystem services, especially functioning as a water source for paddy fields that are cultivated under the tank, source of food (freshwater fish), flowers, recreation and associated livelihoods and flood retention especially for highly populated metropolitan Colombo urban area. The proposed route across TEPA will not only spoil the aesthetic beauty and tranquility of the environment but also affect the air quality along the flyway corridor, points out Prof. Weerakoon. “The proposed flyway will have a significant negative impact on the quality of life of the inhabitants who are currently settled along the flyway corridor.”

The need for Phase I of the proposed Elevated Highway is very clear affirms Prof. Weerakoon. “It is quite beneficial to those who enter Colombo through the new Kelani bridge via the Katunayake Expressway en route to Borella, Rajagiriya or Battaramulla where most of the state agencies are located. Commuters have to spend a considerable time on the road due to traffic congestion in Dematagoda, Borella, Rajagiriya and Battaramulla resulting in unnecessary fuel usage and increased emissions. The expressway will provide fast access to these areas and suburban centres such as Pelawatte, Thalawathugoda and Maharagama. Further this will enable a large pool of motorists fast access to the Katunayake Expressway. Therefore the need for Phase 1 is very clear.”

However the controversial Phase 2 cutting across TEPA which will entail a heavy environmental cost needs to be reassessed including a detailed analysis of viable alternatives, maintains Prof. Weerakoon.

Pix credit: C. Kirinde

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Mövenpick Celebrates 5 years of Gratitude



General Manager – Mövenpick Hotel Colombo Roshan Perera has over 30+ years in the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka, Roshan has worked with multiple International and local brands – from the likes of Intercontinental Hotels, Taj Hotels and Palaces as well as multiple world class Sri Lankan Hotels.

Prior to joining the Mövenpick family, he served as a Director/CEO Laugfs Leisure Ltd managing the flagship brand of Anantaya Resorts & Spas.

With his continued efforts in professional development and numerous qualifications, Roshan is recognized by the American Hotel & Lodging Institute under the Certified Hotel Administrator programme. Meanwhile

Director of Sales and Marketing – Mövenpick Hotel Padmi Fernando, seasoned Sales and Marketing professional with 18 years of experience managing and leading teams across Sales, Marketing, PR, Reservations and Revenue Management of leading International and Local Hotel Brands.

Before joining Mövenpick, she also had Senior Management roles with Taj Hotels Sri Lanka, Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts and the Trans Asia Hotel.

Padmi is also a recipient of the prestigious Pioneer Woman Leader Award (2019) at the 6th World Women Leadership Congress and Awards organized by CMO Asia. Both the GM and Sales and Marketing manager spoke of thier success and challenges of the hotel.

What is the theme of the 5th Year Anniversary, on gratitude?

A: Padmi Fernando: Having faced many remarkable highs in our 5 years of existence and also some very deep lows caused by varied tumultuous challenges, we felt that our five-year Anniversary theme for Mövenpick Colombo is about, ‘Celebrating 5 years of Gratitude’. Essentially all of us at Mövenpick Colombo take this opportunity to celebrate our customers and partners, whose loyalty supported the Hotel and gave us wings to fly high and rise above tough times. Having had the support of our guests from all corners of the world have helped us remain filled with purpose and a sense of optimism. This celebrations is completely dedicated to our guests to make them feel valued and appreciated.

What are your plans to celebrate the 5th year anniversary?


Padmi Fernando: Well, to showcase our appreciation of our guests and partners, we curated meticulously planned ‘Gratitude Offers’. This includes a 25% discount which will be presented at any restaurant of our guests’ choice, on all a la carte meals. We also give guests a reason to celebrate with our extended 3-hour Happy Hour at Vistas, which will start from 5pm till 8pm daily. Robata Grill and Lounge, the Hotel’s Asian Inspired Restaurant will also gift a free bottle of wine to diners who dine in groups of five, in addition to the 25% discount available on a la carte.

Meanwhile Ayu, will serve a special Weekend Celebration Buffet. This special Buffet will be available and will also feature a mouthwatering kiddies’ buffet selection, making it a scrumptious celebration for the whole family.

We have also designed some incredible staycation deals, with all-inclusive Junior Suite offers with special pampering touches such as breakfast in bed and, high tea for two at Ayu restaurant. This is in addition to a host of other remarkable room deals for a relaxing break to unwind and recharge after a tough 2021.

How are you facing covid and what guidelines are you following at Group level?


Padmi Fernando: The health and safety of our guests and employees have been our absolute priority. We are proud to have won the AccorHotels Group ALLSAFE label verified by Clifton, an international independent party. This represents our new elevated hygiene protocols and standards and provides assurance that these standards have been met in our hotel. We have introduced intensified hygiene and prevention measures to ensure the safety of every single person who is welcomed through our doors. We are doing everything possible to reassure our guests and to anticipate their health and safety needs for a pleasant and satisfying stay.

Q: What did the Movenpick brand introduce to the hospitality industry in Colombo when it launched 5 years ago?


Roshan Perera: Movenpick Colombo was the first new International Hotel to open after 30 years, signifying a new and modern era in hospitality. At Mövenpick we are passionate about ‘making moments’. We recognise that small gestures make a big difference to our guests, our owners and our people. We do ordinary things in an extraordinary way – a philosophy that has defined our brand’s success from the very start. Historically Movenpick is a global Hotel Chain with Swiss roots and a restaurant and hospitality heritage that dates back to the 1940s. Movenpick’s very DNA is its F&B and is what the brand is globally famed for. This culinary prowess allows us to take our valued guests on an intriguing gastronomic journey. Our rooms are stunning and artistically appointed, and I would say that overall, our modern and upscale Movenpick brand invites guests to a one-of-a-kind, stylishly vertical urban experience. This has made us the hotel of choice for guests who travel on both business and leisure.

For the greater part of Movenpick’s existence it has faced challenges that heavily affected the hospitality industry. How have you overcome this?


Roshan Perera: There is no doubt that the Movenpick Team is resilient and harbours a deep sense of unity. Most of our staff have been with us since pre-opening and have showcased their loyalty and commitment through the highs and the lows. The Easter bombings and subsequent global pandemic affected us deeply along with the rest of the industry. However, standing strong and united and facing all the challenges that came our way with agility has allowed us to weather the storms. Our focused strategies combined with the robust backing of the Softlogic Group was also undoubtedly the wind beneath our wings that pushed us forward. We have enthusiastically embraced change and new ways of operating with speed and that has made all the difference.

Movenpick Hotels & Resorts come under the wings of the AccorHotels Group, while Softlogic Group owns the Hotel. How does this affect your products and services?


Roshan Perera: I would say that being part of these two giant entities makes our Hotel a remarkable brand powered by two highly respected forces. AccorHotels is a world-leading travel and lifestyle Group comprising 5000 hotels, resorts and residences accounting for over one million rooms worldwide. Meanwhile Softlogic Holdings PLC, is one of Sri Lanka’s most dynamic and progressive conglomerates, with industry headship in six business verticals, growing rapidly under an astutely visionary and trailblazing Leadership. The conglomerate is responsible for bringing the world’s most loved and luxurious global brands to the shores of Sri Lanka. This impeccable combination has allowed us to provide an unmatched hospitality experience to Sri Lanka.

What is the greatest challenge that the industry is facing?


Roshan Perera: The biggest challenge that we as an industry are currently facing is the retention of employees. In order to reduce diminishing talent, the industry must have a sustainable long term plan that benchmarks against international opportunities to keep Sri Lankan employment competitive. If not the industry will be pushed to source talent from overseas to bridge the gaps.

What are your plans for the future?


Roshan: We are excited about the many plans we have in the pipelines. We are working towards launching two new restaurants by quarter 2 of 2022. There are additional plans to launch more eclectic restaurants and unique offerings to provide patrons of Colombo with brand-new dining experiences. We are eager to see what the future holds and look forward to another vibrant and exhilarating 5 years ahead, helping our wonderful guests to continue making unique and unforgettable Movenpick moments.

With over 30+ years in the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka, Roshan has worked with multiple International and local brands – from the likes of Intercontinental Hotels, Taj Hotels and Palaces as well as multiple world class Sri Lankan Hotels.

Prior to joining the Mövenpick family, he served as a Director/CEO Laugfs Leisure Ltd managing the flagship brand of Anantaya Resorts & Spas.

With his continued efforts in professional development and numerous qualifications, Roshan is recognized by the American Hotel & Lodging Institute under the Certified Hotel Administrator program.

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Singapore’s Kavita Thulasidas is back at Lady Hilton



Kavita Thulasidas the creative and managing director of Stylemart Singapore, who wowed Colombo with her stunning creations at her unforgettable show Threads of Time, will be back with her breathtaking outfits at the Lady Hilton Tea which will be held on February 11 at the Lab, Hilton Colombo.

Kavita and her Sri Lankan partner Anita Dorai who incidentally is also from Singapore are looking forward to working with the Hilton once again. “Since our fashion extravaganza Threads of Time the fashion event of the year; was cancelled due to Covid. However we now feel that the time is ripe h for another fashion show , said Anita and Kavita. “I also have an outlet at One Galle Face Mall which I opened soon after Threads of Time and as Colombo has taken very well to my designs, I felt the time was indeed right to showcase a new collection here in beautiful Sri Lanka”, said Kavita.

Kavita said her outfits have been made for the Colombo market taking into consideration the aesthetics, price points and upcoming occasions for this time of the year. “I have kept the outfits simple and easy to wear. The outfits in this collection are light fabrics and embroideries are balanced and not too over the top with s deisgn attention given more attention to the cuts and styles ,

These are designs suitable to wear for an elegant evening out, as well as outfits for weddings and festive occasions”.

The outfits will be priced reasonably. Clothes will be on sale both at the Hilton and thereafter at the Store at One Galle Face Mall. The sale will go on for a period of five days , from the 14th February to the 20th February. Kavita also said that she has some designs in production with sizes which could be executed made to measure.

Kavita will be using Sri Lankan models and once again Brian Kerkoven will be her choreographer with all models being from his model agency. A total of 60 outfits will be showcased and Colombo’s fashion elite are indeed in for a treat!

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Giving Sri Lankan street dogs love, respect and a home



by Zanita Careem

An epitome of courage and wisdom, she is one of the top entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, founder of Sri Lanka’s most stylish department where she served as Managing Director. Otara Gunawardena is truly inspirational.

She has earned many awards and notched several achievements. She was awarded the best female entrepreneur award at the Seventh US Stevie awards for Women in Business and 2018 Women of the Year Award by Women in Management (WIM).

Embark has become a popular brand. How do you account for it, its beginnings and its progress?

“Back in 2007, pedigreed dogs were popularly in demand but there were countless street dogs who needed care and love. Many of them were abused and unwanted. I wanted to change their circumstance and initiated Embark with the dream of providing a better life for our Sri Lanka’s street dogs and to give them the love, respect and the home they deserve.

“The brand was set up so that the profits would support the work we do with street dogs. It was also meant to help people to live a lifestyle supporting the cause and being ambassadors for the dogs with the clothing they wear. Most of the T- shirts have slogans conveying a positive message about street dogs in a fun way and many items became popular fashion statements.”

Explain the concept behind embark and the advocacy campaign for the welfare of homeless dogs?

“The concept was to make the street dog fashionable to own. And we have succeeded in doing so as more than 6,000 street pups have been re-homed, more than 60,000 vaccinated and sterilized throughout the island. Close to 35,000 plus street dogs have been rescued and treated over the last 15 years. Many people also now do their own rescues and adoptions.

“Embark mainly provides free medical treatment for sick and injured street dogs, the majority without owners. We also help find homes for pups who are abandoned on the streets. Besides the direct rescues we do there is also a foster network who rescues these pups, looks after them temporarily whilst we provide the required medical care – vaccinations, de-worming etc. and bring them to our monthly adoption programs where they find forever homes. We carried out many sterilization programs throughout the country and ensure there is population control within the street dog population in Sri Lanka. We also have a free medical clinic weekly at our head office in Colombo where we provide vaccinations, treatments and sterilizations for street/ adopted dogs.

What is your main focus in initiating this project?

“As explained previously, the main reason behind Embark is to give our Sri Lankan street dogs the love, respect and most of all the home that they deserve.”

Don’t you ever find the work you’re doing depressing and do you find any changes for the better?

“Sadly, the situation is quite dire in Sri Lanka but it has definitely improved from the past. There is now a no kill policy and sometimes there are programs of vaccination and sterilization implemented but unfortunately not done well. There is a lot more awareness and concern with people now against cruelty and also many more helping stray animals than before. However, there is still a lot of cruelty to elephants, an increase in terrible pet shops which are filled with suffering animals, cruel pedigree breeding, inhuman zoos, animals suffering in captivity etc.

“Lack of laws is a big issue too, something that has not changed despite many governments that have come and gone. It can be quite depressing to be aware of the cruelty and see it daily in a country such as ours where the need for compassion is stressed. We just do what we can each day to make a positive difference in the current situation.”

What has been the highlight of setting up Embark?

“Well, there are many, but I can say it has been rewarding to see a paralysed dog walk again, a dog who was severely ill recover and a rescued pup finding their forever home and living the best possible life. These may seem small achievements but they are close to my heart and I am glad I am able to help these amazing beings recover and live a good life. “

What are your programs to improve and protect animals and the environment in Sri Lanka?

“Embark under, Otara Foundation has been working on improving the lives of street dogs throughout the country, conducting rescue and re-homing initiatives whilst managing the canine population and preventing rabies through sterilization and vaccination programs across the country. Most of the rescues and treating of the injured are focused in the Western Province, but we do try our best to reach as best as we can in other areas.

“Embark has been at the forefront influencing policy in relation to animals and playing a vital role in making a significant change in the lives of animals and people alike.

“The Otara Foundation works with its accredited partners to promote large and medium-scale reforestation projects in the country. In addition, because it is the Foundation’s mandate that all life matters and every little effort is a step in the right direction, we support and promote smaller individual initiatives in reforestation and replanting. I personally advocate a better life for animals, speak out on behalf of the animals and participate in awareness.”

Any drawbacks?

“I can only look at the change I have been able to make for animals and the environment and be grateful for what’s been achieved. The drawbacks are knowing how much more we need to do and can be done if there was conscious caring leadership as a lot of bigger change has to be initiated from the top.”

How does it feel being a female entrepreneur?

“It has been a challenging yet enjoyable journey. I am happy to have been able to change the direction of retail and fashion in Sri Lanka and to give a lot more women hope to follow their dreams and be who they want to be.”

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