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Proposed elevated highway in Athurugiriya faces major environmental roadblock

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by Ifham Nizam

Residents in and around Thalangama wetland area have sought legal assistance from the Centre for Environmental Justice against the proposed construction of an Elevated Highway over Thalangama Environmental Protected Area.

When contacted, CEJ Executive Director/ Environmental Scientist Hemantha Withanage told The Island they would file legal action against the proposed construction. Withanage said that they had already written to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Director General, P.B. Hemantha Jayasinghe in that regard.

Withanage said that they were not happy with the CEA, stressing that it should be focusing more on environmental aspects.

Speaking on World Wetlands Day, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stressed the importance of conserving in the process of development and how inappropriate development activities led to environmental degradation and wetland destruction.

The CEA said that they had sought the Attorney General’s advice on whether it could grant approval for any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Withanage said he believed that the Attorney General’s Department should consider the fact that the said project would ruin a biodiversity hotspot.

The Road Development Authority’s proposed elevated highway across the protected Thalangama wetland and Averihena tank has been heavily criticised by the residents as well environmentalist groups claiming it as a nationally and internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot included in the Ramsar Convention.

 The 10.4km stretch of highway is the second phase of a 17.3km project from New Kelani Bridge in Orugodawatte to Athurugiriya. About 3.15km of road crosses the Averihena Tank and surrounding paddy fields, which are part of the Thalangama wetland, gazetted as an Environmental Protected Area (EPA), according to CEJ Legal Officer K Nimmi Sanjeewani.

“Even if an EIA is done, we will protest it as what is proposed is not an approved activity under the EPA gazette,” CEA Director General Hemantha Jayasinghe told the media.

According to Withanage, the protected area spans nearly 118 hectares and permitted uses of the Thalangama EPA as listed in Schedule II of the said Gazette, include cultivation of paddy, fishing, nature trails and construction of towers for the observation of birds, an environmental education information center and a sales outlet and the construction of a security post. The Schedule III list out the conditions subject to which the permitted uses can be carried out.

Withanage also said that recognising the uniqueness and the importance of the Thalangama Wetlands and owing to its ecological, hydrological and historical importance it was declared as an Environmental Protected Area (EPA) under the National Environmental Act (NEA) No.47 of 1980 (as amended) in 2007.

He said wetlands and EPA supported a rich ecosystem that hosted thousands of species of exotic flora, over a hundred different species of resident, endemic and migratory birds, several species of butterflies and dragonflies, a few species of damselflies, reptiles and amphibians, and some small mammals. It was also a paradise for birds.



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Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded

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The Embassy official who was attached to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Oman who is accused of being involved in a human trafficking racket was arrested by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and remanded till the 13th of December when he was produced before the Colombo Chief Magistrate

The official was arrested on his arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) this morning (29 November).

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Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death

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By Norman Palihawadane

A 38-year-old Easter Sunday terror attack suspect was hacked to death yesterday morning (28) in Mattakkuliya.

The victim, Mohamed Badurdeen Mohamed Harnas, was a resident of Safiya Avenue, Mattakkuliya, police said.

A suspect in the Easter Sunday terror attacks, he had been released on bail.

The suspect was rushed to the National Hospital, Colombo, after three individuals, who arrived in a car around 10. 00 am, attacked him.

Two persons attacked the man while the other was keeping the car engine running, according to eyewitnesses. The attackers thereafter fled in the same car.

Harnas was pronounced dead on admission to hospital.

Further investigations in this regard are currently underway.

The victims family members said that Harnas had been taken into custody, following the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, but later released as there was no evidence of his involvement in terrorist activities.

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Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months

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Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament yesterday that the railway services between Mahawa and Jaffna will be suspended for a period of five months in 2023.

The Minister said that operations will be suspended from January 15, 2023.

The Minister said it was to repair work on the railway line.

He said so in response to a question raised by Vanni District MP Selvam Adaikalanathan.

“We are focusing our attention on the request made by you. We have to halt railway operations between Mahawa and Jaffna for five months from January 2023. Train services have been continuously operating to Jaffna, but now we have faced a situation as we have not been able to carry out any repair work thus far,” the Minister said.

Assuring that this issue can be rectified in five months, Minister Gunawardane said that, thereafter, a good railway service can be provided for this route.

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