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Rape of Sinharaja  continues as demarcated buffer zone not acquired

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There were vast extents of land belonging to the Land Reform Commission (LRC) adjacent to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area, and some of it had been cleared to plant tea, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara alleged yesterday.

Speaking about threats to Sinharaja, he told The Island that realising it the then Cabinet had decided, on August 04, 2004, to acquire and connect a 500 metre buffer zone to the Sinharaja forest. “That decision was taken as the LRC, under which most of the lands fell, had been releasing large tracts of land to hoteliers, plantation companies and other investors, thus jeopardising the future of the world heritage site.” Such action had led to the loss of habitat of endemic species and catchment forests, he said.

“It was expected to acquire 2,490 hectares for forest land. These forests were Murakele estate (50.4 hectares,) Fab Estate (181.3 hectares,) Ilumbakanda estate (567 hectares,) Morning Side estate (55.4 hectares,) canter estate (130 hectares,) Gaze estate (137.5 hectares,) Gonhela estate (137.9 hectares,) Ebaros estate (35.4 hectares,) Bakware estate (109.9 hectares,) Kondurugala estate (99 hectares) and Dambahena estate (8.6 hectares) of Ratnapura District; Enasal estate (436 hectares,) Kurugala estate (188 hectares,) Beverly estate (28 hectares) and Hemagiri estate (40 hectares) in Matara District and Homadola estate (304 hectares) in Galle District. These are lands that were released to various plantation companies by the LRC.”

Although the Cabinet had approved the acquiring of those lands, the Forest Conservation Department had not been able to do so for 16 years and that had led to the expansion of tea and Cardamom plantations at the expense of the rainforest, Chamikara said.

The environmental minister of the previous government, former President Maithripala Sirisena, gazetted the annexation of 13 proposed forest reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. With that the total land area of the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area was to increase to 30, 000 hectares.

“This permitted the absorption of the proposed Ayagama, Delgoda, Dellawa, Delmella-Yatagampitiya, Diyadawa, Kobahadukanda, Morapitiya-Runakanda-Neluketiya Mukalana, Warathalgoda, Silverkanda, Handapanella, Gongala and Paragala reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. Although Sirisena signed the gazette almost a year ago, it still hasn’t been published,” Chamikara said.

The environmentalist added that although former President Maithripala Sirisena had signed the gazette over a year back, it not been published and regional politicians and their business partners were planning to use the LRC lands adjoining the Sinharaja to widen roads to facilitate the expansion of tea plantations and hotels. The people who live around Sinharaja, who had been promised improved facilities, were being misled by those elements, Chamikara said.

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EC member Hoole moves SC against 20A

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Petitions challenging 20A before five-judge bench of SC today 

By Chitra Weerarathne

Petitions filed in the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, will be called before a five-judge bench today.

These petitions have said that people’s approval at a referendum as well as a two-thirds majority in Parliament will be needed to enact the Bill.

All the petitions have basically said that the Bill has a section, which says a dual citizen can contest to enter the Parliament of Sri Lanka and run for President threatened national security.

The petitions challenge the powers vested in the President. The President could sack the Prime Minister and the Ministers. Once the Bill becomes law, fundamental rights petitions could not be filed to challenge an act of the President, the petitions have pointed out.

The investigating powers of the Auditor General have been curtailed. The powers vested in the Elections Commission when an election is on is also limited, the petitioners have argued.

The petitions have requested the Supreme Court to declare that a two-thirds majority in Parliament and people’s approval at a referendum will be needed to enact the proposed amendment.

Among the petitioners are Elections Commission member Ratnajeevan Hoole, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, Attorney-at-Law Indika Gallage, Mayantha Dissanayake, S. J. B. Member of Parliament for the Kandy District and also the President of the Youth League of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya.

The Supreme Court bench will comprise the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare, Justice Sisira de Abrew, Justice S. Thurairajah and Justice Vijith K. Malalgoda.

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Senasinghe announces quitting politics

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By Akitha Perera

Former non-cabinet minister of the yahapalana government Sujeewa Senasinghe announced yesterday that he would quit politics. 

He had also stepped down as the SJB Deputy Secretary, Senasinghe said. 

Senasinghe said that he intended to focus on his business in the future and that he would commence work on his PhD from January 2021. 

He unsuccessfully contested the Aug 05 general election from the Colombo district on SJB ticket.

Senasinghe commenced his political career as a member of the Western Provincial Council of the UNP. He was elected to Parliament twice from the same party. 

He earned notoriety by publishing a book denying the bond scam ever took place.

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Pujith insists his hands were tied during crucial period 

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

He had been aware that the activities and preaching of Islamists would have an impact on reconciliation, but those in higher positions were convinced otherwise, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, yesterday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

The ex-IGP said that although he too had received information about activities of Islamic extremists by late 2018, he had been barred from the National Security Council (NSC) by then.

“I couldn’t share the information I had and I didn’t know what was discussed there. I couldn’t even assign a senior officer to represent me there.”

Jayasundara added that after he had received, on April 09, a report from State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Nilantha Jayawardena about a possible terrorist attack, he forwarded the report to SDIG of Western Province, Nandana Munasinghe, SDIG crimes and STF M.R. Latheef, DIG special protection range Priyalal Dasanayake and Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division, Waruna Jayasundara and spoke to them over the phone.

Jayasundara said that he had also phoned all SDIGs in charge of provinces. The witness added that he had wanted to ensure that there would not be a leak, causing unnecessary problems in society.

“For example, the letter I sent to the Special Protection Range (SPR) was leaked to the media after the attacks.”

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