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SJB asks why govt. that promised to increase forest cover has taken away 700,000 acres from Wildlife

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By Saman Indrajith

The government that came to power promising to increase the forest cover by 30 percent had now handed over 700,000 acres of land belonging to the Wildlife Conservation Department to Divisional and District secretaries, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella told parliament yesterday.

 The Chief Opposition Whip asked the government to inform the House of the rationale behind placing lands under the purview of the Divisional and District secretaries.

“The government has, through Gazette No 1 of 2020, shifted the ownership of 700,000 of acres from Wildlife Conservation to the divisional and district secretaries. In his policy Manifesto President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to increase the forest cover of the country by 30 percent. Would you be able to increase the forest cover by placing them under Divisional and District secretaries? The objective is clear. The government is paving the way for the alienation of the forest lands.”

Kiriella said that many youth had raised their concerns in social media in this regard but the government had not yet responded.

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the forest lands under the Wildlife Department would not be given away for other purposes and requested the Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation C.B. Ratnayake to respond.

Minister Ratnayake said that he would give a detailed response at a later date and added that the forests belonging to the Wildlife Department would not be given away. “Only the ownership of the lands in the buffer zone would be transferred. This is done to rectify some errors. There are some lands belonging to the Wildlife Department but already utilised for other purposes. They should be transferred. For example in some towns such as Ratgama and Ambalangoda in the Galle District there are lands belonging to the Wildlife Department. For example, in Ambalangoda the land area covering a school, the bus stand and market belongs to the Wildlife Department. Ampara town is sitting in a land designated as a sanctuary. These errors should be rectified. Shouldn’t we do so? I would give a detailed answer later.”

 Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana said that buffer zones of the forests were also part of those forests. “They are like the coronary arteries of the heart. When you damage and destroy the buffer zone the forest is not safe.”



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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