Sinharaja forest reserve desecrated: Rajapakse family accused of destroying national heritage for personal benefit
*Illegal road slicing through World Heritage site
*Namal Rajapakse said to be behind project which will destroy virgin rain forest
*Rajapakses’ political bulldozing deals death blow to endemic species of fauna and flora
*Environment Conservation Trust vows to take legal action
*Govt official refutes allegations Rajapakse family involved
*Official threatens this website with legal action if anything written against Rajapakses
The proposed illegal construction of a road brutally slicing through one of Sri Lanka’s World Heritage Sites and
masterminded by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s eldest son Namal Rajapakse has conservationists and natural scientists in a furor.
Sponsors of the illegal construction claim they have obtained Road Development Authority approval a government body conveniently coming under the direct supervision of President Mahinda Rajapake who is also the Minister for Road Development and Highways.
The 8 km stretch of asphalt to facilitate easy access to another one of the Rajapakse heir apparent’s projects, a luxury hotel in the middle of the virgin rain forest, will destroy endemic species and disturb many rare communities of fauna and flora.
Certainly to the Rajapakse family now drunk with power, nothing is sacred. Saturated with a sense of undeserved entitlement, they think nothing of uprooting endemic species, destroying nature reserves, slashing pristine forests and desecrating world heritage sites to foist their warped version of economic progress peppered with hefty commissions for themselves, on the people of Sri Lanka.
For those who love and cherish these gifts of nature the Sinharaja rain forest is a wondrous site to behold. Of international significance it has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Saved from commercial logging
The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests ecoregion, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988. It is even more precious to planet earth as it is only a small treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals – just 21 km (13 mi) from east to west, and a maximum of 7 km (4.3 mi) from north to south.
The advertisements and posters in and around the area regarding the road proudly state that it is being constructed under the auspices of Hambantota district MP Namal Rajapakse, and is a road said to connect the electoral district of Rakwana to
that of Sooriyakanda.
Foundation stone laid
Shocking as it may sound the foundation stone for the road from Ilumbakanda to Sooriyakanda through the Sinharaja reserve had already been laid on 27 July with residents and scientists up in arms over the wanton destruction with questions raised as to who had given approval for such a road construction where endemic animal species, fauna and flora are in abundance.
“Sinharaja is a national heritage wilderness area declared by the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act No: 3 of 1988. Hence this has to be maintained according to the Act and no one is allowed to destroy this heritage site,” Jagath Gunawardena attorney at law specializing in Environmental laws told Lanka Independent (LI).
Proposal tabled on July 18
The proposal to construct the 8km road through the Sinharaja reserve was tabled at the Divisional Coordinating Committee Kalawana (DCCK) in the Ratnapura district on 18 July 2011 by its Chairman ruling party Parliamentarian Jagath Wakkumbura.
“Wakkumbura who presided at the DCCK on July 18, informed the committee members that this road has to be constructed
to provide easy access to the Southern province from the Sabaragamuwa province,” said Director Environment Conservation Trust Sajeewa Chamakara.
It was obviously a project that Namal and his coterie of government helpers knew they had to bull doze through with no time given for reflection as it was obviously construction taking place without proper procedure and permissions obtained and from information received by Lanka Independent this is exactly what had taken place.
According to Chamakara, Wakkumbura has presented this proposal to the DCCK on the request of the heir apparent to the Rajapakse dynasty and MP for Hambantota district Namal Rajapakse.
“We understand the motive behind this road construction was to provide easy access to a hotel project by the young Rajapakse which is to come up very shortly in the Sinharaja forest,” claimed Mr.Chamakara.
Confirming these facts and demonstrating the disregard for procedure or law, on July 27, just nine days after the proposal was tabled at the DCCK, the road construction work was initiated.
Posters boast of Namal funding
Shamelessly at Kalawana in the Ratnapura district hundreds of propaganda posters were put up boasting the road construction project was being carried out with funds allocated to the project by by Namal Rajapakse.
“Without any appraisal how did the party concerned obtain the necessary approvals to construct a road through the Sinharaja forest reserve?” queried Mr. Chamakara. According to him, this stretch of forests belongs to the Land Reclamation Commission (LRC).
Authorities also to blame
The authorities are not without blame. Lackadaizical and apathetic the Ministry of Environment is also being accused of not doing its job.
“This particular stretch of forest belongs to the Land Reclamation Commission (LRC). However under a special cabinet paper PS/ CS/26/2004 of July 22, 2004, the Forest Department was allowed to acquire forests within the radius of 500 meters from the Sinharaja boundary. Although this is so the acquiring process is yet to be initiated due to the Environment Ministry’s lethargic attitude,” says Mr. Chamakara.
Approvals not taken from FD, CEA
Mr. Chamakara also told Lanka Independent the parties concern has failed to take the necessary approvals either from the
Forest Department, the LRC or from the Central Environment Authority (CEA).
ECT to take legal action
The Environment Conservation Trust has vowed it will take action if the roadwork is not stopped immediately. The construction will deal a death blow to the animal, fauna and flora population in Sinharaja the Lanka Independent learns.
“This proposed road is to run through Ensalwatte and Handapan Ella where endemic fauna and flora are in abundance and also varieties of endemic amphibians are found. If this proposed plan goes ahead ignoring the adverse environment aspects, most of the endemic species, faun and flora will become extinct in the very near future,” Mr. Chamakara said.
Among the amphibians that are found in Handapan Ella five are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Philautus simba,Philautus papillosus, Polypedates fastigo, Philautus lunatus and Philautus procax.
“Apart from the amphibians the forest community here too consists of endemic trees and plants. It is not only the Sinharaja
forest that is rich in bio diversity, these adjoining forests too are rich in bio diversity,” he added.
Destroying national heritage for personal benefit
Accusing the politicians in the country of destroying the national heritage for their personal benefit Chamakara said that 21 endemic amphibian species have already become extinct during the past century according to the surveys that have been carried out by environmentalists.
“From year 1900 to 2000, 34 rare amphibian species have been extinct from all over the world out of which 21 were endemic to Sri Lanka. According to environmental reports the reason for this in Sri Lanka was the deforestation by the colonialists for tea plantations especially in the hill country. Excessive use of fertilizer was one reason,” Mr. Chamakara said.
It is learnt that road kill would be yet another cause for the extinction of forest population once the road is constructed. Once the vehicles start moving through the forests, amphibian and reptile populations will decline due to regular road kill. Apart from that once the microhabitat gets fragmented the population would be decline.
On July 25 the Environment Conservation Trust sent letters to the Environment Ministry and Forest Department urging
them to take immediate action against the parties concerned for violating environmental laws.
Forest Department angry
It is reliably understood that the Forest Department too despite the big names involved have come out strongly against the said road construction although they have failed to prevent the construction work.
In fact Tudor Rajapaksa the Secretary Highways and Road Development Ministry was the Chief Guest at the inauguration of the Ilumbakanda- Sooriyakanda road construction work on July 25 at Kalawana.
Ratnapura district PA Parliamentarian Janaka Wakkumbura, Peopl’es Alliance (PA) organizer for Kalawana electorate and Provincial Council Member Chaminda Indrapriya and Chairman Kalawana Pradeshiya Sabhawa Wijitha Karunaratne too were present at the opening ceremony.
Janaka Wakkumbura contacted
Lanka Independent contacted PA Member of Parliament Janaka Wakkumbura to inquire who gave the approval for the road construction through the Sinharaja forest reservation. One Sena who identified himself as Wakkumbura’s secretary and said to be an Education Director told the LI that they got the approval from the Road Development Authority (RDA).
These are RDA properties
“These lands have been given to the RDA through a gazette notification in 1947. Since there was a great necessity for a road from
Ilumbakanda to Sooriyakanda through Ensalwatte and Handapan Ella we made a request to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Considering the plight of the villagers, President gave his blessings for the road construction,” claimed Sena.
Accusing media of blocking development work
When queried as to how he could claim these lands are RDA properties when a special cabinet approval has been given to the Forest Department to acquire these LRC lands, Sena was speechless for a moment and accused the media of attempting to block development work under the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’
“Why cannot the media highlight the development projects initiated by this government rather than criticizing,” he asked.
Don’t drag Namal
When asked about the estimated cost and whether this was a brainchild of Namal Rajapakse, Sena refuted allegations saying ‘don’t ever try to drag Namal Rajapaksa’s name to this. He has nothing to do with this.”
Sena further said that the RDA has already allocated Rs.50 million for the project but added that he was not aware of the estimated cost.
When asked whether this road is being constructed to provide proper road access to the proposed hotel project of Namal Rajapaksa, Sena said that the Rajapaksa’s would never get involved in any such activities.
Threatening to take action against media
“Don’t write anything that would damage the good name of the Rajapaksa’s. If such a thing is written we are going to take legal action against that media institution,” threatened Sena.
Meanwhile Divisional Secretary Kalawana Nimalasena Gamage told the LI that he has not granted any approval for such a project but added that the Forest Department was not pleased about this road construction.
“First this land does not come under me and there is no necessity to request any approval from me. Secondly when I met some Forest Department officials I knew from their body language that they too do not like this project,” said Gamage.
When contacted Director General, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Ms. Ellepola said that the CEA has not granted any approval for such a road construction.
“How could we give approval for an illegal construction? This is a world heritage site and no one is allowed to do any constructions within this site,” she said. She said it was upto the Forest Department to take strict action against such
moves as the Sinharaja forest belongs to the Forest Department.
“Before obtaining the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report from the CEA, the parties concerned should take the FD approval which cannot be obtained,” she added.
FD denies giving any approval
Meanwhile Conservator General Forest Department, H.M.P. Hettisekara told the LI that his department had not given any permission nor were any requests for an approval made.
When it was brought to Mr. Hettisekera’s notice that the party concerned claimed to have taken Road Development Authority (RDA) approval, he (Hettisekera) queried as to why an approval has been taken from the RDA when it should have been obtained either from the Forest Department or the Land Reclamation Commission–depending on under who’s charge those lands are.
“Legal action could be taken against them for violating the rules and regulations,” Conservator General Hettisekera said.
However when the Lanka Independent contacted Chairman Road Development Authority R.W.R. Pemasiri, he promised to furnish all the details within 24 hours. Lanka Independent called Pemasiri the following day and when he identified this journalists as the caller he cut off the telephone line. Several attempts to contact him again failed and disconnected by Mr. Pemasiri.
We then contacted Mr. Pemasiri from a different telephone number, he (Chairman RDA) answered the phone and once again disconnect the line when this journalist identified herself from the Lanka Independent website.
This too is a clear indication the Road Development Authority (RDA) which comes directly under President Mahinda Rajapaksa was funding his son Namal’s illegal project, environmental activists said.
All attempts to contact Tudor Rajapaksa Secretary Highways and Road Development Ministry were unsuccessful.
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