Tuesday, April 12, 2016

MR. PRIME MINISTER, YOU MUST KNOW WHY DUMPING GARBAGE TO ARUWAKKALU IS WRONG?

HEMANTHA WITHANAGE

We have learned that the former Director General of the Wildlife Department has been removed as he was against dumping garbage in Arruwakkaru. We believe that he has done his duty as a responsible officer.  Undoubtedly dumping colombo garbage in Arruwakkalu is a wrong concept.
The proposed land for dumping Colombo Garbage is located about 170 km away form Colombo and within the  Weerakulicholei- Eluwankulam proposed forest reserve. It is a land that is leased by the Forest Department to Puttalam cement Corporation. Leasing out the said land to Holcim is already an illegal act. Similarly, dumping of garbage in the said land is also illegal.
The proposed project is for open dumping of 1200 tons of unsorted garbage collected from the CMC area daily in Arruwakkaru old limestone mine of the Puttalam cement plant. In our opinion, the project objective should be how better manage the metropolitan garbage and not how to deal with the Meethotamulla garbage dump. In such a case, there are many other alternatives to this project.  

Sri Lanka generates more than 3000 tons of garbage daily, which is not only polluting Meethotamulla, but also over 300 locations in the country. This needs a much more different waste management policy which include the principles of “avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle” and sanitary landfill as found in the other middle-income countries and developed countries. Such a policy should include, awareness, separation of garbage at the generation point, introduction of extended producer responsibility, introducing and establishing all possible recycling facilities etc. If government can introduce such a policy, Sri Lanka can easily adopt zero waste strategies.

The project is located within one mile of the Wilpattu National park. The Wilpattu National Park (WNP) is situated on the east of the landfill site at a distance of about 300 m. The establishment of the proposed landfill site in such a close vicinity to an important and popular National Park, which is also an International Ramsar Wetland Conservation site seems to be more problematic. It needs  permission from  the Director General of the Department of Wildlife. Therefore, considering the importance of this national park, Ramsar Wetland this project is not feasible.

Transporting the unsorted, Colombo waste problem 170 km away from the city is not a solution at all.  According to the EIA, with necessary compaction, this garbage will be transferred to 20 feet containers at Meethotamulla Transfer Station, and then those containers will be transported to Aruwakkalu by train, using the existing railway line from Kolonnawa to Aruwakkalu via Puttalam. The waste containers will be unloaded at Aruwakkalu unloading station and transferred to the landfill site. This project seriously needs a cost estimate and an extended cost benefit analysis. This EIA is lacking both of these analyses.

Normal train transport of goods are approximately Rs. 925 per kilometer for a wagon with 45 tonnes capacity.  This project will transport 1200 MT daily, which is approximately 27 wagons a day.  It will cost (Rs. 925 x 170 km x 27  wagons)which is Rs. 4,245,750 a day. Therefore, the transport cost along will be 1,550 million Rupees per year. The project developers have failed to study this factor and this is a clear abuse of the public funds. Further, Metropolitan garbage contains  highly recyclable material. Although we don’t have figures, we believe that the annual dumping will value few thousands of millions Rupees. Such a value only can be shown in an extended cost benefit analysis.

The Holcim quarry site is also noted for its archaeological significance, as it supports a fossil belt belonging to the Miocene period mostly found invertebrate fossils. According to Rajeeve Yapa and others, Sri Lanka’s northern Tertiary deposit is vast, composed of fossiliferous limestone that hosts fossils dating to the Miocene and late Pleistocene. Surveys by early explorers recovered fossils of both invertebrates and vertebrates, of which the latter are considered important because the earliest vertebrate fossils found in Sri Lanka date to the Miocene (Deraniyagala, (1969b). Holicim is already destroying this archeological museum by blasting the lime stone for cement industry.

The dumping of waste will be on the lime stone quarry mine with high permeability. The impermeable layer does not give a hundred present assurance of damage according to the EIA. It may brake due to the blasting in the Holcim mining site. Therefore, if the leachate leaked to the aquifer it will destroy the ground water table.  More importantly, Tabbowa- Wavathavillu aquifer which is the best and the largest fresh water aquifer in Sri Lanka will be under threat of contamination. The proposed project is fundamentally wrong approach to the sustainable waste management solution for Sri Lanka.  There is a high possibility of destroying the Arruwakkaru dumping site and the railroad from Kolonnawa to Arruwakkaru due to the leachate.

As we know the former UDA officer Rohan Senevirathne serving under then Secretary Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakshe insisted the EML consultant not to include any alternative  when producing the EIA.  We have learned that the original EIA has mentioned the possible alternatives to the problem. 

Mr. Prime Minister,

Colombo garbage can be easily handle if you involve the public who are responsible for generating garbage.  Introducing zero waste policies, Managing recycling industry, introducing Extended Producer Responsibility, banning polythene, you can reduce the garbage problem and save millions of public funds you will be dumping in Arruwakkalu and along the railway line. You must manage garbage within the city and please do not pollute remote wildlife parks or community lands. (END)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

WHERE IS CENTRAL ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORITY?



HEMANTHA WITHANAGE

Port City, Wilpattu, Uma Oya, Yan Oya, Dole banana, Rathupaswela,  Mini hydro and many other environmental controversies are roaming on main media, social media, environmental circles, political stage and even inside the close rooms of the government authorities at national and divisional level.  The agencies and the political authorities that should be giving solutions to  these problems play mediocre rather than resolving burning environmental controversies. The Central Environmental Authority lost its credibility over the past decade and have much weaker position in fulfilling its duties. 

Politicizing  the CEA  over the last two decades is a great environmental disaster in Sri Lanka.  This happen when Minister Champika Ranawaka appointed Mr.  Udaya Gammanpila, a politician as the CEA Chairperson.   Since then most Chaipersons and some time even the Director General have appointed with no environmental background but to play the role which the political authority ask them to play. While some of the actions taken are good, often they made wrong environmental decision  to satisfy the political leadership.

CEA was not a corrupted agency until very recent. But it is one of the corrupted agency now. The officers unofficially produce the EIA/IEEs and approve them  later. We have heard that some of the waterfalls have been removed from the Waterfalls list in order to allow damming them for mini hydro project.  Some of the projects that need to go through the EIAs are requested to do an IEEs, so that they can avoid public commenting period. Some industries get the EPL without much hassle. EIA technical committees even comprise EIA consultants. It has failed to manage the E-waste, or even garbage problem. Likewise CEA has failed to arrest the natural resources destruction, environmental pollution and  failed conservation of the nature.


Rathupaswela incident happen due to the lack of a timely response to the public voice. CEA failed to stop environmental disaster in Uma Oya  since the known technical problems were not addressed in the approval stage.  Moragahakanda, Yan Oya projects also happened since the CEA was serving the political needs rather than environmental conservation as one of the mandate given  by the National Environmental Act.

CEA is not the only agency responsible for current environmental controversies in Sri Lanka. Forest Department, Wildlife Department and number of other agencies with environmental conservation as part of its mandate are responsible for the current crisis. But CEA is the main agency among them whose mandate is managing the environment in coordination with others.CEA has failed to listen to the environmental community for a long time.  

Ministry of Environment  and the CEA currently comes under the President himself.  Therefore everyone thinks that environmental conservation is a top priority and it is safe. But many wrong environmental decisions have taken under this leadership.  Some says Prime Minister is responsible for those bad decisions. However, the CEA is the right body to advise the top political leadership on environment.  If they  are ignorant or unskilled, then we cannot blame the politicians. 

Sri Lanka’s much of the natural wealth which can decide the future of Sri Lanka is in the hands of the CEA. Foreign industrial investments certainly are not our future.   Undoubtedly, we need more straight environmental  leadership to fulfil the CEAs mandate. Putting right people in the conservation hot seats and  act as a real conservation agency is a need of the day.(END)

Friday, April 08, 2016

WHY CHINA NEEDS COLOMBO PORT CITY?

HEMANTHA WITHANAGE

Colombo Port City is a clear case of the wrong policy of the past regime. Undoubtedly this is why the  Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe proclaimed  that he will scrap the Port City, once he come to power.  But he too is planning to go ahead without any changes, breaking the promises he made to the voters. Why this project is so powerful?
  
Undoubtedly the Colombo port city is feasible for China as its not a stand along project, but a strategic point of the China maritime Silk Route with One Road One belt strategy connecting Asia, Middle East and Europe. Its a business plan, political strategy and a security plan for China.

However, there is no study to prove that its feasible for Sri Lanka. It might suck the Sri Lankan economy and the  current business districts will become just down town. Those  medium and small businesses who are silent  on the Port City might be gone when they wake up.  Majority local businesses cannot afford to  have the properties in the Port City  according to the experts.

The government of Sri Lanka is dreaming about a  offshore financial market with the Port City. However Sri Lanka does not have regulations to govern the same. There is plenty of demand for gamblers  and fun seekers. This may be one way to  promote the proposed city.  The related social issues may be serious however, the main question we can raise today is whether this is environmentally feasible? 

This can be answered by reading the so called Environmental Impacts Assessment.  The Project will require 65 million cubic meters of sea sand and 3.45 million cubic meters of rock material.  Sea sand will be mining in more than 150 square kilo meter area between Colombo and Negombo up to the depth of 2 meters within a 3 year period.  Almost 15,000 fishermen depending on this fishing grounds.  Similarly , rock material will be transported from existing quarry sites in Kaduwela, Diviulapitya etc., and almost 3000  truck loads will hit the colombo traffic daily.  Most quarry sites already have social and environmental problems.  The EIA states that the project will relocate the operations in the Jaya Container terminal in the private terminals and sell the lands. This can be seen as a privatisation and selling public lands for outsiders. 

Chinese investors as well as certain politicians say that stopping the port city will loose USD 1.5 billion worth project.  However, they should aware that the sand and rock material they will be dumping to reclaim the sea is worth over USD 4 billion which own by the public in the country.  Under this agreement Sri Lanka do not get the equity for these natural resources.

Technically part of the project site  will be naturally filled with sea sand due to the obstruction of the sand movement by the South Harbour recently  completed without much public attention. Therefore it is safe to reclaim an area less than 100 hectares. But filling 269 hectares as proposed by the Chinese investor is detrimental to the coast and the fishermen livelihood. 

The proposed Magapolis plan to fill a small area for public recreation may be a more feasible project.  Yet the current regime is planning to sign the agreement with China to build the Colombo Port City as proposed by Chinese investor against the public wish is a failure of the Good Governance regime. 

The projects is funded by  the China Exim Bank , a loan given to the China Communication Construction Company(CCCC).  Sri Lanka is not responsible for this loan. The Sri Lankan counterpart of the port city is the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. It does not have a mandate to reclaim the ocean. Therefore, entering to an agreement with Chinese investor is a wrong act of the Ports authority. There is no reason to pay any cost to the Chinese investor for the delay or stopping the project when the agreement is illegal.

It is very much known that the EIA process conducted by the CCD and the concurrence approval given by the CEA is a fraud. CEA was forced to give the approval knowing that the CCD and the project developer failed to respond to the issues related to sand mining and others.  According to the Supplementary EIA, there is no adequate sand available in the proposed sites. Instead the SEIA propose to purchase sea sand from the SLRDC. The EIA for this purpose still not done. Therefore, CEA and CCD has no right to approve the project before this matter cleared.

These agencies have approved the project due to the strong political pressure.  It is better if the politicians with vested interest leave the  authorities to run an unbias EIA process. According to the Constitution article 27 (14) The State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community. It is the duty of the Citizens to make sure  the elected regime is respecting to the Constitution. (END)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saving Athwelthota Waterfall

Aesthetic beauty is something that everyone appreciates but very few cares. Injuring the scenic beauty has rapid increase in the industrial era of the world. Over 400 waterfalls is a major landscape that contribute to the mother lanka’s natural beauty. However Sri Lanka is loosing these waterfalls due to the irresponsible development activities mainly for hydropower generation.

The permission given to Sakura Energy, a company own by Dhammika Ranathunga  to injure Athwelthota waterfall also known as Pilithuda waterfall is now under reconsideration by the Project approving agencies i.e. Central Environmental Authority and the Forest Department. The project is planning to add 1.5 MW energy capacity to at to the national grid.

Mini hydropower project is Sri Lanka are deadly to the Sri Lanka’s waterfalls, one of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. Watawala waterfall, Naya Ganga  falls, etc have been already destroyed. Even the beauty of St. Clair waterfall is now regulated. The permission has given to Sakura Energy mini Hydro project located in Morapitiya on the basis that there is no waterfall in the Athwelthota river which is connecting to Palan Ganga and a tributary of Kaluganga.  Is this true?

Can Athwelthota-Pilithuda waterfall be count as a waterfall?

The Initial Environmental Examination does not mention this as a waterfall.  During the technical evaluation stage a so-called waterfall expert has also concluded that this is not a “waterfall” but a “water drop”. 

According to the Lanka Council of waterfalls (LCWF), the only index available in the country Pilithuda is a 5-meter high waterfall.  Sri Lanka has much smaller waterfall too. This waterfall is located in a river flowing down from Sinharaja rainforest. It used to have much more water before the infamous logging of Sinharaja in the 70s. Due to the fast flowing water Pilithuda waterfall has created a deeper hole and often times entire waterfall cannot be seen.

How tall must a waterfall be to count and a waterfall?  This is not only a question to us, but other countries are asking the same question. To answer this question I quote the following section from an article appeared on the “world of waterfalls.” 

“We’re basing our answer on how height plays into its aesthetics and shape. In other words, does the waterfall’s geometry make it both obvious and pleasing to the eye? For example, Angel fall and Iguazu fall are obviously waterfalls of differing heights and widths yet they’re aesthetically pleasing while being geometrically obvious that you indeed have a waterfall here. However, what if you have a 5ft tall waterfall (not even 2m) and it looks like a waterfall if the stream is narrow enough?  Ordeville Canyon Waterfall falls under this category. I’m sure there will be people who say this is not tall enough to be a waterfall. But if we didn’t tell you the height and you just looked at the photo, would you have called it a waterfall? So why did this waterfall get attention when there are thousands (maybe millions) of other miniscule ones that don’t even get noticed?  That’s because this 5ft waterfall is an obstacle preventing progress further up Orderville Canyon for many without technical canyoneering gear. That’s why it gets noticed and pegged by many people as a waterfall. So we ended up concurring with the local consensus on this and called this one a waterfall even though it’s really stretching our comfort level (perhaps bordering on hypocrisy) on evaluating what counts as a waterfall.”

Althwelthota waterfall has been treated as a waterfall since the era of Prince Wideye Bandara who ruled “Palinda Nuwara” during the period of Portuguese colonization in Sri lanka( 1505-1670 AD). According to the chronicles he has hidden the jewelries behind the water curtain. Our elders say that there is a tunnel constructed just below the waterfall to “Yakkunge Wala” where people have seen steps to enter the tunnel. Some people say some treasure is hidden in “Yakkunge Wala” and some says a golden bed appeared in this deep water hall which is located about 1 km downstream the waterfall.

These chronicles around Athwelthota waterfall are at least 500 years old. This means people in the area has the consensus that this is a waterfall. It is part of our natural heritage too. Therefore, there is no dispute about counting this as a  waterfall.

Other than the consensus of the people in “Pasdun Korale”, Palindanuwara Pradeshiya Saba has tendered the parking location to a shop owner in the area and it assures that there is no dispute on counting this as a waterfall.

Fifty-five years ago, a famous author, Wallace Stegner, wrote a letter explaining the value of undeveloped wilderness to our spirits and souls which later published it as a chapter in his book, The Sound of Mountain Water.

He wrote “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste . . . ”and
“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

A famous US Supreme Court case in 1972 Sierra Club  v. Morton, says that “Aesthetic and environmental wellbeing, like economic wellbeing, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society . . ..”   Damaging a aesthetic beauty is considered as  “aesthetic injury” under the US law.

1971 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. FPC [Federal Power Commission] is worthwhile to study.

The case was filed when the Consolidated Edison Power Company announced a plan to build a hydroelectric “pumped water storage facility” on top of the highest, most beautiful mountain along the Hudson River.  The plan was to have pipes carrying water up the mountain during the night when there was little demand for power and then carrying water back down the mountain during the day to drive turbines, when New York City needed energy. The environmental group, Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, went to court.  The Federal Power Commission tried to block them from bringing the lawsuit, arguing that the Federal Power Act did not mention anything about aesthetic beauty.  The Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the term “aggrieved party” in the Federal Power Act was sufficient to encompass aesthetic injury.  It said: “In order to insure that the Federal Power Commission will adequately protect the public interest in the aesthetic, conservational, and recreational aspects of power development, those who, by their activities and conduct, have exhibited a special interest in such areas must be held to be included in the class of ‘aggrieved’ parties under § 313(b) [of the Federal Power Act].”

In the case against the Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabha by Environmental Foundation Ltd in 1997/98 for not saving the  Kadugannawa scenic beauty by the vendors and the bill boards, the Pradeshiya Sabha agreed to preserve he scenic beauty of Kadugannawa pass.

There is no doubt that Athwelthota waterfall is a common property. No one has the absolute ownership to the waterfall. Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, It’s the duty of all every person in Sri Lanka to preserve and protect public property, and to combat misuse and waste of public property (28 d) and to protect nature and conserve its riches( 28 f).

Therefore, it is clear that this waterfall should not be given to Sakura Energy or any other person to injure or destroy. In fact it’s the duty of the Central Environmental Authority and the Forest department to conserve it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stop destroying Athwelthota waterfall for power generation

-->Athwelthota waterfall is a known tourist destination among the local people in Kalutara and Rathnapura district. However, Forest Department and the Central Environmental Authority) CEA) have approved a mini hydro project proposed by Sakura Energy, a company owned by Dhammika Ranathunga. The project will generate on 1.5 MW electricity capacity to sold to the national grid. The water flows along the river will add few more millions to the wealth of Ranathunga family.

However it will destroy the livelihood of local people who depend selling Kitul Honey and Jaggery to the local tourist. 

Beauty of this location was a gem for the Sinhala films industry before. White water flaws from Sinharaja forest along the  Athwelthota river creates a natural pool then falls down creating a waterfall, which is about 12 feet.  The water which falls down disappearing in a deep hole created by the nature makes this fall different to other waterfalls. 

I was born in Morapitya, only 2 km away from the waterfall. I know that there are many legends around this waterfall. One legends says that Prince Veedhiya Bandara who ruled Palindanuwara in 16th century has hide his jewelries and gems inside the water curtain in this water fall. According to our elders, there is a tunnel located little downstream of the waterfall  connect to  Palanda (a small village located near Molkawa) a city developed by Prince Veediye Bandara then. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest generals of Sri Lankan history who fought against the Portuguese.

I know that many people travel 30- 40 km to reach this waterfall for picnic and all local people enjoy it as part of their life. Ironically the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) does not mention this as a waterfall. This IEE also does not mention this waterfall as a tourist destination. According to the officials, this waterfall does not come within the technical definition of a waterfall.  A waterfall higher than 3 meters will only be considered as a waterfall.  However, all people in the area refer Athwelthota fall as a waterfall.  This is clearly an issue of how we treat our aesthetic beauty in the DEVELOPMENT BUSINESS.

This NATURAL WATER POOL is a bathing spot for the local people. Many people use this for bathing especially during the dry season. Ironically Palindanuwara Pradeshiya Sabha has given the authorization to the project saying that this place is not safe for bathing. Several people have died over the last 50 years in this location. But, how can it be a reason to destroy a natural landscape.  This is the ugly side of the CORRUPT POLITICS.

Watawala waterfall is no more. St Cair had a narrow escape of destruction due to the public pressure.  Lakshapana also facing threats. Number of other small water falls have been killed by the mini hydro industry. We are not ready to loose Athwelthota waterfall for this development. 

Its ours. Government officials have no right to approve such destructive project in the name of development. The so called developers too have no right to destroy our nature, beauty,  livelihood and  history for rupees ad cents. 



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Listen to people. Respect the environment. Ensure happiness


HEMANTHA WITHANAGE

Majority of the Sri Lankans are celebrating the victory of the joint candidate Maithripala Sirisena. They deserve to celebrate, as this is a victory of the common against some evil powers not necessarily by President Mahinda Rajapaksha but his subordinates. However, I salute President Rajapaska for facilitating smooth transfer of the power.

It’s time to think what went wrong to become people’s man to an autocrat. Many people say that power corrupt people.   But Aung San Suu Kyei, said, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” I believe this is true for President Rajapaksha.

This election results shows that majority wanted the abolition of the executive presidency which gives one man an enormous power. Also it shows that people did not like to drug politics and the thuggery. Lack of good governance was a major concern for many people. I was happy to see that people even at the local level started taking about good governance, although they may have not understood it clearly.

Good governance entails many different combinations as practice by various groups. Some also believe that better governance is more appropriate word.  Participation, Access to information, Rule of law or Predictability and Accountability are the minimum factors to ensure good governance. 

As an environmentalist I believe both good governance and environmental justice are key factors for green politics. I believe that both were missing in the last decade in Sri Lanka. It is always the case that the dilemma of the most governments of saving the environment when concentrating the GDP oriented growth and development. World summit on Environment and Development in 1992 brought the sustainable development as a concept to balance the two.

When last regime decided that growth is far more important than the environment it went against the wishes of many, while some shortsighted people are happy. As an environmentalist I was against the destructive development. I was also unhappy when the country was burrowing of too much money with high interest rates making the country indebted.

Unnecessary land grabbing by the military and others, capture of wild elephants, violation of EIA regulations, destruction of Forest, wildlife, wetlands and coastal ecosystems, made me unhappy about the last regime.

Politicizing the government agencies such as Central Environmental Authority, Wildlife Department and bringing the Urban Development Authority, Coast Conservation Department under the Ministry of Defense made me unhappy too.

Such moves allowed the past regime to dictate the development. This is how they got the approval for the Colombo Port City, Yan Oya and Uma Oya Project, Matara- Mattala Expressway, Mattala Airport and Hambantota harbor to name a few. They all violated the EIA regulations and public opinion either not sorted or neglected. Local voice not heard and no respect to the environment.

I believe Sri Lanka now has very high illegitimate debt due to the recent burrowing from the Chinese Exim Bank. According to the Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development “the debts involve the gross violation of basic assumptions of debt contracts, as well as widely accepted ethical, social, political, economic, environmental values, standards and principles and the debts cause harm to the well being of the people and communities in whose name the debts were incurred and who are the ones paying for these debts ate called illegitimate debt” are treated as Illegitimate debt. I believe Mattala airport, Hambatota harbor and the Colombo port City are some project that incurred illegitimate debt. I believe that Sri Lanka should have a clear opinion on how they deal with such illegitimate debt including cancellation.

Meantime it is equally important to either abandoned some so called development projects, which are unnecessary for the country or follow the environmental regulations if the new regime want to continue in some cases.  Under the new regime we want to stop illegal land gabbing, violation of the environmental laws including the EIA regulation. We also wanted to make sure that civil society and community voice heard in development decision making. While ensure abolition of the executive powers, next constitution should ensure right to life, right to health, right to environment and nature, right to water and sanitation as the fundamental rights. We also believe that they should respect the environment and the ecology and bring ecological democracy rather than just political democracy. We also believe that they should bring the ecological agriculture and stop heavy dependence on the agrochemicals. Restoration of ecosystem is a must today. Increasing environmental literacy is also vital for the nation.

I hope that the President Maithripala Sirisena will respect to the voices of the environmental community as he agreed during his election campaign and bring a country wide environmental policy detailing the various environmental requirement and safeguards in the next 100 days. We hope Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thero, Mr. Champika Ranawaka, Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake and rest of the political leaders will assist to keep this promise and not to make the same mistake done by the previous regime.

Pact with the Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena and Environmental Organisation's Collective

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Environmental Organization’s Collective

Monday 15th December 2014 at the Mahaweli Centre

Public pact for sustainable development, to ensure environmental democracy and environmental rights
Principles 
  • Ensure environmental right of all communities
  • Protection on Natural resources
  • Establish sustainable development
  • Build a green economy

Ten actions plans proposes based on the above four principles
  • Stop abuse of natural resources and ensure its protection
  • Develop a practical action plan to stop human-elephant conflict
  • Ensure public participation in all development plans
  • Developing a sustainable national action plan for waste management
  • Establish an action plan for the promotion of sustainable energy
  • Promotion of ecological agriculture and local seed varieties
  • Making eco-tourism a principal economic act
  • Increase environmental literacy
  • Proper enforcement of the environmental laws and polices
  • Ensure food sovereignty and food security through a proper land use policy

Signed



Sunday, January 04, 2015

Environmental democracy in Sri Lanka


-->Sri Lanka has very strong environmental laws and lessons learned. However, as of now, Sri Lanka is one of the country in the region that violate the existing environmental laws, regulations and principles despite that Mahindha Chinthana, the bible of the current regime has given some thoughts on the environment. 

Port city which will make a 496 hectare island in the Indian ocean does not have an EIA. Yan Oya project which will destroy 3500 acres of Forest also did not considered the environmental impacts before launching the project. There are many more examples. 

In principle people who live in close proximity to natural resources should have a say when those resources are being developed. However in many recorded instances, the communities become victims of development processes, yet are fear to access the legal process either due to lack of awareness or due to other threats. This is despite clear articulation, in some instances in the political arena that communities do have a say in the decision-making process. 

For example, in delivering the famous judgment on the Eppawela phosphate mine, Justice A.R. B. Amarasignhe stated that land and its resources belong to the people and other living beings and the Government is only the trustee of such resources. 


The reality on the ground however, does not meet this idea of ownership by the people. As most political regimes function on the notion that voting in a democratic process is an endorsement of the power exercised by the State, it has become increasingly difficult for communities to fight against efforts to destroy their natural habitat and in particular, the natural resources located near them. 

Despite regulations and laws - that in theory safeguard the interests of the communities - the ambivalence in the interpretation of such law, the lack of enforcement of the said law and the corruption involved in many development projects, make it more difficult for communities to challenge such interventions and lobby with the relevant stakeholders to take their concerns into consideration. As a result, most development processes culminate in the violation of environmental and fundamental rights of the communities, the marginalization of the local communities in assuming a role in decision-making and the destruction of the natural resource(s). The lack of a conducive civic space for the public to raise their voices against such processes further exacerbates the widening gap between and development processes environmental protection mechanisms.  

Most developing countries utilize only the environmental impacts assessment regulations to harness public opinion in such situations. However we have experienced, this is far from being an adequate, effective or enforceable mechanism to ensure due consideration is given to the environment or the people who stand to be most affected by these ‘interventions’.
  
Ecological democracy attempts to address the fundamental flaws in current thinking and particularly in neo-liberal economic actions that gravely undermine the sustainability factor. In doing so, it allows those affected by the outcomes of environmental issues and those whose lives are intrinsically linked to the environment to assume an active role in the decision-making processes and not limit such processes to the governments and industries and corporations. Hence, it entails the principle of equal rights for all those in the environment debate - including the public, community groups, advocates, workers, academics and health care professionals - and not be limited to safeguarding the interests of the investors and the government. 

The civil society in Sri Lanka has failed to mobilize the communities towards ensuring this democracy. In other works bringing environmental factors in development decision making is an urgent need in Sri Lanka. However, the political debate is not bringing this vital discussion adequately in the stage today. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gods, power and politics

 
Politicians seem to be the leading worshipers of the gods during the election time. Their dirty hands become colorful with white and yellow color threads, which also shows how much they fear about loosing the election.

Every one believes the gods and deities despite their religious beliefs. Hindu chronicles believe 33 chore (330 million) gods. The same gods are in Buddhism too. The gods and goddess are not only part of the religion and culture but has a close relationship with the nature.  When they are angry, our ancestors believed that it would end up of having a natural disaster or something bad for them. This belief is a reason for the ancient people to save the mother earth. We also have spirits in our culture who save us from disasters.

Other side of the world has only one god.  But they too have spirits. A Native American Prayer says;
O' Great Spirit,
Who's voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life, life to all the world, hear me!
I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every rock and leaf.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy, which is myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So, when life fades as the falling sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.



Mother never gets angry and always kind to her children. Even the merciless children receive her kindness. But people, the children of the mother earth abused her over the time, which is resulting all disasters we are facing today.
Most politicians, who get the powers of the god to win the elections, are not feared of the mother earth unlike the common man.  Power of the common man is therefore not important  for the survival of politicians after elections. The one who has power made all the decisions despite the public opinion.
Aung San Suu Kyei, the Burmese freedom fighter once said,

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Sri Lankan politicians are mostly used their power in the last several decades to abuse the Mother Nature. Land grabbing, mining, logging, destruction of biodiversity etc., had the full support of corrupt politicians. It is unbelievable that over 60 elephants have been illegally captured from the wild since 2005.  Over 200,000 acres of public land has been captured illegally for diverse activities. Putting the political supporters onto the higher positions of the relevant environmental agencies allowed them to ignore the laws. The ecosystems that were home to diverse life forms are being destroyed this way.

Today it is very rare to find humans who care the other life forms. Sri Lankans are no exceptions. Mother Lanka is no more tolerable to natural disasters. Rains can sweep the entire dry zone, or mountains moves destroying life and livelihood. Human only concept now even promoted to politicians only concept.

The political leaders have no vision for balancing the environment and development. Those international conventions that Sri Lanka is signatory are just papers. Not even 1% of the Sri Lankan politicians are aware of our global obligations.

This political literacy is rather week among the general public in Sri Lanka. I haven’t recently heard a single politician taking on the politics rather than embarrassing the opposition leaders. Sri Lankan civil society is much weaker compare to the countries in Asia. This political culture need to an end to develop the country for the people by the people instead godfather political figures make everything happen on their interests and for their survival.
However, Buddhist custom reminds the ruler that it will rain in due season only if he is ‘righteous’. The wish of all Buddhists is summed up in the following.
“Devo vassatu kalena, Sasa sampatti hotuca, Pito bhavatu lokoca, Raja bhavatu dhammiko “

English translation is “ May gods give rain in due season, May the crops be bountiful, May the people be happy, May the king be righteous”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

CEJ case produced Visual Pollution Regulation in Sri Lanka

Considering the draft visual pollution regulations submitted by the Central Environmental Authority, Court ordered to gazette the same. This is the result of a case filed by the Centre for Environmental Justice in 2009, against the election posters.   
The Centre For Environmental Justice (CEJ) moved Court of Appeal 5 years ago, filing the case bearing the application No. C. A. 135/2009 seeking an order in nature of  Writ of Mandamus against the Inspector General of Police and Central Environmental Authority compelling to formulate regulation on displaying banners, posters, banners and hoardings.

Petitioner has stated their Petition that unauthorized posters, banners and other erections have desecrated the cities and major towns without taking any notice of the educational institutions, religious places of worship, buildings of national importance, historical monuments and places of scenic beauty and/ or visual quality completely obliterating such structures and of vistas. They even occupy pavements causing obstruction to pedestrian movements.

Among adverse impacts of displaying posters, banners at unusual places are visual pollution obscuring scenic views and a fall in prestige of the area with their bright colours. Also Billboards and hoardings have long being accused of being destructive to drivers and causing accidents since sings with bright colours and eye-grabbing pictures may cause drivers to look away from the road during a crucial moment many vehicles and pedestrians have been damaged and injured when hoardings crashed down on them.

It is noted that at the 1st instance of filing of this matter, the 2nd Respondent - the Inspector General of the Police has made an undertaking to remove banners, posters, bill boards and hoardings which have been erected in unauthorized place in Western Province.
 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Second Tree ordination held at Welioya and Soragune

Soragune Forest is the water catchment for more than 7000 farmers living downstream. This 628 acre forest is belongs to the Soragune Shrine. 

Although such "Nindagam' forest cannot transfer to an individual, the forest has been illegally sold to a  hotelier to build a 36 hole Golf Course and a 1500 room hotel. 

In order to bring the necessary attention, several trees were symbolically ordained  on the 1st March 2014 and the forest has been now handed over to the Buddhist monks to save it. Buddhist Monks lead by Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thero issued a 'Sahngaachna" to the gods to save the forest. 

The Centre for Environmental Justice took the lead in organising the Dharma Yathra started at Vihara Maha Devi park on the 27th February 2014 which reached the Forest on the 1st March 2014. Over 60 buddhist monks and more than 4000 people joined this second tree ordination ceramony.  
 
Dharma Yathra was very successful in bringing public attention to the forest destruction. Many temples and the local people along the route supported the 3 day long travel.

Looking at the large number of public attended the Tree ordination ceramony, I see that it is getting  high recognition by the local communities. No wonder why. The authorities have continuously failed to protect the water catchments in Sri Lanka. 

In this case, it the Commissioner of the Buddhist Affairs who has failed to act. Other than this 628 acre forest another 3000 acres belongs to Soragune "Kuda Katharagama Devalaya" has been sold to rubber plantations. This forest is also the water catchement of Weli Oya and Walawe river.