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.