Kalu Ganga gem mining: Bitter battle behind the glitter

By Leon Berenger

An urgent meeting has been summoned by Ratnapura Government Agent H.W. Gunadasa for tomorrow to discuss the controversial gem mining in the Kalu Ganga, while regional environmentalists and residents are planning to take up the matter in court, officials said yesterday.

Officials say the river bed was auctioned for Rs. 30 million when it could have fetched over Rs. 100 million.

The District Coordinating Committee (DCC) adopted a resolution to halt the mining, but it was over ruled by the authorities.

Environmentalists have warned the mining was destroying the river bed and endangered aquatic life.

Apart from the gems archaeological findings have also been detected in the same pit.

The meeting to be held at the GA’s office in Ratnapura will be attended by regional politicians from all sides of the political divide, representatives from the Environmental Ministry and National Gem and Jewellery Authority as well as concerned individuals and groups, the officials said.

They said matters to be taken up for discussion will be the alleged use of heavy machinery in mining as well as other irregularities in violation of the July 17, 2006 gazette notification which laid down certain terms and conditions.

Another matter that will be taken up for discussion will be the questionable manner of the auctioning to three buyers at a mere Rs. 30 million when it was worth over Rs. 100 million, officials said. Earlier the District Coordinating Committee (DCC) had even adopted a resolution calling a halt to the mining, but the Gem and Jewellery Authority went ahead with the auction saying the DCC was not empowered to take such decisions.

The region’s most senior Government politician and Power and Energy Minister John Seneviratne had also protested against the mining project adding that he would take the matter to the President.
Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Chairman Dr. W. Abeywickrema said the issue was being closely monitored, adding that a 100 per cent guarantee could not be given in regard to the use of heavy machinery in the river bed.

“We are not there 24 hours of the day, and any thing could happen in our absence. However CEA teams which had made random checks in the area found nothing irregular, but the case could be different,” Dr. Abeywickrema said.

Prasad Manjula Ambalanyaya of the national movement for the protection of rain forests and natural resources said he along with several residents were planning to take legal action in a bid to bring about a halt to the ongoing mining in the Kalu Ganga.

The Cabinet paper approving the mining had among other issues mentioned that 60 metres on either side of the river bed should not be touched for whatever purpose, but the auction paper has endorsed only four metres which is a blatant violation,” Mr. Ambalanyaya said.

He alleged that heavy machinery was being used discreetly deep inside the river bed and that the relevant authorities were well aware of what is taking place but have opted to remain silent for reasons known only to them.

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