Quarry or cave - President asked to decide

Work related to Oluvil port project harms archaeological site, says JVP MP
By Chandani Kirinde

As protests intensify over the continued mining around the rock cave complex at Piyangala, local politicians and villagers have asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene and put a stop to the work at a quarry that supplies metal to the Oluvil harbour project.

The decision to write to the President and seek his direct intervention was taken at the Divisional Development Committee meeting last week at Uhana in Ampara as petitions to ministers had failed to bring about any action, JVP Digamadulla parliamentarian Wasantha Piyatissa said.

The famous pre-historic rock cave at Piyangala. Pix by Wasantha Chandrapala

The DDC meeting was chaired by Minister P. Dayaratna and attended by MPs from the area and members of the Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The MP who was spearheading the protests said there was unanimous agreement that the quarry work was causing irreparable damage to the rock cave, which contained the only known works of Vedda art in the country, and to the environment and therefore it must be stopped.

Claiming that almost all the villagers in the area were against the quarry work, Mr. Piyatissa warned that if the President did not respond promptly, they would intensify their protests, conduct fasting campaigns and even take legal action as a last resort.

Local politicians and villagers said the use of heavy machinery and dynamite was causing damage to the environment and destroying valuable archaeological sites.

The explosives permit for mining has been granted by the Divisional Secretariat in Ampara after the Geological Mines and Survey Bureau (GMSB) issued a mining permit following the necessary testing.
Cultural Affairs Ministers Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, however, had a different story. He said the work on the quarry would continue despite protests as the Archaeological Commissioner has sent him reports stating the mining in the area had no impact on the historic cave complex.

But the protesters said the same Archaeology Department in a 2005 report had raised concern over the mining in the area. The report assessed the impact on antiquities by rock mining in the Ampara-Piyangala area in connection with the Oluvil harbour development work and it was prepared by the Exploration and Documentation Unit of the Department of Archaeology.

Protests over the quarry continue

The report said the vibrations caused by the mining could cause damage to the area and had recommended that instead a site in Madanagama in the Damana Divisional Secretariat area be used to get the necessary raw material for the port project.

An Archaeological Department team had carried out an assessment at Madanagama and concluded no environment, archaeological or geological harm would be done if the mining was conducted there.

Mr. Piyatissa charged that the Madanagama site was disregarded because there was political pressure to start the work on the port project hurriedly.

Work at the Piyangala quarry site began in February 2009. Officials of the Port’s Authority said they had obtained necessary licences to operate the quarry.

Vedda chief to visit Piyangala

Vedda Chief
Wanniyalage Attho

Vedda Chief Uruvarige Wanniyalage Attho has expressed concern about the rock mining at Piyangala.

“The issue has been brought to our attention and we are concerned not only about the harm that could be caused to the Vedda drawings but also about the possible damage to other archaeological sites in the area,” a spokesman for the community said.

He said the Vedda chief would visit the area shortly to see for himself the activities in the area before he took up the issue with the relevant authorities.

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Quarry or cave - President asked to decide


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