The Centre for Environmental Justice sought permission of the Colombo High Court to initiate Contempt of Court proceedings against Customs Director General (DG) Dr, Neville Gunawardane and Pesticides Registrar Anura Wijesekera, for the release of a consignment of arsenic contaminated pesticides.
However, presiding Judge Devika Thennakoon told Counsel appearing for the petitioner to make the application to the Colombo Provincial High Court (CPHC) Judge Kumudini Wickremasinghe, and granted time for the petitioner to file counter objections.
Earlier, on February 27, Judge Kumudini Wickremasinghe ordered the DG Customs and the Registrar of Pesticides to appear personally to explain the circumstances under which the consignment of 13 container loads of pesticides contaminated with arsenic had been released against the Court order. Accordingly, they were present in court.
The order was issued subsequent to an application by the petitioner’s Counsel Raveendranath Dabare who had informed Court that the respondents had released the consignment, not only in violation of the Court order, but also in violation of the directive dated December 29, 2011 issued by the Director General of Health Services.
On January 30, Court issued interim order preventing the respondents releasing the containers. The Judge specifically directed the Court Registrar to inform the respondents, over the phone, of the‘Stay Order’.
Counsel for the petitioner had submitted that, subsequent to the Court order, DG, Customs had sought the opinion of the DG, Health Services on the issue, when the DG, Health Services had directed the respondent DG Customs not to release the containers, since arsenic and mercury were considered to be highly poisonous.
Petitioner, Centre for Environmental Justice, an NGO, filing the petition in the public interest, stated that, the 2nd respondent, Registrar of Pesticides, had, by his letter of December 1, recommended to the 1st respondent, DG Customs to release the container loads of pesticides, while admitting that they contained “minute impurities,” of mercury and arsenic.
The petitioner sought to quash a recommendation issued by the Registrar of Pesticides to release a detained consignment of pesticides contaminated with arsenic and mercury.
The petitioner stated that mercury and arsenic are highly poisonous and hence banned from being used in pesticides in Sri Lanka .
The petitioner further stated there had been various news items that pesticides contaminated with the banned arsenic and mercury were being imported, and that the 1st respondent, DG Customs had failed to take any action.
The petitioner also argued that the 2nd respondent had recommended to the DG Customs to release the consignment contaminated with arsenic and mercury, in violation of the Pesticides Act and subsequent gazette notice. Hence, if the consignment is released, it would have short and long term effects which would be disastrous to public health and the environment, the petitioner contended.
The petitioner argued further that the 2nd respondent had no power to give such directions and requested court to quash same.
Court was also requested to issue a mandamus order compelling the 1st respondent, DG Customs to conduct his own independent investigations, and also to obtain the opinion of the National Toxicology Centre.
Further proceedings were postponed for June 7.