The importer of over 100 containers consisting of ‘clinical waste’ dumped at Katunayake and part of them held at the Colombo Port is to face charges for violating environment laws including a violation of an international treaty which prevents import of waste, a senior Central Environmental Authority (CEA) official said yesterday. Director General Hemantha Jayasinghe [...]


Charges, counter charges bounce off mattress mound in Katunayake


CEA officials said the waste material will pollute the environment and cause health hazards

The importer of over 100 containers consisting of ‘clinical waste’ dumped at Katunayake and part of them held at the Colombo Port is to face charges for violating environment laws including a violation of an international treaty which prevents import of waste, a senior Central Environmental Authority (CEA) official said yesterday.

Director General Hemantha Jayasinghe told the Sunday Times that orders have been given to the importer- Hayleys Free Zone to recollect the waste dumped in the open at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone in Naikanda– just a few hundred meters away from the Bandaranaike International Airport back to the port.

On Thursday, a team of officials of the CEA led by Mr Jayasinghe visited the location following numerous complaints.

“What we witnessed was hundreds of old mattresses exposed to the elements. Water flowing through this waste fell into nearby waterways,” he said.

Mr. Jayasinghe said the manner in which the waste was being dumped would definitely cause a health hazard and pollute the environment.
He said that the importer had claimed they were used mattresses, and on inspection it appeared the stock contained used mattresses from hospitals.

“We have also ordered the importer to re-export the contents dumped at the EPZ,” he said.

However, the Sunday Times learns that re-exporting the contents was a difficult process considering that the contents amounted to waste.

Initial investigations show that the contents dumped at the EPZ was imported to the country between October 2017 and January 2018 in 130 containers of 40 ft each. An estimated 27,000 Mt of waste had been dumped in an area of 50,000 sq ft.

The inspection on Thursday was triggered off after a similar detection was made earlier this month at the Colombo Port on a tip-off that a large number of containers with hospital waste remained uncleared for more than 15 months.

On inspection of four of the containers Customs officials reportedly found more clinical waste.

“We wanted to open the rest of the containers, but since there was a gas emanating which could be harmful we postponed opening them. The containers will be opened tomorrow for inspection,” Sunil Jayaratna, spokesman for the Customs said.

Hayleys Free Zone Ltd was reported to be the consignee, but the company has denied the claim.

The BOI on Friday conceded that Hayleys Free Zone which was given permission to operate an ‘integrated logistics center and ‘entrepot trading’ had imported 130 containers of used mattresses and carpets for ‘re-export’ in October 2017.

The BOI claims that it had given written instructions to the company to stick to the conditions laid down. This was after complaints were made about mattresses being dumped in the open.

However, the BOI had failed to take any further action to compel the company to ensure that the environment was protected.

The Sunday Times investigation revealed that an amendment passed in 2013 to the Finance Act had removed certain strict restrictions which enabled the Customs to monitor similar imports like those detected.

The amendments to the Finance Act provided an opportunity for the BOI to allow commercial hub operations. Under the provisions which were subsequently gazetted any new enterprise where at least 65 per cent of its total investment has been from foreign sources of which the total turnover is from export of goods and services were exempted from certain provisions of the Customs Ordinance, Exchange Control Act and the Imports and Exports (control) Act.

However, BOI Chairman Mangala Yapa disagreed stating that the Regulation to this Act provides for the operational guidelines and the BOI Agreement too stipulates the conditions the Hub Operator has to fulfill.

Hemantha Jayasinghe

J.A. Gunatillake

“The Act enables electronic monitoring of all CUSDECS by Sri Lanka Customs (SLC) and with the adoption of synchronized procedures by the SLC and the BOI and monitoring of the cargo movement using GPS there is no room to smuggle anything, leave alone waste material,” he said.

One of the unions which have expressed concerned over the regulations is the All Ceylon Customs Service Union which has brought up the matter with President Maithripala Sirisena and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera..

The union’s General Secretary, J.A. Gunatillake told the Sunday Times the gazette notification needs to be immediately cancelled as it provides an opportunity for illegal import and exports.

He said that the waste matter had been imported to the country making use of the provisions of the regulations to operate ‘Commercial hubs’.

Mr Gunatillake said they would also request the President to take necessary action against the importers of such material harmful to the environment.

They urged the President to carry out a full investigation as they were not sure in what manner some of the waste material had already been disposed of within the country.

He said that it was questionable how the waste material can be re-exported and whether the country of origin would accept the material.

He pointed an international treaty designed to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between countries was signed after the Basel convention, of which Sri Lanka is a signatory.

BOI Chairman commenting on what action would be taken against the company said, “The consignment is off-loaded within the Hayley’s Free Zone Limited (HFZL) premises, an approved location for Commercial Hub Operations, located within the Katunayake EPZ. HFZL being the Hub Operator and the consignee of the cargo, is bound by law to re-export the cargo.

“We will take very stern action against the company, for violating the Act and the Agreement executed with the BOI,” he said.

Hayleys Free Zone Director Asanka Ranasinghe told the Sunday Times that they were carrying out a ‘legitimate operation’ and denied they had brought in waste material.

Colombo port cargo not ours, says HFZ
In a statement Hayleys Free Zone Limited said the company has no connection to the cargo that is lying at the Port of Colombo.“HFZ is not involved in any way or manner with the said containers presently lying at the Port of Colombo. It is not the importer nor consignee nor logistics services provider in respect of the said containers.

“There has also been adverse media publicity with regard to an earlier shipment, which was also not imported by HFZ. The said shipments were sent to HFZ by the importer for the purposes of processing and re-export. Some such cargo has already been processed and re-exported”.

“ All others, once processed, would also be re-exported. The containers received by HFZ did not contain any garbage or other waste material.”

The HFZ said it is not an importer or exporter of goods and said therefore the “Statements to the effect that HFZ imported these goods are baseless and false”.

However the BOI in its statement issued on Friday, said, that HFZL had imported the 130 containers from UK containing mattresses and carpets for the purpose of re-export.

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