rape of the Maguru
By Marisa de Silva
Large-scale sand mining is polluting the Maguru Ganga
area, which is claimed to be rich in biodiversity, especially endemic
fresh water fish, according to environmentalists and residents.
from the side of the Sinharaja forest, the Maguru, a 60-kilometre
long rivulet of the Kalu Ganga, is being raped by greedy sandminers,
they charged. Its banks from Boralugoda, Athale up to Gurulubedda
are the worst affected, said Young Zoologists Association's Aquatic
Group Instructor Shantha Jayaweera.
said lowland wet zone areas such as Maguru Ganga area are usually
rich in biodiversity. "The Maguru's clear waters and unique
sand deposits on the riverbed created by the unusual 90 deree bends
in the river, make it an ideal habitat for aquatic plants and species.
Of the 73 fresh water species in the country, environmentalist have
identified 44 species in the Maguru. Furthermore, 20 of this 44
species are endemic fish, and even five species found here are protected
under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Apart from this,
there are 150 species of birds in this area, making it one of the
richest areas of biodiversity," Mr. Jayaweera said.
adverse effects of sand mining aren't limited to the environment.
Even residents are affected because the water in the Maguru is contaminated
by oil leaking from tractors and the sewage from makeshift huts
the miners have built along the bank.
said villagers complained that fish such as eels were not to be
found in the river anymore. This was because fish eggs which lay
on the riverbed are destroyed when mud settled atop the riverbed
due to excessive mining, he said.
miners have also excavated the river banks, using backhoes. Besides
soil erosion, this has resulted in trees lining the bank to fall.
As most of the fresh water fish rely on the shade for their survival,
the lack of trees has serious repercussions on them.
mining has also become a threat to certain species of fish such
as the Red-Necked Goby that depend on camouflage for survival. "These
fish cannot breed outside their habitat as they become prey to other
fish," Mr. Jayaweera said.
villagers also complain that the surge of heavy vehicle movements
has damaged their road, which they had repaired by the local council
problem faced by the villagers is crossing the river. As there are
not many bridges across the Maguru, residents wade across the river
to get to the other side. Now, they find it hard to do that because
sandmining is making the river deeper day by day.
many of these miners may hold permits, its their non-compliance
with the conditions stipulated in the permit that is the root cause
of all these problems, according to Mr. Jayaweera.
claimed that although the permit allowed mining for three days a
week, mining activities continued for six days a week. The permit
also stipulates the time during which mining is allowed and the
amount of sand that can be excavated per month. But the miners hardly
adhere to the conditions, Mr. Jayaweera said adding that political
influence and corruption in the police were the two main factors
that had led to the sorry situation.
a desperate attempt to stop mining in the area, the Young Zoologists
Association wrote to the Environment Minister in December, outlining
the threat that mining was posing to the biodiversity of the area.
The ministry had referred the letter to the Central Environmental
CEA in response said that it would instruct the Geological Survey
and Mines Bureau not to issue new mining licences or renew the permits.
But Mr. Jayaweera said that according to the GSMB records, nine
licences have been issued since this assurance was given.
Sajjana De Silva, Mining Engineer of the GSMB, said the licences
were issued only for artisan or manual mining on Mondays, Wednesdays
and Fridays from 6am to 6pm. "Only traditional mining methods
such as the use of shovels and baskets are allowed under the conditions
of the permits. Tractors cannot be taken down to the water and mining
can only be done in specified areas to a depth of one metre at most,"
from the GSMB make random visits to the mining sites to ascertain
whether mining is done in accordance with the regulations. "If
the officers discover that the miners have violated the regulations,
they warn them, cancel their permits or demand that they remedy
the situation. For example, re-filling pits that have been excavated
beyond the permitted one-metre depth. They can also be fined up
to Rs. 50,000 under the GSMB Act of 1992. If anyone is caught mining
without a permit, a fine of up to Rs. 500,000 can be imposed for
a first time offence while a second time offender can be fined up
to a million rupees and a two year imprisonment, under the Act,"
hardly has any offender been imposed such heavy fines. This is because
the police do not charge the perpetrators under the GSMB Act. This
has resulted in most offenders getting off scot-free. To remedy
this situation, the GSMB has requested permission from the Ministry
for authorisation to file action against the owner of the land where
sand is unloaded.
de Silva said he had taken the matter up with Government officials
and the police in the area. Baduraliya Inspector M. M. Hettiarachchi
said most miners in his area had permits obtained from the GSMB
or the Divisional Secretary but admitted that illegal mining was
taking place in Athale, Gurulubedda and Panigala areas.
is almost impossible to apprehend illegal sand miners because they
jump in to the river and escape when we raid," he said.