Arugam Bay: 'illegal' structures must go
By Marisa de Silva
All structures not authorised by the Tourist Board, along the Arugam Bay tourist belt within the 200 metre buffer zone will have to be removed and relocated within the new tourist belt proposed by the Government, outside the buffer zone, sources said.

The proposed area for development stretches from the north of Panama to the south of Komari, including the Pottuvil town, and goes about 5 km inland from the coast.

Approximately 50 existing tourist hotels and restaurants will have to be relocated in the new tourist belt between the existing and proposed boulevard road. The belt will be located inland (land to be acquired) outside the 200 metre zone. This stretch will also have another 50 blocks of land for future tourist/commercial development, which can be sold by the Urban Development Authority (UDA).

Some of the key objectives of this proposed programme are to address the re-housing issue of affected people in Arugam Bay in a speedy manner, to re-build lost infrastructure within the framework of a long-term development plan and ensure that the fragile environment of the coastal belt and inner forest areas and water bodies are protected for posterity. The other objectives are to create a unique tourist destination with world class facilities based on the eco-tourism principle, put in place a safety network for both inhabitants and tourists in the event of a natural disaster and provide enhanced amenities, leading to the area becoming an important destination for domestic tourists, and re-vitalizing the economy and providing employment opportunities.

However, as a result of unregistered hotel owners in the area protesting against this new initiative of the Government, representatives of the Arugam Bay community (fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners, surfing and women's groups etc.,) met with representatives of the Tourist Board and the Sewalanka Foundation (SLF), on May 17. One of the main issues raised at this meeting was that a particular permanent structure coming up was being allowed to remain within the buffer zone, although others were not permitted. It was also claimed that this hotel was being built without any restriction due to the owners having certain political connections. However Tourist Board Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara is reported to have said that if there was such an unauthorized construction the Police or the Army would remove it and the allegation of there being any political clout was false.

Mr. Nanayakkara has also said the 100 metre prohibition zone is valid island-wide but if an establishment is registered with the Tourist Board then it can request to be classed in the category of buildings which existed when the previous 35 metre prohibition was effective. He had further said the area which has been demarcated would be taken over by the Government within two weeks and that if anyone can prove his registration at the provincial level, the Tourist Board could lease out the land to that person for a maximum period of 30 years. In addition, businessmen who are not registered as yet too could get land on lease from the Tourist Board. Any illegal structures located within the buffer zone will have to be removed according to Coast Conservation regulations, he said.

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