In the dead of night, dark deeds involving lands are happening in Dandugama in Ja-Ela and the Government remains impotent. Even politicians who are trying to find out about corrupt activities are feeling threatened. For more than one-and-a-half years, a wetland off the main Negombo road is continuing to be filled up at night. A [...]


Powerful figures laying claim to precious lands


Land-filling behind closed doors at Dandugama in Ja-Ela. Pix by Athula Devapriya

In the dead of night, dark deeds involving lands are happening in Dandugama in Ja-Ela and the Government remains impotent. Even politicians who are trying to find out about corrupt activities are feeling threatened.

For more than one-and-a-half years, a wetland off the main Negombo road is continuing to be filled up at night. A shady figure behind the operation has intimidated people, villagers say.

The Land Reclamation and Develop Corporation, Chairman, Asela Iddawela said information had been received from the Divisional Secretary that a person was filling a marshy land and officials visited the site on December 29.

“During the first two inspections, the person supposed to be involved in the filling could not be located, but officials were able to confirm that the land is being filled up,’’ he said, adding that it was a water retention area that should not be filled in.

Iddawela explained that police and the Central Environmental Authority also inspected the site of 21 acres.

He said President Maithripala Sirisena was alerted. The President had asked that the site be restored.

“When we went there a person claiming to be one Ajith Panditharatne who claimed to be the person responsible for filling up the land disrupted our work,’’ he said. The man blocked access and the gate was locked.

He claimed that his address was No 200 Union Place Colombo 02, the location of JAIC Hilton, Iddawela said.

“We stopped the filling and requested police security. We to intend to take legal action against the man,’’ Iddawela said.

The man was summoned to the LRDC, but could not provide documents to show permission to fill up the land had been granted.

Iddawela said that according to people in the area more than 200 trucks arrive every day at the site.

Filling up of the Ja Ela site is among some 600 complaints the LRDC received last year over such illegal activity, compared with 300 complaints in 2015.

“We have identified these locations and stopped the activity,’’ Iddawela said, adding that officials are waiting for the relevant Act to be amended so tougher action can be taken.

Land reclamation officials inspecting the Dandugama land filling site

A legal officer at the LRDC said that according to the Act, marshy lands could be filled up with permission. She said the site in Ja Ela was necessary to help prevent flooding and must not be filled up.

She explained offenders can be fined between Rs 100,000 and Rs 500,000 and they face prosecution.

Meanwhile, a Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare, Ranjan Ramanayake, has visited the site in Ja Ela only to be confronted by thugs who booed and hurled water bottles at him.

He suspects those associated with the ousted regime and those linked to opposition and Government have a hand in illegal land filling. “I went to the area and saw the gravel that had been dumped on the mangroves,’’ he said.

Residents told him that the site had been dug up for sand and is being filled up afterwards.

Ramanayake said was directed by the President to visit the site. He claims that  shop owners, religious organisations, and provincial political figures are being bribed to keep quiet.

“Even I was told that they will offer money if I stay quiet,’’  he claimed.”

A resident who requested anonymity said that at night more than 200 tipper trucks haul in soil to fill up the site. Police are indifferent, he said.

“I have lived here for over 10 years. The site was a marshy land until filling up began one-and-a-half years ago,” he saidHe claimed that outsiders and three-wheeler drivers who supported the filling up of the site were paid Rs 5,000 a day.

He also claimed that when Ramanayake visited, the man who is filling up the site  sent in women from a lodging to pretend to be people of the area.

Some residents who had been threatened, said that when government officials halted the activity at the site, a mob of 200 motorbike riders roamed the area.

They say the site is being filled up by a man, while a couple of people presented themselves as owners. The real owner is not to be seen.

The Officer in Charge of Ja Ela Police, Chief Inspector M.V Lawrence, said no one complained when the filling up of the site began a long time ago. He also denied claims of graft.

Kelaniya land filling area near the Tyre Corporation

Lawrence said the CEA, LRDC, officials of the Agrarian Services Centre and local authorities are investigating.

“They also asked for our support. We will provide security and will investigate,” he said.

Former minister Felix Perera, a resident in the area, said that the land near his house had also been bought by a businessman who is filling it up to build a condominium. Perera claimed that once the site is filled up it could fetch a price of Rs 1.5 million per perch.

Meanwhile, Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, the Co-convener of the Peoples Movement Against Port City, said residents fear the thugs and potential for flooding. “I help the people who are affected and guided them to stand against the group which terrorises them.’’

A former UNP organiser of Kelaniya, has also filled up a marshy land adjoining the tyre corporation.

Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha Secretary Upul Ranjith said he was aware of it but could not act because no one complained. “The filling up of this land will affect the environment and will cause flooding,’’ he said.

Kelaniya residents say they are under pressure not to complain.

However, the former Kelaniya UNP organizer Beven Perera, claimed that he had purchased 10 perches of land adjoining his house 15 years ago and that a friend had dumped construction waste on the site. “I have not filled any marshy land in Kelaniya,’’ he insisted. But residents tell a different story.\

Destroying Sellakandal forest reserve

By Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe  

Signs of sandmining in the forest reserve

Unauthorised sand mining in the Sellakandal forest reserve in Puttalam is causing serious environmental problems.

Spread over 400 hectares and located near Mee Oya, the Sellakandal reserve is the largest forest reserve in the Puttalam Divisional Secretariat area.

Environmentalists say sand mining has been ongoing in the area since 2012 subject to monitoring by the Puttalam Range Forest Office. The Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Divisional Environmental Authority Office, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and the Divisional Secretary have issued sand mining permits.

However, while licences had only been given to engage in sand mining at the Mee Oya near the Sellakandal reserve, sand miners have been indulging in mass scale mining inside the forest reserve since 2012, the environmentalists say.

It was evident that racketeers had been clearing the forest cover to make way for the tractors to move into the reserve day and night.

The sand miners had dug pits and tunnels in the reserve at various locations to get more sand, while in the process huge trees such as Kumbuk were felled.

Environmentalists say sand mining has eroded the banks of the river.

Villages living near the reserve say that due to the illegal activities of the sand miners, elephants which normally move around the Sellakandal reserve are increasingly wandering into nearby villagers, aggravating the human-elephant conflict.

Puttalam Range Forest Officer Kamal Jayakody said sand mining in the area had started before he took over and permits had been issued by Divisional Secretaries. Action had been taken to stop this practice. Mr. Jayakoday insisted that sand miners were only allowed to mine in the Mee Oya and had no authority to engage in sand mining inside the forest reserve.


Marshes need protection

Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle environmentalist, Supun Lahiru Prakash, said the loss of marsh land could lead to flooding.

Wetlands near canals and lagoons should be preserved, he said. Marshes retain excess water when it rains and slowly release water to the canals and lagoon areas at Muthurajawela, for example. Without the benefit of that water, the lagoon water would turn salty and that would spell death for shrubs and animal life, he said.

Marshes are also habitat for wildlife and should be protected. He suggested that the Government declare them as sanctuaries.


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