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5th April 1998

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Environmentalists protest against recreation complex

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A controversial recreation complex including botanical gardens and cable cars being built in Ambuluwawa, Gampola with a government politico's blessings has led to protest by environmentalists and residents.

The Environmental Foundation Ltd. has filed action under the Soil Conservation Act.

The construction was begun more than five months ago despite protest from residents who fear it will lead to water contamination and landslides. So far, the area has suffered three minor landslides since the construction work began.

The Ambuluwawa hill which is located in the vicinity of the South West direction of Gampola town stands 3565 feet above sea level, and the selected location covers a sprawling 15 acres of private land which are to be developed as a holiday resort with the view to promoting eco- tourism.

Declared a 'sensitive area' under the Soil Conservation Act No 25 of 1951, this area has been identified as an 'erodable area' for the past 47 years declaring any project over 1 hectare within the sensitive area a prescribed project, thereby making an EIA mandatory.

Sanjeewa Kaviratne, member of the Central Provincial Council and an active member of the "Rukrekaganno" Movement alleged that the CEA has turned a blind eye to this highly sensitive issue despite public protests.

The legislation also empowers the CEA to act upon complaints and to initiate action on its own volition thereby suspending, revoking or withdrawing a permit issued by the authorities in the event of considerable harm to the environment.

A leading environmental lawyer told The Sunday Times that under the National Environmental Act of 1980, it was mandatory to obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in collaboration with the Central Environmental Authority which is vested with the ultimate power to signify approval for such projects.

Similarly, clause (4) of the same Act contains provisions relating to the conducting of an EIA prior to commencing any new industry, agricultural project or construction work coming under development projects and recognizes the right of citizens to protest over such projects .

Further, the law requires creating awareness regarding an EIA report and the public to lodge their protests within 30 days.

But the residents allege that despite legal requirements, their right to protest has been severely infringed upon, while there was acute water and air pollution in the area.

The salient features of the project include medicinal plant arboretum, forest arboretum, flower gardens, a walk in aviary, butterfly and reptile parks, restaurants and recreation facilities and the introduction of cable cars.

However, it has been learnt that so far no permission has been sought from the CEA to create the aviary, butterfly and reptile parks which legally require the approval of the environmental authorities, though the project plan is being implemented.

According to the Chief incumbent of the Sinhapitiya Dhamayathanaya, Ven. Shanthabadra thera, dynamite is being used continuously causing much consternation to the people and polluting the natural waterways in the surrounding area. The roadway which is to be constructed is expected to disrupt the flow of Telgamuwa Oya and Patti Ela which are important feeder waterways of the Mahaweli river.

The project is backed by a powerful politician from the area, and the public protests have not been taken seriously. Protesters have been branded as anti- development and we are only concerned about our habitat which has remained unpolluted from time immemorial.

Deputy Director of the Central Environmental Authority Lionel Jayasinghe told The Sunday Times that he was unable to answer whether a protest letter has been sent regarding the Ambuluwawa Development Project.

Commeting on the EIA report he said every project did not merit an EIA, and assessments were done depending on the merits of the case.

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