BOI Bypasses CEA
By Cassandra Mascarenhas
In August 2009, the Director of Environmental Management of the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) attempted to illegally obtain environmental approval for the construction of an industrial park in Mirigama from the Central Environmental Authority.
The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka commenced an environmental examination of the Mahayaya Estate in Mirigama for the establishment of a Chinese industrial park on 130 acres of land in July 1998. A letter granting permission for this was duly obtained from the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) on the grounds that the permission was only valid until 1 July, 2001, unless an extension was obtained.
Although the necessary documents and permission were received, the BOI did not commence work on the industrial park. However, in 2009 after cabinet approval was granted, the BOI decided to begin work once again – only they faced one problem. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) obtained in 1998 had expired almost ten years ago.
The BOI kept renewing this contract over the years, but rather than getting fresh approval this time around, they wrote to the CEA asking if a separate EIA was required to commence work. The Environmental Authority informed them that this was not necessary and that all that was to be done was to renew the old documents received in 1998 for a small fee.
The Director General of the CEA, Pasan Gunesena confirmed that an extension could be obtained. “As long as the situation has not changed, it does not matter how long a period has elapsed since the expiration of EIA, it can still be renewed”.
The BOI however deemed this unnecessary, and the Director, Environmental Management – BOI, M.A.S. Perera sent back a letter stating “we shall be thankful if you could issue a letter intimating that a fresh EIA approval is not required”; a highly illegal request.
When asked about this situation, Perera declined to comment stating that she was unauthorised to discuss the matter.
The CEA refused to grant permission in such a manner and in a letter dated 4 November 2009, again requested the BOI to apply for an extension of the validity period. By this time however, the BOI had already proceeded with the construction without obtaining the required approval from the Central Environmental Authority.
“Land preparation of the area began in November 2009 – over 25 acres of land have already been cleared of trees”, a resident of the area confirmed.
The BOI did receive the necessary approval within the course of November – the EIA has now been extended for another three years.
The relevant environmental authorities seem to be ignored in the whole process, for even when cabinet approval was passed for the construction of this industrial park in August 2009, the Ministers of Finance and Planning and Urban Development and Sacred Area Development were informed of this decision but not the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.
Another serious issue regarding the establishment of this park are the plans to construct a pipeline to dump the industrial waste that will accumulate into the Maha Oya, a water body in the area. According to an analysis done by the irrigation department the area has a low water flow and there is a possibility that the waste would remain stagnant, resulting in the people of the area that is Negombo and Katana, drinking water contaminated with these industrial toxins.
Nevertheless, as the BOI has concurrent authority over such matters, they are progressing with the construction without consulting any of the environmental authorities involved to resolve the problems that could arise.