No Environmental Clearance For Aerodrome In Seeduwa
By Nirmala Kannangara
Questions have been raised as to who has given environment clearances to establish a water aerodrome in the Dandugam Oya in Seeduwa.
Environmentalists are up in arms against the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the Wildlife Conservation Department (WLCD) for their failure to take actions against the Economic Development Ministry, for not obtaining the necessary environmental approvals before the Dandugam Oya aerodrome was built.
According to the environmentalists, not only the Economic Development Ministry is at fault for not obtaining an environmental impact assessment (EIA) clearance before Dandugam Oya was dredged and widened but the CEA and the WLCD has deliberately failed to discharge their duties although several letters had been sent to them to take immediate action against the wrongdoers.
“This shows clearly as to how the government is ignoring the environmental laws. Was it because the Economic Development Ministry is headed by one of the Rajapakse brothers?” queried these environmentalists.
Meanwhile, Director Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) Sajeewa Chamikara told The Sunday Leader that the newly built water aerodrome in Seeduwa which is in close proximity to the Bandaranaike International Airport is well within the Muturajawela sanctuary and its buffer zone.
“Dandugam Oya which was 25-30 meters in width was widened up to 100 meters in order to facilitate sea and float planes on wheels and for a terminal, and the surrounding buffer zone has been now turned into a passenger lounge, parking area for large tourist buses and for wide roads for easy access. All these developments have been taken place well within the sanctuary and its buffer zone. The middle of this Oya, before it was widened, was the boundary of the Muturajawela sanctuary and the buffer zone. While the sanctuary belongs to the WLCD, the buffer zone belongs to the CEA. Interesting to note as to how these two departments are silent against the Economic Development Ministry even though the required EIAs have not been carried out when several letters have been sent to them to take action against those who were behind this devastation,” said Chamikara.
He further said as to how the Sri Lanka Air Force was involved in dredging work and the villagers were not allowed to enter the area when the work has been carried out.
“Neither the villagers nor the environmentalists were allowed to enter the area where the dredging and widening were taking place. Although we know that it was widened up to 100 meters for 2km along the Oya, we are not sure as to how much meters they have dug the waterway. Earlier when plans were afoot to dredge the Negombo lagoon for the same purpose, the plan was to dig 5-6km from the lagoon bed. So we believe they may have carried out the same work here as well,” added Chamikara.
Chamikara further said that due to the dredging, the water levels in the surrounding marshy lands will go down especially during the dry season which will adversely impact the fauna and flora in wetlands
“In the event four hectares or 10 acres of wetland is filled, an EIA has to be obtained from the CEA. It is surprising as to why the CEA is doing nothing even though they know very well that the marshy lands (wetlands) are being filled with the mud that have been dredged from the Dandugam Oya,” said Chamikara
Chairman of the Central Environment Authority Charitha Herath said that approval for this had to be taken from the WLCD but not from the CEA. “Muturajawela does not come under the CEA but under WLCD. Check from the WLCD whether an EIA had been done. I do not know anything in this regard,” Herath said. However Chamikara queried as to how could the Chairman CEA say that it is the WLCD that has to look whether the project proponent has carried out any EIA or not. “Doesn’t he know that the Muturajawela buffer zone comes under the CEA? Doesn’t he know that it is the CEA that has to take legal action in the event the National Environment Act is violated? These are told to save his post in the government although he knows that his department too has to take legal action against those who violates these laws,”. Whether this area comes under the WLCD or any other agency, it is the CEA that has to direct the particular department to carry out the CIA,” claimed Chamikara.
Chamikara further said that no development work could be carried out within a 30-meter radius from either side of the banks of any water body which is less than 25 meters wide.
“If the water body is more than 25 meters wide, then no one is allowed to do any development work within a 60 meter radius from either side of the bank of the waterway. The CEA has the authority to take legal action against those who violate this law under the National Environment Act,” said Chamikara.
According to Chamikara, Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance has also been violated by the Economic Development Authority.
“None of the government agencies could tell that this ministry has got the EIA approval from the relevant department as in such an event, before the approval is granted, they have to open this for the public for a period of 30 government working days for public opinion. We as environmentalists know neither the WLCD nor any other agency placed any such proposal for public comments,” he said.
High officials at the WLCD said that they were helpless as the project was carried out by two institutions headed by two Rajapakse brothers. “Since the widening and dredging was carried out by the Sri Lanka Air Force which comes under the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the Economic Development Ministry headed by Basil Rajapaksae, the WLCD has preferred to keep silent,” said Chamikara.
I’m not aware – WLCD Asst. Director
The Assistant Director WLCD, Channa Suraweera says that he is not aware whether his department has given approval for the project.“I am busy now and ask the Economic Development Ministry about this,” he said.
However Kumudu, one of the officials attached to the department confirmed that the Economic Development Ministry did not get an EIA as it was a project done hurriedly.
“There was no time to go for an EIA as the dredging and widening of Dandugam Oya, filling the Muturajawela marsh land and road construction work for this project was done in a hurry. That was why they failed to get an EIA. Please ask the higher officials for further details,” said Kumudu.