Environmentalists Up In Arms Over Cabinet Move
- Sand transporters have a field day
By Nirmala Kannangara
Environmentalists have raised concerns over the Cabinet decision to relax regulations on obtaining a permit to transport sand.
Environmentalists also accused the Director General of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) Anil Peiris of violating the Mines and Minerals Act by way of adopting the cabinet decision which does not give any legal binding to those who violate the law.
The cabinet on May 10 decided to permit the transportation of sand without a license from 6am to 6pm and it was later further relaxed on May 17 allowing sand transportation even during the night without any restrictions.
“All mine related activities are governed by the Mines and Minerals Act No. 33 of 1992 as amended by Act No. 66 of 2009. Under section 13 (d) of this Act, it is the GSMB that has the authority to issue licenses for exploration, mining, processing, transport, trade and export minerals. However with the cabinet decision, the GSMB is no more issuing licenses for sand mining and transportation which is strictly against the law vested on them through the Act,” Environmental Lawyer Wardani Karunaratne said.
Karunaratne questioned as to how the GSMB could relax the laws vested on them through the Mines and Minerals Act solely to abide by a cabinet decision.
“The GSMB has acted against the law and neither the subject minister nor the cabinet could override the existing law. The only way the regulations can be relaxed is by way of amending the Act,” said Karunaratne.
According to Karunaratne, although the government argues that this decision was taken to bring down the exorbitant sand prices, the authorities have failed to look at the adverse environmental impact it could have.
“Before the regulations were relaxed the GSMB had a control over sand transportation which controlled the mining process since the bureau has no capacity to check its compliance. Therefore sand mining was controlled as a result of the restrictions on transport. However since these restrictions were taken out it has now come to a situation where excessive sand mining is taking place creating a huge environmental impact,” Karunaratne added.
Karunaratne further said that the GSMB had overruled certain limitations and conditions specified by the Supreme Court.
“The decision taken by the GSMB is contrary to the directives given by the Supreme Court in time to time at the court case (No. CSFR 81/04) where an individual filed a case against the GSMB for issuing licenses. All these court decisions have been properly followed until the cabinet decided to discontinue issuing licenses to bring down the sand prices,” added Karunaratne.
She further said that excessive sand mining had directly contributed to salinity intrusion as a result of lowering the ground water table and sea erosion.
“Why cannot the government take a policy decision to use sea sand for government projects which could reduce the inland sand usage? It is sad to note as to how the government is encouraging inland sand mining knowing what the consequences are,” she said.
However GSMB Director General Anil Peiris said that he had to stop issuing licenses on a Presidential directive.
”The President’s decision was conveyed to us by the minister. The minister made a special statement in parliament and said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given orders to discontinue this process. So the GSMB stopped issuing the permits from May 10,” said Peiris.
When asked as to how legal it is for him to violate the Mines and Minerals Act by way of adopting a presidential directive which does not give any legal binding to violate the Act, Peiris said that he has no powers to overrule the Supreme Court decision. “There is an ongoing court case filed by an individual against the GSMB for issuing sand transportation licenses. Most probably the court will deliver its order on June 8 against issuing licences. So that is why I am following the procedure now. If you want any more details come and meet me,” Peiris said.