Mahaweli Authority Remains Silent

  • Encroachments in Mahaweli River reservations with political partonag

By Waruni Karunarathne

The number of massive encroachments in the Mahaweli river reservations and Polgolla reservoir reservations are increasing but the Mahaweli Authority has not taken any steps to prevent the encroachments, environmentalists complained. Many environmentalists were of the view that the construction of hotels along the river bank has multiplied alarmingly in the recent past with political backing without any consideration on their environmental impacts.
Despite the existence of regulations such as State Lands Encroachments Ordinance No: 12 of 1840, Land Development Ordinance No: 19 of 1935, Crown Lands Ordinance No: 8 of 1947, State Lands Ordinance No 8 of 1947, State Lands (Recovery of Possession) Act No: 7 of 1979 and Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka (MASL) Act No: 23 of 1979, encroachments of river reservations continue especially on the banks of the Mahaweli River.
Shantha Ratnayake environmental lawyer said that 60 metres radius from the Mahaweli River was declared as river reservations under the Mahaweli Act and it comes under the purview of the Maheli Authroity. He added that it is prohibited to develop any land within 60 metres radius from Mahaveli River reservations and within 100 metres radius from the Polgolla Reservoir and therefore nobody can carry out any construction. He added, “Nevertheless, one and half kilometers along the Getambe-Katugasthota road, there are lot of illegal constructions in the river reservation area. He added that there is a Supreme Court order issued in 2008 under SR 45908 ordering that the Mahaweli Authority has to demolish all the illegal constructions in the Mahaweli reservation.

However to date, he added that the Mahaweli Authority has not taken any action to demolish the illegal constructions or to prevent new illegal constructions.  According to him other than the private individual encroachments, there are about 10 hotels in that area that are built in the river reservation. He said, “The environmentalists had been continuously asking the Mahaweli Authority to take necessary steps to stop these encroachments. Since they have failed to do so, we have now sent them a letter saying that we would take legal actions against the Mahaweli Authority for their negligence to perform their duties.”

In a letter addressed to the Director General of the Mahaweli Authority, the Lawyers for Environmentalists have mentioned that many tourist hotels are being built along the bank of Mahaweli River and the Polgolla and Victoria reservoirs.

They have informed the authorities that there are ongoing constructions most of which have started during last couple of months. According to the Lawyers for the Environmentalists, as a first step, the constructions start out side the reservation areas and gradually build into the river reservations in the second step – so that the constructions would not be stopped at the initial stages. The Sunday Leader also learns that some people have dug the area near the reservoir on 09.04.2014 to build a road.

An environmentalist added that along the right bank of the river from Getambe temple to the Katugasthota Bridge especially in the 2nd Rajasinghe Mawatha there are numerous encroachments. He added that along the river bank there is lot of biodiversity and these encroachments are a great threat to the river conservation and biodiversity in the area.

He also added that some of these hotels and private dwellings along the river bank discharge waste into the river, polluting the water which affect the fish species in the river.
A member of an environmental organisation in the area said that there are many ongoing constructions in the area that clearly violate the Mahaweli Act and do not conform to any of the requirements. He added, “Most of these constructions are carried out using political influences and some of the hotels are owned by politicians and that is a major reason why the Mahaweli Authority remains silent regarding this matter.”

He accused the Mahaweli Authority for being involved in such wrong dealings. According to him, the encroachments have increased drastically in the recent past.

Director General of the Mahaweli Authority said that the area between Gatambe Bridge and Katugasthota Bridge comes under the purview of Mahaweli Authority, However most of the lands along the river banks are private lands and if those individuals want to do any constructions or develop their land, they have to get the approval of the Mahaweli Authority.

He added, “We have number of requirements that includes an Environmental Impact Assessment. If the construction plan conforms to all our requirements we give approval to those private individuals to carry out the construction.”He added that the individuals who are seeking approval for constructions or any development to their land need to apply for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIM) through the Central Environmental Authority and then get the IEA done by an institute that is assigned by the Central Environmental Authority.

However he added that at present there may be some encroachment into the river reservations illegally but he assured that the Mahaweli Authority will take actions against such encroachments.

Director General of the Central Environmental Authority Dr. Saranga Alahapperuma added that the Mahaweli river reservation is totally under the purview of the Mahaweli Authority. He added that the Mahaweli Authroity has the power to authorise any constructions in the river reservation, even to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the Mahaweli Authority has to get involved.

He added that we are part of the EIA committee. But, as far as I am aware we have not done any EIA in the recent times. However, he added that he would have to look into the matter regarding the encroachments in the river reservations and obtain an update on the current status.

Since the authorities have been numb to the continuous complaints about the encroachments, a collective of environmentalists in Kandy said that they are in the process of filing a case against the Mahaweli Authority and the Director General of the Mahaweli Authority for neglecting to perform their duties.

“For about one and half kilometers along the Getambe-Katugasthota road, there are lots of illegal constructions in the river reservation area. The environmentalists had been continuously asking the Mahaweli Authority to take necessary steps to stop these encroachments. Since they have failed to do so, we have now sent them a letter saying that we would take legal actions against the Mahaweli Authority for their negligence to perform their duties.”
Shantha Ratnayake
environmental lawyer

——————————–

“Most of these constructions were carried out using political influences and some of the hotels are owned by politicians and that is a major reason why the Mahaweli Authority remains silent on this matter.”
Environment Organisation

——————————–

“We have number of requirements that includes an Environmental Impact Assessment. If the construction plan conforms to all our requirements we give approval to those private individuals to carry out the construction.”
Director General
Mahaweli Authority

Comments are closed

CG Colombo Gazette

Photo Gallery