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Sinharaja in Danger

by Hafsa Sabry

Sinharaja Rainforest

Alleged illegal construction of mini hydro power plants projects in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka, has caused many environmental damages to the world heritage. Sinharaja is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The illegal construction of the Project that crosses the Kosgulana River and along the water catchment areas of Diya Eli, Ganga Jala in the Sinharaja Forest buffer zone has caused considerable damages to the rainforest, even though the environmentalists and the Rainforest Protectors Organization raised concern over the environmental damages resulted by the project. In the meantime, the relevant authorities are being informed about the damages caused by the project, and they are accused of being silent over the law violation.

The Ministry of Power and Energy has planned to construct108 Mini Hydro Power Plants in one of the high bio-diversities of the country along Sripada, Sapthaya Kanya, Maskeliya Oya, and through Lakshapana Dam and V-Oya without any proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) being conducted by the relevant authorities, while causing damages to the environment, and the water sources of the country. This construction is being carried out in the Northern Sinharaja Rainforest buffer zone at Kosgulana, approximately 4km East from Kudawa main entrance.

Ampanagala, Vevathenna, Kombarava Ganga, Dambulu Oya, Banamadu Oya, Gombarau Oya, and many lakes and water streams are being affected and damaged by this project. “The construction of this project on the basis of economic development is being carried out while ignoring the protection of nature reservoirs and the water sources of the country,” claimed Ravindra Kariyawasam, the environmentalist and Director for Center for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS).

More than 78 Private companies will be benefited from this project of 108 mini hydro power plants to which many environmental committees have expressed concern over the environmental damages caused by it. Nevertheless, the project is under construction and reported as a violation of the National Environmental Act of Sri Lanka.

He also claimed that the project carries out the blasting method in its process which has caused visible damages to the rainforest and the gravel roads of Sinharaja Rainforest. “Many environmental damages are allegedly being posed to while the groundwater level of the areas is going down,” he said. Moreover, the wild animals and birds that depend on the water catchment areas of the rainforest are also being exposed to these environmental damages. He also alleged the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) for not attending to their duties of protecting the bio-diversities and the nature reservoirs of the country. Fences were being built to block the pristine water streams from entering into the constructional areas while obstructing the speed of water flow which will result in the reduction of oxygen in the water. Due to this temperature of water changes causing discomfort for the animals and the water creatures in the rainforest.

Moreover, a dam is being built blocking the Kosgulana River in the Sinharaja buffer zone and several acres of rainforest cleared by heavy machinery and concrete along the pristine and protected river bank. Large trucks and machinery utilized for this construction had cleared through what was once a small footpath in the Sinharaja buffer zone, between Kudawa and Kosgulana.

“As a result of the rainforest continuously being exposed to deforestation and anti-environmental friendly projects within the conservative areas, the level of rain that the country receives every year has been reduced which will also result in affecting the people and the wildlife of hill countries,” said Ravindra Kariyawasam.

A research conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-based organization established in 1974, reveals that the groundwater level of the area and the environment is exposed to an irreparable damage when such anti-environmental projects are carried out in the conservative areas. For Example, the Azwam mini hydropower plants project in Egypt reportedly affected the villagers and the wildlife in the area.

“The result of Randenigala and Victoria projects that claimed to produce power even to India is a good example to stop these anti-environmental projects in the country as those projects were a failure in protecting the environment,” said Ravindra Kariyawasam.

“There are many natural ways to produce power and energy rather than constructing mini hydro power plants or large scale power plants. Electricity could be produced from water, air and solar. Hence the government should try and ensure that the projects do not harm the environment and natural reservoirs while using the natural ways to produce power and electricity,” he further stated. “It is significant to note that the relevant authorities are fully aware of the irreparable damages which will be resulted by the project, but they still allow them to carry out the illegal constructions with no EIA s conducted with regard to the project,” he claimed.

 

A mini hydro power plant

 

Environmentalists

This project allegedly violates the environmental laws in the Constitution that protect the conservative areas of forest reserves, rivers and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The responsible authorities at the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Ministry of Environment, the Forest Conservation Department, and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) should be vigilant in acting against the illegal project constructions. “Failure to take timely action will result in further destruction and total mockery of the environmental laws in Sri Lanka and ruin this UNESCO World Heritage Rainforest,” claim the environmentalists.

This is the second instance the CEA has allowed destructive mini-hydro projects within a World Heritage Rainforest, after allowing “Eli Hatha” mini-hydro project in Sripada (Central Hills World Heritage Rainforest) in total violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance and National Environment Act.

These mini-hydro projects generate small amount of power (approximately 1 to 2 MW) while the destruction to the eco-system and the environment is considerably huge. Approximately, 12,979 hectares in Samanala Adaviya (Sripada) nature reservoir was declared as a nature reserve by a gazette notification in September 7, 2007 and is protected by the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO). Section 3 and 6 of the ordinance strictly forbid any development activity in a nature reserve such as construction of permanent or temporary structures, deforestation, removal of plants, destroy fauna and flora or construction of roads.

It raises a question as to why the Department of Forest is still silent on the issue even though it is clear the constructions are illegal and underway within the premises of the Sinharaja Rainforest, claimed the environmentalists. The CEA has not done a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) available for public comment nor information about such a project communicated to respective organizations in charge of protecting Sinharaja World Heritage Rainforest. Questions have been raised about the involvement of these authorities to hide this destructive project from the public.

Hundreds of pristine water streams that originate from the hilly Rajuwankanda rainforest flow towards Kosgulana River through the buffer zone have been destroyed by heavy trucks.

The Sunday Leader questioned the relevant authorities as to why they have not acted against the law violations and the environmental damages caused by the project to the world heritage Sinharaja rainforest.

Responding to the questions, the Director General of CEA, K.H. Muthukudarachchci said the project is legally being cleared by the authority as they have conducted proper EIAs for the mini hydro power plants project that was being constructed in the premises of the World Heritage Sinharaja Rainforest. He also said the project is not illegal nor violates any laws of the National Environmental Act.

 

Forest Department

Director General of the Department of Forest Anura Sathurusinghe responding to The Sunday Leader said the particular area where the project is being under construction does not come under the authorization of the Department or the forest reservoirs of the country.

“I recently came to know that there are violations of some conditions by the CEA. Hence, I will visit the place tomorrow to check the environmental damages caused by the project and will recommend the CEA to act against any violations of law,” said Anura Sathurusinghe. He also claimed that the Department is not authorized to act against the law violations of the project since it has been cleared by the Sabaragamuva Divisional Secretariat of Kalavana, but they will act against the project if there are any law violations and environmental damages to the rainforest.

5 Comments for “Sinharaja in Danger”

  1. Isiirangeen Udarath Wanigasekara

    Sinharaja must be protected

  2. Mary Joe

    Sri Lanka is a small island. It should be paradise to the world. If a tree is cut down, ten of them should be planted. Jungle sholud be saved and another billin of trees should be planted.

  3. gamarala

    Sathurusinghe, if he had toured the area at least once a year, would have become aware.
    DG of CEA should state the names of those who commenced these projects.
    They probably have ‘political clout’.
    Does Divisional Secretariat of Kalavana have authority to approve such projects without environmental assessments?

  4. Suren soysa

    When ever an environmental issue crops up, “Pass the Ball” game starts or there is no one to take responsibility! Worst is that in all these matters there are too many cooks who spoil the soup. Starting from the minister down are all square pegs in round holes. Only the amateur environmental lovers make a genuine cry, but are rarely heard, owing to bureaucratic bungling. Finally all officials wash their hands without any punishment or penalty! The divisional secretaries and their assistants are the worst culprits who curry favour with the politicians & the business men ignoring the damage to the people and nature. To the Governing bunch, money, power, glory and political victory is far more valuable than protecting the NATURE for posterity.

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