The Sunday Leader

Political Hand Unearthed In Sand-Mining Racket

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Sand mining

The sand mining industry has become as lucrative as gold mining. Sand is dug out in the same manner gold is mined. The industry is operating however with very little supervision.

Allegations have now been raised over a massive racket involving the sand mining industry. Sri Lanka’s largest natural sand deposit situated in Gal Oya has currently become a hot spot for sand racketeers. Sources have revealed that the racket is being carried out in a massive scale in ‘Adal Oya’ in Gal Oya and a leading politician has been linked to the racket.

Minister for Primary industries, Daya Gamage has been accused of using his political influence to grant sand mining permits to his close associates. A recent investigation carried out by The Sunday Leader has also revealed that this issue has now escalated into an all out war among several politicians.

There is an established procedure for mining sand in Sri Lanka. Accordingly to mine sand the permission of the relevant District Secretary and the divisional secretary is essential. The heaviest burden of the task falls upon the geology and mining bureau. The permits are issued by successful candidates who could satisfy the requirements set out by a committee that comes under the purview of the bureau.

Previously, during the period of office of Dayarathne who had served the area as a UNP MP for over 40 years, sand mining had been carried out on a massive scale. He has been accused of giving away sand mining permits to his stooges. A person who had worked as his private secretary has been carrying out sand mining since 3,4 years. Raju Chularathne aka “Weli Chula” has been carrying out this racket for over 20 years. Furthermore a son of Dayarathne is also holding a sand mining permit. However, after his recent election victory, Daya Gamage has been accused of giving away these permits to his supporters. This proves that the sand mining racket has become a ball that is being exchanged between politicians.

A small number of sand mining permits have been issued permitting the trade. Apart from that there are other restrictions such as the prohibition of mining sand with the help of machines and entering vehicles into river banks. These steps have been taken by recommendation committees with the intention of preventing the erosion of land in the Gal Oya scheme. In a letter addressed to the District Secretary of Ampara district and the mining bureau on 17.05.2016, 16 people have been named as accused of engaging in the racket. Eastern Province opposition Member Manjula Fernando has so far issued 10 permits to mine sand. The list contains the names of many who had contributed to the plans and 16 names have been recommended by Minister Daya Gamage. However issuing licenses and coordination have been carried out by Manjula Fernando.

Nepotism and serving those who are closer to him are commonest accusations that have been levelled against the Rajapaksa regime. The present government came into power criticising these actions. On many occasions both the President and the Prime Minister have vowed not to allow any form of nepotism in good governance. But it has now become evident that the ministers of the present government are repeating what their predecessors have done before.

In Minister Gamage’s own words “When someone asks me for a permit for sand mining I would ask the authorities to provide one. Apart from that I’m not involved in any sand business,” This proves that he is serving the needs of his supporters.

“Every year the Ampara Gal Oya River is getting filled with sand. So someone has to take it out. If this sand is not removed even our factories get flooded. I don’t know what happened during the previous regime. But this cannot be done against the procedure. I have never asked the officials to work contrary to law. If anyone claims that I have broken the law, then that is an outright lie. If anyone is caught while going in a motor cycle without wearing a helmet, he must be punished. Otherwise he would fall down from the bike and die,”  the Minister said with regards to the sand mining business.

Without mining sand from Gal Oya, the next available place for sand mining is the Mahaweli River.

But since it is a difficult task to do sand mining in the Mahaweli River, Gal Oya has become a preferred spot for these racketeers. At present Minister Daya Gamage has made several requests from the authorities to grant licenses for his supporters. Once again the role of the political authority in corruption has been proved.

We then asked the Director General of the Geological survey and mining bureau, Eng. D. Sajjana De Silva about this matter. “As far as I know, we have never been unduly influenced by Minister Daya Gamage. I can vouch for that. This department belongs to the President. No one is forcing us to give permits. Since this is a popular issue everyone’s attention is focused on us.So if we do not act with transparency, there are going to be a lot of questions. So no minister has made any undue influences on us,” Mr. Sajjana said.   But when asked whether the politicians aren’t presenting them names of particular individuals asking them to favour them, the Director General said that all the politicians ask is to do justice. In response to our continued queries, the Director General said that truth could be understood by visiting the place.

Meanwhile the Irrigations Ministry has also been accused of being involved in this sand mining racket. Its director Mr. Saman said “Generally when a request is made we make a visit to the place and make necessary recommendations if there is sand. Here we have to obtain permission from the Geology and environmental departments. But most businessmen have not followed these procedures claiming that they cannot obtain a profit from the business if these rules are followed. It’s hard for us to control that,” he said.

According to the Irrigations Director even though sand mining has been restricted by issuing permits, in reality that does not happen.

However, in response to our query regarding the undue influence of politicians he said “They are recommending certain people. But we only give permits to those who are qualified. If more officials could be deployed this could be made successful.”

If the government is also getting an income from the sand mining industry, then more officials could be appointed towards supervising the task. When the rivers overflow, sand is collected in certain areas. But at present some people are not even mining this excess sand, they also dig up inside the rivers creating serious environmental problems. Mr. Saman is also of the opinion that there is a need for a more regulated procedure.The other famous destination of these Sand racketeers has been the Adal Oya. It is said that Mr. Daya Gamage’s brother is engaged in the sand mining business in Adal Oya area. Although he possesses a permit for sand mining, reports have revealed that he is also mining sand in areas that is not covered by that permit.

However, responding to the claim that his brother is engaged in sand mining in the Bokka Bedda area, Minister Daya Gamage said that if anyone including his brother is breaking the law, then the authorities must take action against it. Accordingly, we asked the Officer in charge of Uhana police station Mr. Pingala about their response to this alleged offense since the police media unit has not been briefed regarding the matter. However, denying any illegal activity taking place in his area, the police officer refused to comment further.

Commenting on the issue, Divisional Secretary of Uhana Ms. K.M.A. Kumari said “The Adal Oya belongs to the irrigations department. During the season when the sand is collected, they issue permits to mine sand.” She also said that raids are being conducted with the help of GS officials, police and environmental organisations to track down illegal sand miners. But she said that no complaints have been made against any associates of Minister Daya Gamage.

On July 25, a ceremony was held in Polonnaruwa with the participation of the President. Speaking about the issue, Minister Gamage said “Since the ground had been wet, I asked the GA to order all sand miners to provide 1 cube of sand each to be used in fixing the ground. When sand is needed for a place where the President arrives, there is no need for following legal procedures. Otherwise the government funds that has to be spent over that”. However, there are problems as to how ethical this statement is. But in his defense, the minister only said “What you write is not accepted by the people”.

It was seen in recent times it was seen how closely the President and Minister Daya Gamage are working together. But the President has also continuously said that he would take any step to protect the environment. Especially, one of his key decisions on the subjects was prohibiting the undue mining and transportation of sand. He also ordered the police to enforce the law against his brother’s illegal sand mining business. However, unfortunately is friend Miniter Daya Gamage has been accused of allowing his close associates to continue this illegal trade.

However, attempts made to contact the GA Polonnaruwa to obtain his views regarding the failure to follow due process in obtaining sand to prepare the ground for the President’s event was unsuccessful as his press officer Mr. Gunawardhana said that the GA was busy.

This disputed area in Gal Oya also belongs to a forest reserve. Hence we asked the Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama regarding his views on the matter. The minister said that his department would never allow such a thing to happen in areas that come under their purview. “Although the villagers are taking out a little amount of sand, there is no massive business in it” the minister said. However, despite the minister’s comments, it has been revealed that certain wildlife officials have also been involved in this racket. We hope to reveal more details on the matter in a future article.


2 Comments for “Political Hand Unearthed In Sand-Mining Racket”

  1. Nimal

    Recently this industry run by our poor people have been hijacked by people with political connection thus preventing poor to make a living.When there is a ban then there will be a reason for a corrupt practice where some few will take advantage.

  2. Mahen

    This is a quote from an expert.
    “Revenue loss to the exchequer is seemingly the only tangible cost of illegally mined sand, but the impact that it has on environment and ecology is far greater and far graver.
    From forcing the river to change its course, to affecting the groundwater tables and adversely impacting the habitat of micro-organisms, the ramifications of illegal sand mining are many.
    Sand is important for ground water recharge, on a riverbed it acts as a link between the flowing river and the water table and is part of the aquifer.
    Illegally dredged sand, is equivalent to robbing water. Sand holds a lot of water, and when it is mindlessly mined and laden on to trucks, large quantities of water is lost in transit.
    The negative impact of illegal sand mining far outweighs the economic benefits. There is a perception that sand and boulders are useless and rivers have a lot of sand. This is incorrect, because they are crucial for the sustained existence of the river and perform many functions.”
    I hope the government authorities will read this and take their responsibility more seriously. In the least for the sake of their own progeny who have to live in this island long after they are dead and gone.

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