Large Scale Illegal Gem Mining In Matale
by Janaka Wijegunatillake
- Some people have also begun to excavate land in forest reserves in the area in search for gems
- Paying just Rs. 225,000 for a consignment of gem rich earth worth millions of rupees has become a blessing for these criminals
- This illegal gem mining that is being carried out with the help and blessings of politicos has a long history
During a recent visit to the area, the scale of the gem mining racket was clearly visible and the racket continues despite such activities being banned.
Almost all the paddy fields in the Raththota Kaluganga area have become gem mines. The environment has been severely damaged as a result of the gem mining activities, which has some political backing.
A politician in the area, Rohini Kumari Wijerathna, is said to be involved in the racket and has obtained clearance to operate the large scale gem mining.
Some people have also begun to excavate land in forest reserves in the area in search for gems, sources said. The damage to state land is being carried out with the support of a government institution. Even when a complaint is made regarding this scam, these officials have adopted a clever strategy of delaying their investigations as long as possible to allow the racketeers to complete their illegal gem mining. This was clearly seen in a recent raid carried out on January29 in Ellewela.
On the night of January 29, a group of racketeers had carried out illegal gem mining within the Ellewela Ela forest reserve by using heavy machinery, taking out a large portion of earth to be transported to another location.
According to residents in the area, the illegal activity had been carried out while two policemen and several employees of the Gem Corporation had been present on the spot. After allowing the racketeers to remove the earth throughout the night, officials had ‘raided’ the location and imposed a Rs. 225,000 fine on the use of the heavy machinery and for the excavation of earth. According to residents in the area, paying just Rs. 225,000 for a consignment of gem rich earth worth millions of rupees has become a blessing for these criminals.
According to sources, three individuals, identified as Nilan, Rohitha and Buru Manju, were accused of being involved in the racket. They are notorious for having the backing of government officials to excavate the earth.
At present the gems could only be found in these forest reserves and the lands that have been acquired to build roads. Hence these racketeers have adopted such shrewd ways to bypass the law, in order to carry out gem mining inside these forest reserves during night time.
According to an officer attached to the Laggala police station, an individual arrested on the charge of carrying out illegal gem mining could be produced before a court and be released after paying a fine of Rs. 10,000.
According to the law, a person who is caught for mining gems inside a forest reserve cannot be fined by the Gem Corporation. Hence, by releasing the suspects and their plunder after imposing a fine does not come under the authority of the corporation. Since this procedure is contrary to the law, the officer in charge of the Laggala area in the Irrigations Department had filed complaints with the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and the Laggala police regarding the matter under No. 0201341 and 7 CIB 209/236/31/01/2017 respectively.
This illegal gem mining that is being carried out with the help and blessings of politicos has a long history. When Wijerathna Banda, father of Member of Parliament of Matale district Rohini Kumari Wijerathna, represented the area, illegal gem mining had been carried out throughout the entire main road near the Kalu Ganga. The environmental damage which had commenced since then is being carried out non-stop expanding into all the areas in the region. They have commonly relied on the tactic of getting a trivial fine for a massive plunder with the help of government officials.
This has caused environmental damage of staggering proportions to the Laggala area. There is no doubt that the mineral resources on earth could be used to fulfill the necessities of the people.
But that should only be done according to the laws by minimizing the damage caused to the environment. If not, as the story of the golden swam ends, we all would also end up with absolutely nothing.