The construction of a controversial road cutting through a section of the Sinharaja Forest – a world heritage site and the only primary rain forest in Sri Lanka was suspended yesterday amid protests by environmental activists and forestry officials.
Environment Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said the construction work on the roadway had been suspended because it disturbed the environmental and eco system balance of the pristine Sinharaja Forest which comes under the Forest Department.
Environmental activists and Forest Conservation Department (FCD) officials threatened to take legal action if the construction work went ahead on the road across the Sinharaja forest reserve.
“Minister Yapa is of the view that the road development across the protected forest range would damage the bio-diversity and natural habitat and therefore gave instructions to suspend it with immediate effect,” a ministry spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Imbulkanda Mihindutala Monastry Chief Incumbent Wiharahene Dhammasiddhi Thera who leads the campaign for the road construction said the road that stretched from Imbulkanda to Suriyakanda did not belong to the Forest Conservation Department though the department claimed that the area was its property.
‘We have used this road for ages to walk to Suriyakanda via Bambumale and Baragala. This is the only road the inhabitants of this area had to travel to and from Bambumale and Suriyakanda. Besides, the land belongs to the Land Reforms Commission (LRC),” the Thera said and added that the backwardness of Imbulkanda and other villages would disappear if and when the new seven-kilometer road was constructed as proposed.
However, the ministry spokesman said the minister as the then Plantation Industries Minister had submitted a cabinet paper in 2004 to vest the lands around Sinharaja in the LRC but it was recently that the lands were vested with the LRC.
The minister had also instructed the Conservator General of Forests to speed up the taking over process and prepare the necessary Cabinet Paper.
Meanwhile, cabinet spokesman Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana at yesterday’s weekly news briefing took a completely different view when he stressed that the alleged road construction was not taking place across Sinharaja forest or the lands that came under the Sinharaja forest range.
He reiterated that the construction of the proposed 20-foot wide road had been approved at the Development Committee Meeting of the Kalawana Pradeshiya Sabha on the request of the residents there. (Sandun A. Jayasekera)