By Sarasi Paranamanna
The Negombo lagoon’s mangroves which mitigated the great tsunami waves back in 2004 are now at the mercy of a development project.
The mangroves in the Thaladuwa grama niladhari division in Negombo stretch for 36 acres. Eight of theses acres have been allocated to a development project which included a housing scheme, claimed Romesh Fernando, “Society for the Protection of the Negombo Lagoon” President, a resident of Negombo.
Fernando charged that the Negombo Municipal Council was to initiate the development project, turning a blind eye to the destruction it would cause to the area that has already been demarcated by the Negombo District Secretariat, if the mangroves were cleared.
“Earlier too the mangroves were on the verge of destruction because the authorities were to start a water project in the area. Due to our protests the attempt failed. We are not against development but this area is sensitive and it should be conserved. It will not only affect our livelihoods but the future generations as well if the mangroves are damaged,” Fernando said.
The Environmental Impact
The area in which the development project is to begin is called “Kadol Kele” and is home to a diverse number of species and this sensitive eco-system is in danger due to the development project. Sajeewa Chamikara environmentalist and director of the Environmental Conservation Trust speaking to Daily Mirror noted that the fish and prawn harvest had already dropped significantly, due to the chemicals and other waste released from the surrounding hotels and factories.
He also pointed out that the mangroves were one of the key environmental safeguards that mitigated the impact of the tsunami waves which hit the coastal area in 2004. He said that the mangroves were a breeding ground for fish, prawn and crab and added that it not only endangered the lives of these species but was also a direct blow to the livelihoods of the fishermen residing in the area.
Sajeewa Chamikara explaining the legal picture of this issue pointed out that the 36 acre mangrove swamp was managed under the Forest Conservation Department as per circular number 05/2001 issued by the Environment Ministry Secretary on August 10, 2001.
Accordingly the mangroves are governed by the Forest Conservation Ordinance. Hence as per sentence 20 of the Ordinance, clearing, cutting, or building permanent or temporary structures in the mangroves is a violation of the Ordinance and persons who violate sentence 20, of the Ordinance, are subjected to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years or is subjected to a fine of not more than Rs 50,000.
Speaking further Chamikara noted “As per the gazette notification under the National Environmental Act prior to the usage of a forest area which is more than a hectare for non forestry purposes, an environmental permit should be obtained following an Environmental Impact Assessment report. It is rather unfortunate that the forest conservation authorities remain silent in the face of these violations”
Chamikara urged the authorities to conserve the mangroves by declaring it a forest reserve through a gazette notification. He added that the survey department had taken measures to declare the area as a reserve and noted that the mangrove swamp must be speedily declared as a reserve to prevent so-called developers indulging in destroying precious environmental resources according to their whims and fancies.
From the Negombo Municipal Council
When Daily Mirror contacted Negombo Mayor Anthony Jayaweera he stated that a development project was to be initiated under the auspices of the Municipal council.
But, he said he was not aware of such a development project which was to be initiated at the Negombo lagoon.
“I myself use to fish at the lagoon and I will not in anyway permit a project that will damage the mangroves. I have personally complained about fishermen who cut these mangroves and the police have only warned them. I believe the only way to stop the damage done to the mangroves is to take strict action against the perpetrators. But unfortunately protecting mangroves does not come under the purview of my duties. If the project is an illegal establishment I have the authority to demolish it but this is a matter which does not come under my authority” he said.
From the Negombo District Secretary
Negombo District Secretary A.K.R. Alawatte admitted an area with about 170 blocks of land of the mangroves was demarcated in Negombo. However he noted it was done following the tsunami disaster to provide housing for the displaced and added that the project came to a halt because of protests by the public.
“The demarcation is however still there but a project has still not been initiated in the demarcated area” he added.
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