Wanton destruction of trees on the Diyagala–Nallathanniya road in Ginigathhena
Due to haphazard tree felling, the 3-kilometre area spanning from Diyagala has become prone to landslides given it is a rocky slope - (pix by Samantha Perera)
Under the 100,000 kilometre road development project based on a concept by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa the relevant institutes received instructions to carpet and develop Diyagala – Nallathanniya road in Ginigathhena. It was planned to hand over the construction of the first three kilometres to Sierra Construction Limited. The road is systematically planned to be widened up to 6.25 metres and 3 metres by the Road Development Authority on the instructions of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau as this area is prone to landslides and receives rains throughout nine months every year.
Prior to making plans to construct the road and removing trees, stones and soil and designing curves, the Ambagamuwa Pradesha Sabha Chairperson had taken measures to fell trees on the road haphazardly. Nevertheless, he has also transported those trees using both Ambagamuwa PS lorries and private lorries to Ginigathhena Jayanthi Sawmill in Badupola and another sawmill in Kandy.
"The Chairperson has not sought any recommendation from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau"
The procedure to follow after marking the trees by the RDA is to inform the Ginigathena Divisional Secretariat and remove them through the supervision of the State Timber Corporation. That is the usual way such trees are removed before constructing roads. Yet the Ambagamuwa Pradesha Sabha Chairperson Jayasanka Perera of the ruling party has removed 42 trees including toona, rain trees and jackfruit trees claiming they would expose a road to risks. RDA Executive Engineer K. D. P. R. Devapriya confirmed that those trees were old and were of around 14-20 feet in diametre. He also said that the value of those trees exceeded 10 million Rupees.
18 trees in the RDA reserve spanning three kilometres from Diyagala and 24 trees in Lonach Estate in the Hatton plantation have been felled and removed. Even though the road is widened by three metres in some areas, the Ambagamuwa Chairperson has removed trees which were at a distance of 20 – 30 feet away from those areas. He has also removed only the valuable trees by leaving pine trees beside the road.
"Reportedly, the Chairman is attempting to prove that the trees were felled and removed in Lonach Estate through the PS based on a requirement of the estate"
Due to haphazard tree felling, the 3-kilometre area spanning from Diyagala has become prone to landslides given it is a rocky slope. Below this slope, the Kelani River is located. Ten villages including Mallikawa Colony, Hettewa Kanda, Govijanapadaya are in the area. These villages are also prone to landslides due to careless tree felling. The Chairperson has not sought any recommendation from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau. The villages will soon disappear from the map due to the actions of the Chairperson.
"The Ambagamuwa Pradesha Sabha Chairperson Jayasanka Perera is alleged to have pocketed a sum of more than ten million Rupees by felling trees. Before felling them he has indicated that the trees were a hazard to the road. Even though such trees were to be removed they cannot be transported without the approval of the Divisional Secretariat - Pradesha Sabha Chairperson Jayasanka Perera"
The Chairperson had not informed any institute prior to tree felling. Even at the time PS member Helapriya Nandaraja was making inquiries about the tree felling at a gathering of the Ambagamuwa Divisional Development Committee, the officers of the relevant institutes were unaware of this development. Based on his complaint, the Committee Chairman advised the officers to submit to the committee a report from respective institutes about this incident. Reportedly, the Chairman is attempting to prove that the trees were felled and removed in Lonach Estate through the PS based on a requirement of the estate. Nandaraja said that the Chairman has threatened the company not to give the Environmental Protection Licence to one of its farms and has refiled a case against the company for allowing cow urine to mix with water resources. If the estate planned to cut trees, that should happen according to a tender process and the officers were unaware of tree felling until the last moment, a Norton Bridge Police officer said.
The road from Diyagala to
Nallathanniya should surely be widened.
"The road from Diyagala to Nallathanniya should surely be widened"
However, the Ambagamuwa Chairperson has allegedly pocketed a sum of more than ten million Rupees by felling trees. Before cutting them down, he has indicated that the trees were a hazard to the road. Even though such trees were to be removed they cannot be transported without the approval of the Divisional Secretariat. An officer attached to the Norton Bridge Police said that the Chairperson has prepared a letter which allows the transportation of timber and has provided copies to the drivers. By doing so he has managed to transport timber through police checkpoints without difficulty. He has stolen Government money by misusing his authority. He has also transported them using Ambagamuwa PS vehicles. If PS vehicles are used, the approval of the Municipal Council should be sought and a payment should be made. A close PS member of the Chairperson said that PS vehicles haven’t been rented before. As complaints were lodged regarding this a receipt has been issued to claim that those vehicles were rented, he added.
"Nandaraja has said that the Chairman has threatened the company not to give the Environmental Protection Licence to one of its farms and has refiled a case against the company for allowing cow urine to mix with water resources - PS member Helapriya Nandaraja"
There are eyewitnesses to confirm the transportation of timber using PS lorries and private lorries. One of them is a woman who served in the RDA for 25 years and known as ‘Chooti Akka’. She works as a labourer in the RDA. PS workers who came to cut down trees have informed her that the RDA was responsible of felling of trees. She said that the RDA would never destroy trees in that manner. These trees were transported in Ambagamuwa PS garbage trucks. She opposed the loading of trees to the vehicles when her garden was affected by these activities. The Ambagamuwa PS Chairperson had allegedly threatened to fix her with the influence of the Norton Bridge Police stating that a case would be filed against her alleging she was selling Kasippu (moonshine). She said that she was afraid of such false accusations. (voice recordings of these threats are available)
"The Ambagamuwa PS Chairperson had threatened to fix her with the influence of the Norton Bridge Police stating that a case would be filed against her alleging she was selling Kasippu"
Weerasinghe, who has frequented the Ambagamuwa PS for six months to obtain permission to remove a tree posing danger to his house, said that timber was transported in Ambagamuwa PS lorries and also in other private lorries. PS member Nandaraja also said that in addition the Director General of Hatton Plantations PLC Rutnam had also lodged a complaint at police in this regard. The owner of Badupola Jayanathi Sawmill said that these trees trunks were brought to her sawmill in lorries, PS lorries and tippers. ‘I do not know the value of those trees. The PS paid money for the timber that was sawed. Some trunks were not sawed as they contained sap. When I refused to accept them as there were no permits, the persons who came said that this belonged to the RDA”, she said. When asked whether they were illegal timber without permits, she said that she had to saw them as the request was made by the PS. According to her there were 8-9 trunks which were around 10 feet long and a person who came in a three-wheeler had made the payments.
" I have never stolen public funds. I will take legal actions against people who steal money using my name - Forest Reservation Minister C. B. Ratnayake"
“He is clearly lying” Minister Ratnayake
The Chairperson introduces himself as a supporter of Nuwara Eliya District MP and Wilde Life and Forest Reservation Minister C. B. Ratnayake Minister C. B. Rathnayaka. His close associates say that the Chairperson brags that a part of his income from trees goes to the Minister. Responding to these comments Minister C. B. Rathnayaka said that Jayasanka Perera was not his supporter and he appointed a suitable district leader as the Chairperson. “He is clearly lying. I have never stolen public funds. I will take legal actions against such people who steal money using my name. I dismiss such allegations”, he added.
"PS member Nandaraja also said that in addition the Director General of Hatton Plantations PLC Rutnam had also lodged a complaint at police in this regard"
He also said that he had instructed at the Divisional Development Committee to conduct an inquiry and to produce a report after making inquiries into all the relevant institutes. “The fact that those trees were transported in PS lorries has not been proven yet. We will be able to prove that through a formal investigation,” he added. He also promised to hand over a copy of that report to us.
Soon after his call this writer received a threatening call from the call bearing the number 0777 357 771. The caller introduced himself as Sampath and claimed to be the Coordinating Secretary of Minister C. B. Rathnayaka. He said that he was calling us on the orders of the minister. The caller was attempting to prove that the Chairperson had cut the trees while following the legal procedure. He said that the tree felling activities of the Chairperson was covered by Paragraph 43 of the Local Government Act and that the trees were removed following a request made by Lonach Estate.
"‘Chooti Akka’ opposed the loading of trees to the vehicles when her garden was affected by these activities"
When we made inquires from the Minister he said that he does not have a secretary named Sampath and added that the phone number mentioned does not belong to any of his staffers. It was later found that this number belonged to the Ambagamuwa Chairperson and he was using several SIM cards. Reportedly he has claimed at the PS General Meeting on January 21 that he has cut down trees in accordance with Paragraph 43 of the Local Government Act following a requirement of the estate. He may have tried to threaten this writer in the same manner he threatens civilians in Ginigathhena.
"18 trees in the RDA reserve spanning three kilometres from Diyagala and 24 trees in Lonach Estate have been felled and removed"
Ginigathhena District Secretary Sithara Gamage said that the Grama Niladhari officer of the area, where trees were cut, had informed her about the activities. “When I inquired into it, I found that trees were being cut down. I suspended the felling of trees until I have the approval and the environmental reports. Once I have these reports, I can allow the tree felling. Before transporting the timber, my approval should be obtained as well. If there is a risk of landslides, I would take necessary actions. I was unaware of such a situation until you told me. The RDA should let me know of the proposed width of the road and the trees to be cut,” she added.
RDA Executive Engineer, K. D. P. R. Devapriya said that the Ambagamuwa Chairperson had cut down trees following a wrong procedure. “Trees posing a danger to the road are marked before constructing the road and after informing the District Secretariate the State Timber Corporation should remove those trees while generating an income to the government. The Chairperson has violated that procedure. I sent a letter to the Chairperson inquiring about this incident and its copies to other institutes,” he added.
"Due to haphazard tree felling, the 3-kilometre area spanning from Diyagala has become prone to landslides given it is a rocky slope"
The Nuwara Eliya District Forest Range Officer said that he was unaware of this incident.
Nuwara Eliya District State Timber Corporation Manager Jayasekara said that the Chairperson never informed him about felling the trees. “The Timber Corporation removes trees after the RDA marks the trees to be removed and sends the lists through the District Secretariate. I was not informed about the 47 trees the Ambagamuwa Chairperson removed,” he added.
The Daily Mirror tried to contact the Ambagamuwa Chairperson (on the phone number 0760992177) and the respondent rejected the call stating it was a wrong number. The voice matched the person who threatened this writer. The number was identified by the Truecaller mobile application as belonging to
"These villages are also prone to landslides due to careless tree felling"