The water level in wells in the area have considerably lowered as ground water is flown towards sandpits which are deeper than 30 feet
The sand mining has also caused the destruction of plants such as mangroves and mangrove apple surrounding Heen Ela in Kinitidulawa
Due to haphazard sand mining, houses with cracked walls are at risk of sinking during the rainy season
Locals from Number 65 Grama Niladhari division in Malawenna in Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariat said sand mining activities in the area have continued for years and created a number of hazards. Several complaints have been made to government institutions against Sevan Idushka, a son of a businessman in the area who is said to be responsible for sand mining activities closer to Heen Ela in Kinitidulawa and Malawanna River. The distance from the sand mining site to the beach is only about 800 metres. In a letter sent to the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau the locals have complained that earlier there had been sand mining in Thaggahawatta in Maradana area. And now the said businessman is allegedly engaged in sand mining in the same area located towards the mid of Malawenna village.
Open pits created as a result of sandmining
Due to sand mining activities using backhoe loaders, around 45 houses nearby have cracked walls, the locals claimed. They also stated that houses closer to the sand mining site are at the risk of sinking. The water level in wells in the area have considerably lowered as ground water is flown towards sandpits which are deeper than 30 feet.
They also said that as the shovel in the backhoe loader is not long enough they have used an additional helper to dig deep into the sands. Therefore ground water moved towards those areas. The sand mining has also caused the destruction of plants such as mangroves and mangrove apple surrounding Heen Ela in Kinitidulawa. The same businessman owns a plot of land measuring 8 acres. There too he has done sand mining in around three acre area. Even though locals have informed the relevant state institutions about the environmental hazards and the difficulties they had to face owing to sand mining activities, the authorities have turned a blind eye to their complaints. Due to haphazard sand mining, houses with cracked walls are at risk of sinking during the rainy season. The locals also underscored a risk of sand erosion during off season even if the site is located 800 metres away from the beach. Tsunami disaster caused a lot of damages to Thelawatta, Paraliya and Kahawa and those areas were later named as extremely sensitive to enviornmental disasters. Due to this reason constructions and projects in the area were also halted.
In such a background it is questionable as to who gave permission for sand mining in the area, the villagers asked.
Letter issued by Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariat relating to protest made by villagers due to sand mining activities
Letter written by Rev. Mawadavila Shantha Thera addressed to the Divisional Secretary
Signatures by villagers
They also said that even though state institutions were informed of the risks they have not taken any measures. Refining of sand is also done at the same area. Even though the sandpits should be filled in a systematic way, these pits have been filled with polythene, plastic and non-decaying litter causing massive enviornmental damage. Due to collection of water in the sandpits, the area has been infested with flies and mosquitoes and stagnated water also causes a stench, according to the villagers.
Locals oppose activities of businessman
The businessman has attempted to fill these pits with garbage from Hikkaduwa Urban Council. However the locals have opposed it. Now the businessman is allegedly filling the pits with litter and non-decaying garbage, they complained. The locals pointed out that as a result the environment has been destroyed. There are around 516 families in Malawenna and most of them have opposed these sand mining activities. However, according to the section of the villagers, some people who were opposed to these activities at the beginning have now changed their ‘course’ due to various reasons. The villagers are of the view that the businessman was not in possession of a permit for sand mining. However he has denied it.
When locals have inquired about a permit from the Matara Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, the officials have replied that sand mining was conducted following the proper procedure. The businessman also claims that he has permits issued from all the relevant institutions. “He has never showed these permits to us” the locals added.
Meanwhile the authorities have turned a blind eye to several requests made by the Chief Incumbent of Malawenna Sri Pushparama Purana Maha Vihara, Ven. Madawila Shantha Thera. The locals have formed an organization named ‘Surakimu Ape Gama Malawenna – Janatha Pawura’ on the instructions of the Thera. Through the organization, the villagers have got together to oppose the sand mining activities in the area.
"This land contains more sand and I am removing it and filling the area with soil before cultivating cinnamon. In the rest of the land I am planning to build a rest house. - Sevan Idushka"
According to villagers around 516 families in Malawenna have been affected due to sand mining. Sevan Idushka was said to have lodged a complaint against several locals who have taken photographs of the site. The police who checked the CCTV footage of the nearby site said that these people did nothing, but they have only taken photographs. Even though the businessman had complained to the police to arrest those taking photographs, the police has turned down his request.
In a letter dated 17-02-2021, Matara branch of the Central Environmental Authority has requested the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau to look in to the environmental destruction in Malawenna. Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariat has also sent a letter to the bureau asking the same based on a letter sent by Nihal Mendis,
a local from Malawenna. He has also sent copies of his letter to the President and the Defence Secretary. However the letters have received replies and the environmental destruction has not been halted. Thereafter the locals have formed an organization to protect their village. The locals said that the businessman has bought another two acres near the site and was getting ready to start sand mining activities there as well. According to estimates the site contained sand worth 80 million Rupees.
Villagers tried to get money from me- Businessman
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Sevan Idushka said that four people linked to the UNP were opposing his business. “First they tried to get money from me and when I refused to pay them they are now making accusations against me. I am a land seller and I got this land to grow cinnamon. This land contains extra sand and I am removing it and filling the area with soil before cultivating cinnamon. In the rest of the land I am planning to build a rest house. Sand mining activities have been carried out in 0.5 acres of the land and the distance from the sea to the site is 800 metres. The distance from the area to Heen Ela is 300 metres,” he said.
Questions regarding permit for sand mining
‘Sandpits are filled with soil, mud and concrete and not with non-decaying materials. As locals litter those pits, I built a gate and set up CCTV cameras. I am engaged in sand mining with the permission of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and other institutions. I have a permit for sand mining and I can send you a copy. Locals think of taking money from me as they believe I earn a lot of money. No nearby house has cracked walls or are at risk of sinking. I stopped sand mining activities a year ago” he added.
"The Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera said that he has not received any information or complaint with regard to this incident. If he can be informed of the matter, he could take necessary action, he added."
However the Daily Mirror is yet to see a copy of the permit he claims to have.
Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretary, Ayesha Goonathilake said that Sevan Idushka has received a permit for sand mining. “His previous permit expired in last November and he has obtained a new one. After he obtained the second one, locals opposed his activities. I sent the Grama Niladhari to each house and only one person of the village opposed these activities. It is a private land and I could not oppose sand mining activities as the permission of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau and the Central Environmental Authority has been granted. The Grama Niladhari in the area informed me that the businessman has bought two acres and if he is to carry out sand mining in that land, locals will oppose such activity claiming that this would cause environmental destruction”. But according to Goonathilake no such destruction has taken place owing to sand mining in the area.
According to locals around 300 out of 516 families in the village have opposed these activitie.
The Divisional Engineer of the Matara Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, D L P M Douglas said that the permit that was issued for sand mining in that land was now expired and the bureau has given instructions to start rehabilitations. “He has bought another land and the locals have opposed sand mining there. We have not got an application for a permit for sand mining in the second land. Locals are against issuing permits to carry out sand mining in Malawenna village and they have complained against that. We will conduct an investigation and issue permits only based on recommendations given by other institutes. We still have not decided whether to issue permits or not.
"His previous permit expired in last November and he has obtained a new one. After he obtained the second one, locals opposed his activities.
- Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariat, Ayesha Goonathilake"
There is no environmental destruction in the site where sand mining was carried out. But there is a sandpit. We received complaints with regard to the filling of the pit. The soil in the area is mixed with sand and it is not strong. Underneath is a layer of limestone. Foundations of most houses are not deep and they have not been built according to the standard procedures. We cannot exactly say that sand mining caused the house walls to crack. Even though the area became a sensitive zone after Tsunami sand permits have been issued since 2012. That businessman requested for a permit to fill the pits and they were filled. He has not asked for another one. We received a complaint that pits are filled with garbage. Food waste and hospital waste should not be dumped inside. Bricks and red soil can be added. We saw some garbage bags and ordered them to be removed. We have not issued any new permits,” he added.