New Democratic Front (NDF) Presidential Candidate Sajith Premadasa signed the country's first environmental charter recently, at an event held at the Taj Samudra, Colombo. An initiative undertaken by Minister Premadasa, the charter aims to undertake reversing the trend of biodiversity loss, tackling climate Change, wildlife conservation and mitigating human-elephant conflict as national priorities, if the candidate is elected to the highest office of Sri Lanka. The charter would also enable Minister Premadasa to legislate the elaborate action plan if elected.
The event was attended by a host of environmentalists, conservationists and activists, who witnessed the historic pledge, the Minster undertook, as he proposed to make nongovernmental organisations, key stakeholders in the conservation policy. He said that the move would provide them a role in monitoring the implementation of a national priority programmes in environmental and wildlife conservation as well as climate change.
The events guests included leading conservationist Rukshan Jayawardene, Senior Lecturer of the Department of Bio-Science at the University of Jaffna, Dr. S. Wijeyamohan, Vice President of John Keells Group and Head of Nature Trails at Cinnamon Hotels Chitral Jayatilake and renowned Indian naturalist Valmik Thapar who delivered the keynote address.
Minister Premadasa, whilst acknowledging Thapar’s proposal to establish an Earth Sciences University in Sri Lanka, if elected, also promised to uphold the role of government officials working in environment and conservation areas, especially by providing them opportunities for career development and training. “Not only government agencies but individuals, groups including local and international NGOs and experts in the field would be key stakeholders in taking this programme forward,” Minister Premadasa said.
Conservationist Rukshan Jayawardene noted that it is the first time in Sri Lanka that a presidential candidate had detailed an environmental programme and signed a charter with conservationists, environmentalists and the people of Sri Lanka. “There’s a lot to be hopeful about from our point of view, we hope that he will implement this programme if he is elected, as much of the struggle conservationists undergo in Sri Lanka is that politicians, in the run up to elections, promise so many things. They’re very environmentally friendly until they get their endorsement and beyond the election, they forget all about it. We have been led down the garden path so many times by so many governments, that this is a breath of fresh air,” he said.
A noteworthy detail of Minister Premadasa’s pledge was eliminating conflicting mandates of all government agencies. Therefore if implemented this move would see a number of government agencies streamlined to tackle wildlife conservation, forest protection and coast conservation, under the “Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.”