- The proposed highway project is expected to be built from New Kelaniya bridge to Athurugiriya
- Environmental activists say the project posed a threat to the Thalangama Lake, surrounding ecosystems and paddy fields
Intending to protect the Ramsar Accredited Thalangama wetland from a proposed 10.4 km long highway project, which environmental activists say has posed a threat to the Thalangama lake, surrounding ecosystems and paddy fields, environmental activists, residents of the area and other concerned groups organised an awareness campaign on February 13, 2021, at the Thalangama Lake bridge.
The proposed highway project is expected to be built from New Kelaniya bridge to Athurugiriya.
A rare wetland
Recognising the uniqueness and the importance of this area, the Thalangama tank and its environs were declared as an Environmental Protection Area (EPA) under the National Environmental Act (NEA) No.47 of 1980 (as amended).
On March 05, 2017, a Gazette Notification was issued ancillary to the NEA only permitting activities such as the cultivation of paddy and traditional fishing within the Thalangama EPA. The Thalalanga Environmental Protection Area consists of 254 acres.
According to the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), the history of the Thalangama lake and surrounding paddy fields, which principally forms the Thalangama EPA, dates to the 16th century.
This is one of the last protected areas left. Destroying this wetland would stop the wetland from being able to perform its functions such as carbon absorption and flood prevention.
The Thalangama tank and its surrounding environs are considered an important habitat for water birds and other flora and fauna, functioning as an urban biodiversity refuge.
Besides, the paddy fields irrigated by the Thalangama tank provide a valuable source of income to around 175 paddy farmers in the area and the neighbouring villages. It also has an important flood retention capacity within the greater Colombo flood detention area.
Thalangama Environmental Protection Area
A historical village
“The word Thalangama is said to be derived from the word ‘Thadaka Gama’ or ‘village of ponds’. Most of the Thalangama residents are traditional farmers who cultivate local paddy varieties. The tank was built during the reign of king Parakkrama VI,” former Secretary of Thalangama farmers’ Association Bandara Duruthusinghe said.
“The Thalangama tank is considered one of the best from the remaining tanks in the Colombo district. There is no use of a tank without paddy fields. Most parts of the highway run across paddy fields. Development should take place but with a minimal impact on the environment.
“We urge the relevant authorities to safeguard this wetland and the paddy fields,” he said
Without an EIA a road construction cannot be carried out. The elevated highway proposal has been there since 2016
CEA Chairman, Mr.S. Amarasinghe
A project under discussion
Speaking to Daily mirror the Central Environmental Authority’s Chairman S. Amarasinghe said the CEA had granted approval only from Kelaniya to Rajagiriya
“From Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) has not been conducted yet,” he said.
“Without an EIA a road construction cannot be carried out. The elevated highway proposal has been there since 2016. The CEA has not received any EIA report and not approved that project. It is not possible to implement a highway project violating environmental laws. The project can only be carried out if it does not harm the Thalangama wetland.
He said initially the CEA had rejected the proposal when it first came up.
“If the elevated highway was to be constructed, it should be consulted with stakeholders. We have instructed the Road Development Authority (RDA) in this regard and given the advice to construct it without causing any damage to the wetland and protecting the environment,” he added.
“However, the project has to abide by environmental law. The project is at a discussion level with the stakeholders such as Irrigation Department, Road Development Authority, Land Reclamation Commission and the CEA.”
Daily mirror made repeated attempts to contact the RDA secretary in this regard but was not able to do so.
We benefit a lot from this Thalangama Lake for our paddy cultivation. This wetland sustains a lot of insects species.
Against environmental degradation
Commenting on the awareness campaign, a young environmental activist, Sheruni Pilapitiya said that today they were here to the save the wetlands campaign which is an environmental awareness campaign to save Thalangama wetland.
“These are at the risk of being further destroyed due to road construction which would kill biodiversity and many species in this area and cause irreversible impacts,” she said.
Recognising the uniqueness and the importance of this area, the Thalangama tank and its environs were declared as an Environmental Protection Area (EPA) under the National Environmental Act (NEA) No.47 of 1980 (as amended)
She said one couldn’t put a price on the environment, the endemic species and biodiversity, adding that 40% of Sri Lanka’s wetlands had been destroyed.
“This is one of the last protected areas left. Destroying this wetland would stop the wetland from being able to perform its functions such as carbon absorption and flood prevention. It will kill biodiversity and so many more. For us to develop sustainably we need to take of the environment and this beautiful community of birds and animals.”
The student activist emphasised the Thalangama wetland was Ramsar accredited.
We are also of the opinion that highway projects should be carried out with a minimum impact on the environment and the people
“The only internationally accredited Ramsar wetlands city in the world. The Parliament of Sri Lanka currently has Gazette them to be protected. We need to raise awareness so that they stay protected,” she noted
“Today we join this campaign representing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to show our resistance to the proposed highway project that hampers the sensitive ecosystems of the Talangama wetland, and the traditional paddy cultivation,” Kaduwela Municipal Council member, Gayantha Rukshan said.
“We are also of the opinion that highway projects should be carried out with a minimum impact on the environment and the people.”
Pothuarawa lady farmer Lalani Priyanga said, “I own one acre of paddy field on which the demarcated polls for the construction of the highway are placed.
The Thalangama tank and its surrounding environs are considered an important habitat for water birds and other flora and fauna, functioning as an urban biodiversity refuge
“We benefit a lot from this Thalangama Lake for our paddy cultivation. This wetland sustains a lot of insects species. They are also part of the lake. Development should indeed take place but not at the cost of the environment.”
One of the participants who did not wish to be named said no EIA had not been carried out so far.
He noted there could be air pollution due to vehicular emissions when the highway is constructed.
“There will be sound pollution which potentially harms the serenity of the wetland,” he said.
He said the project had been temporarily halted due to the profound activism by concerned groups against the highway project.
Another participant, a monk who did not wish to be named said,
“This area has a deep connection with the environment. Development projects are indeed necessary for a country but as many depend on this lake, there should be an alternative route and they should not damage this sensitive environment.
“We kindly request from the relevant authorities to look into this matter seriously.”
Pic. Ruwan Walpola