Tue, 19 Oct 2021 Today's Paper

Illegal clearing of Attidiya Sanctuary with powerful political patronage

14 January 2021 02:31 am - 17     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • The political hand is so powerful that they even managed to prevent a major television channel from reporting this issue
  • Violating the 30-meter condition, there is not even a 3-meter gap left between the canal reservation and an illegally put up wire fence demarcating the land for the construction purposes
  • Sahanoda Foundation is a charitable organization formed by well- known businessman Bandula Weerawardana and Ven. Haputale Pannarama Thera
  • The WLCD is currently under pressure to issue a letter, allowing the parties to go ahead with the construction and the unauthorized filling

 

By Piyumi Fonseka

@Piyumi_Fonseka on Twitter


Environmental destruction under political patronage is not new in Sri Lanka. Although the bio-diverse wetland in Bellanwila-Attidiya is beyond measure, and officially protected since 1990 as a bird sanctuary, it appears that its protected status is no longer sufficient. Violating conditions and guidelines imposed by the Wild Life Conservation Department (WLCD), a private party backed by a powerful political hand has cleared and filled a part of land belonging to the Attidiya sanctuary.

The revelations were unearthed in an investigation by Daily Mirror Eye, following complaints from environmentalists who did not want to be named in fear of ongoing political intimidation. Political power coming from government higher-ups have so far been more effective than the orders and recommendations that have been issued to prevent this unauthorized clearing and filling.

 

Who, When and Where

This particular block of land in extent of 0.7 hectares is bounded on the East by a reservation abutting a canal named Thel Ela located in the Attidiya bird sanctuary. The most important fact is that this land is adjacent to another land at No.28, D.S. Kahawita Mawatha in Attidiya --- owned by a proprietor the late D.S. Kahawita, who lived at the same address – it was later transferred to Sri Lanka Public Trustee. 


The Public Trustee’s Department had then transferred this land to the “Sahanoda Foundation” to construct a home for elders where the Sahana Udaya Elders Retreat Home is now located.


Sahanoda Foundation is a charitable organization formed in 1992 by well-known businessman Bandula Weerawardana and Ven. Haputale Pannarama Thera. Another startling revelation is that businessman Weerawardana whose name has been linked to several powerful politicians had in 2017 been arrested and remanded for a multi-million international financial fraud connected to the Far Eastern International Bank in Taiwan. 


Leaving that aspect aside, the parties led by Pannarama Thera had plans to build a ‘training college’ in the questionable land next to the elders home. Based on their request, The Wildlife Conservation Department (WLCD) has given them the green light to go ahead with the construction based on the fact that the land is a private land despite it being located within the boundary of the sanctuary.

 

How WLCD conditions have been violated 
 

Most of the six conditions have been violated and the current situation has posed a threat to the sanctuary which is rich in marshy lands and water bodies with a large number of terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

The green light, given by the then WLCD Director General W.A.D.A. Wijesooriya in a letter dated September 2009 has specifically mentioned six conditions. 

 

Most of the six conditions have been violated and the current situation has posed a threat to the sanctuary which is rich in marshy lands and water bodies with a large number of terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

 

The third condition specifies that the construction process needs to be carried out under the supervision of WLCD officers and the officers need to be allowed to enter the premises whenever it is necessary. 


During the Daily Mirror Eye investigation, it was revealed that Wildlife range officers have not been allowed into the land when they requested permission to observe the clearing and filling activities which ultimately resulted in the constructors violating the fifth condition as well.


The fifth condition categorically states that no constructional activity is allowed within a 30-meter gap from the Thel Ela canal reservation and that a 30-meter area has to be protected by planting trees such as bamboo, kumbuk and mee. However, the current situation is such that there is not even a 3-meter gap between the canal reservation and a wire fence which has been installed, illegally demarcating the land for construction purposes.

 

Why WLCD is under political pressure

 

It is disappointing to learn that the Wildlife Conservation Department (WLCD) has undergone much public criticism over the political interference and pressure which their officials have gone through over time when fulfilling their duties towards protecting flora and fauna in Sri Lanka.

 

Attempts to get the unauthorized filling of this land stopped have fallen on deaf ears, because a political family which is currently in power is backing those responsible for the violation. The political hand is so powerful that they even managed to prevent a major television channel from reporting on this issue. 


It is also learned that the WLCD is currently under more pressure to issue another letter, permitting the parties to go ahead with the construction and unauthorized land filling. If that happens, it will be similar to a government department responsible for maintaining nature reserves and wildlife habitats in the country granting official approval to cause environmental destruction.


Last month, another environmentalist had filed a complaint (Ref. No:4814) with the WLCD against the illegal filling of the Thel Ela reservation. So far, there has been no meaningful action taken by the WLCD with regard to the complaint or the case. 


The current Director General is not even aware of any complaint or any problematic situation with regard to this Kahawita land. When the Daily Mirror inquired from DG Chandana Sooriyanbandara, he said; “usually such issues reach my office only if regional wildlife officers cannot handle them. So far I am not aware of any such issues”.

 

How serious is the damage to the sanctuary
 

Violating the 30-meter condition, there is not even a 3-meter gap left between the canal reservation and an illegally put up wire fence demarcating the land for the construction purposes.

 

Unless this illegal act is prevented immediately, it could pose several environmental issues in the days to come

Although some people are aware of this unauthorized act, no one is objecting as a powerful political family is backing the monk

Most of the environmental problems are caused by the ineffectiveness of the supervision by the government itself

 

Attidiya Sanctuary is home to several species of aquatic birds, many varieties of endemic fish and a host of amphibious creatures ranging from frogs to crocodiles. An environmentalist on the basis of anonymity told Daily Mirror that though the filling of this particular land is currently on hold, damage has already been done by those who filled the land.


“Unless this illegal act is prevented immediately, it could pose several environmental issues in the days to come. Although some people are aware of this unauthorized act, no one is objecting because the powerful political family is backing the monk. Needless to say that most of the environmental problems are caused by the ineffectiveness in the supervision by the government itself,” he said.


The environmentalist then explained the importance of protecting wetlands. “The wetlands supply crucial human and animal needs such as drinking water, protein production, water purification, wildlife habitat, and flood water storage.”


As specified in the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems which provide essential services and supply all our fresh water. The convention was negotiated in the 1960s by countries and non-governmental organizations concerned about the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat.

 

 

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  Comments - 17

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  • K.L Pathirana Thursday, 14 January 2021 01:23 PM

    This government and their con men have done more damages to the ecosystem and forestry in this country more than any other government in the history of this nation. The government is public property they are the bodies elected by the people in an election to govern the country and save and protect the public lands for our future generations. They're not given a free pass to auction the government land as it was inherited from their grandmother. On the other hand the DG of wildlife is a useless clown, always blaming others in their department for lack of action. If you are the head of the wildlife who is fallen asleep and incapable of doing your job, then get out !!

    Jeeves Thursday, 14 January 2021 01:35 PM

    THIS is what we should be collectively concerned about rather than erecting monuments! Our natural environment cannot be built overnight. Once destroyed; is gone forever.

    ranjit Thursday, 14 January 2021 07:21 PM

    Who allowed them to build temples within the Sanctuary?

    Viraj Ari Thursday, 14 January 2021 07:42 PM

    You haven't even read the article. The monks are not in a temple. They are from a charity foundation funded by an international criminal who is a friend of Rajapaksas. There is no temple here man.

    Axe Thursday, 14 January 2021 07:45 PM

    According to Sri Lankan law, both state and private lands can be available inside a sanctuary. But, it Attidiya wetlands was a nature reserve, all private lands would be taken over to the government.

    Ranjit Thursday, 14 January 2021 08:28 PM

    #viraj, see the picture there is a. Temple named “pitawella temple” within the sanctuary land

    sacre blieu Friday, 15 January 2021 09:55 AM

    The worse is that religion is used to whitewash the image or as a veil.

    vince Friday, 15 January 2021 12:26 PM

    NAME AND SHAME THE BASTARDS.

    Man Friday, 15 January 2021 01:00 PM

    The president doesn't know and hear as he visits hamlets, vehicle registration office, etc. though he is concerned of environment. Are the voters typical idiots?

    Zahran Friday, 15 January 2021 08:24 PM

    In reply to Vince: The writer says "the political family in power now" and this businessman Bandula is a close friend of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha. When Chandrika was in power, that Bandula person was her close friend but after Mahinda came, he changed his political affiliation. It is for us to guess the large shark behind this. None other than Prime Minister's family. Just search this businessman's name on Google and see.

    Demuni Uduwara Saturday, 16 January 2021 04:36 AM

    One day history will write thus "Rajapaksas absorbed country wealth in the name of religion, race and the country and majority of Sinhala-Buddhist faithfulness had been a 'licence' for them to do whatever they needed. They had to repent once the country becoming colony of India and China. "

    Gimmicks and Tricksters Saturday, 16 January 2021 01:31 PM

    Close you eyes and ears Mr. Sir

    mohamed Sulaiman Monday, 18 January 2021 07:13 AM

    This is exactly what the powerfull business clouns do with the help of the government, you can guess whos behind this drama, I cant imagine monks are involved in this racket too,Shame in the pretext of religion you can do anything only Srilanka.

    K.L Pathirana Monday, 18 January 2021 07:29 AM

    Ranjit, Though this map shows the same symbol for all three temples, there is no temple within the bird sanctuary. There is a Bo tree with a small Buddha statue, within a space of a six car parking lot. That is just to the side of the road. People should use this symbol in the map for reference only, as a shrine area, should not recognize as a temple.

    Jennifer Natkar Wednesday, 20 January 2021 05:57 AM

    For your information my freinds owned 500 perchers in the bird sanctuary and they were refused to do anything till the govt got involved and disolved the bird sanctuary issue and thugs in the area opened businesses with no permits and Bandula and the monk has taken over large part of the land for building their fortress,hows all these done other than the power and influence of the present govt,OH man live this it willnever change

    C. Fernando Thursday, 28 January 2021 09:43 AM

    An environmental group of educators, scientists and civic society must be formed to protect the lands. The government and the opposition must be made accountable. They should put their mouths when necessary. It is essential that young people get involved in the preservation of the natural environment as well. Schools and universities must take actin.

    Cooray Girl Wednesday, 03 February 2021 08:26 PM

    All schools and students need to form a strategy to help the environment. Teachers, wake up and do your duty to save animals from profiteers. Form a united front of all teachers and students. Follow other international groups to save the environment and - especially wild animals.


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