By Lakmal Sooriyagoda
The Court of Appeal yesterday issued notices to the Minister of Environment, Central Environmental Authority and several others in connection with the writ petition filed challenging the construction of reservoirs and roads and clearing of the state forest lands in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Court rejected the preliminary objections raised by the respondents and decided to fix the matter for hearing. The respondent parties including the Minister of Environment and Central Environmental Authority had raised preliminary objections challenging the maintainability of the petition.
The Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and its Executive Director Director Hemantha Withanage filed this petition naming Conservator General of Forests, Central Environmental Authority, Minister of Environment, Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Minister of Irrigation and Attorney General as respondents.
The Petitioners stated that recently it was reported in the media regarding an alleged plan to construct a reservoir covering a landmass of five hectares within the Sinharaja forest. The proposed project would move water from the Ging and Nilwala rivers to Giruwapattuwa and will provide water to Tangalle, Beliatte, Weeraketiya, Walasmulla, Dambarella and other areas.
The petitioners state that construction of reservoirs at Madugeta and Kotapola and construction of two tunnels Madugeta to Kotapola and Kotapola to Ampanagala and Neluwa–Lankagama road Lankagama–Deniyaya road will negatively affect the biodiversity of the already fragile ecosystem while violating the existing laws.
Petitioners state that it was reported on or around August 2020 that certain parties had commenced construction and expansion of an 18 km gravel road from Neluwa to Deniyaya running through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the buffer zone. Accordingly, an 8 foot wide road that spans 18 kilometers will be widened to 15 feet and will be developed through the intended development project. Moreover, it has been identified that 1,320 meters of this road go through the land that falls within the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and through several subsidiaries of the Ging Ganga.
Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare appeared for the petitioners.