The National Steering Committee appointed to implement the Surakimu Ganga program met yesterday (28) at the auditorium of the Central Environmental Authority.
The meeting was chaired by Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera and under the patronage of Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Secretary of the MoE.
In this discussion, the issues to be taken into consideration for the conservation of the river system in the year 2022 were brought to the fore. Accordingly, a maximum of Rs. 200 million has been allocated for next year to give priority to the conservation of the Kelani River.
It was also decided to work with the Ministry of Irrigation to complete the marking of the Kelani River Reservation area next year. It also highlighted the reactivation of the Inter-Ministerial Committee under the Ministry of Lands for the conservation of water catchment areas, the re-use of the assistance of the Environmental Police in informing informal litterers as well as re-enforcing the law against them.
The Minister also said that the challenge before this committee is to increase the forest cover in our country to 30 percent by 2025. At present the forest cover in our country is 29.2 percent and in the next three years at least 16,000 hectares per year and in three years the forest cover will be 30 percent. He said it should be cultivated to 65,000 hectares up to 08 point.
It is also necessary to use a large amount of land for development activities in the country. Therefore, it is very difficult to maintain a balance between development and environmental security, the Minister said.
The Kelani River is the most polluted river in our country. In 2022, under the Surakimu Ganga project, priority should be given to the conservation of the Kelani River. We allocate Rs. 200 million for this purpose. Most of the people living near the banks of the Kelani River have even diverted the sewage system of their toilets to the Kelani River. I do not know how to do this. Eighty-five percent of Colombo and Gampaha urban dwellers drink water from the Kelani River.
People from outside and around the Kelani River collect garbage and throw it in the river. Hundreds of bags float along the river. Not only that. Lands still on the banks of the Kelani River are being illegally acquired. To prevent this, the river reserve should be marked immediately. It is the responsibility of the Irrigation Department.
Also, the Environmental Police, which had been active in the past, shifted to other duties with the Covid 19 epidemic. But now the environmental police can arrest those who dump garbage into rivers.
Also take legal action, the President is constantly inquiring about the progress of the Save the Rivers program. He is working on this with high hopes. Therefore, protecting our river system is not something that can be done only by the Ministry of Environment. It should have the support of all Ministries.
Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Dr. Anil Jasinghe also expressed his views.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee appointed for the conservation of water catchment areas under the Ministry of Lands should be reactivated. It can make a huge contribution to the Save the Rivers program.
At present the Ministry of Lands has obtained information regarding a large number of water catchment areas. Those activities should be further expanded.
Therefore, we will discuss with the committee in the future and obtain all possible support for the Surakimu Ganga program, he said.
Officials from the Ministries of Land, Health, Irrigation and Highways as well as the Central Environmental Authority also spoke.