Statement from Center for Environmental Justice
24 November 2020, Colombo, Center for Environmental Justice sent a letter of demand to Director General Central Environmental Authority, Mahaweli Authority, Ministry of Environment and others seeking to stop massive forest destruction for the proposed “Agriculture and Livestock Development Project at Pollebadda – Rambakan Oya in Maha Oya area.
We have learnt that Director General of Central Environmental Authority (CEA) under the Ref No. 08/EIA/AGR/01/2020 dated 15.10.2020 has provided the guidelines to the Director General of Sir Lanka Mahawali Authority for the proposed without adhering to the provisions of the National Environmental Act.
Around 5828 acres (2359 ha) are to be cultivated Maize under this project and land parts per around 500 ha are to be divided and hand over among few people. We have learned that around 500 ha has already been cleared and the Central Environmental Authority has issued the aforementioned letter saying that if the development activities are within the land areas belongs to Mahawali Authority, there is no such need to consider those for issuing an EIA approval. Instead of taking actions against clearing the forest without an EIA; the Central Environmental Authority issuing a set of guidelines is contrary to the National Environmental Act No.47 of 1980, as amended.
If the proposed development activities are utilizing a forest cover exceeding 1 ha for non-forest uses or clearing a forest cover more than 50 ha, an EIA process must be followed. CEA has provided Term of Reference (TOR) to the Mahawali Authority along with the said letter to submit only an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE). CEJ believes that IEE is not adequate and EIA must be done before starting the project.
Section 20 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance No.16 of 1907, as amended list out the prohibited acts in any Forest other than a Conservation Forest, Reserved Forest or Village Forest. As per the sub section 20 (f) of this Ordinance, making any clearings in such forest is illegal and according to the sub section 20 (k) of the same, clearing or breaking up soil or digging any land for cultivation or any other purpose or cultivate any land already cleared shall be guilty of an offense.
According to the recent judgment (Center for Environmental Justice v. Anura Satharasinghe, Conservator General -CA WRT 291/2015) given by the Court of Appeal in Sri Lanka regarding the deforestation of Wilpattu National Park and its forest complex highlighted that the powers vested in public authorities are not absolute or unfettered but are held in trust for the public and their exercise is subjected to judicial review by reference to those purposes.