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Further encroachment in Hakkinda islands likely

a year ago

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  • Environmentalists blame CEA’s Central Province office
BY Pamodi Waravita The Central Province Environmental Protection Unity organisation yesterday (3) alleged that the Central Environmental Authority’s (CEA) Central Province office has involved an environmental organisation sans any documented and related interventions into the steering committee involved in the protection of the Hakkinda archipelago, to merely play a nominal role – a move they claim will contribute to the harmful encroachment that is already occurring in the area. “The Hakkinda islands were declared an Environmentally Protected Area (EPA) by former President Maithripala Sirisena in 2017. After an EPA is declared, a steering committee needs to be appointed under the CEA, which includes two environmental societies. However, although two environmental societies were nominated then, they were not called to the steering committee for the past five years,” the Central Province Environmental Protection Unity President Pradeep Samarawickrama told The Morning yesterday. “There have been many illegal encroachments since then in this extremely sensitive environmental area. In October 2021, the CEA Central Province Director K.P. Welikannage appointed an environmental organisation to this committee on his own. We have our doubts about this organisation as we believe that it would not work actively to protect the islands, and that it was included in the committee just for the sake of it.” Samarawickrama claimed that the inclusion of this organisation in the said committee would ultimately contribute to the encroachment that is already occurring in the area and claimed that this organisation does not have any documented environmental protection activities. Attempts by The Morning to contact both Welikannage and the CEA Chairman Siripala Amarasinghe yesterday proved futile. Samarawickrama stressed that the Hakkinda archipelago, which are the only wetlands in the Kandy District and are home to many endangered species including the famous fish known as the “gadeya” or the green labeo, have been under threat of illegal hotel constructions and encroachment for many years now. On 5 October, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Wasantha Yapabandara also raised the issue of environmental harm occurring at the islands in Parliament, where he appealed to the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera and the Government to ensure its protection. He had stated: “The Hakkinda islands expand to an area of about 59.4 hectares and are an extremely beautiful environmental area, where the Mahaweli river flows through the small waterways between the islands. However, this area has recently fallen into the hands of the hotel industry, which is involved in many illegal constructions in the area. Why is there a delay in the enforcement of the law to protect this area?” The Hakkinda islands were gazetted as an EPA under the Gazette Extraordinary Number 2024/06 of 2017, titled “Order to Declare Waratenna-Hakkinda an EPA”. This was done so reportedly after years of struggle and activism by both local government institutions and environmental organisations. However, in 2019 too, news reports showed that allegations have arisen that the CEA was attempting to amend the aforementioned gazette to allow sand miners and contractors to engage in development activities in the area.

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