News

UDA assures ‘suitable’ solutions for Muthurajawela issue 

 

  • SJB backed 1,000 person protest held in Kandana 
  • Govt. MP Nimal Lanza too objects to UDA plan 

 

BY Pamodi Waravita and Ruwani Fonseka 

The Urban Development Authority (UDA) said yesterday (8) that it seeks to find “suitable solutions” for the families living within the Muthurajawela Sanctuary area that the UDA hopes to conserve, amidst large protest in Kandana and the objection raised by Government Parliamentarian Nimal Lanza. 

“Our final master plan will seek suitable answers for the families living there. In Colombo, for example, there were those who lived in slums spanning 10 to 12 acres in areas such as Maligawatta, Henamulla, and Mattakkuliya. We moved them into flats spanning about three acres with proper facilities. We are going for a similar development process here. We will properly analyse the area and then give a decision for the families. If we can keep them there, we will decide how to protect them, and address their sanitation and health-related needs as well,” said UDA Director General N.P.K. Ranaweera at a press conference held yesterday.

He noted that about 1,050 families dwell in the 1,200 hectare (ha) wildlife conservation area determined by the Wildlife Conservation Department within the 5,000 ha Muthurajawela wetland area. 

“All of them dump their sewage and waste into this protected area as well,” added Ranaweera, whilst highlighting that the UDA’s ultimate aim is to develop the area as a wetland and have it declared under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. 

Furthermore, Ranaweera explained that the initial discussion which had led to the UDA getting involved was done in the presence of Colombo Archbishop His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, and had included the heads of many departments, institutions, and local government bodies. 

However, the Archbishop has since criticised the Extraordinary Gazette released on 7 October 2021 allowing the UDA to acquire the Muthurajawela marsh land (stretching from Peliyagoda to Negombo) in the Gampaha District. “Who is there in the UDA? Are they aliens? Can they vest these lands here while they are in their air conditioned rooms? Have they asked about this from the parliamentarians from the area?” questioned the Cardinal last month.

A protest was held in Kandana yesterday, attended by about 1,000 people and backed by the main parliamentary Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB), against the aforementioned Gazette. Speaking to The Morning in this regard, SJB MP Harin Fernando said that yesterday was just a warning to the Government as the Catholic community is against their churches being acquired by the Government. “By 12 November, many people will be on the streets and we will protest until the said gazette notification is revoked,” said Fernando.

Last week, Fernando invited ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs to join them in protests, including SLPP MPs from the Gampaha District, who, he claimed, “are not even given a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to discuss this issue”.  

In Parliament yesterday, SLPP Gampaha District MP Nimal Lanza said that all churches on Sunday (7) had discussed the issue and called for the Government to immediately revoke the Gazette in question.

“Yes, we know that environmentally harmful incidents take place in the Muthurajawela Sanctuary. However, this new Gazette has called for the acquisition of about 5,000 ha of land by the UDA. This is the main problem today. I ask very kindly that the Government not invite problems and to only gazette areas necessary for conservation. The population in those areas are currently very agitated as they have been living in those lands for over a 100 years, including my own family,” said Lanza.

Urban Development, Waste Disposal, and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa said in Parliament that a private company had acquired about 65,000 perches for a tourism development project and that the Wildlife and Forest Conservation Ministry had noted that it is unable to take action against this and that they do not have the necessary funds for the conservation of this area.

“This is why a decision was taken to conserve it under the UDA which comes under the Urban Development, Waste Disposal, and Community Cleanliness State Ministry. We don’t have any wish to develop these lands for any other purpose or to give it to another private company. We don’t hope to move any residents from these areas at all as we only hope to eventually determine the area where there are no inhabitants as a national conservation area,” said Dr. Godahewa.

The SJB and members of the Catholic clergy filed writ petitions at the Supreme Court regarding the matter last week.