Featured image courtesy Phillip Veerasingham

Environmental issues have become a central concern of policy makers, with many international conventions ratified by the global community. However, if we want to protect the environment on a global scale, individual countries should try to implement and enforce environmental laws in an efficient manner. Mere participation in international conferences, justifying broken pledges on environmental conservation with sweet words are not sufficient to preserve nature. During the previous government’s regime, there were massive allegations levelled around environmental issues, the corruption of state environmental authorities and destructions of natural heritage sites in broad daylight. On January 8, 2015, the current government came into power with the help of a large number of civil society organizations. Among these, environmental organizations also contributed significantly towards the victory of the current president. He made promises around the conservation of environment, sustainable development and many others related to climate change. However, over the previous two and a half years, this government has fallen far short around various issues regarding environmental conservation.

“Gommuna Kanda” is a mountain range which is situated in the Rideegama and Mawathagama divisional secretariat areas of Kurunegala District. This mountain range sprawls across 2500 acres, with the Galmulla reserve situated within this area. There are many indigenous species living on this reserve and it has significant archaeological value. Many ancient caves and historical ruins were found. But the Archaeological Department has been unable to conduct even one excavation up until now. Gommuna Kanda can be considered a site worthy of conservation, as it is the source of the famous “Deduru Oya”.

Sadly, instead of conserving this most valuable landscape as an archaeological and nature reserve, the Kandy-based company, “William Woodley” has been destroying this natural site to fulfill their greedy commercial desires with the collusion of corrupt politicians and authorized officers. Now, it is heavily deforested and several stone crusher plants have been situated here. Mining the graphite layer here will cause soil instability and pave the way for massive landslides in the near future. The deforestation is happening due to the construction of roads and infrastructure facilities for the stone crusher plants. Some timber factories have also been built here for additional income. The Woodleys have been occupying this area from 2016 and the relevant authorities donated this land for their illegal activities without issuing an Environmental Evaluation Report (EER). The Central Environmental Authority clearly violated the National Environmental Act in this case. The company was allowed to destroy forests and mine graphite over a 255 acre extent of “Gommuna Kanda”. They have been destroying it with the blessings of the relevant authorities. The Central Environmental Authority and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) should be held directly responsible for this environmental crime.

The Kurunegala district is a centre for paddy production. Due to deforestation, many of the water sources springing from “Gommuna Kanda”, have gone dry. The inhabitants living in the 12 villages nearby have had to give up cultivation of 300-acres of paddy land, in addition to other agricultural land. At a time when the country is facing a food shortage due to drought and climate change, these man-made disasters could, and should have been avoided. Five hundred and fifty families from nearby villages are suffering water shortages. At present, finding drinking water has been become a major issue in this area. This should be considered as a humanitarian crisis on the same scale as in Rathupaswala.

This will not only affect nearby villages, but also the massive water projects based in and around Deduru Oya. If Deduru Oya’s water levels drop, Gommuna Kanda will become as dry as Chilaw.

The villagers are suffering due to the water shortage and the destruction of the beautiful natural environment they have been living in. According to the law, police can act against this, on the grounds of preventing a public nuisance. Unfortunately, what is happening instead is that police and relevant environmental officers are taking the side of this destructive company and are actively working against the villagers. If this situation continues, it could lead to violent protests by the residents.

The Ministry of Environment falls directly under the President’s mandate. Deduru Oya is a major water resource for Sri Lanka. So, the relevant authorities should consider this a national issue. Under the principles of good governance, this type of environmental destruction should not be occurring today.

The relevant authorities should try to avoid “Gommuna” from becoming the next “Rathupaswala.”

With special gratitude to the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reforms (MLAR)

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