Development At A Cost To The Environment

by Hafsa Sabry (www.thesundayleader.lk/2016/11/06/)
Environmentalists have opposed moves by the government to encroach 99 acres of land from the Sripada (Adam’s peak) sanctuary to build cable wire cars and luxury hotels under an Urban Development Authority (UDA) project.
Out of 12, 329 acres, the project proposes to construct cable wire cars and hotels in 99 acres in the holy grounds of Sripada but environmentalists and the environmental protection organisations raised concerns ever since the plan was proposed in 2013 by the previous government.
The Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) stated that the project has taken a fresh start under a new name in the claim of boosting the tourism industry in Sri Lanka. The initial construction work for the tourist hotel being built in Marewattha, Sripada began in 2013.
A cabinet paper was brought to parliament by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014 to allocate 99 acres from the Adam’s peak sanctuary for cable car and tourist hotel projects.
The proposed projects were approved without clearance from the Central Environment Authority (CEA), Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Agrological Department and the Ministry of Environment, most importantly without any Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).
The construction was put on hold by the previous government following objections and protests staged by politicians, environmentalists and conservationists. According to gazette notice 8675/1940/Oct/25 Adam’s peak has been declared as a sanctuary under the Flora and Fauna Act.
The surrounding areas and the road leading from Sripada to Nallathanni were declared as a world heritage site of UNESCO in 2010 which means no construction or renovation can take place here without a valid reason and appropriate approvals from the authorities concerned, especially from the UNESCO committee.
It was declared as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka for the ecological and biological diversities which need to be protected and reserved without any harm being done to the site.
“A place that already has alot of tourist attraction and was supposed to be protected by the government, being damaged and threatened in the expectation of boosting the tourism industry in the country is not an appropriate plan by the government. It is crystal clear the projects aren’t sustainable nor will they be a contributing factor to the tourism industry. The government needs to understand the reality before allowing such projects in such a holy place where all people of all religions worship ,” the Director for CENS Ravindra Kariyawasam told The Sunday Leader.
No private and domestic buildings were allowed in close proximity of Sripada for over several years and the government that needs to protect the place is trying to build up unnecessary constructions in false claims by the developers should be seriously looked into, the environmentalists said. The project however claims to provide facilities for the devotees who visit the place from various places all around the country and also to foreigners.
“According to the Flora and Fauna Act they cannot even cut down a single tree in the site how can they clear an area of 99 acres for the construction? Who has the authority to allow such projects in a UNESCO protected site,” protested the environmentalists.
“A visit to the place by the CENS had revealed that the construction had been done secretly under the new government even after it was put on hold. The construction and the development in the area undoubtedly will endanger the natural bio diversities and the species which live in the area. Most importantly the value of the land will be destroyed ,” lamented Kariyawasam.
Adam’s Peak is worshipped by all people of the country, the Sinhalese Tamils and Muslims by giving various names for the mountain and the sacred footprint. “Adam’s Peak is important also as a watershed. The districts to the south and the east of Adam’s Peak yield precious stones, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, one thing the island has been famous for. The development projects and the luxury hotels will endanger the sanctuary which is filled with natural ecological provisions. We are not against building luxury hotels and cable wire cars to boost tourism in Sri Lanka but Sripada is a place for worship and a UNESCO world heritage site, the government should put in place immediate measures to stop the ongoing project and to conserve the reservation,” Kariyawasam added.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said that he is unaware of such a project coming up in Sripada in the expectation of enhancing the tourism industry in Sri Lanka and that there were no approvals given for the project from the Tourism Development Ministry.
“We appreciate the idea of cable car projects in our country which of course can boost tourism but the location they have chosen for the project is just not appropriate. Sripada is a holy place and the value should not be harmed by putting up such projects in its environment,” Amaratunga told The Sunday Leader.
Meanwhile, the chief incumbent of the Sripada Rajamaha Viharaya, Venerable Bengamuwe Dhammadinna Nayaka thera says that the hotel projects are coming up in the lands which do not fall under the Sripada sanctuary. He claims false information is being spread by a group of people who are against the move of development projects in the area

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