Quarrying Disaster in Polgahawela Puts Locals and Nature in Danger
BY SUBHASHI TANIA DE SILVA
The ongoing environmental crisis in the Polgahawela area, primarily caused by irregular stone quarrying activities, has reached a critical point, necessitating immediate intervention. This issue was brought into sharp focus during a press conference organized by the Environment and Nature Study Center, alongside the concerned residents of Polgahawela, at the Perera Centre on January 23, 2024.
The primary cause of distress for the residents of the Habarawa Gramaseva division within the Polgahawela Divisional Secretariat is the unchecked operation of several stone quarries. Notably, one such quarry, initially halted in 2011 due to a court order addressing its environmental and societal impacts, resumed operations under questionable circumstances. The Indika Metal Crusher in Dambadeniya, despite not being the original permit holder, began exploiting a massive granite rock area, approximately 23 acres in size, from March 30, 2022.
This quarry, situated in a crucial catchment area, is causing significant environmental damage. The rock being mined is a vital source of water, with springs emanating in all directions. The Water Resources Board, following an investigation on November 25, 2022, acknowledged the presence of these water springs.
The environmental degradation has severely impacted the lives of residents in surrounding villages such as Habarawa, Wadakada, Ginneriya, Wegolle Mada, Kadurwella, Nagane, Kehelwattahena, and Hiripathwella. These communities, primarily dependent on farming, are now facing acute water shortages due to the destruction of water sources. Additionally, the incessant noise and dust from quarry operations have rendered local produce almost unusable.
Despite numerous complaints and demonstrations by locals, the response from authorities has been lackluster. Except for the Divisional Secretary, other relevant officials, including those from the Geological Survey and Mining Bureau and the Polgahawela Divisional Council, have not adequately addressed these concerns. Although the North West Provincial Environment Authority issued a temporary ban on October 3, 2022, it surprisingly granted an environmental license a month later, on November 11, 2022, under category C, even amid ongoing violations.
This situation is not just an environmental crisis but also a violation of legal and civic rights. According to the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 and the gazette 1159/22 dated November 22, 2000, any quarry operation requires an environmental protection license, and violations of such licenses are subject to legal action. Furthermore, as pointed out by the National Coordinator of the Environment and Nature Studies Center, Mr. Ravindra Kariyawasam, these activities constitute a public nuisance under Section 261 of the Penal Code and an obstruction of public rights under the Criminal Procedure Code.
The situation is exacerbated by the government’s stance, as indicated by the chairman of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, who has expressed intentions to boost granite exports to counteract the stagnation in the construction sector. This approach, prioritizing business over environmental and societal well-being, is leading to irreversible damage.
Kariyamaditte Gnanarama Thero, a committee member of the Environment and Nature Study Center, aptly summarized the gravity of the situation: the environment, water sources, and the very lives of the people are at stake. Immediate action is required to halt these destructive quarrying activities and to protect the rights and livelihoods of the affected communities.
(copy – ykwstories.Org web site)