Home Local News Room : Derailments increase due to neglect of railway tracks –...

News Room : Derailments increase due to neglect of railway tracks – The Island


By Rathindra Kuruwita

A private steel and cement manufacturer was planning to excavate 256 acres of the Pettigala Mountain, a part of the Galbokkayaya Mountain range, to extract calcite, Sajeewa Chamikara of Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.Calcite is used as a building material, abrasive, agricultural soil treatment, construction aggregate, pigment, pharmaceutical, and other applications.

“The company with the help of some senior government officials is trying to intimidate people, and violate environmental laws to take over and excavate the environmentally sensitive area. Recently, the Divisional Secretary of Embilipitiya called for a meeting between representatives of the company and the Department of Forest Conservation. He did so to persuade the Department of Forest Conservation to hand over the land to the company,” Chamikara said.

The civil society activist said that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration had removed ‘other state forest lands’ from the purview of the Department of Forest Conservation through 01/2020 and 02/2021 circulars. The administration of these lands is now under the Divisional Secretaries.

“In 2001, these forest lands were taken away from the Divisional Secretaries because they were authorising projects that ruined the environment. Deforestation increased after these forests were placed under Divisional Secretaries. Lands have been given to private companies violating all environmental laws. In some parts of the country an increase in the intensity of the human-elephant conflict is the result of this,” he said.

Earlier the same company received a permit to excavate calcite in a 10-acre land in the Ilukpelessa forest reserve during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration, Chamikara said.

“Although the Forest Conservation Department has not authorised any excavation, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) has given the company a licence (EL/419) to excavate at Pettigala Mountain. This was issued violating the Forest Conservation Ordinance. The GSMB can’t issue a permit to excavate land that is controlled by the Forest Conservation Department. GSMB was established by the Mines and Minerals Act (No. 33 of 1992) and two of the functions of the Bureau are to evaluate the commercial viability of mining for, processing and export of, such minerals; and to regulate the exploration and mining for minerals and the processing, trading in and export of such minerals, by the issue of licenses. Section 28 (01) of the act says “No person shall explore for, mine, transport, process, trade in or export any minerals except under the authority of, or otherwise than in accordance with, a license issued in that behalf under the provisions of this Act and the regulations made thereunder.

“The GSMB was established to ensure that minerals in the country are used in a systematic and a sustainable manner. If this company wants calcite, the GSMB could have found suitable land. Instead, the GSMB is supporting the destruction of a sensitive forest area,” he said.

Chamikara said that most cement manufacturers use sedimentary lime stones to manufacture cement. However, this company wanted to extract calcite, a metamorphic rock.

“The GSMB should have asked the company why it did not use sedimentary lime stones like others. The company should have been asked to establish its factory at a location where it is easy to access the minerals it needs to produce cement. However, they have established the factory at Hambantota, and I assume they have not done a feasibility study beforehand. They are looking for raw materials only after establishing the factory in Hambantota, probably for political reasons,” Chamikara said.

Chamikara said that during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration representatives of the company had used their political connections to harass villagers who opposed the attempts to takeover forest land. Police arrested several youth in adjoining villages based on complaints lodged by representatives of the company.

“Not only the police and the GSMB, senior officers of the Land Commissioner General’s Department also supported the company. A senior officer wrote to the Forest Conservation Department and asked them to release the land to the company for excavation of minerals,” he said.

Chamikara said that senior officers of several government agencies had intervened on behalf of the company due to political and monetary influence.

“The attempts to take over the land for excavation have not stopped. The fact that senior state officials are ready to violate environmental laws shows that there is no rule of law in the country. The officers from the CID and the Attorney General’s Department must step in and thwart these attempts,” he said.

The Galbokkayaya Mountain Range is linked to the Sankapala mountain range and a number of tributaries of the Walawe River, i.e. Meegaha Ara, Karandi Ara and Karameti Ara, start here. Karandi Ara feeds the Puhulyaya, Panahanduwa and Emitillanketiya tanks.

“These tanks provide water for 250 acres of paddy land. Galbokkayaya Dola, which starts here, feeds a drinking water project that provides water to 2,000 families in the area. Another drinking water project, i.e. Ulpatha – Thiththawelpatha project provides water to 1500 families. There are 72 species of bird and 53 species of butterflies in the Mountain Range. By excavating here, the company endangers a sensitive ecosystem as well as the source of water for thousands of people,” Chamikara said.Lanwa Sanstha Cement Chairman Nandana Lokuwithana was not immediately available for comment.