Deputy Irrigation and Water Management Minister, W. B. Ekanayake, and son, Rasika Ekanayake, a member of the Manupa Pradeshiya Sabha, are accused of grabbing land in Anuradhapura.
Amongst the State lands the Ekanayake family has encroached on over the years, are irrigation reservations in Tissa Wewa and Ponnaramkulam aru in Anuradhapura.
Ekanayake has built his house in the high spill level in the Tissa Wewa, which is a violation of environment regulations according to environmentalists.
Setting Bad Examples
“This area is reserved for flood retention and once Ekanayake acquired this land and got a road network and a house constructed for his use, people who do not have houses in the area too started encroaching irrigation reservations little by little. Unlike earlier, when Tissa Wewa overflows now, there are no marshy lands for flood retention as all of them have been encroached with political clout.
Surprisingly, the District Secretary, who is the owner of all State lands, is silent. “Had this encroachment been done by another party that did not have any political backing, it would have been taken back by the State,” sources from the Irrigation Engineer’s Office in Anuradhapura, said on conditions of anonymity.
Rasika has also been criticized for encroaching on the Ponnaramkulam aru reservation to build a house, after crossing over to the ruling UPFA Government.
As a result of blocking the Ponnaramkulam aru in order to build a house for Rasika, the area goes under water when the Nuwara Wewa spills.
“It is the Ponnaramkulam aru that takes water from the Nuwara Wewa to Malwathu Oya. Whenever the Nuwara Wewa is at spill level, sluice gates of the bihiri sorowwa are opened and the excess water is taken to the Malwathu Oya through the Ponnaramkulam aru.
From the time the Ponnaramkulam aru was blocked to build a house for Rasika, the area goes under water for the small showers.
Instead of the wide Ponnaramkulam aru there is now a narrow water way to recede the excess water from the Nuwara Wewa,” sources said, adding, there is a threat to the Nuwara Wewa bund if the water cannot be sent through the anicuts when the tanks are filled.
Practice What You Preach
“When the canals are not obstructed, the water flows easily, but when they are blocked the pressure on the tank bund could cause damages. That is why the Irrigation Department maintains canals and reservations to make sure that when the tank is filled the water moves rapidly down the canals without giving any pressure to the bunds,” sources said, adding, It is a surprise for them to see the politicians who talk much about preserving the environment flout the law for their personal benefits.
“If the government allows their party members to destroy the environment, we the officers at the Irrigation Department are helpless.”
Meanwhile, Jagath Gunawardena, Attorney-at-Law, specializing in environmental affairs, said an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had to be done before making any constructions in a high spill level area.
“An EIA has to be carried out before any development takes place in a high spill level area. According to State Land Ordinance, all State land comes under the respective District Secretary. The District Secretary had to take action against any party when such illegal constructions were taking place,” Gunawardena said.
When contacted, Deputy Minister, W.B. Ekanayake, said he had not encroached on any irrigation land.
“Who said that I have got a house built in an irrigation reservation? The land on which my house was built closer to the Tissa Wewa is what I have inherited from my parents. Who are you to question me about my lands? I am a senior politician and now a Deputy Minister. You should know that we are dignified politicians even though I have crossed over to the ruling UPFA, which was mainly to strengthen the hands of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We are not rouges,” Ekanayake said, disconnecting the telephone conversation.
Chip of the old block
Meanwhile, Rasika too refuted allegations levelled against him and said they had never encroached on State lands.
“We have enough lands of our own and all these allegations are levelled because we crossed over to the UPFA. We crossed over to the government only to add more support to President Rajapaksa who wanted our support to eradicate terrorism. I am a law abiding citizen and have not encroached any State lands,” Rasika said.
All attempts to contact Anuradhapura Irrigation Engineer, Wijith Kodithuwakku, for a comment failed. Director Assets Management Irrigation Department, Sarath Wijesekera, when contacted said his department has failed to get back these irrigation reservations due to political interference.
“It has become difficult for us to take a Court Order against the politicians who flout the laws and construct on irrigation reservations. Although pressure is mounted on us, we as public servants try our best to get back the irrigation reservations that have been encroached on,” Wijesekera said.
He also said there are times he has faced embarrassment when he has appeared in Courts to get these lands back to the Irrigation Department.
“All State lands are controlled, either by the respective District Secretary or Divisional Secretary of the area. It is the District or the Divisional Secretary that has to file legal action against any illegal encroachment. Whenever a case is heard I make it a point to go personally. There are many times we have been humiliated in Courts whenever we try to get the State lands back,” Wijesekera added.
According to Wijesekera, it would not be difficult to remove all illegal structures in irrigation reservations if President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the subject Minister and the Ministry Secretary take a firm decision and issue clear orders to implement the law.
COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER