By Saman Indrajith
A controversial road development project, which, enviornmentalists, say is in the Sinharaja forest, would be carried out as scheduled, Mahaweli Development and Environment State Minister Ajith Mannapperuma told parliament yesterday. He said the forest would suffer no damage.
Responding to JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the UNPer said the road leading to the Sinharaja rain forest from the Ratnapura, Kudawa, Doranegala had been in a dilapidated condition.
“There are two entrances to the Sinharaja forest, one from Ratnapura, Kudawa, Doranegala and the other from Matara, Pitadeniya. For those entering from the Ratnapura, Kudawa, Doranegala entrance, they should use a 1,600 metre path to get to the forest. It was used by timber racketeers to transport tree trunks and located outside the forest. In 2004, this path of around four feet wide was renovated with bridges and culverts. Thereafter, it had been in a state of disrepair. Many local and foreign tourists use this path when they visit the Sinharaja forest, including schoolchildren. In fact, there have been instances where tourists broke their limbs by falling into deep ruts on the road. Therefore, steps were taken to renovate the road, but it will not be widened.”
He denied allegations that new constructions were being done within the forest on the Kudawa path.
He said that as alleged, no new constructions were carried out on this road, but there was no legal restriction according to the Forest Conservation Ordinance or the National Environment Act there are no provisions banning the construction of this road.
“No section of the forest has been declared a highly protected area. The Wildlife Protection Authority has not said the construction of this road will cause any harm to the people of the area or schoolchildren. They have only stated that this road is not a public one and it will be a great convenience to the locals and foreigners visiting the Sinharaja forest. There is nothing illegal being done. No vehicular traffic is allowed on this road, which used exclusively for those visiting the Sinharaja forest. Hence, the media reports that this road way damages the forest is baseless and untrue.”
Minister Mannaperuma said that so far 1,200 hectares in the vicinity of the Sinharaja forest had been acquired in accordance with Cabinet paper PS/CP/26/2004. He said that the Cabinet paper had specified 2,488 hectares to be acquired but when it was surveyed the amount was determined to be 5383 hectares. Currently, while 1,200 hectares have been acquired, they hope to acquire at least 80% of the remaining land extent within the next six months with the mediation of the President as the Environment Minister and the committee appointed by him.
The State Minister said the cost of construction of the road was Rs. 45.8 million and as it is not within the demarcations of the world heritage area declared by UNESCO, there is no need to obtain any approval for the renovation of the road. “They need to be notified only if a construction is carried out within the world heritage area which is 1.5 km inside the main gate. However, we do have plans to construct a library and observation centre under World Bank funding. However, this too is not within the forest, but at the entrance to the forest near the ticket counter.”
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said, while many other countries protected their forests with the aim of controlling global warming, Sri Lanka destroy its forests . “In spite of the President being the Environment Minister, destruction of forests took place unabated. Indiscriminate use of heavy machinery is causing great harm. It is illegal to construct a road in this area which has been declared a world heritage site in 1978.”
Alleging that during the Rajapaksa regime they had made plans in 2013 to construct a road through the Sinharaja forest from Kalawana, Kudawa entrance to the Deniyaya, Pitadeniya entrance, the JVPer said that this was the first step in that direction.