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Deputy Minister Mithrapala and Son Dushmantha behind road construction through Makandawa Forest Reserve

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By Risidra Mendis

The Minister of Environment has come under flak for allegedly violating the Forest Conservation Ordinance and taking a decision to cut a road across the Makandawa Conservation Forest to the Pallebage village.

Purple-faced leaf monkey in Makandawa Rain Forest, Sri Lanka -Pic: Sergey Yeliseev

Makandawa is part of the Kitulgala-Kelani Valley Conservation Area and is well-known for its rich bio-diversity. Concerned environmentalists allege the road is meant to facilitate illegal timber transporters and sellers.

The alarmed environmentalists also allege a 2 km stretch of the road will be built over some of the streams in the protected area, and, as part of the project four bridges and culverts are to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 16.9 million.

According to the President of Environment Conservation Trust, Sajeewa Chamikara, it was former Principal of the Pallebage Primary School, G.G. Dharmasinghe who had initially made a request for a road to be built across the protected area.

“Deputy Minister of Livestock, H.R. Mithrapala and his son Sabaragamuma Provincial Council MP, Dushmantha Mithrapala, are planning to go ahead with the project, despite a pending Court case,” Chamikara alleged.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa has said at the Pallebage Uthura Wattehandiye on 24 April that permission will be given by the ministry to go ahead with the project.

“Former Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Anil Champika Weerasinghe cut down and destroyed woody plants inside the forest and around the Pallabage village some time ago, which resulted in a shortage of drinking water for the villagers,” Chamikara alleged, adding that even today, if there is a minor drought the streams in that area run dry. “The building of the road could aggravate the present drought situation in the area and further increase the illegal transportation of timber,” he said.

In 2010, when plans were underway to build a road in this area, Forest Department officials filed a case in the Ruwanvella Magistrate’s Court (File No. MC 348) on the grounds that the building of the then road would cause serious damage to the Makandawa and Kitulgala conservation areas.

“But while this case is going on plans are underway to build the road. The Forest Department officials are being pressurized by Yapa to release these forest areas for the construction of the road,” Chamikara alleged.

Oldest remaining forest reserve

Makandawa is one of the oldest remaining forest reserves in the country. On 11 September1803, around 192 hectares was declared as a Forest Reserve under Gazette notification 5911.

The area is also well known for its fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and butterflies and consists of 411 species. Out of the recorded species, 119 are endemic to the country.

“Out of the recorded 44 fish species, 20 are endemic to Sri Lanka, while out of the 36 species of Amphibians, 27 are endemic to the country. In the case of reptiles, 71 species were recorded and 35 are endemic, bird species 154 recorded and 28 endemic, mammals 32 species recorded and five endemic, and butterflies 74 species recorded and four are endemic,” Chamikara said.

He explained this area is rich in bio-diversity and has rare hora plants growing in the forest. “The Balanocarpuskitulgallensis, a type of hora, can be found nowhere else in the world. However, it has been found in this area with only a few plants remaining,” Chamikara said.

Plants such as the Tropoidiabambusifolia which is seriously threatened in the country and on the verge of being wiped out, can be found only here together with rare plants like the Bromheadiasrilankensis, Dendrobiummicrobulbon, MalaxisThwaitesii and Tolypanthusgardinari.

“The Impapiumsrepens once believed to be extinct in the country was rediscovered in small numbers at Kitulgala. This plant species can be seen in areas where there is strong sunlight and flowing streams in moisture areas and is growing on rocks. If development activities take place in this area all these plants will be destroyed,” Chamikara explained.

Other rare plants found in this area include the Medinellacunata, Hoya Pinipolia, Podostemaceae, Polypleurumeleomgatum, Farmariametrogoides and Dalzilleazeylanica, Cryptocorynethwaitesii andLeginandrathwaitesii.

Rare and endemic fish such as the Asoka Barb (Puntiusasoka), Jonklassiloach (Lepidocephalichthysjonklaasi), Cherry Barb (Puntiustitteya), Comb Tail Paradise Fish (Belontiasignata), Watery Flower Rasbora (Rasboroidesvaterifloris), Lipstick Goby (Sicyopusjonklaasi), Stone Goby (Sicyoptereshalei) and Tiger Loach (Acanthocobitisurophthalmus) are threatened by the destroying of plants, cutting soil and the diverting of the streams,” Chamikara said.

Amphibians include Duttaphrynuskotagamai and TarugaLonginasus while the reptile species include, Hypnalezara, Aspiduradrummondhayi and Ceratophoraaspera.

Endemic birds

In addition, endemic bird species can also be spotted here. “The Serendib Scops Owl was first identified by Deepal Warakgoda in Kitulgala and was found to be breeding in the area. Kitulgala has also become a very popular bird watching site in recent times,” Chamikara stated.

Among the birds found here are the White Faced Starling, Green – billed Coucal, Ashy – Headed Laughing Thrush, Legge’s Flowerpecker, the Dollarbird and the Ceylon Blue Magpie.

The Ceylon Blue Magpie needs big forest patches to move around. If the road is built through the forest, the forest will be divided into two and would thus pose a serious threat to the Ceylon Blue Magpie,” President, Organisation for Aquatic Resources Management (OARM), Shantha Jayaweera said.

He went on to say that Kitulgala has many clear water streams and the Seethawaka Oya. If the road is cut, soil will get washed into the streams and pollute the water. The muddy water will affect the existence of the fish species.

Meanwhile, environment lawyer Jagath Gunewardene said cutting a road across the Forest Reserve would be in violation of the Forest Conservation Ordinance and that the guilty parties could be apprehended even at a later date. courtesy: Ceylon Today

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