When development trumps environment

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Regrettably, successive governments, who have been in power have history of taking decisions that relegate environmental concerns to second place. Time and time again, these concerns have been either swept under the carpet or swept aside completely by governments, who believe ‘development’ should be given priority. While no one wants to see development projects that benefit the masses to be scuttled, it goes without saying that if the environmental damage from such projects is excessive, then the project needs to be reconsidered. We have seen such re-evaluations in recent times. The Uma Oya Multi-Purpose Development Project, for example, is now temporarily on hold pending a review. This was after vociferous protests from a multitude of concerned parties including environmentalists, area residents and politicians. The Colombo Port City Project is also currently under review pending an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The many waterfalls, both large and small, that are seen in parts of the island are just one element of this natural beauty. However, our main feature this week covers the sad fate that awaits Eli Hatha (Seven Falls); a collection of seven waterfalls that are under threat from a mini-hydropower development project. If one were to analyze the law, the project is, for all intents and purposes,‘illegal’ according to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. To quote Environmental Lawyer, Jagath Gunawardana, “This is an illegal project and there is no question about it”.

However, authorities say the project would be allowed to continue under strict conditions on the grounds that a lot of investment has already gone into it, and as such it makes no sense to stop it. Villagers charge that the project, which had been halted for several years, commenced again in November 2014 at the height of the 2015 Presidential Election. However, it is now continuing despite a change in government and despite claims that it is damaging to the environment. Moreover, authorities admit that the company that is continuing the project at present was fined after it caused environmental damage through this project.

Our reporter who visited the area has noted that environmental damage is clearly visible in the general area of the project. She has also pointed out how local wildlife has been negatively impacted through it.

In this scenario, it is indeed puzzling to note that authorities are allowing such a project to continue without even a review, even when there are credible fears that two of the seven waterfalls that make up Eli Hatha will effectively dry up due to the project. Is it because there haven’t been enough vocal protests regarding it, unlike the Uma Oya and Port City Projects? If nothing is done, will we come to a situation where eventually, those in charge of protecting our environment will have to explain to future generations why Eli Hatha (Seven Falls) has only five waterfalls?

Last modified on Saturday, 28 February 2015 20:08

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