Anawilundawa simmers over roofing factory

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Anawilundawa  simmers over roofing factory (Pics by Rasika Kotudurage)

Factory a threat to water source – Residents

Villagers of Anawilundawa continue to conduct a satyagraha campaign against the construction of a roofing sheet factory in the vicinity of the Anawilundawa bird sanctuary. The residents in large numbers had also previously launched a protest led by Chief Incumbent of the Sri Saddananda Privena Wilpotha Pemananda Thera opposing the factory.

On March 11, the campaign reached its eighth day and for the first time a group of residents was called to the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment by Deputy Minister Wasantha Aluwihare to discuss the issue. At the conclusion of the meeting speaking to The Nation Wilpotha Pemananda Thera expressed his displeasure at the government saying that those in authority are refusing to take responsibility for allowing a factory of such a nature to be built in Anawilundawa. Pemananda Thera is adamant regarding the issue and claims that the residents will not allow this factory to be built in the area.

The Village of Anawilundawa, Chilaw is home to the Anawilundawa Sanctuary which is one of the six RAMSAR wetlands in Sri Lanka. Covering 1,397 hectares lying between the coastal line and the Negombo – Puttlam railway line, the wetland consist of six large man made tanks and three peripheral tanks interconnected to create a complex irrigation system.

These tanks have created a natural habitat which is ideal for birds, with a large number of birds arriving at the wetlands during the migration season. The area is also a popular feeding as well as breeding ground for its many species. The factory lies 100 meters from the sanctuary as mentioned in the Environment Assessment, however the villagers dispute this saying that the factory site is in fact 80 meters away from the sanctuary.

Roofing factory
According to resident and former Arachchikatuwa Pradeshiya Sabha member Jayaratne Jayasekara, the officials have attempted to mislead the people from the inception. “A year and a half ago the initial document announcing the construction of the factory was sent in English, a language not many understand in our area” he said adding that it took two months to receive a Sinhala translation of it. “It was only then that we understood the project and its implications” he said.
The company El – Toro Private had proposed to build a Roofing sheet factory which produces sheets made out of Cellulose, a more environmentally viable option rather than asbestos. According to the report the company   registerd at No 752 Dr. Danister de Silwa Mawatha Colombo 9 also intends to hire 40 non-skilled employees from the area itself. However the process will require large quantities of water which will have to be sourced from the surrounding areas through large wells and tube wells.

Currently the construction work has been halted due to the protest by the villagers. According to Jayaratne the company had agreed to temporarily halt the construction during a meeting between company officials and the villagers arranged by the ASP of Chilaw. “Despite the promise they carried on construction and we had to once again voice our opinion against it” he said adding that this put a stop to any further construction. He also wanted to clarify that this is not an uneducated protest. According to Jayaratne while understanding that development can’t be carried out without some cost to the environment, they are opposing this as it will have unacceptably negative effects on the environment. “We will welcome environment friendly factories” he said.

Key Issues
The major concern with regard to the factory itself is the quantity of water used in the manufacturing process. According to the EIA, the factory will have a daily requirement of 39, 450 gallons of water which could have serious implications for the ground water and water tanks in the area. The residents fear there will be a shortage of water due to the factory.

According to Lawyer and Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardena, large amounts of water will need to be extracted from the ground water table in the area for the factory in the manufacturing process.  “Therefore the paramount concern in this matter is the possible shortage of water” he said adding that it is questionable if it is fair for a large factory to utilize such a large amount of water in a residential area which also has many cultivation lands.  “This is an unequal sharing of water and is against legal principles” he said adding that there is also a possibility of the factory over extracting water for their various needs.

The company in the EIA report mentions that as it will be recycling the water used in the process after its initial stages only 10, 000 gallons will be needed. “However the residents have no faith in the promises made by the company” said a resident Chinthaka Pushpakumara.  “There is no substitute for water and hence we are very concerned,” he said.

The Land is also partly a wetland and in order for it to be filled approval must be obtained from the North Western Provincial Environment Authority according to Environmentalist and Lawyer Jagath Gunawardana who notes however that this has not been done.

According to residents even though the EIA states that the land amounting to 50 acres was barren, this is false. “It was a productive coconut plantation,” says Pushpakumara who also went on to say that the land had many birds such as peacocks and a large number of serpents. “All these animals have fled that area” Pushpakumara said adding that they are worried about falling victims to the same fate as befell a village 4 kilometers away.  “They allowed an asbestos factory to be built and now the water is polluted” he said. According to Pushpakumara many animals have died by drinking that water. “We don’t want the same happening to us,” he said.

Doctor of the rural dispensary of Arachchikattuva Dr. Nalaka Chandrasekara said that the factory can increase the risk of respiratory diseases in the area.

According to Pemananda Thera the meeting with Minister Wasantha Aluwihare was futile. “All government officials involved are trying to wash their hands off the issue,” he said adding that the people are now losing faith in the government, including President Maithripala Sirisena who is a Minister for Environment. “After being summoned we were told that the matter rests with Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara” the Thera said.

The Nation made repeated attempts to elicit a response from from the parent company of EL/Toro Private Limited and was promised that an official from the company will get in touch. However so far they have failed to provide answers to the questions asked. When asked if El-Toro Roofing Private Limited is a subsidiary of the company the media officer in charge denied any knowledge of the matter.

But to Pemananda Thera despite the lukewarm response of the government the stance of the people is clear. “Will in no way allow construction of this factory to continue” he said firmly adding that he is ready to continue his protest the form of the death unto fast if this factory is not stopped. “For the well being of the people we priests are ready to lay down our lives”.

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