The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 28-29

Fine Sunday, October 20, 2013 Page 5
wide angle
issue
not a
Mountain
D e d i g a m u w a
When contacted, with regard to the Dedigamuwa
quarry issue, GSMB Chairman Senarath Jayasundara
queried, “Why, is there some issue in the area?” and
went on to say that he took office in April 2013. “So
I don’t know anything about it. But our Director
General is very conversant in the subject and will
provide you with all necessary information.” When
first contacted, the ‘conversant’ DG, BA Peiris
demanded more time to get his ‘facts straight’. When
contacted later and asked whether the permit issued
WA Perera & Co. Ltd is still valid, Peiris said that he is
not aware and will have to check with their Mineral
Titling Division
Sajitha Prematunge
B
ata Achchi lived to a healthy 108, living off the
cane products she made using the rattan in
the mountain. Bata Achchi is long dead but
a few scraggly wines of rattan still remain.
Her home, Dedigamuwa Mountain, however is in peril.
A recent protest by the Dedigamuwa Organization
for the Protection of Nature and Environment brought
a 23 year long issue back into the limelight.
The inhabitants of Dedigamuwa are familiar
with the scale of destruction brought on by a
quarry. Such examples are plentiful in the area
surrounding the Nawagamuwa and Koratota
mountains. Ground water resources in the area have
depleted to almost nothing according to locals.
One of the tallest mountains in the Western Province,
the Dedigamuwa Mountain has been declared a
conservation site under the Urban Development
Authority Act No.41 of 1978 amended and gazetted
on March 9, 2000. However on June 6, 2000, the
Government revoked the order through the Gazette
Extraordinary No 1187/11 and WA Perera & Co.
Ltd was issued a permit to resume quarrying.
In 1990 the original owners of the land, TD Hemapala
and TD Lionel, engaged in small-scale quarry activities,
but the locals opposed it and with the backing of the
Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha, were able to put a stop
to it. The original owners then sold the land to WA
Perera & Co. Ltd. Thus began a struggle that has lasted
for over 15 years. “When the company owners tried
to engage in large-scale quarry activities, strangely
enough the Pradeshiya Sabha did not feel the need to
oppose it this time round,” said TD Chandrasiri, a local.
According to Chandrasiri rock blasting resulted in
large cracks in the walls of houses in the immediate
vicinity. “When we inquired from the Urban Development
Authority they said that they have not yet issued a
permit, due to the protests of the locals.” According
to Chandrasiri the reason the locals staged the most
recent protest is because WA Perera & Co. Ltd. had
put up billboards claiming that would commence quarry
activities shortly and any objections by locals should
be made explicit. “In fact we all oppose the idea.”
“I was offered a plot of land, a house and Rs
750,000 nearly 15 years ago but I refused to leave,”
said Ananda Banadara, Chairman, Organization
for the Protection of Nature and Environment,
Dedigamuwa, . He explained that the Dedigama
Mountain is a catchment area. “Meddling with the
mountain would not only affect the ground water but
will also affect agriculture in the area,” said Bandara.
According to Bandara there are some 30 abandoned
small-scale quarries. “If one quarry owner is given a
permit all the others would also have to be granted
permits.” Bandara fears that it will mean the total
destruction of the Dedigamuwa Mountain.
The Dedigamuwa hill is home to over
100 medicinal plant species including many
endemic plant and endangered animal species.
“Besides, this is not all rock. It’s a mountain
made of soil and rock,” explained Bandara.
“To get to the rock they have to remove layers
of soil, which gets washed into the Hettige Oya
that provides water to the paddy fields.” There are
13 culverts around the mountain, but the water
has long since dried up. Only the ground water
table remains untouched, he explained. “But if they
start using explosives again that may change.”
Nalini Mambula, a member of the Organization for the
Protection of Nature and Environment, Dedigamuwa,
reiterated that it does not only affect people of the
immediate vicinity. “We all use the same water,” said
Mambula. “We have no beef with the businessman, but
we are a close knit community and we are all against
this project irrespective of whether our houses are
located at the foot of the hill or edge of the village.”
The locals also insinuated the quarry owner’s
political affiliations with the former Kaduwela
Pradeshiya Sabha. When contacted Kaduwela
Mayor GH Buddhadasa, promptly discouraged all
lines of questioning saying, “As all permits have
been issued by relevant government authorities,
the Mayor’s Office has no authority to intervene.”
The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau 2010
Annual Report indicates a sum of Rs 24,400 as
advance received on an IEER (Initial Environmental
Examination Report) on behalf of WA Perera & Co. Ltd.
“The permit should not have been given based only
on an IEER in the first place,” said environmental
lawyer Jagath Gunawardhane. “An IEER does
not require the input of locals’ opinions. This is
what resulted in 20 plus years of social issues,”
he explained. According to Gunawardhane for
such an environmentally sensitive area an EIA
(Environmental Impact Assessment) is essential. “If
the situation continues, the locals have three options;
a writ action, fundamental rights or civil action.”
WA Perera & Co owner Ariyaratna Perera explained
that the location is one of the best quarry sites in the
country. He challenged that if any reliable authority
can prove the existence of the rare or endemic
plants or animals that are claimed to be resident in
the area. If that is the case, the Company is more
than willing to pack up and leave, he said. “The
Nawagamuwa quarry is run by the military, without
any consideration of laws or the environmental
damage it causes. But no one is talking about it.”
He vehemently denied use of political influence
or alleged bribery charges. “We are not doing
anything illegal here,” reiterated Perera. “We have
obtained permits from the Central Environmental
Authority and the Geological Survey and Mines
Bureau,” said Perera. “If there was a risk why would
the authorities issue permits?” asked Perera.
In a recent project proposal compiled by GSMB
Technical Services (Pvt) Ltd, Engineer HKM Gunasekera
on behalf of WA Perera & Co. Ltd various methods
were mentioned to mitigate possible environmental
impact of mining activities, such as a green belt, silt
traps, methods to minimize soil erosion and methods
to minimize blast vibration. However the ethics behind
GSMB Technical Services (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary
company of Geological Survey and Mines Bureau,
compiling a project proposal to be subsequently
approved by its parent company is elusive.
According to their website the GSMB Technical
Services (Pvt) Ltd is a subsidiary Company of
Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, registered as
a fully government owned limited liability company.
But how a ‘fully government owned’ company be
categorized as ‘(Pvt) Ltd’ is yet again elusive.
When contacted, with regard to the Dedigamuwa
quarry issue, GSMB Chairman Senarath Jayasundara
queried, “Why, is there some issue in the area?”
and went on to say that he took office in April 2013.
“So I don’t know anything about it. But our Director
General is very conversant in the subject and will
provide you with all necessary information.”
When first contacted, the ‘conversant’ DG, BA Peiris
demanded more time to get his ‘facts straight’. When
contacted later and asked whether the permit issued
to WA Perera & Co. Ltd is still valid, Peiris said that he
is not aware and will have to check with their Mineral
Titling Division. When asked whether it is not unethical
for a subsidiary company of Geological Survey and
Mines Bureau, to compile a project proposal to be
subsequently approved by its parent company, Peiris
said that the company has produced many such
documents in the past, for which there had been no
legal restrictions. He admitted however “that there
could be an ethical conflict,’ but said ‘we have no direct
contacts with the company.” When asked whether the
subsidiary company, housed in the same premises, is
staffed by GSMB employees, Peiris refused to answer.
“I see no ethical issue,” said GSMB Chairman,
Senarath Jayasundara. “We only consider the
proposal, not the individual who produces it. As for
GSMB Technical Services (Pvt) Ltd, they use our
services and in return they provide us with theirs.”
Environment Minister Susil Premajayantha is currently
waiting on a report to be submitted by the CEA. This
report will decide the fate of the Dedigamuwa Hillock.
CEA Director General Dr. Saranga Alahapperuma
reveled that they are in the final stage of the report,
conducted by their Natural Resources Management
Division, and said with confidence that it is highly
likely that the site will be conferred protected status.
Pics by Rukshan Abeywansha
There is a serious ethical issue when GSMB Technical Services (Pvt)
Ltd, a subsidiary company of Geological Survey and Mines Bureau,
compiles a project proposal that is subsequently submitted to
approval by its parent company
Nawagamuwa quarry
molehill
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