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Friday September 30th, 2022

Anawilundawa wetland destruction: Businessman, backhoe driver remanded

ECONOMYNEXT – The businessman and the backhoe driver arrested over the clearing of the Anawilundawa wetland sanctuary in Puttalam, Sri Lanka, have been remanded till September 4 on the orders of the Chilaw magistrate court.

The 35-year-old businessman was arrested following last Friday’s arrest of the backhoe driver who had allegedly cleared the wetland sanctuary illegally on August 25, an act that has drawn harsh criticism from various quarters.

Declared a wetland under the Ramsar Convention, the 1,397-hectare Anawilunduwa sanctuary is one of six recognised sites in Sri Lanka.  Apart from the various bird and fish species and amphibians living in the wetland, Anawilunduwa also attracts many migratory birds.

Raising the issue in parliament last Friday, Minister Wimal Weerawansa said the sanctuary had been cleared by some unknown group to make way for prawn farm tanks. Weerawansa called for punitive measures against those responsible, noting that the people of Sri Lanka did not give a two-thirds parliamentary majority to the government to abuse it.

The Chilaw magistrate court on Friday (28) ordered the Department of Wildlife Conservation to investigate, identify and charge those involved in the clearing of the Anawilundawa Sanctuary in Puttalam.

Director General of Wildlife Conservation M G C Sooriyabandara told EconomyNext that the court order followed a complaint made by the Department against the wilful destruction of a portion of the sanctuary, on the night of August 25.

Sooriyabandara said charges will be filed against those responsible under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.  The destruction is being considered by environmentalists and others as a criminal act against the many species of birds, reptiles and fish etc. that inhabit these wetlands.

President of the Lanka Nature Conservationists Samantha Gunasekera, a former deputy director of Customs, told EconomyNext that the destruction is believed to have taken place under cover of night in two acres of the wetland.

Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation C B Ratnayake also appointed a four-member committee to probe the clearing of the sanctuary in order to enforce the law against those responsible irrespective of their status, a press release said.

Minister Ratnayake visited the site to assess the damage caused and told reporters that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed him to protect these wetlands. No sooner the report is ready, he said, it would be handed over to the president.

The four-member committee includes the Wildlife Ministry Secretary, Puttalam District Secretary, Wildlife Director-General and the Puttalam DIG.

Visiting the site this morning, opposition MP Eran Wickramaratne said that the President and the environment minister must be held responsible for the destruction of the sanctuary. The destruction caused, said Wickramaratne, is not just to the country but to the international community as well, as Sri Lanka is a signatory for the RAMSAR convection.

Anawilunduwa is believed to date back to the 12th century and is a manmade cascading water system, which stores water for irrigation purposes.

It also plays an important role in flood control, retention of sediments and pollutants and acts as an aquifer recharge. While local residents have over the years practiced fishing and traditional farming, the introduction of prawn farms around the area has destroyed the mangroves, EconomyNext learns.

According to a report published on Seacology, a not for profit organisation involved in environmental conservation helping mangrove preservation in  this country, Sri Lanka is the first country to pledge to ‘preserve and replant all of its mangrove forests.’

A unique feature of Anawilundawa is that it is very close to three extremely different ecosystems; mangroves, the coast and freshwater tanks. (Colombo/Aug31/2020)

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