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Chamal tries to quieten the uproar over irrigation work proposal in Sinharaja

Army Engineers constructing a road through the pristine UNESCO protected Sinharaja Rainforest

ECONOMYNEXT- Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa is saying that the government will not act against the recommendations of the United Nations when carrying out developmental activities in and around the Sinharaja rainforest.

Remarks made by Rajapaksa, the elder brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that plans were being made to construct two reservoirs inside the protected area drew outrage from environmentalists and exacerbated the existing controversy over allegations that deforestation has increased after the new President took office.

The Sinharaja rainforest is a unique forest reserve that experts say hosts flora and fauna from the Jurassic Period and has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

In a statement released to media last night, the Irrigation Minister said the idea to construct two reservoirs was “only a proposal” aimed at alleviating the issues over water faced by the people of Hambantota, Moneragala and Matara districts.

The release said that access to water “is a fundamental right of the people and the government has to take responsibility to provide it.”

The Ministry said that Dr S.A. Wickremasinghe for the first time presented the Gin, Nilwala, Kalu river basin scheme to the state council in 1936 to address the crisis of drinking water and water for residential use and irrigation activities in these districts.

Feasibility studies were done in 1968 during the Prime Ministership of Dudley Senanayake which was carried forward by successive governments till 2019. Experts in the project have proposed the construction of two agrarian tanks, namely the Madugete Wewa close to the southern bank of the Gin River (located near the Madugete Village bordering the Sinharaja Rainforest) and the Ampanagala Wewa close to the Niwala River (located near the Ampanagala Village.).

The statement by the Minister said the proposals have given priority to the bio-diversity and flora protection in the said areas and that successive governments took various measures for the implementation of the project and in 2014, a six-year plan was drawn.

The Minister said that in 2019 it was observed that the Madugete Village identified in the project bordered the Sinharaja Rainforest, therefore, it was decided to seek recommendations from local environmentalists and UNESCO that declared the rainforest as a world heritage site.

The Ministry of Irrigation adds it will not act against the recommendations of UNESCO and local bodies, adding the Department and Ministry of Irrigation have understood the need to protect the 11,187-hectare rainforest.

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It added that for decades tanks have been constructed inside national reserves with the Department of Wildlife Conservation to solve the drinking water issues of wild animals.

Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said Saturday that two irrigation reservoirs would be constructed inside the Sinharaja rainforest to provide clean water to his home district of Hambantota enraging environmentalists.

The news comes as controversy rages around whether the island’s fragile environment has been damaged by rampant deforestation that has taken place since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took power around one-and-a-half years ago. (Colombo/Mar23/2021)

Reported by Imesh Ranasinghe

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