Environmentalists warn against relaxing sand, granite & soil transport regulations

Environmentalists have cautioned against a Cabinet decision to temporarily remove the need for a permit to transport sand, granite and soil.

Co-Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardana told reporters this morning that the Cabinet had approved a proposal yesterday to allow permit-free transport for the building raw materials in order to facilitate those employed in the construction industry.

However, the decision drew the ire of a number of environmentalists.

Activist Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam wrote to the Minister of Environment and Wildlife Resources today condemning the decision.

“We strongly condemn the decision taken by the Cabinet. In the recent past, environmental systems surrounding the rivers were destroyed due to unauthorised river sand mining. By cancelling the permit, anyone receives the legal right to engage in unauthorised mining as well as transport those illegally mined sand. At present Sri Lanka has already been destroyed as an ecosystem. The cancellation of the permit will encourage the illegal sand miners to continue their activities which will cause inevitable damage to the environmental system,” he wrote.

The decision was taken in order to avoid extra expenses faced by industry stakeholders, businessmen and the self-employed, Minister Gunawardana told the weekly Cabinet press briefing in Colombo today.

Although income tax on constructions was reduced to 14 per cent and value-added tax (VAT) removed on condominium properties, said the Minister, a murmur had come from within the industry that stakeholders had to suffer various irregularities which had resulted in a massive price hike.

Thousands of people lose their jobs, he said, especially in the clay and tile industries in Dankotuwa and Wennappuwa areas, because those in the industry find it difficult and expensive to transport raw materials.

Despite the decision, however, permits or legal regulations associated with sand mining will not be relaxed, said Gunawardana, adding that security forces and other law enforcement agencies will strictly monitor the miners whether they are mining sand above the permitted quantity.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a keen interest in sustainable development with environmental conservation in mind, he added.

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The Minister further said that a committee has been appointed to look into the consequences of this decision. The move will be reconsidered based on the review and, based on the findings of the committee, the Cabinet will decide whether the new regime stands. 

Speaking to RepublicNext, veteran environmental lawyer and environmentalist Jagath Gunawardena warned that unauthorised mining will thrive if the permit is cancelled.

“I am of the position that it is better for the Government to reconsider this Cabinet decision because, otherwise, unauthorised mining will flourish,” he said.

“Much of the illegally mined rock, sand and soil are caught while transporting in random searches. With this decision, unauthorised miners will be able to freely transport the material undetected,” he added.

On the other hand, he said, although there are many unauthorised mines in Sri Lanka, it is difficult to monitor all of them due to a lack of manpower.

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