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Minister’s brother connected to wetlands destruction – probe

ECONOMYNEXT – A prominent governing party State Minister’s brother is connected to the unlawful clearing of a section of the protected Anawilundawa Wetland, a report submitted to Parliament has revealed.

The report submitted to Parliament by the Wildlife Minister C B Ratnayake gives details of the statements given to police after the Chilaw Magistrate’s Court ordered an investigation into the damage done to the protected area.

The report reveals that the brother of State Minister Sanath Nishantha, Jagath Samantha had given the orders to clear the land for a Prawn farm.

Samantha is a member of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and a former Chairman of the Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha.

The report says that “statements given by Warnakulasuriya Nishantha Fernando, a businessman, makes it clear that the orders to clear the land for Prawn farming was given by Jagath Samantha.”

The report also says that Samantha already has licenses to run 8 other Prawn farms in several areas of the district.

The clearing of the Anawilundawa Wetland raised a storm among conservationists and in Parliament Minister Wimal Weerawansha called for an investigation.

As a result, Minister Ratnayake appointed a four-man committee comprising the Wildlife Ministry Secretary, Puttalam District Secretary, Wildlife Director-General and the Puttalam DIG.

It was the report of this committee that was tabled in Parliament.

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.

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At the time 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 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.
Anawilundawa 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.

A unique feature of Anawilundawa is that it is very close to three extremely different ecosystems; mangroves, the coast and freshwater tanks. (Colombo September 10, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana