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President orders resumption of road construction through Sinharaja

ECONOMYNEXT – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered that the road from Lankagama to Neluwa through the Sinharaja forest zone be built within 90 days without harming the environment, the Presidential Secretariat announced.

President Rajapaksa visited Lankagama today to make a final decision with regard to the controversial road-building project which has attracted international attention due to the protection afforded to the fragile and unique environment in Sinharaja.

At issue is a road which is running partly through the forest reserve linking the village of Lankagama to the outside world.

After environmentalists protested President Rajapaksa has ordered road construction taking place in the buffer zone and inside the Sinharaja World Heritage Site be immediately halted on August 19.

However, President Rajapaksa has instructed the Minister of Agrarian Services & Wildlife to suspend any developments that will damage the Sinharaja protected zone.

In the statement, the RDA said no development has or will take place in the road of 1.1 kilometres inside the Sinharaja zone.

The President noted in a statement issued today August 29 that the people in Lankagama have been living there for centuries.

He ordered that daily bus services should be started so that people from the village can travel to hospitals further south.

The President’s earlier decision was taken after the Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) in Sri Lanka, protested against the construction of a road in the buffer zone and inside the Sinharaja World Heritage Site.

CENS said the same project began in 2013, but was stopped thereafter by the UNESCO.

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In an earlier report, Ravindra Kariyawasam of CENS said a complaint was sent to UNESCO after the Sri Lanka Army Engineers started the constructions on August 10.

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a unique remaining virgin tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka.

It is of international significance and has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests Ecoregion, was saved from the worst commercial logging by its inaccessibility and was designated as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1989.

The IUCN report notes that ‘The value of Sinharaja as a natural world heritage site continues to be recognized by the discovery of several endemic species of plants and animals since the declaration of this forest as a world heritage in 1988.

Environmentalists have alleged that several blocks of land in and around the Sinharaja reserve are owned by outsiders believed to be developers wanting to build eco-hotels and camps.

The President’s nephew Yoshitha Rajapaksa recently hotly denied reports that the road was being built to link a Hotel project he owned to the main road.

(Colombo/ Aug 29/2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana