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“Stern action” against fake news on environmental destruction – President’s office

ECONOMYNEXT – The Presidential Secretariat is warning that stern legal action will be taken against “parties or individuals who intentionally feed misinformation and mislead the public” in response to media reports of widespread environmental destruction in mainstream and social media.

In a Press release issued today September 29 the Secretariat says it has “identified a fake news campaign” that is saying that unprecedented environmental destruction is taking place after the new government came to power.

“These false reports highlight that forest reserves are being burnt down and trees in natural forests are being cut down. People, who create such fabricated news, are attempting to convince the public that environmental destruction of this scale has never happened before and that the government remains tight-lipped in the face of this kind of illegal activities. It has been observed that such reports contain both absolute untruth and distorted information,” the release said.

In the past two months, environmental activists have reported numerous instances where protected areas such as the Anavilundawa wetland sanctuary which is protected by the international Ramsar Convention had been bulldozed to create a prawn farm. Police arrested and charged a leading member of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna as having ordered the clearing.

Wildlife and Forest Conservation Minister C B Ratnayake, told a Press Conference September 17, that “interested parties were trying to show that as soon as we came to power these incidents began happening.”

Hemantha Vithanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) however says “there has been a wave of incidents where trees have been felled, sanctuaries such as Anavilundawa were encroached on and other protected forests occupied.”

He says these incidents have accelerated since the new administration came to power.

The Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has also joined the chorus raised by the activists blaming the government for what it says are four serious incidents.

Rasika Jayakody of the SJB Youth Wing claims that ever since the new government took office at least 7 acres of a protected area per day has been destroyed.

EconomyNext has not been able to independently confirm this claim.

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Wildlife officials are investigating after a tract of government forest land adjacent to the Mahawewa State Forest land was bulldozed apparently to mark the border of a leased property, a press release issued by the Wildlife and Forest Conservation Ministry said.

The release issued today September 29, signed by the Ministry Secretary Bandula Harischandra said that the clearing had taken place on land belonging to the Kataragama Temple which had been leased out.

A person who had ordered the clearing has been arrested and the police are looking for the bulldozer and the driver, the release said. (Colombo, September 29, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana