The fate of muturajawela? | Daily News

The fate of muturajawela?

Dumping of garbage in an environmentally sensitive area:

The Colombo garbage crisis has taken a new turn with the government’s decision to dump garbage in the Muthurajawela Wetlands. The tragedy of the garbage collapse in Meethotamulla has led to several residents around the country taking to protest against their own neighborhoods being turned into the next dump site.

Given the environmental significance of the Muthurajawela Wetlands, the dumping of garbage in its vicinity has doubled its environmental threat and while the people protest against the destruction of the environmentally sensitive area, the garbage trucks of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has continued to dump waste there since last Friday.

A high level decision

Residents of Muthurajawela allege that the government was making decisions that caused a threat to nature and the environment as a whole. Government officials however, claimed that it was a high level decision and they were not duly informed of such an initiative.

Specific areas are declared as Environmental Protection Areas, (EPA) or environmentally important as per provisions of Sections 24 C and 24 D, of the National Environmental Act No.47 of 1980, by an order published in a Gazette Notification. The Central Environmental Authority has the authority to exercise, perform and discharge any powers, duties, functions related to planning and development, within such protection areas. Muthurajawela is one such area. “It was a high level decision and the CEA has got nothing to do with it,” said Director General of the Central Environment Authority, Muthugoda Arachchi.

“It was a sudden decision to curb the garbage crisis. No guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were followed. It was a policy decision that came from higher officials,” he said. Senior Environmental Lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena meanwhile said if anyone wanted to dump garbage in an empty land they needed to first seek CEA’s permission.

“If it’s a part of a sanctuary, even the CEA cannot easily grant permission,” he said.

Gunawardena stressed that dumping of garbage in a sanctuary was illegal.

“Section 67 B of the Flora and Aauna Act clearly states that dumping of garbage in an environmentally protected area is a cognizable offence which means that the person can be arrested without an arrest warrant either by police or the wildlife department,” he explained.

Environmentalist Thilak Kariyawasam emphasized that the legal requirements were not followed and the CEA was also answerable as it has been declared as an environmentally protected area.

“There would be mercury and lead in the garbage and if that was dumped in the wetlands, it would affect the fish that breed in that area. The improper decision of the government is going to cause short term as well as long term impacts to the people as well as the environment ,” he said.

Shamali Vasantha Subasinghe, a resident claimed that as it was an environmentally protected area and the CEA would not let the residents dump garbage or turn their waste water pipes to the wetlands. According to the residents, the CEA conducted regular inspections to make sure that it was clean and protected.

“The CEA imposes financial penalties even if we let our domestic waste water into these areas. They advised us that it would contaminate the water,” she said. Subasinghe however observed that the CMC at present was dumping garbage which contained industrial and hospital waste.

“Would that not cause adverse effects on the environment? Are all these penalties and punishments only for the public and not for the great politicians who are polluting the environment?” she questioned.

Public protests continue

In the meantime, protests continued for the fourth day as CMC garbage trucks entered the premises without hindrance. Men and women stood on either side of the road that led to the garbage dumping area, in silent protest. Instead of shouting slogans or blocking the trucks, the residents had chosen to sing religious hymns in protest.

“We asked God to protect us and the environment that we live in. These decisions are beyond our control. The officials do not even seem to care,” said Sister T.G Rangika.

She said the CMC has been dumping garbage into this area since last Friday and added that improper garbage disposal was a serious threat to nature. “All these years we have been living with nature and Muthurajawela is noted for its ecosystem. How can the government blindly take a decision to dump garbage in a sanctuary?” she questioned.

She further explained that the residents in the area were very concerned with the environment. “If anyone walks around this area, they would realize the initiatives taken by the residents to protect nature and the environment. We need to protect our environment from destruction. What we request from the government is to protect the environment and avoid taking initiatives that would pollute nature,” she said.

Subasinghe added that the government needed to understand that this was a residential area.

“People are not living in shanties here for the government to easily put us out when the problem becomes worse. We have built houses with great difficulty. This is going to cause major issues in the long run,” she said

Conspiracy over ownership of land

Conspiracy theories have also arisen around the ownership of the landfill and residents have been informed that the land is privately owned and that it is being run as a private dump site.

A government official who wished to remain anonymous questioned as to how a land that is environmentally protected could be owned by an individual. He however refused to speak further about the particular area where the garbage was being dumped for the past five days.

Several attempts were made by the Daily News to speak to the Chairman of the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC), Asela Iddawela to clarify on the conspiracy over the ownership of the land, but he was not available for comment.

K. Jayawardane another resident alleged that the plan was being carried out under the instructions of certain politicians.

He said that the garbage was being dumped in a land owned by the government but a resident of that same area claimed that it was his land.

“Suddenly, a person named 'Ranil' from the village claims that he owns the land and he has given permission to the CMC to dump garbage,” said Jayawardena.

“The residents are scared of that man 'Ranil', so people do not go against him. Residents did not throw stones at CMC vehicles, it was his people who actually did that to put the blame on the people,” he said, referring to a recent incident where CMC trucks had been attacked when they arrived to dump garbage.

As the conspiracy over the land continues at the dumpsite, Shasthri de Silva who was overseeing dumping on the land, stressed that the land was owned by his friend Ranil Senadipathi and added that they were not doing it for money but helping the government to sort out the prevailing garbage issue.

“There is a huge garbage crisis, therefore my friend has allowed CMC to dump the garbage here,” he said.

As he spoke surrounded by a group of men, heaps of soil remained piled up on one side of the area, while garbage was being dumped in another. Garbage trucks and soil trucks entered the area one after the other but there was no sign of whether they were actually making an attempt to cover the open dump with the soil.

Shastri however insisted that they did not just dump the garbage but covered it fully with the soil.

“There are no houses in the surrounding 200 acres. In the evening we would use the soil and small rocks to cover the garbage. It’s a marshy land so it can be easily filled,” he explained.

He claimed that it was supporters of the JVP who had organized the protest against the dumping of garbage.

Shastri also added that the garbage disposal project of the Ministry of Western Development and Megapolis of turning garbage into electricity would also be implemented in the same land.

Outside of his land, two CMC officials kept track of the CMC garbage trucks. The officials however refused to comment on what was going on.

Despite several attempts made by the Daily News to contact the Chairman of CMC V. K. Anura for a comment, he was not available for comment. Director, Solid Waste Management, CMC Eng. Yogarani Sylvester however, refused to make a comment on the issue.

Poor Waste Management initiatives

Environmentalist Kariyawasam said poor waste management can have environmental effects, economic effects and social effects

“Dealing with the garbage crisis is not easy as dumping it in a sanctuary. It is a pity to see that the government is not concerned about the environmental effects when taking policy decisions,” he said.

Vimukthi Madusangha, another resident said the residents were fighting for a cause here but the government’s reaction to it was too harsh.

“The whole area gets flooded if the rain continues for more than three days. This is a low land area and water would seep through easily. The people are going to suffer,” he said.

Kariyavasam further explained that since 1998, the environmentalists and government officials have been discussing effective methods to dispose of garbage.

“What they have failed to understand is that dumping of garbage is not the solution. We demanded that the government increase public awareness on garbage segregation and take initiatives to recycle them,” he said.

He explained that if you were to take Colombo garbage; 78 percent of it was degradable and the government was left with only 12 percent that needed to be recycled.

Kariyawasam stressed that the government was continuously repeating the same mistake they did earlier.

Powerful politicians are behind it and they do not want to give a solution for some reason, he said.

He emphasized that dumping of garbage in Muthurajawela was not a great solution and added that it would affect aqua fora.

“Even after the collapse of the giant Meethotamulla garbage dump and public protests over Colombo’s garbage, the government is still looking at short term solutions,” he said. 

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