The Attorney General on behalf of the Department of Forest Conservation yesterday gave an undertaking before Court of Appeal not to construct new roads, reservoirs, tanks and repair existing roads within the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
The Attorney General gave this undertaking when a writ petition filed by Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) challenging construction of reservoirs and roads in Sinharaja Forest was taken up before the Court of Appeal.
State Counsel Navodi de Zoysa appearing for the Attorney General informed court that the authorities would not construct new roads and repair any existing road network within the Sinharaja Forest.
CEJ and its then Executive Director (now Senior Consultant) Hemantha Withanage filed this petition in April 2021 naming Conservator General of Forests, Central Environmental Authority, Minister of Environment, Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Minister of Irrigation and Attorney General as respondents.
Court of Appeal two-judge-bench comprising Justice Sobhitha Rajakaruna and Justice Dhammika Ganepola fixed the petition for support on 6 September.
Meanwhile, the court directed the authorities to submit a report pertaining to intended construction of a reservoir within the state forest lands in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This was pertaining to petitioner’s request to submit physical demarcations of Sinharaja.
The petitioners stated that over the past 15 years, the promotion of low-country tea cultivation and the opening of new roads have set in motion dramatic changes in the Sinharaja forest reserve and its buffer zone. Settlers have flooded into the area and population pressure has increased. They said high profit margin of tea has improved living standards, but it has also provided a tremendous incentive for the clearing of natural rainforest.
The Petitioners further stated that recently it was reported in the media regarding an alleged plan to construct a reservoir covering a landmass of five hectares within the Sinharaja forest. The proposed project would move water from Gin and Nilawala rivers to Giruwapattuwa and will provide water to Tangalle, Beliatte, Weeraketiya, Walasmulla, Dambarella and other areas.
The petitioners also stated that construction of reservoirs at Madugate and Kotapola and construction of two tunnels Madugate to Kotapola and Kotapola to Ampanagala and Neluwa–Lankagama road Lankagama–Deniyaya road will negatively affect the biodiversity of the already fragile eco system while violating the existing laws.
Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare appeared for the petitioners.