Waratenna Hakkinda Invaded, Again
By Risidra Mendis
Protecting an area is hard, but destroying an area is easy, and that is exactly what is happening in a beautiful scenic area known as Waratenna Hakkinda in Kandy. Environmentalists fought for many years to protect the area due to its rich fauna and flora. The discovery of the Green Labeo (Gadaya) by Scientist Pradeep Samarwickrema was another milestone and a driving force behind the area being declared as environmentally protected, as the species was believed to be extinct in Sri Lanka for over 20 years.
Samarawickrema was successful in identifying three dead Green labeo; one male and two females when they surfaced at Waratenne Gatambe, when explosives were used for the proposed Mini Hydropower plant in 2011. The dead females had eggs in their stomachs and were believed to be breeding in the area. Apart from the Green labeo many rare plant species such as the KetalaLagenandra praetermissa which is endemic to Sri Lanka, the Farmeria metzgerioides and the Cryptocoryne undulate were also found in this area.
The battle was finally won and in June 2017 a decision was taken by former President Maithripala Sirisena to declare Waratenna Hakkinda area as an environmentally protected area. The President has made an order declaring the Waratenna-Hakkinda area in the Kandy District in the Central Province, to be declared as an Environmental Protection Area under Section 24C of the National Environmental Act (NEA), together with the regulations permitting, regulating and prohibiting certain activities in this area under Section 24D of the NEA.
This order was published in Gazette Extraordinary No; 2024/06 of 19.06.2017, titled “Order to Declare Waratenna-Hakkinda Environmental Protection Area. However Ceylon Today learns that after the gazette was issued many illegal constructions and activities have taken place with no action taken by the relevant authorities. A three-storey building was erected in 2018 and in 2020 approval was given by the Kandy Municipal Council (KMC) to erect concrete steps to access the Hakkinda Islands at Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha (article published in Ceylon Today).
In 2021 an Army officer illegally cut some trees and laid concrete in an area he claimed belong to him (article published in Ceylon Today). The latest incident is the filing up of the river by Udeni Fernando the owner of a hotel in Waratenna Hakkinda as part of an expansion project. Convenor of Central Province Environmental Organisation Amith Senanayake says after the gazette was issued without permission from the committee no construction digging can be done. “A community-based NGO should be included when meetings are held according to the gazette.
Officials from the Central Environmental Authoprity (CEA), the Mahaweli Authority, and representatives from the Divisional Secretariat should be present at these meetings. But these officials are having meetings and giving permission to their close contacts and friends to do what they want in this protected area,” Senanayake explains. He says this is a 7000 square feet project and is not a sinnakara land as claimed by the owner of the hotel. “The KMC owns this land. This person has cut some trees and is filing up the river.
Around six unauthorised beams have been erected and construction has started, without the plan been approved by the KMC. No action is taken regarding these unauthorised structures,” Senanayake said. Fernando when contacted by Ceylon Today said his hotel Why Not Garden Hotel is over 20 years old and the land belongs to him. “The entrance to my hotel was damaged because a mound of sand fell down due to the rain and because there are no drains to control the rain water. For the past three months this has been happening. I don’t have access to my hotel or to my house. I told the KMC but they have done nothing to stoop the erosion.
I will ask for damages if nothing is done,” Fernando says. He says, “My father occupied this property from 1963 and there is no construction happening on the river side of the hotel.” Commenting on the action taken regarding the illegal constructions Director General of CEA – Central Province K.P. Welikannage said a case was filed regarding the three-storey building but it got delayed because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The Army officer who cut down the trees has planted trees for the ones he removed and has removed all the illegal constructions on the instructions of the CEA. A decision has been taken to break the concrete steps and those involved in building the steps were asked to remove them. If they are not removed we will break them down,” Welikannage explains. He adds that Fernando’s building is illegal and he was asked to stop construction. “A letter was sent to the head office. I’m waiting for a reply to file a case. The Board has to give approval to file the case,” Welikannage says.