Politicians Back Illegal Gem Mining

Illegal gem mining is going on at a pace in the Nivitigala area, and officials are afraid to take action owing to threats from powerful politicians, Counterpoint learns.

Says the Convenor of Rainforest Protectors Sri Lanka, Jayantha Wijesingha, illegal mining has been going on in these areas for some time.  “In 2018-2019 it happened on a small scale.  However, since certain politicians from the district were appointed to ministerial positions, the practice has escalated beyond control.”

Not only those in the current government, even opposition politicians support the practice because of heavy campaign funding by gem businessmen, he alleged.

Counterpoint learns that the police and other officials from relevant government agencies, who used to raid the illegal mines even in 2019, have now stopped doing so as they have been threatened.

"In the latter part of January, the minister concerned had a meeting with policemen and asked them not to intervene with the gem mining activities.” Wijesingha told Counterpoint.  That, he said, has effectively put a stop to any raids, not just by the police but by other government officials as well.

Our pictures show the devastation caused by the illegal gem mining of the rivers in the area.  But gem mining is not the only threat to the rivers; the recent removal of permits required to transport sand means further damage to the waterways and also to the bio-diversity and aquatic species of the country. The Kalu Ganga, (River), which flows through the Ratnapura area, where Nivitigala is situated, “is fed by four tributaries, the Wé, Delwala, Karavita and Hangamuwa Rivers.  More than a million people depend on the Kalu Ganga for survival, "Wijesingha stated.

The illegal practice is causing ‘massive harm to all four rivers in Nivithigala. These rivers flow along the border of the Sinharaja. The illegal mining activity has caused the banks to fall, the rivers are getting deeper and the water muddied. Fish and other species are threatened,’ Wijesinha said. The rivers are dredged to extreme depths, and these illegal activities, carried out by mine owners and their backers, who are only interested in accumulating wealth, have also resulted in widening of the river banks.  As well, when sections of the rivers are blocked for mining, there is imminent danger of the area getting flooded.

Even though villagers in the area face many difficulties and threats to their very survival, most do not speak up out of fear, while the others will not complain as they are employed on the mines.

Counterpoint was unable to get through to the Minister concerned for a comment, despite several phone calls; therefore we have decided to withhold the Minister’s name.  Government officials and police officers Counterpoint contacted declined to speak on the matter.

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