Stop vandalizing Muthurajawela Centre for Environmental Justice petitions the Court of Appeal
A writ petition was yesterday filed in Court of Appeal against dumping of waste and filling of lands within the Muthurajawela Sanctuary.
The petitioners Centre for Environmental Justice and its Executive Director Withanage Don Hemantha Ranjith Sisira Kumara filed this petition citing Central Environmental Authority, Minister of Environment, Minister of Wild Life and Forest Conservation and nine others as respondents.
The petitioners are seeking an interim order directing the respondents to stay any further dumping of waste and the filling of lands within the Muthurajawela Sanctuary.
The petitioners alleged that a land filling racket has been going on for years mainly due to the fact that the said sanctuary is situated at a prime location, in the close vicinity to the Port City Katunayake Express way, other development projects and Colombo. This illegal landfilling had become a large-scale racket with the blessings of the politicians and government officials.
Petitioners further state that it has been brought to their attention that recently approximately 50 acres within the Muthurajawela Sanctuary, situated in the Grama Niladhari Division of Wawala and within the Ja-ela Divisional Secretariat has been demarcated for reclamation by a Private Development Company who had earlier attempted to illegally acquire 406 acres from the Sanctuary for the construction of a housing scheme, with acquiescence of the Agrarian Services Department.
Petitioners state that Muthurajawela and Negombo lagoon wetland complex is located 10 km North of Colombo in the Gampaha District, of the Western Province. Muthurajawela Marshes and Negombo Lagoon are two adjacent and interdependent ecological systems covering about 6000 Ha and forming one contiguous wetland. The wetland represents a large area of brackish marshes, mangrove swamps and freshwater marshes merging into an estuarine lagoon to the north-west. The lagoon opens to the sea at its northern end and receives fresh river water input from Ja-Ela (Canal) and Dadugam Oya.
The petitioners state that Muthurajawela functions as the ‘green lung’ for the metropolitan area, and should be preserved as an important landscape amenity for the present and future generations.
Petitioners state that the said Sanctuary and adjacent landscape is being illegally filled and continues to be filled by several people in contravention to the provisions of Section 33(1) of the Agrarian Development Act. Although several complaints were made by the residents in the vicinity, environmental protection groups etc., the Respondents have failed to take cognizance of such violations and exercise their statutory duties.
Extending from Pamunugama to Uswetakeyawa and Wattala, Muthurajawela is the largest saline coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka, covering 3068 ha. The main water source to the ecosystem is Dandugan Oya River (Atthanagalu Oya) and drains a catchment of 727 km2 and discharges at the interface of the lagoon. Meanwhile, navigational cannels constructed during the British and Dutch colonial period such as
Hamilton Cannel, Dutch Canal, and Ja-Ela Canal also has an effect on the hydrology of the ecosystem.
Petitioners state that predominant soil of Muthurajawela consists of peat (bog soil) that is very poorly drained, dark brown in colour and which is overlying waterlogged mineral subsoil. All soils contain pyrites to the extent that they are classified as potential acid and Sulphate soils. This peat also has the ability to adsorb (ability to function as a sponge to retain) toxic heavy metals. Therefore, disturbing this ecosystem has its own disadvantages.
Muthurajawela functions as the ‘green lung’ for the metropolitan area, and should be preserved as an important landscape amenity for the present and future generations.
The Petitioners state that on 25th January 1989, the then Government decided to “freeze all development proposals of both the public and private sectors, until such time an environmentally sound and sustainable master plan is evolved for the development of the Muthurajawela Marshes” and entrusted the preparation of the Master Plan to the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (now Board of Investment).