Aloe Vera nursery in Wilpattu buffer zone only tip of the iceberg - environmentalists



By Ifham Nizam

Environmentalists yesterday called for an end to the large scale Aloe Vera cultivation project in the buffer zone of Wilpattu National Park in Track18, Rajanganaya.


Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Executive Director, Hemantha Withanage told The Island that the USD 370 million investment by Aura Lanka Herbals Pvt. Ltd. Had been initiated recently without any technical evaluation.


“It is just an Aloe Vera cultivation’. That’s what everybody keeps saying even the government officers. But when we dig deeper it is not only Aloe Vera cultivation, but it includes a 1500-acre nursery, Factory, Research lab, Water supply project, indoor stadium, research school and a model town,” says Researcher Janaka Withanage.
 


While they had plans to cultivate 100,000 acres of Aloe Vera, they had requested permission from Central Environmental Authority, North Central province office for just the nursery of 100 acres, the researcher alleged. He said that they had clearly withheld information and misleading the officials of the government. “Sadly, the Environment and Wildlife Minister is keen on this project as it is in his electorate. The project does not have the proper Cabinet approval to use the government land which has been given to the farmers under a permit scheme.”
 


The project area is very close to the Wilpattu National Park. According to the Fauna and Flora Ordinance of 1937, any project implemented within a one-mile radius of the buffer zone of a national park should be given the written approval of the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. In addition, a project of such a scale should undergo Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure, Withanage said.
 
Project proponent had cleared a large area and was constructing drainage canals and a small tank to get the required water using a natural stream, the CEJ said.
 
Withanage also said that responsible government bodies had chosen to remain silent on the project. “Was it due to the influence of the Minister of Environment? He participated in the project inauguration as the chief guest.”
 


The EIA procedure has been introduced by the National Environment Act no 47 of 1980 in Sri Lanka with the objective of addressing environmental, social and economical and any other impacts arising due to a development activity. Type of the activity, scale of the activity and sensitivity of the location and many other factors decide the fact that whether an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) is sufficient or should go through the EIA. The Central Environmental Authority takes this decision.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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