Uproar over housing project in Negombo lagoon mangroves


By Ravi Ladduwahetty

Environmentalists are up in arms against a proposed housing project, in the 36-acre mangroves associated with the Negombo lagoon. They claim that it would cause an outright environmental disaster.

Director of the Environmental Conservation Trust Sajeewa Chamikara alleged that the land was a prime mangrove forest and the largest one in the Negombo lagoon estuary area spanning

36 acres. It was maintained by the Forest Conservation Department and the allocation for the housing project had been made by Deputy Minister of State Resources and Enterprise Development Sarath Kumara Gunaratne with directions to the Negombo Municipal Council.

He said that the area was also a paradise breeding ground for prawns, lobsters and other fish which would also mean that it wpild sound the death knell for a part of the fisheries industry associated with the entire Negombo lagoon.

The land had been placed under the aegis of the Forest Conservation Department according to a Circular No. 05/2001 issued on August 10, 2011 and was managed under the Forest Conservation Act 65 of 2009.

The ECT also said that the felling of trees, construction of buildings and roads was a violation of the law and those violating it were liable to a two-year jail sentence and a fine between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 50,000.

An eight-acre prime block had been allocated for a housing project inside the Negombo mangrove by the Negombo Divisional Secretariat and that land, too, had already been surveyed. He also urged the Forest Department not to succumb to narrow and partisan political motives.

Deputy Minister of State Resources and Enterprise Development Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, when contacted by The Island, denied any knowledge of such a project and asked how one could have a housing project inside a mangrove.

He said that the Negombo lagoon was a valuable resource and that he would not do anything to the detriment of such a resource. However, he said that there was a businessman who was claiming that one of the islands in the lagoon was his personal property and wanted to construct a tourist hotel against which the fisher-folk of the area were protesting.

The Deputy Minister also said that he had directed the authorities not to do anything to the detriment of the mangrove, in the best interests of the fishermen.

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