President orders resumption of road construction through Sinharaja
COLOMBO– President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday (29) ordered the road from Lankagama to Neluwa through the Sinharaja forest reserve be built within 90 days, without harming the forest or the environment.
President Rajapaksa visited Lankagama on Saturday to make a final decision with regard to the controversial road-building project, which has attracted international attention due to the protection afforded to the fragile and unique environment in Sinharaja.
Earlier this month, environmentalists protested the road construction inside the Sinharaja World Heritage site and in the buffer zone, compelling President Rajapaksa to order an immediate halt to the project and instruct the Minister of Agrarian Services & Wildlife to suspend any developments that will damage the Sinharaja protected zone.
However, the Presidential Secretariat, in a statement announcing the president’s decision Saturday, noted that the president had observed the people in Lankagama had been living in the area for centuries, and had ordered daily bus services be started so that people from the village can travel to hospitals further south.
The president’s earlier decision was taken after the Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS), protested against the construction of a road in the buffer zone and inside the Sinharaja World Heritage Site.
CENS said the same project, which began in 2013, was stopped the same year by the UNESCO.
In an earlier report, Ravindra Kariyawasam of CENS said a complaint was sent to UNESCO after the Sri Lanka Army Engineers commenced construction of the road on August 10.
Sri Lanka’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. While 60% of the trees in Sinharaja are endemic, many of them considered rare, the Forest Reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017), cited the conservation status of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve as being of ‘significant concern’, noting the value of forest reserve as a natural world heritage site continues to be recognized by the discovery of several endemic species of plants and animals since the declaration of the forest as a world heritage in 1988. Some of the recent discoveries include several species of herpetofauna that are restricted to the eastern region of Sinharaja,
Environmentalists have alleged that several blocks of land in and around the Sinharaja reserve are owned by outsiders believed to be developers wanting to build eco-hotels and camps.
The President’s nephew Yoshitha Rajapaksa recently hotly denied reports that the road was being built to link a Hotel project he owned to the main road.