By Shalika Wimalasena | Translated By Akitha Wijayasinghe
The shoreline has been seriously vandalized by a sand mining project in Akkaraipattu coastal area, which are cleansed at the Oluvil harbor and shipped to Australia, residents in the area complain.
People say that a part of the sand stockpiles taken to the Oluvil harbor are brought and dumped back to the shore after the refining process. Mining sand without any standardization has caused an enormous environmental destruction and even though there were several protests against this. The government has failed to resolve the matter, people complain.
A project by Basil
In 2013, the government eyed Akkaraipattu shoreline, in Ampara to export mineral sand as the Pulmude sand deposit started depleting. Basic schemes for this have been set under the Nagenahira Navodaya which was a project initiated by former minister Basil Rajapaksa.
Correspondingly, the development work of this mineral sand deposit in Akkaraipattu has been assigned to a local private company named Damsila. Damsila Exports Pvt Ltd has signed an agreement with an Australian Company and according to the agreement the sand mined from the Akkaraipattu shores are to be refined at Oluvil Harbor and shipped to Australia.
Effect on the environment
Removal of sand in large stockpiles without any environmental assessment caused the natural ecosystems to undergo rapid changes, adverse impact on paddy lands, drying up of wells, dismantling of settlements due to the erosion of the shoreline. The project was paused in 2015 because of the severe opposition of the people.
Current government has re-continued the project and it has been planned to carry it over 25km along the shore from Akkareipattu. A discussion was held at the Divisional Secretariat Office last week of August and government officers representing the Central Environmental Authority, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, Coast Conservation Department, Lanka Mineral Sand Institute and representatives from the Ampara Divisional Secretariat Office have attended this discussion.
All parties have agreed to prepare an environmental feasibility report on the project. Although even the basic attempts to prepare a report have not been made, people show that the company assigned to the project is doing preparations to re-continue their chores.
Direct effects for over a 100,000 people
This project is being carried out in the shorelines of three Divisional Secretary’s Divisions- Aliyadiwembu, Thirukkovil & Pottuvil. People say that about 80,000-100,000 people in these areas will be exposed to directly affected by this project.
No approval from the Department
Director General of the Coast Conservation Department, Brabhath Chandrakirthi said that his department has not issued any approval giving permission to mine Akkareipattu shoreline to obtain mineral sand. He signified that discussions are in the progress for that and they will decide the ability issue such an approval after carrying out a proper scientific research and study on the matter.
Reliable sources have reported that the chairman of the Central Environmental Authority Siripala Samarasinghe is the one involved in the proceedings of this project. It is said that the chairman, an acquaintance of former minister Basil Rajapaksa, is working with the company to begin the project in haste.
During our attempts to contact Samarasinghe, his only response was “I’m in a meeting, can you call back later?”