The quarry which was confirmed to have caused the landslide in Naranthalawa. Malapattawa in Walapane Division killing four people, is being planned to resume, the residents of the area allege.
The landslide occured on the Padiyapelella-Walapane main road on 2nd December 2019.
After the landslide, the operation of the quarry which the residents allege that it belongs to a relative of Wildlife and Forest conservation Minister C.B. Ratnayake, and the crusher machines were on hold temporarily. The Central environmental Authority has informed the Walapane Divisional Secretariat and Walapane Divisional Council in writing, to ban the resumption of this quarry. There, it is mentioned that this decision is taken on the advice of the Secretary to the Ministry of Environment.
Residents in the area have been announced to evacuate. The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau has informed them that the area is no longer safe or suitable for habitation. Residents claim that the plan is to withdraw the residents somewhere else and reopen the quarry. They also point out that the preliminary operations towards that scheme are being carried out these days.
Buy a house for 4 lakhs
Meanwhile, even though the people have been instructed to evacuate from their lands, no compensation has been paid so far. The residents say that the Grama Niladhari has instructed them to find lands and receive the proposed Rs. 400,000 by the government. However their question whether it is possible to buy a land and build a house for that amount of money, has not been answered so far.
Minister C.B. denies the allegations
When inquired about this, Minister C.B. Ratnayake states as follows.
Q – Are you being accused of this quarry in Walapane?
A – Why am I being subjected to accusation of this quarry near where the landslide happened. I have nothing to do with that
Q – Minister, why then did such a story spread in air?
A – That’s just a fiction by my political opponents. Do political opponents need a reason to accuse someone?
Q – Your uncle, your wife’s father used to operate that quarry?
A – True. My uncle passed away seven years ago.
Q – Right. Then your brother in law is also running a granite business?
A – Yes. He owns a stone crushing plant. Nobody can break granite in a quarry with a crusher.
Q – Exactly. Stones are crushed in a crushing plant. You need granite for that don’t you?
A – Yes. He finds the granite needed.
Q – So this quarry near where the landslide happened is a place that your cousin been to find granite?
A – I don’t know that.
Q – This quarry is necessary for your family to run the granite business. Even though it was said to be dangerous, it was not allowed to close until the landslide?
A – Who says so?
Q – What’s important is the fact?
A – That stone pit means nothing to us.
Q – So why was the Walapane Divisional Council was pressured for a ‘useless stone pit’?
A – I didn’t pressure anyone
Q – Wrong. You did. You even issued letters for that?
A – Seven government agencies have recommended that the quarry may continue to operate. At the time, what I said was only to allow it to continue only if it is okay.
Q – No. I suggest that you were more influential than that and you were privileged to do so?
A – No. I will send invocations to those who make such allegations.
Q – Residents allege that there is an attempt to resume quarrying after the landslide?
A – No. There is no such attempt. Even if there is an attempt, I will not let it happen.
Uncle Ranbanda’s tragedy
Uncle Ranbanda, the owner of the house that was completely buried by the landslide, had told a newspaper on 2nd December 2018 that a disaster was imminent. They had feld that the area around their house was shaking as they dug the quarry and the layers of soil were moving here and there. They had even told the issue to the responsible authorities. But none of them came to witness what they said. This caused his death along with his family members on 2nd December 2019 in the landslide.
A natural disaster?
Casualties by natural disasters are less likely to be avoided. An example is the Tsunami that hit Sri Lanka on 26th December 2004. But even if a Tsunami came after that, the result would have been the same as before. The loss of life could only be sporadic. This is due to the fact that 80% of the gauges installed along the coast to detect Tsunami disasters are inactive. Walapane landslide is not a natural disaster, but a crime. There were many red alerts issued about that. It is far from over yet. The culprits are making their efforts to resume the same crime.
Walapane Divisional Council is the institution that issued the trade licence to this quarry. Nine institutions including Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, the Central Environmental Authority and the Building Research Institute, have recommended that the quarry may continue to operate. Ranavirugama is located on the hill above the land where the quarry is located. About 26 families live there. Prior to the settlements of families in the village, the same institutes which gave their authorization for the quarry, including the National Building research Institute had advised not to use even bakhos if houses were to be built and dig the foundations with human labour, reasoning that the area had been identified as a region with landslide threats. But those recommendations did not apply to the quarry.
Worth of Rs. 3000
There are 55 members in the Walapane Divisional Council, which issued the license for this quarry. All but seven members had given their approval for this amid the previous landslide warnings. According to some members of the Council, it was not possible to lose the monthly income of Rs. 3000 that the Walapane Divisional Council received from the quarry. Therefore, licensing was essential. They had also put forward some criterias with their approval to make up their minds.
One of the key criteria was to install and monitor vibration gauges at four locations specifically identified for explosion testing. But the quarry authorities had not installed any such vibration guages until the landslide occured. The residents of the area say that neither the Divisional Council nor any other responsible government agency has come to monitor whether the gauges were mounted as instructed.
Report of the District Secretary
Part 4 of the letter no. GANE/LAND/10/25 addressed to the Walapane Divisional Council by the Nuwara Eliya District Secretary on 4th December after the landslide, states as follows. ‘ Amid the strong opposition from the locals, a formal investigation should be carried out and the excavations in the quarry should be suspended until the facts are revealed and the prevailing rainy weather is over.’ However, after that, the Central Environmental Authority submitted their recommendation to stop operation of this quarry permanently. The locals say that the legal procedures should have been taken place inside this stone pit because they are trying to kick-start the quarry again