How undemocratic Coast Conservation Department when filling the Mt. Lavinia Beach?

Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, Center for Environmental Justice |

Sri Lanka has over 1340 Km long coastal zone. 2 km from the Low tide level towards the sea and 300 meters from the high tide level to the land and 2 km inside a river or lagoon mouth considered as the Coastal Zone which comes under the jurisdiction of the Coast Conservation Department. Historically, the Coast Conservation Act gave discretion to the CCD Director General to decide the need of an Environmental Assessment for any development within the coastal zone.   It is due to that EIA regulation in Sri Lanka brought in 1981 under the Coast Conservation Act No 57. The sense of public participation in environmental decision making was not developed by then. Forty years later, it would be a misunderstanding that as a public officer Director General would get such undemocratic control of such a vast area under this act.

There were many instances that this provision was abused including approving Norochcholai Coal power plant, Colombo Port city, etc. In 1987, the Environmental Foundation found that Karagan Lewaya in Hambantota  (which was  then a beautiful bird habitat later destroyed for building Hambantota Harbour)  was given to “Siddhalepa Mudalali” for conversion to a salt production facility.  Lalanath de Silva and others filed a case No. 555/87 against the CCD and argued that “in terms of section 16 of the Act, the Director-General may request an Environmental Impact Assessment report whenever a project or projects request approval. It is also within the discretionary power of the Director-General to determine what type of report to be called for granting such approval. However, this discretionary power must be exercised with a proper assessment of the facts and not on the whims and fancies of the office of Director-General. Interestingly the Court upheld that view. 

The Kalutara Calido beach disaster was a deliberate human error. During the designing of the Matara Expressway myself and P.C Senarathne of the Irrigation Department worked out that Kalu Ganga needed a more than 1.5 kilometer span to release upstream flood water. RDA did not respect our opinion perhaps due to the budget limitations too. But in 2017 Matara expressway was flooded in Dodangoda as well. Kalutara District Secretary was compelled to break the natural sand barrier between Kalu Ganaga and the sea when drowning houses in the upstream.

But  this human error made a serious disaster to the Kalu ganga water including drinking water supply in the subsequent years. The Ministry of Environment also got involved in designing Kalido Beach nourishment.  There was no new EIA was done in fact CCD used the same EIA conducted for the Rumassala beach which was damaged due to a hotel construction by a political supporter prior to 2015. The approval to do the sand extraction from the offshore in Ratmalana was granted in 2014 and extended until 2017. During that time CEA has given permission to use some of these sands for saving Calido beach. Anyway this area is beyond the Coastal Zone and CCD has no authority there. However, as DG Prabath Chandrakeerthi claims Angulana and Mt Lavinia beach nourishments were not part of this project. I have checked with the DDG of the Central Environmental Authority and confirmed that they were not aware of the two additions. The process for Kalutara Calido beach nourishment started in 2017 and according to the DG, approval was granted in January 2020. How come the Central Environmental Authority was not aware of the beach filing in Mt Lavinia unless he was lying in this video.

It’s a Rs. 890 million investment and extracting  800,000 Mt tonnes of sand from the ocean. As the DG Chandrakeerthi explains in his video with “Wana Arana Foundation” which is running a beach cleanup project funded by Colombo Port City, there is no CCD own sand deposit. The Eppawala Court decision is very clear that people own the natural resources and the government is only the trustee. Cabinet decision cannot replace the requirement of an EIA. There is no such practice in the past. Cabinet of Ministers do not have the expertise to make the environmental clearance for a project. It can only give a green light with subject to the relevant provision under the constitution and other laws. How do they spent Rs. 890 million public money without a valid feasibility and an EIA? We should know what damage it will be done or positive impacts in terms of costs and benefits and what percentage  of sand will go back to the ocean with the next rough season.

The Angulana and Mt Lavinia is a CCD own beach nourishment project. There were few other occasions such as Negombo beach nourishment etc. gone through the EIA process with the concurrence approval from the CEA.  How come this project does not follow the same principle. So, it is clear that there are conflicts of interest when the Director General determines whether an EIA must be conducted or not for this CCD own project.

How come DG argue that extracting eight hundred thousand cubic meters of sand between the second and third reef i.e. Palagala and Degalmeda reefs are not going to have environmental impacts?  According to Mr. Prasanna Weerakkodi  this would have filled the reef lagoon and deepened the adjoining sea floor making it risky for the swimmers and risk for the reef itself.

No need to say how important this reef is for coastal protection. This would result in the destruction of the natural coastal protection by overrunning and destroying the reef. Needless to say, this will destroy the fishing habitats, similar to what happened due to sand extraction for the Colombo Port City project.

These reefs provide a habitat for the endangered fish species. Therefore, it is not advisable to mine sand in this area without conducting a study on the sand budget.  In the said circumstance, sand mining in this area requires approval under the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Act No 33 of 1992 and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. How come Mr. Chandrakeerthi claims that there is no impact without doing a proper EIA and getting the public opinion.

Ideally, this project should have been carried out after completing the EIA process. According to the legal status and reclamation of the coastal zone, any development work in the coastal zone except planting and cultivation must first obtain the prior written permission from the Director-General of Coast Conservation in terms of Section 14 of the Coast Conservation Act. Therefore, this approval is essential for all types of reclamation activities.

It’s a misconception that CEA has no authority over the coastal zone. According to the preamble of the NEA as amended states that CEA was established  “for the protection, management and enhancement of the environment, for the regulation, maintenance and control of the quality of the environment; for the prevention, abatement and control of pollution”. The Coast Conservation Act nor the NEA or any subsequent amendments and case law has no statement or determination that CEA has no authority over the coastal zone other than CCD can manage EIA function under its regulations within the coastal zone.

However, amidst environmental concerns, the nourishment of Mount Lavinia beach was completed with tight police security. It is so undemocratic, non-transparent and unethical to do while the country is under lockdown due to COVID 19. (END)

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