‘Central Environmental Authority should be an independent body’ | Sunday Observer

‘Central Environmental Authority should be an independent body’

10 November, 2019

The environment should be managed by an independent body comprising environmental experts and professionals and not by a ministry which will lead to political interference, corruption and mismanagement, Sri Lanka Socialist Party Presidential candidate Dr. Ajantha Perera told a forum on the policies of presidential candidates relating to the environment.

The forum was organised by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) in Colombo last week.

She said that if she is elected president she will scrap the environment ministry and handover the management of all aspects relating to the environment to a separate body consisting of experts which will be free from political interference.

“Having a Cabinet ministry to manage the affairs of the environment has been a disaster in Sri Lanka since every minister pokes his or her fingers into the matters of the ministry dealing with the environment and finally make a mess of it. The finance ministry will have a hold when it comes to matters of funding, the economic development ministry will give priority to development undermining the environment and similarly all other ministries will look in to its interest at the expense of environment. The minister in charge of the environment will end up being a prisoner having to give into the whims and fancies and dictates of the Cabinet ,” Dr. Ajantha said.

She said none of the former ministers of environment had done a decent job looking at how they performed during their tenure. Most of them have fallen prey to forces that compromised the environment for personal gains. Look at the port city, Aruwakkalu and Meethotamulla garbage sites. Despite the talk they remain a huge threat to the environment.

“Reports on Environment Impact Assessment (EIAs) should be prepared before development projects get off ground but what happens is just the opposite and it is rectified only when there is uproar by the villagers or environmental activists. EIAs are prepared by the project implementer itself which is often the government,” Dr. Perera said.

She said the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) should be an independent body but it is not the case. The officials of CEA are unable to act impartially and independently because of political interference and politicisation of the institution.

“Post evaluations of projects is crucial to ensure there is no impact on the environment. The law has to be enforced strictly to ensure that environment impact assessments are done without fear or favour. Today the vehicles that pollute the environment most are those that belong to State institutions,” Dr. Perera said.

She said still people of the estate sector lack basic sanitary facilities, a large number of women seek employment aboard having to work under harsh conditions and yet around 70 percent of the population is in the low income earning group. Environmental concerns have to be seen from this perspective. Poverty alleviation is essential to ensure a clean environment for the future generations. National Development Front Presidential candidate Dr. Rohan Pallewatte said the presidential candidate should be a person who is sensitive to the environment and he or she should be someone who had been concerned for the ecology before and not after being elected.

“We see many showing concern for the environment to achieve their political ambitions. Such people are not genuine environmentalists. I spend at least one hour daily after work with myself and the environment in my land at Gampaha which has commercial value of around Rs. 1 billion. We must spend at least one hour daily with ourselves and the surroundings. Lanka Harness Limited, the company that I own has zero emissions,” Dr. Pallewatte said. He said if a policy contributes to make food we consume poisonous, the air we breathe toxic, the water we drink contaminated and the surrounding are excessively noisy such a policy should be discarded.

National Peoples Party Presidential candidate, former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake said the party manifesto focuses on preserving and protecting land, water, atmosphere and biodiversity.

“If land that belongs to people has been forcefully taken or occupied by someone for whichever reason will be freed and handed over to the owners. The government is the guardian and custodian of the environment. It is fully responsible to what happens to it. The onus is on the government to protect and preserve it for future generations. Our manifesto on the environment is based on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Everyone has the right to live and the right to live healthy,’ Senanayake said.

Udaya Gammanpila, representing the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapakaksa, said a national environment committee comprising experts will be set up to evaluate projects and progress of policy implementation every month.

“SLPP’s presidential candidate has already set an example as a person who is concerned and sensitive to the environment with the launch of the carbon free election campaign,” he said.

Frontline Socialist Party Presidential candidate Pubudu Jagoda said enormous damage to plant and animal life has been done after the industrial revolution and added that a large number of birds and other exotic species in Sri Lanka have faced rapid extinction due to destruction to forests and the biodiversity to fulfill the interests of capitalists which is to enhance profits. However, the representatives of the two main presidential candidates cleverly dogged the question directed at them that most of the ecological disasters in the country had taken place during their time of governance due to the influence of multinational companies.

“Both main parties that have been governing the country since independence must take responsibility for the environmental catastrophes. Many pledges made to scrap projects that are detrimental to marine life and the entire ecology such as the port city were only to hoodwink masses to gain votes,” a participant said.

The CEJ notes that deforestation, Plastic Pollution, Illegal garbage trade, and many other issues which the global community is fighting against should be addressed.

The Wilpattu forest destruction, The import of 212 containers of clinical waste to the country, a dead zone in the bay of Bengal due to trashed plastic and polythene are a few of the many issues that should be addressed and tackled effectively and efficiently in Sri Lanka.