Stop land abuse
The recent unprecedented
floods that deluged vast swaths of terrain in the city and
suburbs hopefully would have brought home the grim reality to
the authorities of the dangerous consequences of indiscriminate
land filling now being carried out at a rapid pace. Of graver
concern no doubt is the fact that hitherto flood free zones too
went under water this time and the situation could only get
worse in the near future with the increase in the demand for
land for development activities.
It is in this context that the views expressed by Western
Province Environment Minister Udaya Gammanpila should be heeded
by all concerned especially those in authority if the country is
to be spared the nightmare of recurring floods every time there
is even a mild downpour.
He said the entire Western Province got inundated during the
heavy showers last month as the water retention areas had
disappeared. He also pointed out the laid back attitude of the
authorities to the problem. "When vast areas of land are
inundated we try to find a solution and after a few weeks after
the rains cease we forget about it."
Today travelling around the city one could not fail to see
the profusion of buildings that are coming up in recently
cleared land. This is continuing on a large scale raising the
spectre of more flood damage in the future.
True, we cannot be left behind in progress. But there is no
gainsaying the fact that everything needs to be carefully
planned out. There has to be proper evaluation and the pros and
cons weighed before any land is being reclaimed for construction
especially the risk this entails vis a vis flooding. At present
land filling is being done indiscriminately and we saw the
consequence of this many times.
Today most of the expressways that are being built cut across
vast areas of marshland cleared for the purpose. This is
especially seen in the Gampaha District that was one of the
areas worst hit by the recent floods. This is a dangerous trend
that could even have a negative impact on development since the
public would not be able to savour the fruits of progress when
they continue to be marooned and displaced by recurring floods.
This factor should be taken into consideration by the Government
and careful assessment made before plunging head on in
development projects ignoring environmental factors.
Already environmental degradation has caused immense damage
to our eco-system, with unseasonal rains and prolonged droughts
the norm. To add to this, there is now mass scale land filling
and sand mining that is being carried out on a large scale
bringing the country to the brink of an environmental disaster.
If this trend is not arrested in time there is nothing to
prevent Sri Lanka earning the notoriety of a flood risk country
such as Bangladesh that could even drive away the investors.
The country only recently witnessed how our august House of
Parliament went under several feet of water during the recent
deluge. This is nothing to be surprised at since the majority
cases of illegal land filling is reportedly being carried out in
the Kotte, Battaramulla area and turned into prime property that
could be sold for enormous profits. This is seen by the large
number of high-rise tenements and condominium buildings that
have almost mushroomed in this area.
The Government cannot be complacent over the looming threat.
No amount of success in the development sphere would be to the
country's benefit if it is always prone to man made disasters
such as the recent deluge, clearly caused by indiscriminate land
filling. It has to forthwith put a halt to this practice. It is
common knowledge that ruling party politicians are the culprits
in most cases of illegal land filling. The President should read
the riot act to them.
President Rajapaksa has often underlined the importance of
sustainable development. Therefore, whatever development
projects that are being planned should be executed in such
manner that would not impact adversely on the environment. Today
not only land filling, there is massive destruction of forest
cover as population growth and development demands take a heavy
toll on our natural environment. Further, large marshy tracts
such as Muthurajawela a bio-diversity marvel and a natural
watershed is also gradually being parcelled out for disposal, a
move that could pose a grave flood risk swallowing up whole
Stringent laws should be introduced to deal with those
engaged in illegal land filling. A moratorium should be imposed
on letting out land for building purposes in the city until a
proper evaluation is made as to the environmental aspect
especially in view of frequent flooding. Today one comes across
banners all over announcing the sale of land plots. These are
mostly private property a majority of them, estates parcelled
out for sale. The consequence of such indiscriminate land sales
too is a contributory factor for the unprecedented floods
witnessed in recent times especially in the coastal areas which
were spared from floods all these years.
Steps should therefore be taken to control such land abuse in
the national interest.