Proposed mineral sands extraction project will destroy Scenic Eastern Coast

Sajeewa Chamikara

Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform

Damsila Exports Pvt. Ltd is planning to commence a mineral sands extraction operation in the eastern coast, stretching from Komari to Akkareipattu. The project area spans across three divisional secretariats, Alayadiwembu, Thirukkovil and Pottuvil, in Ampara District.

The company expects to extract zircon, ilmenite, rutile, and garnet, which have been deposited on the coastal areas. Damsila Exports Pvt. Ltd is a BoI approved company situated at No 09, Sri Maha Vihara Road, Pamankada, Kalubowila and it mainly exports quarts. The proposed excavation project is a Rs 550 million investment.

Ilmenite and rutile contain titanium and is used to manufacture paint, ceramics and lightweight mixed metals which are long lasting, extremely strong and fire proof. They are used to manufacture aircraft parts, artificial bones, bicycle frames and sports equipment.

Meanwhile garnet is widely used as an abrasive and Zircon is mainly consumed as an opacifier, a substance added to a material in order to make the ensuing system opaque, and has been known to be used in the decorative ceramics industry. It is also used in nuclear fuel rods, catalytic fuel converters and in water and air purification systems. Since there is a high demand for this mineral in the world a number of companies have tried to extract these minerals from deposits on the Southern and eastern coastal areas. In recent times an Indian company attempted to extract mineral sands from Kirinda beach in Magama, Hambantota and residents had to put in great efforts to stop the project.

Sediments from Heda Oya, Kumbukkan Oya and Menik Ganga are vital for the for formulation of the deposit at the coast from Komari to Akkareipattu. The total deposit spreads from Thambatte to Panama where over 10 000 small scale fisher families live. These families live in Thirukkovil, Vinayagapuram, Thambatte, Thambalawil, Komatri, Thandiadi, Umiri, Malalchenei, Urani, Pottuvil, Ulla, Kudakuli and Panama and they will be directly affected by the mineral extraction project. There are hubs in Komari, Urani, Malalchenei and Ulla that are used by maadel fishermen and these hubs will also have to be removed with the project.

Moreover a number of sensitive eco systems like corals, rocks and sand mounts, that facilitate the breeding of fish are also situated in the shallow seas close to the mineral sands deposits. In addition Komari, Umiri, Thandiadi, Urani and Panama are areas where turtles lay their eggs and if the project commences the habitat for turtles will also be destroyed.

There also a significant number of farmers in the area which use ground water for agriculture. Some farmers also use wells. In these farms near the coast chili, brinjal, corn, peanuts, cow-pea, mung, ulundu, gotukola, mukunuwenna, Kankung and thampala are planted during two seasons, Yala and maha. These practices will also be threatened due to the project.

When heavy machines are used in the coastal area, the entire coast become destabilized, which leads to increased coastal erosion and mixing of salt water with groundwater? If the groundwater is salinated, not only will the farmers not be able to plant crops but also the people will not have drinking water.

This company is affiliated with Minister Daya Gamage and is using his political clout to commence the project and to bulldoze any resistance. They have also started recruiting workers using a manpower company. In 2013 the Rajapaksa administration attempted to start a similar project in Vinayagapuram.

According to the environmental laws of the country an individual, company or a politician can't start a project like this according to their whims and fancies. Such a project is regulated by Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Act, Mines and Minerals Act and Antiquities Ordinance and can't commence without following due process. Not only does one needs cabinet approval, one needs the approval of the district lad use committee, district coordinating committee as well as the eastern provincial council. Moreover the ideas of the residents in the area must also be consulted.

However the residents of the area were not consulted on the project and a systematic and acceptable Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has also not been carried out. These are serious concerns because previous 'development projects' carried out without a proper EIA has been disastrous socially, ecologically and even financially.

Prior to such a project, one needs the permission of the Department of Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management. According to section 15 (b) of the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Act, no 57 of 1981 amended by Act no 49 of 2011, a permit will not be issued if a project has 'any adverse effect on the stability, productivity and environmental quality of the Coastal Zone.' Meanwhile section 16 (1) of the act states that ' Upon receipt of an application for a permit to engage in a development activity within the Coastal Zone, the Director may require the applicant to furnish an environmental impact assessment relating to such development activity and it shall be the duty of the applicant to comply with such requirement. Every environmental impact assessment furnished under this section shall contain such particulars as may be prescribed.' Section 16 (3b) of the act states that the EIA must be available for inspection by the public and that the public must be invited to make comments for a period of 30 days. The comments made by the public must be taken into consideration when the approval is granted to the project.

Four years ago a preliminary environmental impact assessment report was presented and approval was granted based on that report. Hoover such a report is not adequate to grant permission to such a large scale extraction project and the report has not examined the impact of the project in-depth. Since it is a preliminary environmental impact assessment report there had not been a public consultation session as well. This is a violation of the act and we insist that a proper EIA is conducted and the report be subjected to a public consultation. On the other hand a four year old report is not suitable for a project that is to be implemented a few months away from now.

On the other hand approval of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau needs to be taken if any mineral extraction takes place in the country. The vision of the Bureau is to regulate 'mining and processing of Sri Lanka’s mineral resources in the most sustainable manner,' thus any approval must be granted in accordance of this vision.

According to section 30 (f) of the Mines and Mineral Act, No. 33 of 1992 amended by act no 66 of 2009 the Bureau can't issues a license 'to any person to explore for, or mine any minerals upon' 'the foreshore or sea-bed within the meaning of the Crown Lands Ordinance (Chapter 454) without the approval of the Minister and the Minister in charge of the subject of Coast Conservation.' However the Coast Conservation Act states that a license can't be issued if a project has 'any adverse effect on the stability, productivity and environmental quality of the Coastal Zone.' Thus the Minister in charge of the subject of Coast Conservation can't approve the proposed mineral sands excavation as he can't be certain that this project would not adversely affect the coastal zone.

According to section 28 (1) of the Mines and Mineral Act a person can't mine, transport, process, trade in or export any minerals without approval of the relevant authority. Mining, transportation, processing, trading in or exporting minerals without approval is illegal according to section 63 of the act. A person who is guilty of such an offense can be presented before a Magistrates' Court and if fund guilty can be fined between Rs 50 000 - 500 000 on the first time, a fine of Rs 150 000 - Rs 2 million on the second or subsequent times and/or a prison sentence up to two years.

As mentioned above his project can't be approved under the Coast Conservation Act and thus the institution is attempting to commence extraction illegally, using political power. These endeavors must be resisted.

According to gazette notification 1152/14 dated October 04 of 2000 published according to sections 43 (a) and 47 of the Antiquities Ordinance, no 09 of 1940 and was amended last by act no 24 of 1998, before mineral extraction one needs to prepare an archeological impact assessment report and get it approved by the Director General of Archeology. However no archeological impact assessment has been made by project proponents . Thus it is obvious that the project proponent has no interest in following due process, according to the laws of the land, and is attempting to implement the project using political and financial might.

According to the section 14 (1) of the Sri Lankan constitution a Sri Lankan citizen has the right to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade or business and has the right to choose the place of residence within Sri Lanka. However this project will deprive the fishermen and farmers of the Eastern Coast of the ability to work and live in the places they have been living for a long time. This is a gross violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

According to directive principles of state policy and fundamental duties, Section 27 (14) of the constitution 'the State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.' However if this project is allowed to continue, it would be a gross violation of this principal. Thus the Department of Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, members of the local councils, district and divisional secretaries of Ampara must immediately intervene to stop this project which would have devastating impacts on the environment and the people of Ampara.

On the other hand section 28 of the constitution says that ' the exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms are inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations and accordingly it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka. One of these duties and obligations are to protect nature and conserve its riches. Thus the people have the right to resist and oppose any moves made by the government or any private institution that attempts to misuse or destroy natural resources. Thus the constitution itself has granted the people the power to act against this illegal mineral extraction project that threatens the environment and their livelihood. Thus all people of the country have the right to oppose this project. Section 12 (1) of the constitution says that 'all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.' Meanwhile article 07 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France 'all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.' Sri Lanka as a member of the UN has the obligation to respect and to act according to this resolution. However officials are using Coast Conservation Act to treat ordinary citizens and powerful businessmen differently. We must not permit this to happen and to allow powerful businesses from subverting our laws. We must force the 'good governance' government to enforce one of the key features of good governance, the rule of law.

President Maithripala Sirisena in his 2015 manifesto stated that he will implement an initiative to minimize the dangers posed by natural disasters and to protect the environment. The manifesto also states that mineral resources of Sri Lanka will be used optimally for the benefit of the country and the people. This proposed project not only increases coastal erosion but also will destroy the local agriculture and fisheries, creating significant unemployment in the region. This is not at all what the President promised as the common opposition candidate.

We insist that this project, which will adversely affect the people, the ecology and the mineral resources of the Eastern Coast, be immediately halted. We also propose the government to formulate a national policy on mineral resources excavation and exploration to prevent any future attempts at illegal extraction and destruction of our natural resources.

We must also ensure that our mineral resources are not exploited by private entities for short term gain. Instead of exporting these valuable minerals as primary resources we must add value to these and export finished goods. All people must unite to end 'development projects' that destroys livelihoods and displaces people for short term profit and it's the duty of the civil society organizations to lead the people against these exploitative economic policies.