Illegal tourism on Sallitivu Islet, Vakarai

Friday, 6 July 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sallitivu Islet, significant for rich biodiversity, is located in the Batticaloa District in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. It is approximately 275 metres in length and 155 metres wide and is seasonally connected to the mainland through a sand bar or sand bridge that is about 250 metres in length.

All plant species observed in the island are native to Sri Lanka with a total number of 50 plant species, comprising one nationally endangered, two nationally vulnerable and four nationally near threatened plant species. The natural habitats observed in the island support a very rich biodiversity (Ex mangroves, coastal scrub, beach and beach associated vegetation).

Around March 2017, EFL learnt that a tourism project was carried out on Sallitivu islet in Vakarai under the name ‘Leisure and Pleasure Pristine Eco Culture’.

Due to the high ecological sensitivity of the area, EFL contacted the Batticaloa representative of the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department regarding the project and was informed that the project was yet to be approved. However, the then District Secretary of Batticaloa stated later on that the first stage of the project was almost complete and the approvals were already granted in June 2016 to continue the project. 

It is important to note that the Government authorities responsible for the project have disregarded section 14(1) and 14(2) of the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Act No.57 of 1981 (amended) which specifies the requirement to obtain a permit from the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) prior to conducting any development activity within the coastal zone. This is the main tool used by the CCD to manage and mitigate negative impacts of development activities within the coastal zone. 

The Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) recognises that an Environmental Impact Assessment/Initial Environmental Examination (EIA/IEE) needs to be conducted prior to a permit being issued for tourism structures. The permit system is an integral part of regulatory mechanism pertaining to any coastal zone, especially in the context of Sallitivu Islet which is located on an ecologically sensitive area. Thus, any development activities on the coastal zone must be carefully monitored.

EFL continued correspondence with the District Secretary of Batticaloa, requesting to provide documents to confirm the approvals for the project. The District Secretary delivered the consent documents from some of the stakeholders as well as the documents pertaining to the revised budget, approved by the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs. However, land clearance for the project was not granted by the Divisional Land Use Committee. 

Moreover, the Waste Management Plan prepared by the District Secretariat was not approved by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) since the specifications for the soakage pit for waste water, nor for its location on the islet were disclosed. Even though the project had not obtained the requisite permits and authorisation the District Secretariat of Batticaloa proceeded with the project on the premise that funding will be cut off if the project was not implemented, which would otherwise render a re-application of the project.

After observing all the serious implications on the environment, EFL expressed its commitment to extend its support to the District Secretary of Batticaloa, Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department and share its expertise and recommendations to cease any environmental and social impacts taking place as a result of the project, whilst pledging fullest support towards sustainable tourism which is beneficial to the entire country. However, it was observed that significant progress continued to be made on the project in complete disregard of the EIA and IEE process.

Due to the failure of the Government bodies to take action against the illegal tourism project, EFL filed a Writ action in the Court of Appeal on 29 March (CAW 143/2018). This case was supported on 3 July before Justice Padman Surasena and Justice Arjuna Obeyseka and notice was issued thereafter. The judges also granted an interim relief to prevent the Respondents from engaging in any further development activities until the next court date.

The Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department, the District Secretary of Batticaloa, the Central Environmental Authority, the Minister of Tourism, Development and Christian Religious Affairs and other government agencies have been named as Respondents in this case.

Viran Corea and Sarita de Fonseka appear for the Petitioner.

Notice Returnable will be on 6 August.