The beautiful Eli Hatha, or the ‘Seven Falls’ waterfall, is situated in the Uda Maligoda area, comprising 7 waterfalls cascading in stages within a Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve in Sri Lanka (also known as the ‘Samanala Adaviya Nature Reserve’). The status of this area was upgraded from a Sanctuary to a Nature Reserve by the Gazette Notification No.1515/21 on the 21st of September 2007, due to its high ecological value and richness of flora and fauna species. The nature reserve consists of 9 blocks as set out in the Gazette. Eli Hatha falls contributes largely to nurturing the surrounding environment and provides a vital ecosystem.
The alleged unlawful construction of the Mini Hydro Project was taking place at the seventh waterfall called Dothulu Ella belonging to Naya Ganga, where extensive damage to the environment has been caused. Therefore, EFL filed a Writ application on the 04th of December 2015, against the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) for failing to carry out their mandate, by not preventing the illegal construction or operation of a 3 MW mini hydro power plant within the boundaries of the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve. The area is equally a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hence, DWC was violating the provisions of the National Environmental Act (NEA) and the provisions of Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).
The power plant was initially granted permission when the Peak Wilderness was a sanctuary prior to the status of the area being upgraded as a Nature Reserve. However, the project was abandoned sometime in 2003, when the permit granted was not renewed.
Subsequently, around 2009/2010, the project was sold to Pan Hydro Pvt. Ltd and the new proponent sought to renew the lapsed permit, disregarding the protected status of the Peak Wilderness as both a Nature Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Furthermore, the DWC, as the mandated authority for the protection and management of Nature Reserves, who also manages and controls the Nature Reserve since 2007, failed to raise any objections with regard to this and the illegal mini hydro power plant was commissioned in 2015.
The case was up for support on the 21st of June 2018 where it was heard before Justice Mahinda Samayawardana whilst Mr. Manohara de Silva PC appeared for the petitioners.
Justice Samayawardana issued notice on the respondents on the 22nd of June 2018 and the case is to be argued on the 20th of February 2019.
As per the directions of the Court, parties filed their respective Statement of Objections and Counters.
When the case was taken up before the Court of Appeal on 06.09.2019 the Court directed the parties to file Written Submissions and fixed the case for Argument on 16.01.2020.