CA (Writ) 143/2018
Sallitivu Islet, significant for rich biodiversity, is located in the Batticaloa district in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka. It is approximately 275 meters in length and 155 meters wide and is seasonally connected to the mainland through a sand bar or sand bridge that is about 250 meters in length.
All plant species observed on 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) recognizes 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 neither the soakage pit for waste water, nor its location on the islet were disclosed. Even though the project had not obtained the requisite permits and authorization 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 its 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 the 29th of March 2018 (CAW 143/2018). This case was supported on the 3rd of July 2018 before Justice Padman Surasena and Justice Arjuna Obeysekara 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.
Mr. Viran Corea appears for the Petitioners in this case.
Notice Returnable was on the 6th of August 2018.
The case was heard again on the 8th of October 2018 by the Court of Appeal before Justice Padman Surasena and Justice Arjuna Obeysekere. The Attorney General’s Department informed the Court that they are observing the current situation on the Islet and requested the Court to grant more time to solve matters with the relevant parties/Respondents.
The case was taken up before the Court of Appeal on 26.03.2019. The court acknowledged the undue delay on the part of the Department of Coast Conservation in taking necessary actions. Accordingly, the court fixed the matter for Argument on 19.07.2019 and the Stay Order was extended till 22.07.2019.
When the case was taken up on 19.07.2019 the State Counsel appearing for the Respondents informed the Court that they are willing to remove the constructions and the Court directed the Respondents to inform the Court the exact time necessary for the Respondents to remove such construction on 06.09.2019.
The case was taken up on 06.09.2019 and the Respondents informed the Court that they require a period of 05 months to remove the constructions and to restore the site. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal fixed the Case for Mention on 28.02.2020 and the Stay Order was extended till 02.03.2020.
The case was taken up on the 28th of February, 2020 and was concluded with Mr. Viran Corea reporting on behalf of EFL that the structures in question have been removed. The Learned Counsel appearing for the Attorney Generals (AG) Department facilitated the settlement on this case by suggesting terms that among other things, agreed to remove the structures and restore the environment of the Islet. EFL agreed to these terms granted that the structures are removed. To this effect, EFL carried out a site visit on the 3rd of January where it was revealed that the parties have adhered to the terms of the agreement and removed the said structures.
Hence, with the support of all parties, EFL agreed that the case can be concluded, once again taking the forefront in protecting Sri Lanka’s environment by legal means.
The success of this case is owed to the Attorney Generals Department for the cooperation and progressive outlook on the matter and the Divisional Secretariat of Vakarai for giving effect to and respecting the terms of settlement, and Mr. Viran Corea for facilitating the settlement of the matter to ensure the environment of the islet is protected and preserved for the benefit of the future generations.