3- Days program on the practical component of the Environmental Impact Assessment tool (EIA)

CEJ successfully conducted the 3- Days program on the practical component of the Environmental Impact Assessment tool (EIA) – Field visit and Workshop for government officers and CSO leaders at Mannar

The program was organized at the Juli reception hall at Mannar from 9th to 11th May 2022. Although the political situation in the country was not in favor of gatherings with the sudden imposition of curfew, there were around 27 participants including 3 females, representing around 7 government agencies and 6 CSOs. The sequential Tamil translation was arranged for the lectures conducted in Sinhala.

The program was planned to give both theoretical as well as practical knowledge of the EIA process and its applications. After the short introduction to the program given by Mr. Pathragoda, Executive Director of CEJ, Mr. Ethugala, Assistant Project Director (Environment) of the Strategic Cities Development Project of the Ministry of Urban Development & water supply, gave a recap to remind participants of the key facts on the EIA process. He made the session interactive by getting participants to give definitions of some terms.

The next session was on identifying the biological importance in the Mannar region in order to properly verify the impacts of development projects on the biological environment of the Mannar. The lecture was conducted via zoom by Prof. Kithsiri B Ranawana, senior professor in zoology, at the Department of Zoology of the University of Peradeniya.

Prof. Raji Gnaneshwaram, Department of Zoology of the University of Jaffna and Ms. Vijitha Sathyakumar, Actg. Deputy Director (NP) of Central Environmental Authority made the participants aware of Identifying potential impacts of development projects on the biological, physical, and social environment in the scoping stage. They explained how both the government officers and civil society can contribute in this stage. This session was very interactive. Participants raised several questions related to wind power plants as well as on explorations going on with regard to the sand mining projects and their possible impacts on the Mannar island.

Mr. Indika Rajapaksha, senior Environmental Officer of CEJ then explained the participants on how to read an EIA Report. He shared his experiences taking examples from the EIA report of the Proposed project on 100mw Solar Park in Siyambalanduwa, Monaragala District. The objective of the session was to familiarize the EIA reports and guide them to extract information from the report in order to develop a proper comment on an upcoming project. The Tamil and English versions of the report were emailed to the participants for their reference.

The second day of the program was a field visit. The participants were given an assignment including key details of a hypothetical development project to visit the project site and identify possible impacts. By the evening of 9th the situation n the country was not in favor due to rebellious incidents spread throughout the country. Even then, since Mannar island was quite calm, CEJ thought of continuing the program under police protection. CEJ reported the program to the Mannar police station and the Chief Inspector of Police, Mannar gave an officer to travel with CEJ team upon submission of a letter, the program agenda and the list of participants along with their ID numbers. Thereby, CEJ was able to conduct the field visit successfully.

The participants were taken to Vidathalthive nature reserve to show the project site (hypothetical) and the harbor to identify the possible biological, physical, and social impacts of the proposed project. They were assisted in identifying plants and animal species by Prof. Raji Gnaneshwaram and project-related impacts by Ms. Vijitha Sathyakumar. At the end of the visit, participants got into three groups and worked out their observations. The presentations were evaluated by the resource personnel and shared their comments.

The third day of the program was also conducted under the curfew status imposed.. Although it was an extremely uncertain situation with regard to civil security amidst curfew enforced throughout the country, there was continuous participation at the workshop. The CEJ was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the participants in learning the process. The police permitted us to conduct the event and participants were asked to use their national ID or the work ID as a pass. Mannar island was actually a peaceful town even though there was unrest on the main island.

At the lecture conducted by Miss. Samadhi Hansani (AAL), Legal Officer, CEJ, on Legal context affecting development projects, participants were interested to know how they can file a case against an ongoing development project, because they are mostly unaware of the projects until they are established. The discussion was intense as there are a number of unsustainable development projects proposed for Mannar district, especially in and around the island. Although some participants were keen on clarifying the legal points with example cases from their side, some of the participants opposed and asked to keep the interactions later for it disturbs the flow of the lecture.

The final lecture was conducted by Ms. Chalani Rubesinghe, the project planning and mgt. officer of CEJ on Tools and strategies available for government officers and Civil activists towards sustainable implementation of development projects. Participants from the civil society were questioned on several issues they encounter and action not being taken even after raising an issue. But she kept encouraging taking action by taking CEJ’s unbound struggles for environmental conservation as an example to never give up on fighting for justice. The new app on reporting destructions was also shared during this lecture along with a demonstration video.

During the windup session, participants shared their comments and requested CEJ to get more ground-level officers involved in these awareness sessions because they feel that those officers are unaware of these important facts and legal procedures on environmental conservation. They also expressed their gratitude for coming all the way from Colombo to share their struggle and spread awareness that strengthened them to face and stand against the unsustainable development projects and for networking with them.

Resource personnel too appreciated the program for it really provided a practical experience to participants and an opportunity to learn from each other.

On behalf of CEJ, Miss. Madushani Sendanayaka, project coordinator, Mr. Janaka Kumara, Policy, Advocacy and campaign officer, Mr. Edison Marynathan, Field coordinator-Mannar and Mr. Gamini Piyarathne, Field program coordinator facilitated the event.

Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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