Spotlight on illegal sand mining in
- Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd is allegedly destroying Red Rocks beach in Kuchchaveli without obtaining permission, locals accuse
- It was observed that not only the natural Red Rocks belt, but also the archaeologically valuable places and the beautiful beach-the paradise for tourists- have been destroyed
- Mineral Sands Corporation has generated a good income to the country by extracting mineral sands for 60 years
Red Rocks beach, a great creation of mother nature, is on the brink of destruction because of the haphazard extraction of ilmenite on the beach; a task carried out by Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd. Obtaining Ilmenite by mining is legal, but that should not be carried out by destroying ecosystems, archaeologically valuable sites and natural beaches; which attract tourists. The permission of relevant institutes should be obtained when carrying out mining activities even in suitable places. But Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd is allegedly destroying Red Rocks beach in Kuchchaveli without obtaining permission, locals accuse.
The largest camp of the National Youth Service Council of Sri Lanka (NYSC) was situated nearby the Red Rocks beach in the 1980s. Thirty seven acres were allocated for the NYSC. The council accused that an individual had forcefully acquired eight acres of this land. He has transferred the ownership of this eight acres to Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd to extract mineral sands. It was observed that not only the natural Red Rocks belt, but also the archaeologically valuable places and the beautiful beach-the paradise for tourists- have been destroyed.
Department of Archaeology confirmed that Red Rocks beach was historically known as Pallawanka, a famous ancient port. This beach is gazetted as an archaeologically reserved land. Even the NYSC should obtain the permission of the Archaeological Department before mining or carrying out construction work. In such a backdrop, haphazard sand mining activities are carried out in the lands coming under the purview of the Archaeological Department and the NYSC. A NYSC spokesperson said that the council had objected to these activities, but Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd had continued with the large scale destroying of the beach.
Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd is mining for mineral sand after following a tender procedure. However this company, which is said to have obtained permission for sand mining on Kuchchaveli Red Rocks beach, has not followed a proper tender procedure when mining for sand and has given the task to an associate. A Youth Council spokesperson said that the associate was engaged in haphazard destruction of the land near the beach. According to the recommendations of the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department (CCCRM) sand mining activities cannot be carried beyond a depth of four feet. However the company has already mined a distance of 15-20 feet in the land. CCCRM Director General said that an officer of the Department inspects the area. However there was no such officer in the area. Only the technical officer of the company was present who advised to refrain
from taking photographs. A representative of the company, who was present, refused to comment. According to the technical officer the company is located in Angoda. Residents of Kuchchaveli said that the company without consideration for the environment was destroying even the archaeologically valuable places.
A case was filed against sand mining in lands forcefully acquired and Former Divisional Secretary of Kuchchaveli P. Thaneswaran promised to give back the eight acres to the NYSC after the proceedings, the Youth Council spokesperson said. “These people came to engage in mining in the land which belongs to the council, but since we opposed that did not happen. We have to obtain the permission of the Department of Archaeology to carry out any development activity. I do not know how this company obtained permission for sand mining,” the NYSC spokesman added.
We took part in that online discussion. We laid down some conditions such as keeping the Red Rocks area in the safety zone and carrying out mining as permitted. We permitted them to dig up to four feet, but they would dig 8-10 feet
K. Gunanadan Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary
Plans to do sand mining on Red Rocks have been initiated in June. These activities should be conducted obtaining permission from other public institutes following a proper process. Even though the lands in the area are distributed among other public institutes, the Divisional Secretary is the proper authority in charge of the lands. Even if any public institute gave permission for sand mining the Divisional Secretary should be informed first. However Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary K. Gunanadan is unaware of sand mining activities taking place at Red Rock beach.
Speaking on giving permission for sand mining on a land with an ongoing legal dispute K. Gunanadan told this writer that no case had been filed against sand mining near Red Rocks and advised to seek information through the Right to Know Act. On seeking information through this act on sand mining activities, Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary confirmed that there were no cases filed in connection with sand mining. Attempts made to contact the former Divisional Secretary to inquire if legal proceedings were taken against Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd for sand mining proved futile.
There is no need for licences or deeds for the purpose of extracting Government properties. Deeds are with the Government. That company is engaged in sand mining with legally obtained licences. We pay attention all the time as the Department of Coastal Conservation. This permission has been granted subject to conditions
Mohan Priyadarshana Silva
K. Gunanadan added that the department of Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) granted permission for sand mining. “We took part in that online discussion. We laid down some conditions such as keeping the Red Rocks area in the safety zone and carrying out mining as permitted. We permitted them to dig up to four feet, but they would dig 8-10 feet. Extracted pits should be refilled with cleansed sand. We received complaints claiming they were not refilling the pits properly. The Assistant Divisional Secretary joined the discussion. She laid down the conditions that the discussion must be oral and no writing should take place. They have not sent us a copy of the new sand mining licence. They must have obtained it, but they should have sent us a copy which they have failed to do. Our recommendation is mandatory to issue licences. It is then only that other institutes can issue licences. But CCCRM, Department of Archeology and the GSMB have granted permission to extract sand without our recommendation.” he added.
Speaking on permission given to sand mining the officer from the Department of Archaeology in charge of Nilaweli area said that he has not granted permission for sand mining at all. “I did not authorise sand mining there. Earlier permission was given. Sand mining will not be allowed in places with relics. Sand mining is currently carried out in lands under the National Youth Services Council. If they have taken to mine sand in the land under our department, we have never granted permission for that,” the officer added.
Ananda Withanage, the Assistant Director of the Department of Archaeology in charge of Trincomalee, said that permission was given once for excavation activities in May. “We excavated that land and gave permission as there were no archaeological relics. Where are the extractions carried out in lands under our department? I do not know to what extent sand should be mined in archaeological lands. The department does not pay attention to that. We give permission if an area has no archaeological value. I do not know what to do if people mine sand in other areas other than in the permitted ones,” he added.
I filed two cases against the company for illegal sand mining near Kuchchaveli. Pulmoddai Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd is using machineries to mine sand in a way disturbing the locals. Many cases are filed against this company, but it is still engaged in haphazard mining
M.Mubarak Kuchchaveli Pradesha Sabha Chairman
Permission granted subject to conditions
Assistant Director of the Coastal Conservation Office in Nilaveli K. Wanniarachchi said that permission had been given for sand mining to be carried out without damaging the relics. “Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary gave his recommendations in writing following the divisional development committee meeting held via Zoom. The licence is for a year and is renewed yearly,” he added.
State Minister for Coastal Conservation and Low-lying Lands Development Attorney-at-law Mohan Priyadarshana Silva visiting the area said that Pulmoddai was famous for mineral sands. “Mineral Sands Corporation has generated a good income to the country by extracting mineral sands for 60 years. The beach belongs to the State. The Government represents the state. There is no need for licences or deeds for the purpose of extracting Government properties. Deeds are with the Government. That company is engaged in sand mining with legally obtained licences. We pay attention all the time as the Department of Coastal Conservation. This permission has been granted subject to conditions. The income does not end up in anyone’s pockets,” he added.
Based on that belief the State Minister may be of the view that Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd has the permission to extract mineral sand from anywhere. The State represents the public. They have the right to oppose if public institutes are engaged in the haphazard destruction of a public property. When the power is decentralised, these institutes are authorised following a separate legal framework under which these institutes operate. How practical is it to highlight the possibility of sand mining taking place without permission on the mere basis that the beach is a state-owned property? According to the state minister the relevant company is engaged in sand mining after completing all the required reports and the CCCRM was inspecting the area. When contacted later he said that he could not make comments with regards to the issue and that the CCCRM Director General would provide information.
Do not publish these details as you wish. Come to Colombo to seek answers. We have licences obtained from every institute
Udaya de Silva General Manager Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd
Eng. R. A. S. Ranawaka, CCCRM Director General said that no one can extract mineral sand on the beach as they wish claiming that the land belongs to the state. “The Department gave permission for sand mining subject to a set of conditions. An officer is appointed to inspect whether those conditions are observed. The State Minister did not say that the beach belonged to the state and there was no need to obtain permission to use public properties,” Ranawaka said.
As per the Coast Conservation Act of 2011 (Reformed), an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report should be obtained before an activity of mining, construction or other human construction within a limit of one kilometre seawards of the Mean Low Water line and 300 metres landwards of the Mean High Water line. That report should be displayed in a Divisional Secretariat for a month to obtain public views. No such report has been displayed and no public views have been sought regarding Red Rocks sand deposit, locals said.
Obtaining the recommendation of the Local Government authority during such mining operation is the general procedure. Kuchchaveli Pradesha Sabha Chairman M. Mubarak said that Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd was engaged in haphazard sand mining and environmental destruction without obtaining recommendations. “I filed two cases against the company for illegal sand mining near Kuchchaveli. Pulmoddai Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd is using machineries to mine sand in a way disturbing the locals. Many cases are filed against this company, but it is still engaged in haphazard mining. The company is trying to destroy natural resources. This is not a development activity or profit oriented activity for the Government. The echo system is destroyed for personal benefits. The contractor sells sand and only he earns profits. GSMB sets conditions when issuing sand mining licenses. It is necessary to obtain my permission. But this company has been engaged in sand mining without my permission. I have not given my permission for three years for the purpose of sand mining,” Mubarak added.
In 2018 attempts were made to mine mineral sand in the area, but P. Thaneshwaran, the then Kuchchaveli Divisional Secretary, did not allow, locals said. “However after he was transferred, Assistant Divisional Secretary R. Fama who was the acting divisional secretary gave permission because her husband was employed at Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd. Therefore she allowed sand mining activities. The assistant divisional secretary however refused those claims and said even if she attended the Zoom meeting, the relevant conditions were laid out verbally and no permission was given in writing.
The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau said that mining licences were issued to Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd for 10 years. The Chairman of ‘Surakimu Sri Lanka’ organization Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera said that was illegal adding that the Red Rocks beach and the Pallawanka archaeological site on the brink of destruction should be protected.
According to Udaya de Silva, the General Manager of Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd, the company has obtained permission from every institute for sand mining. “Do not publish these details as you wish. Come to Colombo to seek answers. We have licences obtained from every institute,” he added.
Attempts made to contact Minister Wimal Weerawansa proved futile. The Ministerial media unit said that the accusations raised by Kuchchaveli PS Chairman were baseless and that sand mining was operating in a legal manner and the statement given by the State Minister of Coastal Conservation after his field visit was still valid.
GSMB Director (Mineral Titling) Hema Liyanarachchi said as per the 1992 Act, those who engaged in mechanical mining were allowed to continue those activities. “To mine mineral sand or other resources, it is necessary to obtain a mechanical license and if the area exceeds 100 hectares, EIA and IR reports are necessary. CCCRM should conduct an EIA for mining activities within a limit of 300 metres from the coast. When issuing licenses, the director general can decide the period for the license. Even if given for 10 years, we conduct field visits annually to see if the conditions are followed. If there is an issue connected to Red Rock area in Kuchachveli, officers of institutes owning lands in the area should look into them.”, she added.
We do not know who speaks the truth. It should be observed whether every government institute has given permission following a proper procedure. Authorities should decide whether they let another environmental destruction happen by allowing sand mining activities in Red Rocks, Kuchchaveli.