By Gazala Anver
Construction on the illegal bungalow built by the Air Force Commander, Roshan Goonetilleke in Sudugalla, Knuckles, an environmentally protected area, is still continuing, alleges Programmes Manager, Sri Lanka Nature Forum, Sajeewa Chamikara.
According to Chamikara, construction has been going on for over a month now. “Minister Faiser Mustapha went to see the area, and indirectly approved the construction saying it apparently won’t damage the area. This was confirmed to me by an officer in the CEA who said that while they were pressing for legal action, the Minister gave approval even though he doesn’t have the authority.” Chamikara however didn’t name the official as he had wished to remain anonymous.
Deputy Environment Minister, Faiser Mustapha however denied Chamikara’s claims saying that it is incorrect. “I did visit Knuckles and I even visited the Air Force Commander’s bungalow but I don’t have a legal mandate to give any clearance for the continuation of construction.” Mustapha added, “contrary to reports the bungalow is not a palace and in fact is not more than 1500 square feet in size. Also there are other bungalows built around not just by the Air Force Commander. We are in the process of trying to resolve this matter.”
Environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena speaking on legalities said that Goonetilleke has violated Section 24B of the National Environment Act, and under Sub-Section 2, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) can take the matter before the Magistrate Court and seek an order to stop the work by way of an injunction.
However, to date, despite assurances from the Knuckles Conservation Committee about taking action against Goonetilleke, none has been taken to date and the committee is becoming a farce, says Chamikara. Previously, the Knuckles Conservation Committee was to take a decision at the beginning of October, but the committee head himself was oblivious to the situation at hand.
Chairman CEA, Charitha Herath however was unaware that construction was continuing but added that they were proceeding with the legal case against previous land owner, Roy De Silva. “Our legal position is that Roy De Silva cannot sell the land. If he wants to bring up the Air Force Commander issue in court, he can.”
As for the Knuckles Conservation Committee, he says that the committee is trying to develop an understanding with the residents and land owners in the Knuckles area and has had several meetings to date. He also added that in certain areas it is legal to make renovations.
Media reports however prove that the Air Force Commander’s bungalow is newly constructed and not built on an existing foundation.
A source in the Air Force however said there is no further construction taking place. “It is very well constructed, and there is nothing more to be done. It is a bungalow and not a hotel as some media organisations reported,” he said.