A government minister is alleged to have cleared 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres) off the eastern edge of the Minneriya National Park to start building the second phase of his hotel named ‘Jeew’s Hide Out.’
This tourist hotel could be located on the Habarana-Polonnaruwa route and is deep inside the Minneriya National Park; the hotel complex could be spotted behind the cover of thick forest.
Sources say that from the place where the hotel has been constructed and up to a distance of six km no humans or animal habitats are visible as the area is one that is isolated.
LAKBIMAnEWS exposed the existence of this hotel a few years ago and the operation was brought to a standstill thereafter. However, sources say that the said minister has started building the second phase of the hotel.
Environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara said: “It has come to light that the minister in question had sought approval to build this hotel through a letter that he had forwarded to the Wildlife and Conservation Department (WCD) under the guise of seeking a plot of land to build a small complex to save invaluable flora and fauna within the Minneriya National Park and Forest Reservation.”
Later, officials of the Wildlife and Conservation Department, the Minneriya National Park and Forest Reservation, and officials of the Polonnaruwa Wildlife assistant director’s office sans doing any evaluation on the land concerned, had allowed the minister to build his tourist hotel complex known as ‘Jeew’s Hide Out.’
It has now come to light that the minister had built his tourist hotel complex by virtue of having forwarded an illegal deed, Chamikara noted.
Many departments deceived
Environmentalists have pointed out that if a true and genuine evaluation had been carried out on the said land then it could have been ascertained that there is no space left for any further growth of rare herbs, plants or flora and fauna within the Minneriya National Park or its surroundings.
Many environmentalists also alleged that the minister had subtly deceived the relevant departments and its officials in order to surreptitiously build his hotel complex. As such, they charge that this minister had cleverly got round officials from the Wildlife and Conservation Department, the Minneriya National Park and Forest Reservation and officials of the Polonnaruwa Wildlife assistant director’s office with the aim of constructing his hotel through which he has sought to make a financial ‘killing.’
Building under false pretexts
It has been now revealed that a large number of trees had already been felled in order to clear the forest area to construct ‘Jeew’s Hide Out.’
It has also come to light that before going ahead with the construction of the hotel, its owners had informed the Wildlife and Conservation Department that the area earmarked had been cleared to build a meditation centre.
But now its owners have proceeded with the second stage of the construction ignoring the advice given to them by the director general of Wildlife who had notified them to do a thorough evaluation of the environment and the vicinity before proceeding with the building.
Allegations have been levelled at officials of the Wildlife and Conservation Department as well for their failure to take action against the minister concerned despite him having repeatedly hoodwinked its officials to proceed with the construction of ‘Jeew’s Hide Out.’
Environmentalists also charged that due to the vast amount of debris and waste material that have been left lying in the area, the forest reservation and the environment now face the risk of being destroyed as well.
It has been further revealed that a large stock of empty liquor bottles has piled up on the backyard of the hotel complex and the threat such non-biodegradable material could cause to not only to the environment but even to animals which inhabit the forest cannot be underestimated.
More allegations are levelled stating that Jeew’s Hide Out has been constructed having blatantly flouted the National Forest, and Flora and Fauna Act, and its consequences have already been felt by the environment, people and animals alike.
But many environmentalists speaking to this newspaper are of the view that officials of the Wildlife and Conservation Department as well as other concerned departments are silent on such issues due to the powerful political clout wielded by the minister concerned.
They warned that if politicians are allowed to build hotels and other complexes according to their own whims and fancies at national parks and forest reservations, while damaging and destroying the same, before long the animal population in the country would be hard-pressed to find habitats for their survival.
The ancient rulers of the country – the Kings who ruled the land had worked for the betterment of the people and for the survival of the animal population.
Environmentalists also pointed out that building a hotel complex in the Minneriya National Park and Forest Reservation could also pose a serious threat to the sizeable elephant population that is found there.
They warned that due to its construction the route through which the elephants travel regularly could be affected and the release of chemicals from the hotel complex could pose a further threat to the flora and fauna of the National Park as well as the bio-diversity of the area.
They have therefore urged the Wildlife and Conservation Department officials to take the hotel complex under its control and stop its harmful effects before the damage to the environment and animals become irredeemable.
Our attempts to contact Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, S.M. Chandrasena, for his comments proved futile as he did not respond to our calls.
By Sajeewa Chamikara