Land has been grabbed for the operation of an illegal stone quarry in the Andarawewa Forest Reserve.
The Andarawewa Forest Reserve is located in the Northen Central Province within the Mahaweli ‘H’ zone and has been under the the control of Mahaweli Authority since 1892, when it was declared a wildlife protection zone. As a protected zone unauthorized entrance, clearing and timber extraction were prohibited by the Mahaweli Authority. However, since 2010 Mahaweli Authority has begun dividing the area into allotments for release to the private sector.
Allegedly, the Resident Project Manager of system H of Mahaweli has facilitated land allotment to private investors with political support of several Ministers. In particular, environmental activists and local villagers accuse the Agrarian Services and Wildlife Deputy Minister S. M. Chandrasena and Irrigation and Water Management Deputy Minister W. B. Ekanayake for grabbing the reserve lands distributing it amongst their cohorts and relatives without considering the environment impact and the biodiversity of the forest.
Following a report by Friends of the Earth International , a 20 acre (8ha) plot has been given to the company ‘Access Engineering’ for the operation of a stone quarry. The land was acquired by a local councilor for the Madyama Nuwara Palatha Pradeshiya Sabha and by Rasika Ekanayake, the son of Deputy Minister W. B. Ekanayake. This land has been leased to the above mentioned company and the necessary equipment is currently being installed on the land. In spite of being located in a Forest Reserve, according to Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB), three Industrial Mining licenses have been granted for the quarry to Rasika Ekanayake, his wife and W. P. Wickremasinghe, on the recommendation of the Mahaweli Authority and the Central Environmental Authority.
In 2013, Arunashantha, a representative of a farmer organization opposing to the project declared to The Sunday Leader that the land given to Ekanayake for the quarry has an archaeological value. Moreover he stated that the granite is removed with the help of backhoes and other heavy machinery working round the clock. The noises have forced wild animals away from the Andarawewa Forest Reserve and their lives are at stake.
In addition to this extractive project, further tourism projects, such as the Palm Garden Hotel (see below, related conflicts), have been implemented within the forest reserve, increasing the pressure on the forest ecosystem.
All these activities have been implemented ignoring the regulations of the National Environmental Act. Following the mentioned article by The Sunday Leader, in order to build the road, many trees have been cut and security check points were established within the forest to check who entered the forest reserve. Despite the strong opposition carried out by villagers and local EJO's, the project have been implemented causing severe damages to the forest environment and to the residents in the area .