In the Andarawewa Forest Reserve, land has been grabbed for the construction of luxury 'eco-friendly' resorts; the Forest Rock Garden Resort and the Palm Garden Village Hotel.
The Andarawewa Forest Reserve is located in the Northern Central Province within the Mahaweli ‘H’ zone and has been under the control of the Mahaweli Authority since 1892, when it was declared a wildlife protection zone. As a protected zone, unauthorized entrance, forest clearing and timber extraction were prohibited by the Mahaweli Authority. However, since 2010, the 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, while receiving political support by 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 land and for distributing it amongst their cohorts and relatives, without considering the environmental impact and the biodiversity of the forest .
Following a report by Friends of the Earth International , 48 acres of forest have been allocated to Mr. Baladurayage Chandrasiri, on the directives of Deputy Minister S. M. Chandrasena, for the construction of the Forest Rock Garden Resort. The business man was in fact one of the main sponsor of the Deputy Minister S. M. Chandrasena during the previous election campaign, so the land title can be understood as a compensation for the given support .
Baladurayage Chandrasiri is also the owner and Managing Director of the Palm Garden Village Hotel, which was built in 1996 and is located in Andarawewa Forest as well (about 5 km away from Forest Rock Garden), covering an area of 50 acres . Curiously, looking at Baladurayage Chandrasiri statements , both the two hotels are presented as the most innovative eco-friendly buildings in Sri Lanka.
Construction work of the Forest Rock Garden Resort started, ignoring the regulations imposed under the National Environmental Act, which impose that any developmental activity carried out in a forest area exceeding 1 hectare should obtain a CEA approval subject to EIA process.
Following the strong opposition of local farmers and environmental organizations, a suspension order was issued by the CEA on 14th October 2010.
An extremely weak EIA report was produced by the owners, based on a one day field visit. Although more than 50 comments regarding the EIA were submitted, they were all rejected by the CEA stating they have been presented after the deadline. As a result the CEA gave approval for an improper and deficient EIA, and continuation of the project was recommended subject to some conditions .
In addition to the hotels, there are further development projects, threatening the unique forest. In the same area, another 20 acre plot has been given to ‘Access International’ for the operation of a stone quarry (see below, related conflicts). Despite the strong opposition carried out by villagers and local EJO's, both the hotels as well as the quarry project have been implemented, causing severe damages to the forest environment and to the residents in the area .