Sri Lanka court blocks president’s sand mining concessions

A Sri Lankan court Friday blocked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s controversial move to relax restrictions on sand mining and transport which conservationists said threatened fragile river eco systems.

High quality river sand is widely sought by the construction industry.

A two-judge bench ruled that the government had no powers to remove tight controls established under a 1992 law to protect the environment and eco systems along rivers across the island.

Court of Appeal president A. H. M. D. Nawaz ordered police to enforce controls over the transportation of sand and other construction aggregates despite the government waiving the strict licensing for sand mining and transport.

“The court instructed the police chief to implement the law as the government had not changed the law despite verbal instructions not to prosecute offenders,” a court official said.

The activist Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) petitioned the court to stop the free transport of construction material arguing that it had led to widespread mining and caused serious damage to rivers and other water bodies.

“This is victory for the environment,” CEJ spokesman Ravindranath Dabare told AFP. “We hope the police will carry out the court order and implement the existing laws to protect our environment.”

The law provided for fines up to two million rupees ($10,000) and six months in prison for those transporting sand without permits which are usually issued under strict environmental considerations.

Rajapaksa, who won a landslide at November elections, lifted the permit requirement, bowing to the demands of the construction industry.

The latest court action came three weeks ahead of the August 5 parliamentary elections at which Rajapaksa’s party is hoping to consolidate their hold on power with a two-thirds majority.