A major sand mining racket in Trincomalee is being aided by a top state official and two government politicians, charges the Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS).
Director general of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Sajjana de Silva as well as minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Shasheendra Rajapaksa are behind the large-scale sand mining from a natural delta of the Mahaweli at Safi Nagar, it alleges.
This racket has now changed hands from the Rajapaksa regime to the Wickremesinghe administration.
The racket is taking place in the guise of a 3,000-acre chili cultivation, says CENS coordinator and environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam.
Chairman of the Bureau Manjula Prasad Senaratne has issued mining licenses for 27 hectares at the location, where miners had dug around 40 feet deep.
Despite the CENS having exposed the racket in 2021, the then environment minister Amaraweera claimed no illegal sand mining was taking place there.
His promise to investigate the allegation never materialized.
Since then, the Centre has mapped the area using google earth to reveal the extent of the damage.
Sand mining is now taking place with the use of heavy equipment and is supported by the Bureau’s director and with political backing, Kariyawasam charged.
At the same time, licensing requests by area residents for small-scale mining had been turned down, while the number of licenses issued has now gone up to 1,300 covering a 22-km area between Seruwawila and Kinniya.
Research has revealed an increase in salinity in the area, causing considerable damage to the paddy farming.
This racket is a grim reminder of government attempts to sell state resources, with the budget for 2023 making such proposals.