Colombo (News 1st): Officials of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) inspected the garbage dump located at a private company space within the Katunayake Free Trade Zone.
In an investigation carried out by the CEA, it was revealed that 130 containers were brought into the country by this private company in 2017 using a gazette issued in 2013. 57 containers out of these containers had been re-exported and 72 containers are at Katunayake.
Director of the Hazardous and Chemical Waste Management Unit at the CEA Ajith Weerasundara noted that they were able to see mattresses and carpets that were with waste. He said as per the company, the containers arrived in the country as a mistake. He went onto note that following inspections they informed the company that the garbage has to be sent back to the country of origin.
Does the Central Environmental Authority, the apex institution for the protection of the environment of our motherland, accept that this garbage was brought in to the country as a result of a mistake?
Former Secretary of the Ministry of Environment Professor Padmini Batuwitage said the Basel Convention is an international convention with 187 signatory countries and Sri Lanka ratified the convention in 1992. She noted that if any form of waste is to be exported to another country, the permission of that country must be sought first and in Sri Lanka, the competent authority for that is the Central Environmental Authority. She added that at that time they took a policy decision and got cabinet approval for it.
Attorney at law Jagath Gunawardena speaking on the matter noted that if someone claims that this was brought down by mistake, there is a big issue there. He said the initial issue is whether this has been sent by the company that is sending it as a result of mistake or whether they have declared this under false interpretations to the customs.
He said if it is the 2nd factor, or if it is what it seems like with the available facts, the legal status is very clear. Gunawardena noted that as per the customs ordinance, it can under the provisions of law for importing goods under false or fake pretences and re-export, these containers and the company that was involved in bringing this down can be fined and other punishments could be given under the provisions of the customs ordinance and other laws.
It is strictly illegal to import garbage into the country. Is it, therefore justifiable to merely re-export the said consignments without legal action being taken against the perpetrators of this unconscionable act?
CEO of the Shippers Academy Rohan Masakorala noted that if they cannot find a person or the point of origin of the container the free port operator is the person responsible for it. Meanwhile, another consignment of 102 containers containing discarded material which had been unloaded at the CICT of the Colombo Port has been taken into the custody of the Sri Lanka Customs for further inspection.
While several containers have already been inspected, it has been confirmed that discarded material has been shipped in the containers, under the guise of shipping mattresses.
General Secretary of the All Ceylon Customs Services Union J.A. Gunathilaka noted that 102 waste containers have already been identified by the Sri Lanka Customs Authority and around 120 containers with the discarded matter have already been transported out of the Port. He noted that the legal background to carry out this operation has been provided in 2013, by Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he released a gazette notification as the Minister of Finance.
Gunathilaka noted that the discarded matter has been exempted from the Customs Ordinance, the Monetary Control Act and the Import and Export Control Act, hence, the Customs cannot intervene in this. He went onto note that the 122 containers of discarded material are currently being held at a hub area in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone.
He said it is clearly stated in the Basel Convention and further under the National Policy on Solid Waste Management, it has been prohibited to import discarded material to the country. Moreover, Gunathilaka added it is also prohibited to create new recycling plants based on imported discarded material which have been recycled, therefore, he questioned when it is stated in fine print under the Basel Convention, how can someone issue such a gazette?
He questioned if the subject minister has a legal right to overlook and render such provisions void? He noted that this has been issued by a finance minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa if so, the Finance Minister should also have the right to revoke this. They urged the current Minister of Finance, to revoke this gazette notification.
Meanwhile speaking to the media Chairman of the All Ceylon Customs Services Union Anton Priyashantha noted that under the SAPTA and I-SAPTA trade deals, Sri Lanka has been given a quota of all the condiments. He said in 2018 the quota was 2,500 metric tonnes and 2,700 metric tonnes have been sent to India, and it is a major issue to India.
He questioned as to how Sri Lanka has exported more pepper than it has produced? He went onto note that when the customs carried out an investigation based on this matter it was revealed that pepper had been imported in the country, stored at the same hub in question where the discarded matter is currently stored and has been exported claiming that the pepper was manufactured in Sri Lanka.
Priyashantha noted that as a result, the price of pepper was affected adversely and pepper farmers were unable to sell pepper which used to be priced at Rs. 1,000, for even Rs. 400. He added that this became a public catastrophe, therefore, it is evident that large scale businessmen in the country are willing to import any sort of waste as long as their profit margins can be increased and they have been further encouraged through this gazette, signed in 2013.
A customs declaration in 2018 states that mattresses were being imported. A company in England had sent these containers to Sri Lanka and News 1st’s initial research revealed that the said company appears to be defunct.
A consignment had been imported under the name of a company located in Enderamulla, however, such a company was not found at its registered address. A reputed and respected private company in this country was the consignee in this transaction.
At a time when Sri Lanka is struggling with its own garbage disposal issues, what is the company that is bringing in more garbage into the country?
Who are the people who are behind these immoral acts?
News 1st is in possession of all information pertaining to this particular company. We respect other private sector institutions and therefore ask the company involved to come clean and provide answers to the relevant authorities with regard to this issue.
We live in a country, where 33 lives were lost when a garbage dump collapsed in Meethotamulla, a country where a garbage dump in Gohagoda is polluting the Mahaweli River, and a country where garbage dumps can be found in almost all major cities.
Shouldn’t the law enforcement authorities enact the law against such people who are importing more garbage into the country?
Without a doubt, creating job opportunities, and income methods are beneficial to society. However, if a company is carrying out a racket to bring garbage into the country for financial gain, no person, with a conscience and a moral compass will approve such acts.