The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) has once again called for amendments to the National Environmental Act, which would provide more powers to take action against offenders who pollute environment.

Chairman, CEA, Prof. Lal Dharmasiri speaking to Nation explained that such a move was necessary in the current scenario where the country was focusing on infrastructure development.

He  also spoke on the various programmes pertaining to waste management and disposal that are in the pipeline.

Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q : The CEA has requested amendments to the National Environmental Act. Can you explain the reason for the request?
We look at it as a necessity at this juncture. The Act of 1980 was amended twice in the past. But nothing had been done since. It is important that the Act is amended considering the current rate of development and its impact on environment.
The main reason why we have called for amendments to the Act is to empower the CEA. For instance, if an individual or company constructs a building and harms the environment, with the current powers, we could only file a petition in Court against the individual or the institution. But we do not have the power to halt the progress of the construction until the Court verdict is given. But institutions such as the Coast Conservation Department (CCD)and Road Development Authority (RDA) have these powers.

Q:You have also called for a Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) to be implemented in Sri Lanka. Can you explain what the PPP is all about?
According to the National Environmental Act, an offender, whether it is an individual or an institution, is entitled to pay a maximum amount of Rs. 100,000 as fine if found guilty of polluting the environment. The PPP is enacted to make sure that the relevant party responsible for the polluting the environment pays for the damages. The maximum fine could be Rs. 100,000, but the damages caused to the environment could cost millions and sometimes billions. It is therefore important to ensure that the offender pays for the damages.

There are several developed countries which have enacted this principle. It is high time that Sri Lanka, which is a rapidly developing country, has a serious look at this.

Q : One of the main concerns, especially during this post flood situation is the garbage disposing system. The Government had made several attempts to launch various programmes to dispose garbage but had failed. Are you working on any new waste management programmes?
There is no systematic or sustainable waste disposal programme in Sri Lanka at the moment. The incessant rains and the floods have actually aggravated the garbage issue in the country, especially in Colombo and suburbs.

We are actually working on several garbage disposing methods. As far as Colombo is concerned, we have already started work on a ‘Waste to Energy’ programme. There are quite a few foreign investors who have shown keen interest in being part of this project.
The project is carried out by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development under its mega plan for the Western Province. We hope to start the project towards the end of this year.

In addition, we have also commenced sanitary landfill processes in several areas including Keerimalai in Jaffna and in Anuradhapura.

We have also assisted various organizations and institutions including local government bodies to establish 126 centres islandwide to produce composite fertilizer. We are looking at producing a hybrid fertilizer combining organic fertliser with suitable chemicals. This is done with the assistance of Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology. We are providing technical assistance for this programme which is being carried out in 126 centres.

Q : What are the challenges or issues that you face when you try to implement such programmes?
It is the protests by the people. The people protest most of our moves to dispose garbage thinking that it would affect their neighbourhood. What they should understand is that we make a move after careful study and analysis. We would not randomly dump garbage in a neighbourhood.