Imported rubbish can’t be moved within SL | Sunday Observer

Imported rubbish can’t be moved within SL

Rotting garbage
Rotting garbage

The stinking saga of imported garbage, from the UK, received an interim order from the Court of Appeal (CoA), that the rotting rubbish stored in 241 containers, should remain, at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and Colombo Port, though, it could be re-exported.

This temporary verdict came from the CA on Wednesday (31), along with which, the CA had also issued notice for the respondents, to appear on the date of the next hearing. On that eventful Wednesday, when the case was taken up, the petitioners, had stated that the 4th and 5th Respondents (Hayleys Free Zone Limited and ETL Colombo) had imported toxic substance, in the form of garbage into the country, from the UK.

The consignments containing waste, which allegedly includes clinical waste, human body parts, used cushions and mattresses, plant parts, plastic waste and other unlabelled waste and hazardous waste, in the guise of importing permitted consignments were meant to be discarded within the country. This selfish motive, could trigger severe health damage to the public and the environment. The Petitioners have alleged. When the CA took up a petition filed by Hemantha Withanage, the Executive Director, for the ‘Centre for Environmental Justice’, a Colombo-based Non-Governmental Organisation, on Thursday (25), the CEA, Sri Lanka Customs and the Attorney General’s (AG) department was named as respondents. The petitioner informed the court, that the containers are in two locations, as two separate consignments: 102 containers in the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) in the Colombo Port, and 122 containers in the Free Trade Zone in Katunayake, in the Naikanda Board of Investment (BOI) premises.

After considering the remarks made by the petitioner’s counsel, CoA President, Justice Yasantha Kodagoda instructed the petitioners to include the Board of Investment and Hayleys Free Zone Limited also, as respondents in the case. Meanwhile, Senior Counsel Romesh De Silva PC, who appeared on behalf of Hayleys Advantis, the parent company of Hayleys Free Zone, informed the courts that the consignment in the Colombo Port premises does not belong to Hayleys.

He also submitted that the 122 containers in the Katunayake BOI zone belonged to Hayleys, but had no clinical waste.

History

“Those materials are to be value-added and re-exported. They do not enter into the local market,” the counsel assured the court. He also said that those 122 containers which are originally from the United Kingdom did not come from any hospital or medical institute, to the best of his knowledge. That consignment only consisted of used mattresses and no other waste was attached, he informed the court.

PC Romesh De Silva said that the material in the BOI import consignment had not been added to the waterways nearby, as it was mentioned in the petition. But, he admitted that a part of the consignment was now fully exposed to the environment. Hayleys is in the process of re-filling them into containers.

The history of this ugly junk in containers dates back to one-and-a-half years. The hundreds of containers carrying hazardous items were sitting silently in the aforementioned two places.

The owners, the two Muthuramar brothers, one based in queen’s land (UK, Vengadesha Muthuramar), and the latter in Lankan land (Sasikumaran Muthuramar), have been discreetly engaging in the foul trade.

Between September 2017 to March 2018, an aggregate of 241 containers had been brought to the island. From 241, 130 were stored in the Free Trade Zone, under the Board of Investment (BOI) watch. Following a tip-off, the 111 containers that were lying unattended like an orphan, went in to a probe by the Sri Lanka Customs, on 7 May. The probe uncovered, 130 of them had been deserted in the Free Trade Zone.

However, in a mastermind move, to go scot-free, a score of the 130 containers with scrap metal had been separated and shipped to neighbouring India and Dubai. Another untouched 10, also followed suit, to these countries.

The containers were imported to Sri Lanka under the ‘entrepôt trading license’ which allows all goods brought under it to be exempt from inspections and monitoring procedures of the Customs, Import Controller, and Exchange Controller, and to be directly handled by the BOI. This was provided for by amendments to the Finance Act No. 12 of 2012 made through notification in the Gazette Extraordinary 1818/30 of July 2013.

Documents

This ensured, these imports are not physically checked by the Customs, Import Controller, or Exchange Controller. Nor do these agencies conduct any entry processing or check on documents. Thus, the company that imported the garbage did so taking advantage of its registration with the BOI under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission Act.

Acting Media Spokesperson for Sri Lanka Customs, Lal Weerakoon, said, four key responsible parties were identified. The BOI, which had sealed a deal with Hayleys Free Zone as a BOI-registered company, logistics provider ETL Colombo Ltd, which signed an agreement with Hayleys Free Zone and, the importer firm, Ceylon Metal Processing Cooperation (Pvt) Ltd, which joined hands with ETL Colombo. Weerakoon, then said, “At this stage, we can’t ascertain precisely who was responsible for all this garbage ending up in our country. The Customs is investigating the matter,”

The remains, in the 111 containers are a mystery. Officials are not opening the containers to examine, fearing environmental contamination, due to the strong stench and fluid oozing. Some claim, that this load of rubbish, includes clinical waste. The BOI and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), have now begun probing this garbage which was left exposed to the open air in a 50,000 square foot facility at the Free Trade Zone.

In this instance, the UK, has been at the receiving end, for breaching international law. Back in 1992, Sri Lanka signed the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, to which the United Kingdom is also a signatory. Article 4 of the Basel Convention states , that a signatory country intending to ship waste to another signatory country has to seek permission from the importing country, before any shipments could be moved. For that matter, the UK, had failed to get the shipment cleared from Basel’s focal point in Sri Lanka - the CEA. The UK is now conducting an investigation in to this.

On the other hand, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressing this issue, in Parliament said that, based on an initial inquiry conducted by Customs, 241 containers consisting of waste has been imported to Sri Lanka during September 27, 2017, to March 2, 2019. From that, 111 containers belong to ETL Colombo Pvt Ltd with the notifying party being Ceylon Metal Processing Corporation Pvt Ltd.

However, the Customs had conducted an inquiry into the 65 containers remaining at the Colombo port, in the presence of ETL Colombo Pvt Ltd, CEO Sashikumaran Muthuramar and officials of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).

According to the Finance Minister, these garbage consignments were recognised as‘mixed waste material’ while it had been imported in contravention of the ‘Basel Convention’ and also without prior approval of the CEA. The case will be next heard on September 20.

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