EXAMPLES OF BEST PRACTICES: Residents versus mineral investment agreement, Sri lanka

To illustrate how public participation can improve environmental decision making, the CO-SEED team gathered case studies from around the world. The case study below is part of our on-going series sharing these examples:

Concessions (economic gain) is not always more important than the well-being of local people

Representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka and a U.S. company had come to a so called ‘Mineral Investment Agreement’ for a deposit of phosphate rock in the Anuradhapura district. A group of petitioners, who were residents of the relevant area and engaged in land cultivation, complained that the investment agreement infringed on their rights under the Constitution.

The individual petitioners had legal standing to pursue their rights under the Constitution. The Court was concerned with the rights of individual petitioners, and their rights were also linked to the collective rights of all citizens of Sri Lanka. The Court emphasized that the rate of mining would increase to an amount which would exhaust all proven phosphate reserves. As phosphate was a non - renewable resource, such an exploration scheme would not be in the interest of future generations. Per international norms, natural resources must be preserved to meet the needs of future generations. 

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court, in the Eppawela case, found that the Government proposal to lease the phosphate mine to a private company for 30 years conflicted with principles of sustainable development and had not been subject to adequate environmental assessment. In emphasising the importance of public access to environmental information and to the courts, it drew on the policies of the European Commission and the Rio Declaration, which are aligned with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Sri Lankan Constitution.