The Minister of Environment,
Solid Waste Management and Climate Change
Honourable Kavydass Ramano

29 April 2021

Sir,

Open letter on the felling of native flora along B104 road at Chamarel and invitation for a Stop Order

1.We express our dismay and alarm at your reply to Hon. Joanna Bérenger during Adjournment Matters at the Parliament’ session of 27 April 2021 regarding the destruction of part of the upland native forest of the island, including the felling of mature ebony trees, for works along the B104 (1). You chose to delve into petty politics instead of showing environmental stewardship.

2.By shifting attention to private sector projects, including Real Estate Development (RES) and Smart Cities, you have side-tracked the issue in a totally unethical and partisan manner as Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change. It is within the Government’s policy-making mandate to spell out conditions under which such land conversion and development take place. The fact that this is not done, missing an opportunity to harmonise economic and conservation activities, is of concern in itself. But that it is then used to shift blame and nuance your responsibilities regarding public land use is unacceptable.

3.The way you, again as Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, oppose “development” and “environment” cast strong doubts on your capacity to drive the policy changes that are needed not only to protect our endangered biodiversity from human intervention but also from the negative impacts of climate change. We wonder what the content of the Master Plan for the Environment 2020-2030 that we have worked so hard to contribute to, at your behest, will be.

4.Your reply to Hon. Joanna Bérenger is in no way one of environmental stewardship. It clearly indicates that what is considered by you to be “development” takes precedence over the protection of what is left of the last remnants of Mauritian native forests and endangered biodiversity. It is intolerable that again you fail to see that unique environmental assets are also economic ones for the Chamarel region’s sustainable development. At the same time, this deforestation of the remnants of habitat for the endemic birds brought back from the brink of extinction with such dedicated hard work and care, is damaging for the other functions that mature forest cover brings to steep slopes. You chose to be a party to unsustainable development, failing to advocate for and protect our endangered biodiversity.

5.We find it very disturbing that even following a letter dated 5 April 2021 from the President of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences (RSAS), Pierre Baissac, to you regarding the deforestation taking place – and that we have seen –, you chose to give the response you did.

6.By failing to take action following the above-mentioned letter you have shown that you have been acting contrary to a law of the Republic – the Environmental Protection Act and related legislation – and of which your own ministry and you as minister are a guardian, a duty-bearer.

In connection with the above, we remind you of the following:

a.Your response implies that it is allowed in the name of “development” to cut down indigenous and endemic trees, even without an EIA License or PER clearance. How then will you and your ministry include in environmental permits and clearances the prohibition of the cutting down of indigenous or endemic trees by any individual or private sector company?

b.It is the Government that makes sectoral policies and programmes such as Real Estate Schemes and Smart City Schemes where various incentives, including generous tax holidays, are given to the private sector. The Government you belong to prominently features real estate development in its economic model.

c.The letter addressed to you by the president of the RSAS has given you an informed view of the situation and the avenues open to take remedial steps to the ongoing deforestation along the B104. Mr Baissac also demonstrated that there have been “very blatant infringements” to the law and that works of the nature being carried out are not exempted from an EIA.

d.Instead of acting upon these and his offer of assistance, you, as Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, chose to reply in the National Assembly in a most disrespectful, undignified way, totally against the mandate that has been entrusted to you on our behalf.

Minister, in recent years, local NGOs and civil society at large have been raising the alarm on the negative environmental and social impacts of several projects, mainly in the Real Estate and Hospitality sectors through various government schemes such as PDS, Smart City etc. There are projects by the private sector that should have been subjected to an EIA or PER but have been exempted from one or have not been required to carry out an EIA or a PER although they are located in the proximity of or in Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA). A few examples are Hyvec PDS in Bel Ombre, Ocean Futures PDS at Pointe Oscorne, Grand Gaube among others. You have been mute about these even following appeals by NGOs and local communities to have EIAs undertaken.

In the light of the above, we invite you to disclose the following:

(a)The number of EIA applications for private development projects during your tenure so far, where you have disapproved the EIA and rejected the application as per Section 23 (2) (b) and 23 (4) of the EPA.

(b)  The number of PER for private development projects during your tenure so far, you have, as per section 16(6) (a), (b) and (c) of EPA:

(i) Approved

(ii) Rejected

(iii) Requested submission of an application for an EIA licence in respect of the undertaking to which the report relates.

(c) As per Section 17 (Non-listed activity) of EPA, the number of private development projects you have declared to submit a PER or an application for an EIA licence which by reason of its nature, scope, scale and sensitive location, is likely to have an impact on the environment or on the zoning of an area.

It is still time to take a dignified and responsible course of action in the current situation, and rise above petty partisan politics and cheap political jousts.

We call on you, Minister, to immediately issue a stop order on all works being undertaken along the B104 and conduct all studies and consultations required in connection with the works.

Platform Moris Lanvironnman

(1)https://mauritiusassembly.govmu.org/Documents/Hansard/2021/hansard0521.pdf