Wilpattu National Sanctuary Forest Conservation Dept denies releasing land

Muslim houses in Wilpattu

The Department of Forest Conservation emphasized yesterday (20) that they had not released any land within the environment and eco system belonging to Wilpattu National Sanctuary, which has been under the supervision of the Department, since 8 May 2013.

They said that they reject allegations by environmental organizations that the Wilpattu National Sanctuary is being destroyed due to settlements.

They also said that the Department is paying strict attention to Mawillu Forest Conservation.

Head of Environment Management and Conservation at the Department, forest conservationist Mahinda Seneviratne made these comments in response to a protest in Colombo on 14 December by several environment organizations and artistes. The protesters allege that the Wilpattu Reserve is being severely destroyed.

“Environmental organizations accuse the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen of settling Muslim people within the environmental and eco system which belongs to the Wilpattu National Sanctuary. However, I have to say with responsibility that these statements are totally false. Subsequent to 8 May 2013, no harm has been done to any part of the land within this zone, that has been named, and which belongs to the Department. Nevertheless, prior to that date, lands were cleared in order for resettlement. That is true,” Seneviratne said. With the war ending in 2009 during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa tenure, a Presidential Task Force (PTF) under the patronage of former Minister Basil Rajapaksa was established with the objective of resettling people who had been displaced as a result of the war. A number of ministries got together and engaged in acquiring lands and clearing them for the purpose of resettlement.

However, since no office of the Department had been established in the North even by then, he said that these resettlement tasks had been launched without the intervention of the Department.

“One of our offices was declared open in the North only in 2011 August. Nonetheless it was difficult for us to work with regard to forests due to security procedures that were implemented, such as the removal of land mines. Even under the restrictions that existed, our officials intervened to prevent harmful activities,” he further said.

Due to accusations that field officers of the Department were obstructing resettlement tasks, Basil Rajapaksa had summoned all factions and held a discussion. Former Conservator General of Forests participated in it as the first official intervention of the Department. As a result, based on the intervention of the Department, 1,080 acres of land were legally released for resettlement purposes from Mannar. Even though it was said that this land was not sufficient and a request was made from the PTF for another 2,007 acres of land, the Department had expressed their objections to it, continuously. However, since the resettlement of people was essential, he added that only 1,420 acres were legally released from the requested 2,007 acres in a manner that did not harm the lands where the Reserve was.

If any construction is being carried out on lands in these areas, it is only on parcels of lands that were legally granted to people, he said. Wilpattu National Sanctuary is spread across the Anuradhapura and Puttalam Districts and the Mawillu Forest Conservation is located north of Wilpattu. This region is known as the Wilpattu Environmental and Eco System.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Niranjala Ariyawansha)