Deforestation goes on unimpeded
BY Cassendra Doole and Kavindya Chris Thomas
The controversial events that surround the deforestation within the Wilpattu National Park and its adjacent forest reserves generally find them being associated with a certain racist element.
The roots of the soupçon are based on the accusations made by environmentalists who have cried foul at the deforestation taking place. When the initial story broke out in the late 2010, claiming that a portion of Wilpattu was being cleared to return land to a section of the Muslim community, environmentalists who stood against deforestation were accused of being racist. Incidentally, a rather ill-informed social media campaign was kicked off spreading such sentiments. Yet, it is one version of the issue.
"As environmentalists, we should not talk only about displacement of a certain ethnic group, but everyone," said an environmentalist Thilak Kariyawasam last month. Kariyawasam was addressing a forum on Wilpattu at Ramada Hotel on 19 January, joined by Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen.
"Whenever the Wilpattu issue is raised there is no opportunity to highlight the other side of it. Facebook heroes who do not know where Wilpattu is located are promoting the issue. Wilpattu is important in Sri Lanka history. Sri Lanka's first king, King Vijaya landed in Arippu, which is part of Wilpattu. Then he carved out the first settlement, also in Wilpattu. According to the Mahavamsa too, by 1294, the pearl fishery industry was practised in the area – Marichchikatti – and it was the Arabs who were involved and were managing it using Muslim rituals," Kariyawasam said.
"The industry leader Aboo Bucker, the main buyer of another sea product, conch-shells, was a Muslim. Therefore Muslim settlements had been there in Wilpattu from ancient times according to the Mahavamsa. Colonial Secretary Sir Emerson Tennant visited Marichikatti in the 1880s to inspect the pearl fishery industry which generated much income for the British. More recently, at the end of three decades of war in 2009, several leading agencies such as the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), UN Environment Programme, Disaster Management Ministry, and UNDP mapped out and identified the area as suitable location for human settlement.
"When Muslims were evicted from the North during the war, they had to leave their settlements. Forest conservation officials mistook the abandoned settlements as part of the Wilpattu forest and also gazetted it by mistake. The officials who now admit that they have made a mistake released 1,080 acres back to the forest allowing timber to be removed by the State Timber Corporation (STC). The trees were removed not by Muslim settlers, but by the STC. However, Muslims have been blamed for removing the trees. As environmentalists, we should not talk only about displacement of a certain ethnic group, but everyone.
What we need to focus on is about resettling the displaced people and not about who removed the trees."
Minister of Industry and Commerce and Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen said, "No government has come forward to resettle the Northern IDPs. Even when they returned after three decades of war, they found that their settlements had been overrun by the forest and there was no livelihood for them." However, Minister Bathiudeen has been accused of spearheading the deforestation activities in the Wilpattu and the nearby forest reserves. Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) who initially revealed the Wilpattu encroachment was contacted to get the details of the controversial matter.
According to him, four forest reserves adjacent to the Wilpattu National Park have already been encroached and cleared of a significant amount of lush green land. Around 2,500 acres of the Marachchikatti- Karadikkuli reserve, 700 acres of the Vilathikulam reserve, 100 acres of the Veppal reserve and 100 acres of Maavillu forest reserve have been encroached by political forces that have started making human settlements in cleared areas. Chamikara said an organized gang led by Minister Bathiudeen is spreading false information with regard to the encroached areas and human settlements.
"There has never been any settlement in the area," Chamikara said. "These are all new settlements. At the moment over 700 acres of Vilathikulam have been cleared. Minister Bathiudeen is trying to make new settlements for political reasons. If there were settlements in the areas, why did he wait so long since the war ended?"
deforestation taking place
According to him, deforestation is taking place in several prominent areas adjacent to the Wilpattu National Park including the small coastal towns of Marachchikatti, Kayakkuli, Mullikulam and Silawathurai in the Mannar District. These areas were not green zones Marachchikaddi was home for a Tamil coastal community with 350 families. Their main occupations were fishing and agriculture. However, the area is currently occupied by the Sri Lanka Navy. The adjacent Kayakkulli is a Muslim town with not more than 150 families displaced during the war. They have returned to their original lands.
"What Bathiudeen is falsely claiming that the settlements were part of a larger community that existed before the war started.
This is not true. Resettling Muslims has been going on for several years. The families that lived in the areas are still living there and there is no need for resettlement. Bathiudeen is creating new settlements for families who had come there from somewhere else. He has already taken over so many acres in the forest reserve adjacent to the Wilpattu National Park. If the settlements are allowed to proceed unchecked, they would encroach the protected national park. The intrusion will have severe repercussions that would negatively affect the ecosystem of the national park and the forest reserves including the flora and fauna. Ultimately, it would even lead to a human-elephant conflict.
- Army Major, 2 soldiers remanded 2250
- Foreign investors withdrew Rs 100B 2560
- Govt. extends deadline for more competition – Kabir 2619
- China mulls maritime regulation 2248
- Vasu challenges Govt 3311
- New laws to punish offenders 3378
- Wimal seeks permission 3330
- JO women plan protest 3287
- COPE to grill five more 3290
- Prez orders Rs 10,000 per family 3265
- Delimitation report still problematic – JVP 3308
- JO to meet at MR’s residence 3303
- JO vows to block ratification 3275
- Prez to lead SLFP polls campaign 3282
- Contaminated milk dumped into reservoir 3270
- FR case against PM dismissed 3490
- Gota grilled over gold statue 3300
- Rs 25,000 fine for dumping dogs 3276
- Prez will intervene in SAITM issue – Dilan 3265
- Lankan fishing boat found abandoned in Indian waters 3262
- Workshops and Balkans again 3390
- Protests in ‘Chaos’ Signs of life 3401
- Whither higher education in Sri Lanka? 3394
- Let children collect funds for school development 3374
- The ‘Uncle’ syndrome 3384
- How Prabhakaran killed his opponents 4285
- Soldiers fight Sailors for semi-spot 1272
- Malinga charts course to Champions Trophy 1273
- Sumanasinghe passes 1,000 runs mark 1270
- Sri Lanka and Pakistan set to qualify for WC 1273
- Havies march on to semis 1269
- Trinity awards cricket and rugby players 1272
- Rice at a price 1313
- Step in the right direction 1237
- Decriminalize homosexuality 1236
- Ruffling judicial feathers 1230
- SAITM still tossed on a stormy sea 1423
- Where are we headed? 1229
- I believe in cooperative politics – Karuna 1821
- I like to talk to diehard Sinhala chauvinists – Wigneswaran 1897
- Justices should be subject to judicial audits 3702
- Traders have imported rice under local branding– Duminda Dissanayake 3591
- CTSU to protest SAITM ruling-on the streets 3823
- ‘Unity Government’ A golden opportunity... 3386
- GoSL’s interest cost comes down by Rs 1.3B 58
- The Club HNB opens its doors to their esteemed Clients 1264
- LOLC Group clinches NBE Award 2016 1259
- LankaClear bags Silver at NBE Awards 1262
- A brief description of the National Business Excellency awards 1262
- Pan Asia Bank shines at National Business Excellence Awards with two coveted awards 1261
- Digital Transformation: A Conversation with Alberto Granados 1263
- A MUCH-MALIGNED WORD AMONG BANKRUPT POLITICIANS 1276
- Crysbro provides drinking water to war heroes 1262
- Abans innovative LG Dual Cool Air Conditioners 1261
- GSP+ To sustain economy or to Mutate society? 2987
- Fully fledged Media Commission by June – DGI 3028
- Way for True Conciliation! 4194
- Malayalam film - “Orazhcha” (A week) 2328
- Sri Lanka’s Finest Talent – but Who Cares? 2330
- The mesmerizing mystery of Mozart’s music – Mass in C major KV317 (Coronation) 2330
- A Showstopping Performance 2387
- House for Rent 2326
- Footpaths Towards Deconstruction - part 9 2315
- Junsu 1123
- The fate of our woods 1124
- Celebrate ‘A month of love’ 1124
- Five new branch openings 1124
- THINC Sri Lanka Networking Conference 2017 1134
- ‘Our Shop’ for staff welfare 1124
- A musical kaleidoscope 891
- Challenging the hospitality industry 890
- Sci-fi action from start to finish 893
- Helping children in need 891
- An action soaked 886
- Health is wealth 890