By Rathindra Kuruwita
Businessmen and politicians keep on clearing isolated forest areas in the North Western provinces and this is aggravating the human elephant conflict in the area in a dramatic way, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) says.
Chamikara told The Island that in recent years there had been a significant spike in the human-elephant conflict in the dry zone mainly due to the massive expansion of maize and sugar cane cultivations in those areas, usually in swathes of cleared forest lands.
“The expansion of these large commercial agro enterprises has displaced elephants from their natural grazing areas and have obstructed their ability to move from one forest area to another. Thus, the elephants are compelled to raid human settlements for fodder, and this has led to many human and elephant deaths. The people affected by the human – elephant conflict are often those who are not responsible for the destruction of elephant havens. Poor farmers unable to cope up with the increasing threat from elephants are selling their lands to large companies,” he said.
Chamikara said that between 1990 and 2000, on average, 150 elephants and 40 humans died per year due to the human-elephant conflict. However, between 2010 and 2018, elephant deaths had increased to 275 and human deaths have increased to 80 per year. The situation became worse in 2019, when 406 elephants and 122 humans died due to the human – elephant conflict. In 2020, 307 elephants and 112 humans died.
Most recently swathes of forests had been cleared at places like Kiribathpelessa, Ehetuwewa, and Kurunegala, Chamikara said. That was the main catchment area of the Palukadawala Tank and was also the home to a large number of elephants. Those were also the nindagam of Nakolagane Raja Maha Vihara, he said.
“By late September about 50 acres had been cleared and another 700 acres given to several businessmen. No one had given these individuals any approval to clear these areas,” he alleged.
Chamikara said that in the Northwestern Province, a large number of elephants lived in isolated forest lands. Those animals spend the day in the forests and come out at night in search of food. Establishing farms by clearing the forest and near the tank will clearly lead to increased human-elephant conflict in the area, he said.
“There are around 5,000 acres of forest land in Nakolagane. There are about 25 tanks in these forests. This is not only a place where elephants feed, but it is also an elephant crossing. There are many tanks that are fed by the forests as well and they are vital for agriculture. The land being cleared belongs to the nindagama of Nakolagane temple,” Chamikara said.
He said that there were four settlements in the nindagama and that clearing up forests for commercial agriculture would greatly endanger those peasants. Already the misuse of lands in the nindagama had led to many issues.
“Many hectares of the nindagama has been cleared for commercial agriculture, to establish granite quarries, soil excavation, unauthorised settlements and the establishment of unsystematic elephant fences. Because of these developments, there has been a spike in human-elephant conflict and degradation of the soil, destabilising of the soil and a drop in ground water level,” he said.
Chamikara said that it was one of the many instances where land in the Northwestern province was being misused. Despite the obvious negative effects, none of the officials had done anything to stop those destructive practices.
“The clearing of these isolated forests are having a devastating impact. Everyone sees that, except those entrusted to act against such activities,” he said.
Seeveral laws too had been violated through those projects, Chamikara said. Almost all the projects violated the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO), no 02 of 1937, amended by Act no 22 of 2009. According to sub section 9 a (01) of the Act, one needs permission from the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department to carry out any developmental activity within a mile of the border of any national park, he said.
According to sub section 9 a (02) of the Act says that to obtain permission from the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department, one needs to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment based on National Environmental Act, no 47 of 1980. Sub section 10 (c) of the Act states a person or an organization that carries out any development activity of any description within a mile of the border of any national park “shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of not less than fifteen thousand rupees and not exceeding fifty thousand rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not less than two years and not more than five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
These also violate the Antiquities (Amendment) Act No. 24 of 1998. An Archaeological Impact Assessment needs to be obtained if one is constructing and reconstructing tanks, carrying out agricultural projects, clearing areas over two acres, and carrying out combined multipurpose development activities including housing, industries and infrastructure facilities of areas exceeding one hectare in extent. This is noted in gazette No. 1152/14 dated 04.10.2000 published under Section 47, read with Section 43(b), of the Antiquities (Amendment) Act, he says.
US delaying visa for Security Oversight Committee head
suggests someone else be appointed to that post
MP Weerasekera seeks Speaker’s intervention
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Controversy surrounds an alleged suggestion by the US that Parliament name a member from a minority community to represent the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Security, as incumbent Chairman of the committee Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera, MP, cannot be issued a visa in time for him to join a parliamentary delegation visiting Washington later next month.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) has, with USAID funding, organised a 10-day visit for Chairmen of all Oversight Committees. Nearly 20 Oversight Committees function in the current Parliament.
The Oversight Committees also receive the backing of the UNDP. The UN agency has pledged substantial funds for Parliament.
Responding to The Island queries Colombo District lawmaker Weerasekera said that he would write to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in this regard tomorrow (25). “I sincerely hope the Speaker seeks a clarification from US Ambassador in Colombo Julie Chung.”
MP Weerasekera acknowledged that the US must have been irritated by his criticism of the US role in last year’s uprising that ousted democratically elected President whatever his shortcomings and lapses were.
The SLN veteran said that he had been informed of the US suggestion by a senior parliamentary official. “There should be a plausible explanation regarding their failure to issue me a visa,” the former Navy Chief of Staff said, pointing out that the visit was to commence in the third week of October.
Declaring that he had attended several US courses during his over 30-year career and had also visited the US as a parliamentarian, the former Public Security Minister emphasised that he didn’t have a special interest joining the delegation but the sponsor under any circumstances shouldn’t differentiate.
The US indicated its desire to drop the SLN veteran from the parliamentary delegation close on the heels of Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera concluding an official visit to the US. The Navy Chief attended the 25th International Sea Power Symposium held at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island from 19th to 22nd September 2023.
Having retired in late Oct 2006, Weerasekera successfully contested the Digamadulla electorate on the UPFA ticket. Weerasekera, who now represents the SLPP, was elected to the current Parliament from the Colombo District.
Weerasekera said that he expected Speaker Abeywardena to raise the issue with the US embassy in Colombo.Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and SLPP Colombo District MP Udaya Gammanpila recently told The Island that both the US and Australia denied him visas.
Fresh controversy over the denial of visa has erupted as a group of government parliamentarians accompanied President Ranil Wickremesinghe to attend the 78th UNGA in New York. The group consisted of Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Premanath C. Dolawatte (all of the SLPP) and Vadiwel Suresh of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa last week raised the MPs’ group visiting the US at taxpayers’ expense. Speaker Abeywardena chided lawmaker Premadasa by asking him to do the same when he became the President.
MP Weerasekera said that he intended to take up discriminatory practices of the US with the Foreign Ministry as well. The former minister said that Sri Lanka should examine the issue as in the absence of a clear response the country was being humiliated repeatedly.
Since Sri Lanka co-sponsored accountability resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council in Oct. 2015, the US, Australia and Canada announced punitive measures against selected serving and retired officers, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who held the rank of Lt. Colonel at the time he retired in early 1990s soon after the eruption of Eelam War ii.
Canada also slapped travel restrictions on President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as Gotabaya Rajapaksa whereas the US imposed a travel ban on Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda in April this year. Karannagoda is on record as having said that he never applied for a US visa since leaving the Navy years ago.
US imposed travel ban on Chief of Defence Staff Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, while Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka too was denied a visa during the yahapalana administration. Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera, one-time Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Malaysia was denied visa in early Dec 2021. The wartime Director of Operations, Perera, recipient of a degree from the US Army War College was denied entry to the US recently though he has a five-year multiple entry visa issued in August 2019.
State Minister’s claim that SIS infiltrated NTJ: Church seeks clarification
asks govt. to implement PCoI recommendations now
by Shamindra Ferdinando
In the wake of State Defence Minister Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon’s declaration in Parliament that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had successfully infiltrated the extremist group which carried out near simultaneous suicide attacks on 2019 Easter Sunday, the Catholic Church would like to know whether the Yahapalana government had been aware of the threat before receiving the Indian alert, Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando said.
State Minister Tennakoon told the Parliament on Friday (22) that an intelligence officer, code-named ‘Sonic Sonic’, had infiltrated the group at the risk of his life to obtain vital intelligence.
The SIS is the country’s premier intelligence organisation though the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) is much larger. The government blamed the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) for the attacks which claimed the lives of 269 people, including 45 foreigners.
Rev. Fernando emphasised that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation as to how the defence establishment had failed to thwart the conspiracy in spite of having penetrated the group.
Pointing out that India thrice alerted Sri Lanka, beginning April 04, 2019, Rev. Fernando said that the lapses on the part of the defence establishment here should be reviewed taking into consideration the State Defence Minister’s claim.
Rev. Fernando said the two-day debate on national security and Easter Sunday attacks had proved how irresponsible and treacherous those who wielded political power could be and how political parties adopted a common strategy to deprive justice to terror victims.
The debate caused more confusion and turmoil than addressing the issues at hand, Rev. Fernando said, urging the government to reveal its stand on the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Easter Sunday attacks. “Actually, we got suspicious of the previous government’s intentions when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a six-member group of MPs to examine the PCoI report,” Rev. Fernando said.
The committee headed by Chamal Rajapaksa included Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena was appointed on Feb. 19, 2021
Rev. Fernando asked the government to disclose actions taken in respect of recommendations made by the PCoI. Supreme Court Justice Janak de Silva chaired the PCoI. The other members of the CoI were Court of Appeal Judge Bandula Karunaratne, retired Court of Appeal Judge Sunil Rajapaksa, retired High Court Judge Bandula Atapattu and retired Justice Ministry Secretary W M. M. R. Adikari. Justice de Silva handed over the report to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 01, 2021.
Asked to comment on former President Maithripala Sirisena’s call for UN intervention to initiate a fresh inquiry in the wake of Channel 4 allegations pertaining to Easter Sunday carnage, Rev. Fernando stressed that the urgent need was to implement the PCoI recommendations. The CoI recommendations couldn’t be discarded in the guise of fresh investigations, Rev. Fernando said, adding that the PCoI established by President Sirisena was endorsed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The National Catholic Committee for Justice to Easter Sunday Attack Victims, in a letter dated July 12, 2021, sought an explanation from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa why his government had delayed implementation of PCoI recommendations having spent a huge amount of taxpayers’ money on the critically important initiative.
Referring to their appeal on July 12, 2021, Rev. Fernando said that the PCoI recommended that the Attorney General consider initiating criminal proceedings against MP Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code. “We would like to know the status of the AG’s response,” the Church spokesperson said, pointing out that the PCoI asserted how the then Premier and incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s lax approach towards Islamic extremism facilitated the terror project.
Rev. Fernando said that the government couldn’t wish the CoI report to disappear as the public and the international community were aware of its contents though certain sections were still hidden in the guise of national security.
Rev. Fernando said that the PCoI had recommended criminal proceedings against retired DIG Sisira Mendis (Chief of National Intelligence) and Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena (Director, SIS) under any suitable provision in the Penal Code. Pointing out that Jayawardena over the years had reached the topmost position a senior DIG could achieve and was one of the contenders for the IGP post, Rev. Fernando said that the Parliament owed an explanation why an unsuccessful attempt was made to invite him to brief the MPs last week.
Rev. Fernando said that the PCoI made recommendations in respect of Senior DIG Nandana Munasinghe (now retired), DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, SP Sanjeewa Bandara, SSP Chandana Atukorale, B.E.I. Prasanna, ASP Sisila Kumara, CI Sarath Kumarasinghe, CI Sagara Wilegoda et al.
The Church spokesperson noted that ex-Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and ex-IGP Pujith Jayasundara had been acquitted on Feb 18, 2022.
Rev. Fernando said that the people had a right to know the status of PCoI recommendation to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that it consider taking disciplinary action against State Counsel Malik Azeez and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi for their lapses which facilitated the Easter Sunday carnage.
X-Press Pearl insurers make interim payment – Justice Minister
The insurers of the ‘X-Press Pearl’ ship, which sank off the western coast of Sri Lanka two years ago, had made an interim payment to the Sri Lankan government, Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told journalists on Sunday (24).
The payment would cover the cost incurred by the Maritime Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) for the beach clean-up operations and compensation for the fishermen affected by the maritime disaster, the Minister said.
Sri Lanka’s Treasury had received 890,000 US dollars and 16 million rupees (around 49,400 dollars) as the interim payment, the Minister said, adding that the second interim environmental assessment report compiled by the MEPA-convened expert committee had placed the environmental damage from the X-Press Pearl disaster at 6.4 billion dollars.
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