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Environmentalists concerned over destruction of Galgamuwa forest lands



Belonging to ancient Nakolagane and Thorawamayilawa Viharayas

by Ifham Nizam

Forest lands belonging to two ancient temples in Galgamuwa are being destroyed to make way for large-scale agricultural projects, despite opposition from the Chief Incumbent of temple, environmentalists said.

Chief priest of Nakolagane Rajamaha Vihara, Ven. Rahula Thera, said that of the two thousand acres owned by the temple, one thousand acres have already been encroached.

“Despite repeated complaints, nothing has been done. We have now decided to use 67 acres of neglected paddy fields to grow traditional rice varieties”, he said.

Forest lands coming under the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya and Thorawamayilawa Rajamaha Viharaya are being destroyed using bulldozers, forest officers said.

The forest lands in the catchment of the Palukadawala reservoir belonging to the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya is a key elephant home range in the area and forest lands around the Thorawamayilawa Rajamaha Viharaya act as a corridor for elephants to move from Thabbowa and Galgamuwa to Inginimitiya, elephant expert, Supun Lahiru Prakash said.

He said more than 60 per cent of free range elephants in Northwestern wildlife administrative region live outside the protected areas and they use the forest patches for their survival and moving paths.

Therefore, he believes it is essential to protect such forests to mitigate the human- elephant conflict and for the conservation of elephants in the area.

Thabbowa and Kahalla-Pallekele are the only two protected areas in the region administrated by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Many attempts were made earlier to drive the elephants into the protected areas. However, the mission has so far not been successful.

The National Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Action Plan also emphasizes the importance of protecting the elephant home range outside the protected areas for long-term conservation of the jumbos and mitigation of the human-elephant conflict.

“If necessary steps are not taken to protect the forest areas, where elephants have lived for a long time, they wouldn’t have an alternative other than to invade villages”, he said.

Without solving the problem sustainably, the government plans to drive the elephants to the Wilpattu National Park as discussed at a recent ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandara’ in Karuwalagaswewa. If this happens, it will again lead to an escalation of the problem and also affect conservation efforts, a senior official warned.

All previous attempts to drive elephants living outside the protected areas completely failed. It was repeated in North Western wildlife administrative region as well. There were also many attempts to drive the elephants to Thabbowa and Kahalla-Pallekele sanctuaries and Wilpattu National Park over the past decades, he noted.

However, still the majority of elephants remain outside the protected areas. The Department of Wildlife Conservation had taken a policy decision to discontinue large-scale elephant drives after considering issues raised following the relocation of more than 300 elephants from Walawa left bank area to Lunugamvehera National Park in 2006.

The animals have been chased away for long distances and many elephant calves died on the way due to lack of water and exhaustion. The herds restricted to fenced up protected areas also face difficulties after the drives and starve to death as the result. The elephant population living within the protected areas are also affected as they have to compete with the ‘new comers’ for food. Therefore, it has adversely affected elephant conservation efforts in Sri Lanka, Prakash explained.

Adults males are difficult to drive away as they escape. Later, they return to the same locations and continue to harm lives and damage property. Furthermore, young males in herds who faced repeated drives adopt to human pressures such as fire, loud noises, crackers and even gunshots and become more aggressive towards humans resulting in the conflict escalating, he added.

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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament



Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.



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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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