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‘New directive sidelining Forest Dept. will place 690,000ha of forest in jeopardy’

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Environmentalists, scientists and animals lovers protest

by Ifham Nizam

Environmentalists, scientists and animals lovers warned that the removal of small fragmented forests from the jurisdiction of the Forest Department by amending circular 5/2005 will place 690,000 hectares of forest in jeopardy and destroy wildlife habitats.

Rally For Animal Rights & Environment (RARE) cautioned the move will not only wipe out animals but also destroy endangered and protected species.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) said it is disconcerted to note the downsizing of forest lands managed by Divisional Secretaries in terms of a circular issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation (rescinding previous circulars), which now authorizes the management of all other forest lands to the Conservator General of Forests.

The new directive permits the Conservator General of Forests to release lands for non-forest purposes, it said.

“The new circular has been issued without understanding the present laws, amendments, definitions and the mandate of the issuing officer,” a legal activist said.

Attorney–at-Law Ravindranath Dabare said under sections 1 and 2 of the circular MWFC/1/2020 issued by Bandula Harischandara, Secretary, Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, the subject matter is Residual Forest, which does not exist in Sri Lanka under the Forest Ordinance or other ordinances.

The term used here is misleading as the amended Forest Ordinance 65/2009 considers some forest areas as “any other forest” or “forest other than a Conservation Forest, Reserved Forest or Village Forest”, he noted.

Section 2 of the circular also refers to “residual forest”, which doesn’t come under any law, regulation or other constitutional provision etc. There are no such forests/land in Sri Lanka as all lands/forests come under the law of the land or departmental regulations in the country, he asserted.

The new circular will allow releasing forest lands for non-forest uses subject to selected ad-hoc guidelines, Dabare warned.

“As we understand, the definition “any other forest”, which are other than nature reserves and conservation forests will now come under the jurisdiction of the Forest Ordinance amendment No 65/2009. Although, the Secretary has the power to cancel the previous circulars, the new law does not provide provisions to release the “other forests” for intended purposes”, the lawyer further said.

The circular outlines that forest lands will be “used for economic or other productive uses”. This means converting forest into non-forest uses, he continued. He added that the type of forests which the Secretary is willing to dispose of under the requires an EIA under the National Environmental Act.

CEJ Executive Director, Hemantha Withanage told The Sunday Island: “It’s very sad to see government officers being directed to deregulate forests, which will result in mass forest grabbing and environmental destruction and disasters. We vehemently oppose this undemocratic move and demand the cancellation of the new circular and respect the existing Forest Act (as amended) and the National Environmental Act (as emended).”

He said under the previous Rajapaksa regime, the Forest Department worked towards a the target of increasing the forest cover of the country to 35 per cent from 24 percent at the time. The coverage was then increased to 29 percent adding plantations as forests. As achieving 35 per cent forest cover target was not easy, it was reduced to 32 per cent by the next government.

This target remains unchanged. It is obvious that other forests play a key role in increasing the forest cover in Sri Lanka. If not, the Forest Department will have to declare grass lands also as forests, he added.



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Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving

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Govt. to provide monthly assistance package – official

By Ifham Nizam 

Plans are underway to assist an average needy family of  four with a monthly package of Rs. 15,000, a senior adviser to President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday, adding that the move was expected to help ameliorate the plight of nearly 65,000 families.

Food Security Committee Chairman Dr. Suren Batagoda told The Island yesterday that at present some 100,000 families across the country were starving.

He said financial assistance would be provided to those families for three months. Within three months, the government would design a package in the form of food stamps, etc.

Dr. Batagoda said the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Bank, and state agencies would also team up to strengthen food security, focusing especially on needy pregnant mothers and pre-school children.

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GR govt. ignored Chinese lenders’ request for debt restructuring

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had ignored suggestions by Chinese lending institutions that Sri Lanka to restructure the debt in 2021, Prof. Samitha Hettige said yesterday.

“The Rajapaksa government started talking of debt restructuring earlier this year. The Opposition had been asking for this before,” he said.  By 2021, before the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration decided on debt restructuring, the Chinese institutions that had given Sri Lanka loans suggested that a restructuring process should start since Sri Lanka would have trouble repaying the loans, the Strategic Studies scholar said.

However, the request had gone unheeded, and if the government had started discussions then, Sri Lanka would not have been in crisis, Prof. Hettige said.

The Sri Lankan foreign policy, in the last few years, had also been misguided, Prof. Hettige said. A number of Indian and Chinese companies faced unnecessary issues by the behaviour of the government, he said.

Prof. Hettige said that the government must focus on establishing free trade ports and reducing negative lists for investments.

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SJB dissociates itself from SF’s call for protest

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By Chaminda Silva

MP Sarath Fonseka’s call for people to join anti-government protests was not a decision taken by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), party MP J.C Alawathuwala said.

The SJB believed that they had to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe stabilise the country, economically and politically, he said.

MP Alawathuwala said the President must be given some time to solve the problems faced by the people and that the SJB was holding discussions with the government to guide it on a people-friendly path.

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