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



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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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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