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Tycoons backed by pettifoggers eyeing Wattegama-Kebilitta forest for corn cultivation – MONLAR

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A group of lawyers and businessmen were attempting to take over large swathes of Wattegama – Kebilitta forest reserve for large-scale corn plantation, Sajeewa Chamikara of Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform alleged yesterday.

Chamikara told The Island that people with political backing had been attempting to encroach on land in the reserve for years. “However, officials and grassroots groups in the area have been able to thwart these moves. These racketeers now work with a group of lawyers to exploit the land use policy of this government. If they succeed, there will be an ecological catastrophe.

“This is a forest land protected for decades and in November 2012, the government declared it a forest reserve through a gazette notification 1789/9. The gazette declared 28,926 hectares as the Wattegama – Kebilitta forest reserve.”

The Wattegama-Kebilitta forest reserve is an inter monsoon forest, which is home to a large number of wild animals, including elephants.

This is also the main catchment area of several important water sources of the area including Wila Oya, Kumbukkan Oya, Kotiyagala Wewa and Wattarama Wewa.

Chamikara said that Wila Oya fed 47 tanks, while Kumbukkan Oya 93 tanks and 145 anicuts. The Ratmake Ara and Una Ela, which start from the Wattegama-Kebilitta forest reserve feed a number of tanks outside the reserve. Therefore, almost all farmlands in the area are dependent on this forest reserve. “The forest reserve is a part of a forest network that also includes the Yala National Park and Kumbukkana Forest Reserve,” Chamikara said.

“The Meethotakanaththa Wewa, the Lepolonara Wewa, the Mailla wewa, the Hansaweli wewa and the Warakanaththa wewa that are inside the Wattegama-Kebilitta forest reserve are important sources of water to wild animals. There are many elephants in the areas and they do not enter human settlements because of these tanks and the ample sources of food found inside the forest,” he said.

Research has found that Moneragala is the district with the fourth highest rates of human-elephant conflict. The district also reports significant damage to farms and property by marauding elephants.

“During the last decade, there have been 1,127 reported instances of human elephant conflict. Around 330 humans and elephants have died in the same period. The reason for the spike in cases is the destruction of elephant habitats and feeding grounds and the establishment of large farms that fragment forest areas,” Chamikara said.

According to the Land Use Policy Planning Department, the Moneragala District comprises 563,900 hectares, out of which 296,125 are forests and grasslands. This is 52% of the land area of the district. Although Siyambalanduwa, affected most by the human-elephant conflict in the district, has 41% of forest cover, this has been fragmented greatly in recent years due to large scale farms.

“These farms prevent elephants from freely travelling between forests. The establishment of these farms correlate with the increase in human-elephant conflict in the district. In the past, there was a lot of chena cultivations that only operated in the maha season. They were abandoned in the Yala season and acted as foraging areas for elephants. However, now, these lands are used for corn and sugar cane cultivation which are operational throughout the year. These farms are protected by electric fences, and these compel elephants to maraud villages. If large swaths of Wattegama-Kebilitta forest reserve are given for corn farming, the human elephant conflict in the surrounding areas will skyrocket,” Chamikara warned.

Chamikara said that the Wattegama-Kebilitta forest reserve was linked to a wider network of forests that had hundreds of elephants. The forest reserve was a part of a forest network that also includes the Yala National Park and Kumbukkana Forest Reserve. Lahugala – Kithulana National Park, Bakmitiyawa – Thimbirigolla forest reserve, Kudumbigala – Panama sanctuary and Kumana National Park were also a part of the forest network. Those forests reduced the human-elephant conflict to some extent and disrupting that network to please a few greedy individuals would place thousands of farmers in harm’s way, Chamikara said.

“Sri Lankans are already experiencing the results of deforestation. Even by 1961, we had about 44.2% forest cover (2, 898, 842 hectares.) By 1985, FAO research found that Sri Lanka had a forest cover of 37.5% (2,458,250 hectares.) The number reduced to 31.2% by 1992 (2,046,599 hectares.) By 2010, it was at 29.7% (1,942,219 hectares.) Thus between 1961 and 2010, 947, 370 hectares of forest land had been cleared. 124,992 hectares in the intermediate zone had been cleared between 1992 and 2010, which is half of the total intermediate forests in 1992. The result of this has been chronic water shortages for human consumption and agriculture in districts like Moneragala, a rapid increase in human-elephant conflict, changes in weather and climate patterns and the drop in productivity in agricultural lands. Given this context, the government must not allow large clearings of forest land to plant corn, mainly to feed animals,” he said.

Chamikara said that the Forest Conservation Department officials were desperately attempting to prevent the particular group of businessmen and lawyers from encroaching the Wattegama – Kebilitta forest reserve. Earlier, the government had planned to release 9,960 acres of land under the Forest Conservation Department to farmers of the area. The idea was to promote mixed cropping, which works well in climatic conditions of Moneragala. However, these powerful businessmen were not allowing the transfer of lands to the people as well, Chamikara alleged.

“In recent years, we saw corn being attacked by Sena caterpillars. Even this year thousands of acres of corn were destroyed. This is just an indication of monocropping being a bad system of agriculture and we really shouldn’t allow the destruction of a forest to encourage this unsustainable form of agriculture,” he said.



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JVP, too, moves court against deal with US company

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By Chitra Weerarathne and A.J.A. Abeynayake

The JVP yesterday (26) filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal requesting it to declare null and void a Cabinet decision to transfer 40 percent of the Yugadanavi Power Plant to US Company, New Fortress Energy Inc.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ceylon Electricity Board, West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd, Lakdanavi Limited, the Monetary Board of the Central Bank, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have been named as respondents among 43 others.

The JVP’s petition has come in the way of Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven Elle Gunawansa, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the Federation of National Organisations (FNO) moving the court against the controversial deal with US energy company,The application has also sought a writ of mandamus on the respondents preventing them from taking any action with regard to the matter until the application is taken up and its examination is concluded.

Former JVP MPs Sunil Handunnetti and Wasantha Samarasinghe are the petitioners.

The petitioners state that the Cabinet decisions undermine the rule of law, the Constitution and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and several other statutes, and conventions of democratic governance and Cabinet of Ministers exercising executive powers.

The petitioners state that LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., is the largest power sector engineering company in the country. It was first incorporated in the 1980s as a joint venture of the Ceylon Electricity Board and a multinational group – ABB of Norway.

The Petitioners state that Lakdanavi (Pvt) Ltd., is a fully owned subsidiary of LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., and is a company specialised in engineering, procurement and construction and operations and maintenance in the energy and power generation sector.

They assert that the government has not properly explained particulars of the deal even to the Cabinet of Ministers when transferring the shares of the power plant to the American company.

They have also alleged that the government has not obtained the approval of Parliament for the agreement in question and that the relevant share transfer process has not been carried out in accordance with a formal tender procedure.

They have sought the Appeals Court to issue an order rescinding the decision taken to transfer the shares to the American company and the agreement signed by the government.

In addition, the General Secretary of the SJB MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court on 21 Oct., challenging the government decision to transfer 40 per cent of the Kerawalapitiya Power Plant to the US firm.

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Ex-Indian HC in Colombo during turbulent 1989-90 will be featured in next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar

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Ambassador Lakhan Mehrotra, former High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, will be featured in the next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar scheduled at 2.30 p.m. IST/SLST on Thursday 28th October.

Mehrotra will be interviewed by Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation. They will discuss the guest speaker’s publication ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’, which features his experience during the period 1989-1990, when he served as High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, during a politically turbulent era coupled with the separatist war in the north-east and an insurrection in the south.

His book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ touches on the beginnings of the conflict, briefly follows on its evolution until it reached its peak in the early 1990s, and then takes the reader in detail through the author’s own experience in the country, nearly two years after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed and the Indian Peace Keeping Force had been inducted at the invitation of President J. R. Jayewardene, while President Premadasa, who succeeded President Jayewardene considered the presence of an Indian military contingent on his nation’s soil as an affront to its sovereignty. Soon after his election, the President issued an ultimatum for the IPKF to leave its shores by 29th July 1989 and threatened military action against it if it failed to do so, which brought the two nations to the brink of a military confrontation.

The High Commissioner’s intensive consultations and tireless interaction with the political leaders of Sri Lanka, the warring factions in the country’s north-east, and the governments in New Delhi and Colombo helped signing of the joint communique on 28th July 1989 on arrangements for phased withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990 with due recognition of its contribution and sacrifices made to preserve the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ provides information that has never been divulged before. The “In Conversation” webinar will delve into these experiences of the High Commissioner; whose rather brief assignment was from April 1989 to June 1990.

Following his assignment that covered the most turbulent period of Sri Lanka in modern times, Ambassador Mehrotra served as Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs and as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Africa before his retirement in 1992. Later, he served as UN Secretary General’s Personal Representative in Cambodia from 1997 to 2000 and as Head of the UN Diplomatic Mission in Jakarta for Peace Talks between Indonesia and East Timor.

Those who are interested in retracing the history of Sri Lanka should register in advance for this webinar through the link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0nxJI2dPR8SCKK7k4hqDpg

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Cardinal lashes out at Minister known as Ten Percent

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His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith visits Sarakkuwa in the Pamunugama area where clearing of X-Press Pearl debris continuinues.Pic by Nishan S .Priyantha

By Norman Palihawadane and Nishan S. Priyantha

Monies taken in the form of commissions by forfeiting people’s welfare will never do any good to those who take them, says His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

“The biggest malady our society is afflicted with is the commissions earned by politicians through various deals. They take commissions from companies by depriving the people of their dues. Such money has blood on them and they would not do any good to those who take them,” the Cardinal said yesterday.

Speaking to journalists at the Sarakkuwa beach in Pamunugama during an inspection tour to witness the progress of cleaning work of the MV X-Press Pearl wreck the Cardinal said: “We have a Cabinet minister who is notoriously known as Mr. Ten Percent. Imagine the shame on this nation when there is such a minister taking ten percent of commission from every project he passes. The monies collected in that way would never bring out any good.”

The Cardinal said that the President, the Prime Minister and government institutions including the Ministry of Fisheries, coast conservation department, marine environment protection authority and urban development authority were duty bound to remove the wreck, clean the beach and the ocean. “In doing so, the government should be concerned about the interests of people, and not about the shipping company, its local agents or agents of the insurance companies. We demand that the government take this case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and get full compensation for the people. We have information that the agents of companies have come down and are staying in Colombo exerting influence on various political leaders and officials. Their objective is getting out of this by paying a paltry sum. If the politicians and officials permit that we will take to the streets with people.”

The Cardinal said that there was information that Urban Development Authority officials were making plans to give away Muthurajawela to foreign companies. “Muthurajawela is a national asset and belongs to the people. The politicians have no right to sell them off to Korean or Chinese companies. We would not let that happen,” he said.

Associated with the Cardinal were Ven. Pahiyangala Ananada Thera, Chairperson of Marine Environment Protection Chairperson, bishops and other religious leaders.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo in May and sank while transporting 1,486 chemical containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore.

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