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What is govt. doing with National Action Plan to mitigate human-elephant conflict presented over three months back?



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The human–elephant conflict has taken a turn for the worse in the Polonnaruwa District since 2011 due to rapid deforestation, Convener of the Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle, Supun Lahiru Prakash says.

Prakash said that Polonnaruwa was the district with the second highest deaths, injuries and property damage due to the human–elephant conflict. At the Divisional Secretariat level, Dimbulagala and Welikanda DS areas had recorded the highest number of deaths, human and elephant, with Hingurakgoda DS in fifth position.

“Polonnaruwa was once relatively unaffected by the Human–Elephant Conflict. Even in the 2011 elephant survey, 82% of elephants in the Mahaweli administrative region in Polonnaruwa, lived inside areas that were protected by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Things changed dramatically afterwards. Large swaths of forest land in and around Somawathiya, Flood Plans and Maduru Oya national parks were released for large scale agriculture projects and now a lot more elephants live outside protected areas,” he said.

Prakash said that the deaths of both humans and elephants had risen for decades. On average about 84 people had died each year between 2011 and 2020 due to the Human–Elephant Conflict. The average was 71 between 2005 and 2010 and 54 between 1992 and 2001. The numbers showed that human death rate had increased by about 14% from the previous decade and by about 50% from two decades ago.

“Averages actually can be deceiving when it comes to the current situation. 112 humans died in 2020.  On average 272 elephants died every year between 2011 and 2020. The number exceeded 400 in 2020. In 2005–2010 the elephant death rate was 200 per year and in 1992–2001 it was 137. Therefore, the elephant death rate has increased by about 31% from the previous decade and by about 92% from two decades ago. The elephant death rate shows an extremely high increase recently, exceeding 300 for the first time in 2018 and 400 just a year after. The deaths in 2019 are double the average from a decade ago,” he said.

The wild life enthusiast said that the Human – Elephant Conflict  had spread to about 60% of Sri Lanka and it was due to the reduced quality and the quantity of the elephant home ranges, fragmentation of remaining home ranges, and repeating the failed mitigation measures. He said that Elephants were driven away from their home ranges due to various reasons ranging from development projects to illegal encroachments.

“Meanwhile the quality of the remaining home ranges is reduced by invasive plant species, illegal activities and livestock herding inside home ranges. Furthermore, conventional mitigation measures such as erecting electric fences in protected area boundaries, elephant drives, and elephant holding grounds are outdated and have failed in addressing Human – Elephant Conflict in the country,” he said.

 Prakash said that the National Action Plan for the Mitigation of Human-Elephant Conflict, prepared on a directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had apparently been discarded and the government was violating those recommendations. The Action plan was prepared by a multi-stakeholder committee chaired by elephant researcher, Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando and was handed over to the government on 17 December 2020.

 “After three months, nothing has happened and by inaction the government continues to fuel the conflict in the country,” he charged.



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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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