NGO finger in plundering 500 acres of forest reserve
May 9, 2012

Forest officers and environmentalists are disturbed that an area of about 500 acres of a forest reserve adjacent to the Gal Oya National Park is to be blocked out and alienated to a group of individuals said to be having political patronage.

They pointed out that the virgin forest rich in bio-diversity would be cleared under the pretext of restoring the abandoned Bowella Tank to cultivate paddy and subsidiary crops. People residing in the area also expressed concern about the destruction of the forest reserve to gratify supporters of politicians. They also charge that it will also worsen the human- elephant conflict in the region.

Environmentalists pointed out that the dilapidated Bowella Tank was located in the forest reserve that was under the purview of the Forest Conservation Department. Earlier, an attempt to alienate land in the forest reserve was foiled by the residents of the area through protests. A senior official of the Wildlife Conservation Department said the proposed project would be funded by a non-governmental organization operating in the area. He pointed out that the forest reserve was a highly sensitive environmental zone where a vast range of medicinal herbs, rare varieties of orchids and huge forest trees were found.

Environmentalists said that a mineral deposit identified as karametiya was found in the forest reserve and that wild elephants were fond of spending hours near the deposits. The environmentalists also warned that the clearing of the forest reserve would worsen the human-elephant conflict and settlers would be the first victims. They also said that under the Fauna and Flora act No.22 of 2009 it is prohibited to use land within a distance of one mile from the boundary of a national park for any development project without permission from the director general of wildlife conservation and a report on the environmental effects of the proposed project.

Environmental organisations accused the Forest Conservation Department and the Wildlife Conservation Department of ignoring their representations in this regard. Meanwhile Bibile Range Forest Officer C.r.wijetilleka, said that land in the forest reserve to be alienated had been released to the Bibile Divisional Secretary with the approval of the Conservator General of Forests. However, Conservator General of Forests Diyasena Nimisekara was not available to comment on the issue while senior officials of the department refused to give an interview to the media. The environmentalists said it was a matter of grave concern that the Forest Department had granted approval to destroy a virgin forest in this manner.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka