EFL was granted Special Leave to Appeal by the Supreme Court on 1 August in SC (Spl) LA 289/2017, relating to an illegal forest clearing and the subsequent erection of an electric fence within the immediate vicinity of the Nakolagane Purana Raja Maha Viharaja in Ehetuwewa, in the Kurunegala District.
Over the years, EFL has been ardently involved in combating the clearing of forest land in Sri Lanka while ensuring complaints of such regard are brought to the notice of relevant Government officials. Since early 2015, EFL received various complaints from the Ehetuwewa Division relating to deforestation and/or use of forest land. The complaints received were associated to a large-scale clearing of approximately 15-20 acres of forest-land and the subsequent institution of an electric fence in the immediate vicinity of the Nakolagane Purana Raja Maha Viharaja, in Ehetuwewa. According to the information received, the large scale clearing and the subsequent mango plantation surrounding the temple premises were carried out by the Nakolagane Purana Raja Maha Viharaja in collaboration with funding by private investors.
In order to comprehend the severity of the issue, it is vital to shed light on the significance of the geographic placement of this electric fence. The Ehetuwewa and Galgamuwa Divisional Secretariat areas are known to have the highest number of human-elephant conflicts in the North-West of Sri Lanka. The forest clearing and the subsequent institution of the electric fence were carried out by the temple against the instructions of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the provisions of law. The fenced and cleared area was once one of the few natural forest patches left, forming a refuge for elephants crossing the region regularly in search of food and water. It was a critical part of their home-range. According to the GPS tracking data of radio collared elephants, this area falls within the home-range for over 200 elephants using the natural neighbouring forest for movement.
The clearing/developing of this area will result in blocking the seasonal movement of elephants while leading to loss of critical resources and habitat. Inevitably, this will force the elephants to move to surrounding villages looking for food, increasing the destruction of crops and cultivation. When elephants are prevented from accessing natural forest land, they are compelled to use areas inhabited by humans leading to the escalation of the human- elephant conflict. At present, herds of elephants consisting 100-200 individual elephants are seen in the mornings and evenings accessing the Palukadawala and Atharagalla water tanks, blocking the Ehetuwewa main road.
Given the severity of the possible jeopardy caused to human lives and the environment, EFL together with two affected villagers in Ehetuwewa, who are members of a local group called ‘Parisara Surakum Ekamuthuwa’, filed a Writ Application in 2017. However, the Court of Appeal refused to issue notice for this case on technical grounds. Subsequently, EFL filed a Special Leave to Appeal application to the Supreme Court.
The Special Leave to Appeal application was heard before Justice Eva Wanasundara, Justice Prasanna Jayawardena and Justice Nalin Perera. The Court issued a bench order to set aside the Court of Appeal Judgment dated 07.11.2017. With the consent of all parties, the Judges of the Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeal to rehear this case. Ananda Lal Nanayakkara appeared on behalf of the Petitioners.
Through this litigation, EFL intends to prevent further aggravation of the existing human-elephant conflict in Ehetuwewa.