Act on Wilpattu without racial bias, say environmentalists

Saturday, 21 January 2017 02:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shanika Sriyananda

Urging the Government to stop on-going illegal settlements in the Willpattu Forest complex, the Coalition to Protect Our National Heritage (CPUNH) requested authorities not to be distracted by racial discrimination but stop massive deforestation of Wilpattu National Park as it was depleting a national asset.

Eco-groups, which gathered in Colombo, claimed that over 3,400 acres of forest land in Wilpattu have already been cleared for settlement by forcing the Department of Forest Conservation to release the land.

“We request that the matter of race, religion or ethnicity not be brought into this issue,” they told the media.

The environmentalists, who lobby against illegal settlements in Wilpattu said that they have information that a fund raising campaign was also carried out by some parties to show there was racial discrimination and victimisation.

“What we want is to protect our forests and there is no colour, caste or creed in this endeavour in saving our natural resources for our future generations,” they stressed.

The CPUNH, consisting of major environmental protection organisations in the country, said that the prevailing drought situation is due to reducing forest cover in the country for various activities including clearing of land for illegal human settlements.

“We request President Maithripala Srisena as the Minister of Environment to intervene to stop massive clearing of land in Willpattu,” environmental activist Nayanaka Ranwella said.

He urged the Government to bring the culprits destroying the national asset before the FCID or CID.

He said settling people illegally commenced in 2009 and over 1,700 acres of land in Wilpattu were cleared illegally using State power during the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“It is sad that even under this Government the same illegal activity continues, and the land area, which has already been cleared, has increased up to 3,400 acres now. We urge the Government to stop this illegal settlement process and clearing of forest land immediately,” Ranwella said.

The eco-groups explained the situation in Willpattu using Google Map screenshots as evidence to show the massive clearing taking place.