Wildlife and Nature Protection Society files court action against Minister’s unlawful act

Saturday, 8 June 2024 01:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Vidattaltivu Nature Reserve (Wedithalathive)  - Pic by Tashiya de Mel 

  • Seeks legal order to revoke Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Minister's recent controversial decision to modify boundaries of Wedithalathive Nature Reserve via Extraordinary Gazette

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) has initiated a pivotal court action against the Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Minister.

The legal challenge is a response to the Minister’s recent and controversial decision to modify the boundaries of the Wedithalathive Nature Reserve, as documented in Extraordinary Gazette No. 2383/05, dated 6 May, which effectively disestablished a portion of this protected area. The WNPS contends that this action is wrongful, illegal, and unlawful, threatening to undermine decades of conservation efforts.

In the petition filed before the Supreme Court, WNPS has submitted that the impugned Gazette indicates that the area specified in its appendix will no longer be designated as part of the reserve but the appendix has not been made available to the public, creating ambiguity about the exact land extent and the boundaries affected. They allege that this lack of transparency has left both the WNPS and the general public in the dark regarding the precise details of the disestablishment.

Explaining the historical context and environmental importance, WNPS has submitted to court that the area now in dispute was identified as critical for protection through the Integrated Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka (ISEA-NPSL) conducted between 2009 and 2014 by the Central Environmental Authority and Disaster Management Centre, along with other Government departments and experts, which assessment recognised the ecological significance of the region. Consequently, on 1 March, 2016, 29,180 hectares were designated as the Wedithalathive Nature Reserve through Gazette Extraordinary 1956/13 by the then Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife.

In the petition filed WNPS argues that the Minister’s sudden decision to alter the reserve’s boundaries was made without due process and is illegal, unlawful, and ultra vires and that this action breaches the legitimate expectations of the public and ignores prior concerns raised by environmentalists and that the potential consequences include severe environmental and conservation issues.

The petitioners further allege that between 2018 and 2019, the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) had appointed a Technical Expert Committee to study a report by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) and that subsequently, at a meeting held with the Technical Expert Committee, DWC, NARA, National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) and the Ministry of Fisheries it had been concluded that parts of the Wedithalathive National Reserve should not be removed.

WNPS further asserts that, to the best of their knowledge, the Minister has not appointed a new Technical Expert Committee after the earlier committee rejected the request for de-gazetting a part of the National Reserve. This failure of the Minister to comply with the requirement under Section 2(5) of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) prior to changing the boundaries of the Wedithalathive National Reserve without conducting a due study to investigate the ecological consequences, as mandated by the FFPO, are in direct contravention of the law.

WNPS has also emphasised in the petition that the Minister of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation, as the minister in charge of subject of Wildlife has a duty to ensure strict compliance with the FFPO and the failure to adhere to the mandatory procedures prescribed in the FFPO in effect means that the process of changing the boundaries and disestablishing part of the Reserve has not been executed lawfully.

WNPS has also pointed out that the impugned act of the Minister is in breach of Sri Lanka’s obligations to preserve mangroves and the environment at large.

The WNPS which has a long-standing commitment to advancing the conservation of fauna and flora in Sri Lanka is calling on the Government officials, environmentalists, and the general public, to recognise the importance of preserving the Wedithalathive Nature Reserve. This protected area is not just a sanctuary for wildlife but also a vital component of the broader environmental health of the region.

Presidents Counsel Sanjeeva Jayawardena with Attorneys-at-law Dilumi de Alwis, Revan Weerasinghe and Rukshan Senadheera instructed by S.W. Amila Kumara are representing WNPS before the Supreme Court.