Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara yesterday denied reports that the gazette notification which created the ‘Mavillu Conserved Forest’ in the North of Wilpattu affected Muslim settlements or villages in the vicinity.
Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha in the meantime added that President Maithripala Sirisena would not be revoking his gazette, contrary to certain media reporting it so.
“The President in his Gazette of March 24 brought together the forest reserves of Mavillu, Weppal, Karadikkuli, Marichchikadi and Vilaththikulam under one ‘Conserved Forest’ which will give it more legal protection. It has no impact on settlements”, Minister Jayasekara explained.
The Minister was addressing a media briefing together with Minister Musthapaha at the Government Information Department yesterday.
The issue of Muslim IDPs being resettled within or inside Wilpattu has been an issue of contention wrought with ethnic flavour for many years and President Maithiripala Sirisena last year stated that a just solution would be arrived once forest land is properly surveyed, marked and gazetted. As a result, the four separate reserves were gazetted into one to ensure continuity in the reserve.
“Muslim settlements, places of worship or any private land has been included in this gazette. There is a settlement to the West of Weppal, another to the North of Marichchikadi and one to the West of Vilaththikulam. By putting these forests together, these settlements have been clearly demarcated and left out”, explained Jayasekara as he traced the gazetted areas on a map. The Sports Minister also lashed out at certain groups of making the issue an ethnic one, especially within the Muslim community, “The Muslim community showed great support to the President and that became a turning point at the Presidential election. We are currently undertaking resettlement of the displaced and in Puttlam there are many IDPs. It is essential that they be resettled, this is a priority of the government. We are taking all measures for that. But,while we accept their right to their land, we must also note that our forest cover is receding and it is at a mere 25 percent right now. The President is trying to increase it up to 35 percent as the country moves towards sustainable development. This was part of that plan. There is no hidden agenda or racism here,”he said.
“We are not planning to take away any Muslim lands,” the minister said and denied reports that over 100,000 acres of land have been included in this gazette. It is only 600 acres, said the minister.
As Jayasekara spoke of the issue as means to discredit the President in the eyes of the Muslims, he added that if anyone had grievances, they could present it to the President and he would look into it.
“The gazette will not deliver injustice to Muslims,” Minister Musthapha said and explained that the gazette only dealt with state land.
On March 24, a gazette signed by the President declared all the forests located near the Wilpattu North Sanctuary belonging to the Department of Forest Conservation as one Reserve under the 3A of the Forest Conservation Ordinance.
“If there is any necessity to make variation of limits of conservation forest only the Minister may by Order published in the Gazette, declare that the limits of any conservation forest shall be altered or varied. An Order made by the Minister under subsection (1) will have no effect until it has been approved by the President and confirmed by Parliament and notification of such confirmation is published in the Gazette,”it further stated.