by Maheesha Mudugamuwa
A leading environmentalist on Thursday lashed out at President Maithripala Sirisena for what he called misleading the public by changing the names of the forest reserves instead of fulfilling his promise to bring the threatened forest reserve under the Wilpattu National Park.
Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Director Sajeewa Chamikara told The Island that five forest reserves encompassing 40,030.525 hectares at the northern end of the Wilpattu National Park, namely Mawillu, Marichchikaddi, Karadikkuli, Wilaththikulam and Periyamurippu, had been merged and declared the Mawillu Forest Conservation on March 24, 2017 by the gazette notification No: 2011/34.
But, a total of 3,080 acres of forest initially included in forest reserves cleared for illegal settlements, along with reforestation areas and coastal area, had been removed from the Mawillu Forest Conservation gazetted last Friday (24), Chamikara said.
He claimed that the action demonstrated that neither President Sirisena nor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was keen to protect forests for posterity.
Over 3,400 acres of forest had been cleared under the direct involvement of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and that forest areas and coastal area intentionally removed from the newly declared Mawillu Forest Conservation, Chamikara alleged.
Chamikara claimed that the removal of over 3,400 acres of forest land from the declared Mawillu Forest Conservation had been done intentionally to facilitate future development plan. The Forest Conservation Department (FCD) had craftily helped the government with its project. he alleged.
The ECT Director urged the President Sirisena to add the whole forest area excluding the coastal area where permanent settlements had already been set up, to the Wilpattu National Park as its sixth section to protect the catchment areas of rivers including Malwathu Oya, Aru and Kal Aru, coastal area and villu wetland.
Chamikara warned that if the government did not take immediate steps to declare the above mentioned areas as forest reserves, the bio diversity would be threatened by flooding and human-elephant would escalate.