An important shift of politics from elections to the protection of nature was seen in this week’s Wild Life and Nature Protection Society (WPNS) organised protest at Vihara Maha Devi Park moving to the UN Office in Colombo, which drew considerable public support, showing a growing public interest in a crisis mounting in and near the Wilpattu National Park.
The speakers at Vihara Maha Devi Park raised urgent concerns about the increasing annexation of land from the largest national park in the country, and its boundary areas that also need protection, for the settling of hundreds of families. The efforts made by those carrying out these settlements to make the protests against the anti-nature and anti-environmental moves a to be anti-race and religion, were completely rejected and effectively criticized by the speakers who explained the huge damage done to the National Park, which needs protection as a national asset in the context of nature and the environment.
The protests went away from that of an anti-Muslim move, in view of the involvement of Minister Rishard Badurdeen in those resettlements of those displaced by the LTTE, with strong criticism also of the moves by State Minister Palitha Range Bandara to support different housing settlements in the area, and the action of Minister Lakshman Kiriella, to build two huge bridges and build roads in the nature reserve, which will further damage the much threatened wild life park, as well as nature and the environment that need maximum protection in the present conditions of the country. Speakers were not opposed to the resettlement of displaced persons, but emphasized the need to ensure that such re-settlement should not threaten, damage or destroy nature and the environment.
The WPNS protest also drew support from members of the public whose concerns have been increased, following the killing of the Galgamuva Tusker, as well as other tuskers in recent weeks, and the huge business reportedly going on in the export of tusks and ivory goods from Sri Lanka. The Minister of Wildlife is on record that the recent killing of tuskers is a well planned and executed conspiracy. The threats faced by the tuskers of this country are naturally linked to what is seen as the major threat to wildlife and nature by the human incursions at Wilpattu, backed politicians with varying interests.
The protesters led by the WPNS walked to the UN office in Colombo and handed over a petition with regard to the violations of the Ramsar Convention, the international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, signed in 1971, which is the oldest multilateral international conservation convention, and the only one to deal with one habitat or ecosystem type, wetlands. Sri Lanka has 165,000 hectares (410,000 acres) registered in the Wilpattu Ramsar Wetland Custer, in addition to other Rasmar registered reservations. The protesters look forward to the Ramsar Convention office, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that works closely with it, will take this matter up with the Government with no delay.
Thursday’s events in Colombo saw an important new trend in the politics of protest, with the public moving away from the tradition of party politics to areas of importance to society that are not supported by political parties, or are being avoided by the political parties for electoral, ethnic and other interests.
As Christmas approaches Sri Lankans could have some pleasure, at having the Guinness record for the world’s tallest artificial Christmas tree, and beating China is something today. It matters little at having no relevance to the spirit of Christmas, but of great joy to Minister Arjuna Ranatunga.