Land grabbing for human settlements in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

Wilpattu National Park is under threat of land grabbing. Since 2012, environmentalists denounce the systematic deforestation for the construction of resettling sites for Muslims displaced during the civil war.


<div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Description</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld"></td><td class="columns"><div class="less">Wilpattu National Park is well known for its rich biodiversity and untouched natural environment. However, during the last years, this wild tropical forest is under threat because of land grabbing for different purposes, especially for intensive plantations, construction of resorts and roads.</div><a class="seemore" href="#">See more...</a><div class="more" style="display:none">Between 2012 and early 2013, a new menace for Wilpattu National Park came up when environmental organizations brought to the limelight the issue of systematic deforestation for the construction of a relocation site for Muslims displaced during the civil war [1][2][3].<br/><br/>Following the statements by local environmental organizations and Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), the land has been illegally cleared by the Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) [1].<br/><br/>The Minister himself declared that the resettlement operations have been carried on in order to sustain his electorate: "These Muslims, whom I am resettling and have resettled in the Wilpattu National Park, after clearing the jungle and also in the Northern Province, are partly my voter base. There is nothing illegal in building houses and places, as I have acquired permission in the correct manner from the relevant line ministries and this is sanctioned by the government" [3]. As we can read within this declaration, Minister Bathiudeen also confirms the allegations made by the local EJOs, who state that the cutting down of trees and fires for deforestation activities occurred not only in Wilpattu area, but also in other forest reserves at 14 locations in the districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu (Northern Province) [1].<br/><br/>Morover, Sanjeewa Chamikara, Director of the Environment Conservation Trust said that in addition to the land cleared for settlements, a 100km road had been constructed along the Wilpattu Wildlife Park. The same thing occurred in Mankuluma area, where roads have been constructed towards the forests [1].<br/><br/>Under the Forest Ordinance or the Fauna and Flora Ordinance [4] cutting of forest is illegal. Moreover, the Environmental Act [5] requires a study of the environmental impacts (EIA), if more than one hectare of the forest area is converted to a non forest activity. But there are no EIA for any of the mentioned areas. Therefore, the destruction of the forest areas for human settlements is an illegal act [6].<br/><br/>In addition, there are several other issues that are still not clear regarding the construction of the resettlement site.<br/><br/>Firstly, Mr. Withange, director of the Centre for Environmental Justice, said that the resettlement of internally displaced persons was completed in 2012, but the forests were being cleared under the guise of making room for re-settling people [1].<br/><br/>Secondly, regarding the construction which took place in the Musali area and in the Northern areas of the Wilpattu National Park, BBS queries who granted permission for it, and why the Minister of Environment and Renewable Energy, Susil Premajayantha, and Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities, Wimal Weerawansa, were silent on the matter [3].<br/><br/>Moreover, BBS points out that housing to internally displaced people should be given regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion and that this should be done with a proper plan and by following the correct procedures. Even though Minister Bathuideen asserted that the land was acquired and constructions were carried out in accordance with other ministries, a letter sent by R.P.R. Rajapaksha, in his capacity as the Land Commissioner General, has insisted that the Divisional Secretary of Muhudubada Pattu should reveal who they are expecting to relocate in the land, belonging to the Forest Conservation Department, as identification of IDPs (International displaced people) to be relocated had almost reached a conclusion. This clearly means that the proper procedures for resettlement haven't been followed [3].<br/><br/>Finally, local EJOs and BBS question that there are plenty of barren lands in those areas, if lands for development activities or for the human settlements are needed. Therefore, destruction of remaining forest lands in the North and East cannot be justified [6]. <br/><br/>In order to stop the destruction of the forestland in Wilpattu area, in 2014 local EJOs filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal, claiming that 2,388 hectares of State land in the Wilpattu National Park was unlawfully released for the settlement of displaced Muslims. They state that in the area vast deforestation is taking place, as a result of attempting to settle the displaced persons, presently staying in the Divisional Secretariat areas of Musali, Manthai and Madhu. The petitioners request to the Court to prevent the building of houses for settlement, so that the forest lands remains preserved and protected, while an alternative solution may be found for the settlement of the displaced Muslims [7].<br/><br/>Despite the oppositions, the forest clearing for the settlement project is going on. For this reason, the Centre for Environmental Justice sent a letter to Sri Lanka's President, Maithripala Sirisena, asking to intervene in order to stop the land acquisition.<br/><br/>Generally, since in Sri Lanka deforestation is getting more and more a serious issue, environmentalists are taking action to sensitize the local population and the politicians about the matter. Public campaigns, petitions and tree ordinations are some of the several actions of the local EJOs. They stress the need to make the development more sustainable by preserving every remaining forest lands and respecting the environmental laws of the country.<br/><br/>The Wilpattu case shows how environment and poor are often used for political purposes. Resettling Muslims in forest areas Minister Rishad Bathiudeen assures himself votes from his electorate, but on the other hand the problem of the war of Internally Displaced Person in Sri Lanka persists, while the country is losing more and more of its precious forestland [8].<br/><br/><a class="seeless" href="#">(See less)</a></div></td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Basic Data</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Name</td><td>Land grabbing for human settlements in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Country</td><td><a href="/country/sri-lanka">Sri Lanka</a></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Province</td><td>Northern Province</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Site</td><td>Different locations on the border with Wilpattu National Park and in districts of Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Accuracy of Location</td><td>MEDIUM regional level</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Source of Conflict</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Type of Conflict (1st level)</td><td>Infrastructure and Built Environment</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Type of Conflict (2nd level)</td><td>Land acquisition conflicts<br /> Deforestation<br /> Other</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Specific Commodities</td><td><a href='/commodity/land'>Land</a></td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Project Details and Actors</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Project Details</td><td class="columns">In 2010 and 2013 the Asian Development Bank grant a loan of $2,500,000 to the Ministry of Economic Development for a project to assist Internally Displaced People (Post-Conflict Emergency Assistance for Livelihood Restoration of Resettled Internally Displaced People in the North) [9].</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Project Area (in hectares)</td><td>7284.348 [1]</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Level of Investment (in USD)</td><td>Unknown</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Type of Population</td><td>Rural</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Start Date</td><td>2013</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Relevant government actors</td><td>Forest Conservator General S. Anura Sathurusinghe<br/><br/>Archaeology Director General Dr. Senarath Dissanayake<br/><br/>Land Commissioner General R.P.R Rajapaksha<br/><br/>Wildlife Conservation Director H.D Rathnayake<br/><br/>Central Environment Authority<br/><br/>Divisional Secretary of Musali S. Ketheeswaran, <br/><br/>Divisional Secretary of Manthai West M Sriskandakumar<br/><br/>Divisional Secretary of Madhu F.C Sathyasothi<br/><br/>Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen<br/><br/>State Timber Corporation Chairman S. Amarasinghe<br/><br/>Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">International and Financial Institutions</td><td><a href='/institution/asian-development-bank'>Asian Development Bank <small>(ADB)</small></a> from <a href='/country-of-institution/philippines'><small>Philippines</small></a></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Environmental justice organisations and other supporters</td><td>Centre for Environmental Justice <br/><br/>Green Movement of Sri Lanka<br/><br/>Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">The Conflict and the Mobilization</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)</td><td>LOW (some local organising)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">When did the mobilization begin</td><td>In REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Groups Mobilizing</td><td>Local ejos<br /> Local government/political parties<br /> Local scientists/professionals<br /> Religious groups</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Forms of Mobilization</td><td>Official complaint letters and petitions<br /> Public campaigns<br /> Arguments for the rights of mother nature<br /> Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment<br /> Tree ordinations</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Impacts</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Environmental Impacts</td><td><strong>Visible: </strong>Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover<br /><strong>Potential: </strong>Noise pollution</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other</td><td>Increase of human-elephant conflict. This is because Wilpattu National Park is an important corridor for the passage of the elephants and an their habitat as well. The destruction of forestland will force the elephants to find food and other passages through the villages.</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Socio-economic Impacts</td><td><strong>Visible: </strong>Loss of landscape/sense of place</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Outcome</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Project Status</td><td>Under construction</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Pathways for conflict outcome / response</td><td>Land demarcation</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Development of Alternatives</td><td>Local EJOs ask to leave the forestland untouched, to apply the existent regulations and to resettle displaced in other barren lands</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Do you consider this as a success?</td><td>No</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Why? Explain briefly.</td><td>The project is going on and squatters are still in the area</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Sources and Materials</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Legislations</td><td><table><tr><td><p> [4] Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.commonlii.org/lk/legis/consol_act/fafp567290.pdf" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [5] National Environmental Act and its amendments<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.cea.lk/web/index.php/en/acts-regulations" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">References</td><td><table><tr><td><p> Centre for Environmental Justice. Environment Law. Ravindranath Dabare Attorney-at-Law. Sri Lanka, 2009<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://ejustice.lk/Publications/Environmental%20Law%20%28%20Sinhala%29/Environment%20Law%20English%20Book.pdf" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> Uprooting people from the land. Land grabbing, current status and trends in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Nature Group, People’s Alliance for Right to Land - PARL. June 2012<br/></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Links</td><td><table><tr><td><p> [1] Newspaper article from 'Daily Mirror' online (13/05/2014). Bathiudeen re-settling people in forest reserves: environmentalists. (accessed 04/05/2014)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.dailymirror.lk/47048/minister-bathiudeen-re-settling-people-in-forest-reserves-environmentalists" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [2] Newspaper article from 'Ground Views' (22/04/2015). Right royal battle: The BBS vs. Bathiudeen. By Harim Peiris (accessed 04/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://groundviews.org/2014/04/22/right-royal-battle-the-bbs-vs-bathiudeen/" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [3] Newspaper article from 'Ceylon Today' online (13/04/2014). Squatters invade Wilpattu:Rape of a National Park. (accessed 04/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.ceylontoday.lk/90-61670-news-detail-squatters-invade-wilpatturape-of-a-national-park.html" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [6] Ejustice News Letter May 2014 Volume 1 Issue 5. Land Grabbing in Wilpattu to Sannar (accessed 04/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://ejustice.lk/news-letters/news-letter/Ejustice%20vol%201%20issue%205%20May%202014.pdf" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [7] Newspaper article from 'The Sunday Times' online (11/05/2014). Green Movement opposes settlement in Wilpattu of displaced people. (accessed 05/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140511/news/green-movement-opposes-settlement-in-wilpattu-of-displaced-people-98841.html" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [8] Article from 'The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)' web site. Sri Lanka IDP Figures Analysis. (Accessed 05/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href=" http://www.internal-displacement.org/south-and-south-east-asia/sri-lanka/figures-analysis" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p> [9] Asian Development Bank web site. Procuremen Plan of the project 'Post-Conflict Emergency Assistance for Livelihood Restoration of Resettled Internally Displaced People in the North'. Document pubblication: 4th June 2013 (accessed 05/05/2015)<br/><a class="refanch small" href="http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-document/77340/44201-012-sri-pp.pdf" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr></table></td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Other Documents</td><td><table><tr><td><p><strong>Huts in Wilpattu National Park</strong> <br/><a class="refanch small" href="https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/huts.jpg" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p><strong>Fires for deforestation</strong> <br/><a class="refanch small" href="https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/inendio.jpg" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p><strong>Road in Wilpattu National Park</strong> <br/><a class="refanch small" href="https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/encroched-area-6.jpg" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p><strong>Road in Wilpattu National Park 2</strong> <br/><a class="refanch small" href="https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/encroched-area-4.jpg" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr><tr><td><p><strong>Road construction in Wilpattu National Park</strong> <br/><a class="refanch small" href="https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/construction.jpg" target="_blank">[click to view]</a></p></td></tr></table></td></tr></tbody></table></div></div><div class="horipane"><div class="title active">Meta Information</div><div class="content"><table class="table"><tbody><tr><td class="fld">Contributor</td><td>Paola Camisani (EJOLT team Barcelona); Hemantha Withange (Centre for Environmental Justice)</td></tr><tr><td class="fld">Last update</td><td>08/07/2015</td></tr></tbody></table></div></div>
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