Land grabbing for cash crop plantations is becoming an increasingly serious issue in Sri Lanka. It has been reported that until 2012, a total of 36,611 hectares have been illegally acquired throughout Sri Lanka for different purposes (plantations, but also tourism, mines, streets etc.). Moreover, most of the time, land grabbing occurred in forest reservoirs or protected areas . Within this context, the case of Nilgala forest is an emblematic example.See more...
Since 2014, Sri Lankan Environmental Justice Organizations (EJOs) and local communities have been engaged in a campaign to denounce land grabbing activities and the destruction of Nilgala forest.
Nilgala forest is a place of high biodiversity and is famous for its medicinal plants. It is one of the earliest forest gardens in Sri Lanka, which has been declared as a conservation area since 1953. Furthermore, it is the catchment area of the Galoya Reservoir and an important habitat for elephants. However, this reservoir is nowadays under threat due to illegal land grabbing  , cash cropping (bananas, rubber and sugar cane)  and forest fires .
So far, at least 5,000 acres (2,023ha) of land have been given to Gal Oya Plantations (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of the LOLC Group, for a sugar cane plantation. Moreover, as reported, some plots had been given for rubber plantations, even though Nilgala is a dry zone and rubber is a wet zone crop [13; 14].
Villagers fear that the forest destruction will have negative effect on the Senanayaka Samudraya reservoir and further create human-elephant conflicts, because plantations force elephants to pass through villages. Moreover, local communities complain that, though the Forest Department is responsible for the saving of this forest, they are not taking any action against this destruction, but rather allocate land to private –local and foreign- investors. Therefore, instead of preventing the land grabs, local politicians appear to be encouraging and benefiting from the destruction. In addition, opportunistic land grabbers have used weed killers within the delicate forest, killing undergrowth and medicinal plants. Some of these trees, such as Aralu, Bulu and Nelli, are invaluable, rare and have been growing in the area since King Buddhadasa's reign in the fourth century .
To oppose the forest degradation and the apathy of institutions, local communities themselves are carrying out practices of resistance against the devastating land grabbing. In January 2014, the first Tree Ordination Ceremony took place in the Nilgala Forest, organized by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) in collaboration with local communities and other environmental associations. Over 50 Buddhist monks from different parts of the world, assisted by 300 locals and some Muslim leaders, ordinated 1,000 trees in Akkara Anuwa and Dimbuldena villages, in order to highlight the massive destruction of the Nilgala forest .
Furthermore, a petition was launched to Mr. Anura Sathurusinghe , Conservator of Forest at the Forest Department of Sri Lanka, and Mr. B.M.U.D Basnayake from the the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy, to stop all past and present land encroachments and related forest destruction.
Following the statements by Friends of Hearth Sri Lanka, after the mobilization no other confiscation took place .