3,000 acres belonging to the village Soragune "Kuda Katharagama Devalaya" have been sold to the private Company Lalan Rubbers Ltd for the cultivation of rubber plantations . What before were cultivated fields and forest land has now turned into a rubber plantation, benefiting a small elite.
According to the Center for Environmental Justice, members of Soragune’s Shrine have sold the lands to few companies and over 1,000 hectares has been cleared in less than 2 weeks without following any regulations. Villagers state that it was the head of the Shrine who has sold this land to outsiders, together with the “Rajakariya” for the Shrine. They also affirm that behind the scene some local politicians are involved. The National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 requires doing an EIA for clearing of more than one hectare of forest and converting them to other uses. But no EIA has been conducted and the Central Environmental Authority (CEI) and the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs were silent on the destruction .
Electric fences have been erected in order to save the rubber plantation from the transit of elephants. The location is an important corridor used by elephants. The closure of the corridor has forced them to pass through the surrounding villages, creating a conflict between elephants and humans.
Moreover, according to the National Building Research Organisation, Haldummulla, the area where Weliya Forest is located, is a region prone to earth slides. However, the District Coordination Committee has not taken action to stop the clearing. Moreover, the Weliya Forest in Haldummulla area is the catchment area for Weli Oya River, which provides irrigation water for more than 7,000 families downstream, depending on agriculture. The silences of the respective authorities make people unhappy, yet helpless.
In response to the land grabs for rubber plantations in Weliya forest, local communities of Weliya and Soragune, the Centre for Environmental Justice, the Sri Lanka Environmental Congress, the Engaged Buddhist Solidarity for Nature have launched a Dharma Yathra. It started at Vihara Maha Devi Park in Colombo on the 27th February 2014 and reached the Forest on the 1st March 2014. Over 60 Buddhist monks and more than 4,000 people joined the demonstration. During the Dharmayathra a tree ordinance was celebrated to stress the need to protect the Soragune forest.
Although the government considers rubber and other plantations such as tea and sugar to be ‘green industries,’ the loss of tropical rainforest and agricultural lands (including diverse shifting agriculture) suggests that the potential impacts of policies to promote green industries should be considered carefully.
On an article published in Science , Ziegler et al., talking about the impacts of intensive rubber plantations state: “In the case of rubber, homogeneous monocultures with myriad negative environmental consequences have emerged, erosion has accelerated and stream sediment loads have increased where repetitive cultivation is performed on steep slopes without appropriate conservation methods; permanent conversion of hill slopes and road building have increased the risk of landslides; irrigation of cash crops in the dry season has desiccated streams; and use of pesticides and fertilizers to sustain commercial agriculture has reduced water quality.”
Massive land grabbing and the establishment of rubber plantations have become a common problem in Sri Lanka under the current development paradigm. Foreign and local investors do not respect to the laws and regulations as they have the backing from the political authorities. Land grabbing increases vulnerability of poor communities and become a threat to the local livelihood, local economies, social structures, and the environment.