Controversy In Amarawewa
- Is United Dendro Energy bulldozing forest land in Yala National Park?
By Nirmala Kannangara
Letters of demand have been sent to Conservator General, Forest Department, Chairman, Central Environmental Authority and Director General Wild Life Conservation Department by an environmental organization for giving forest and wild life lands in Amarawewa in the Hambantota district to a private company for gliricidia cultivation.
United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd., through the office of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa has obtained 1,500 hectares from the Yala National Park buffer zone in Amarawewa in the Tissamaharama Divisional Secretariat.
United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd has been registered in the Department of Company Registrar on November 19, 2009 and major shares (750 shares) are owned by Lanka Orix Leasing Company (LOLC), 249 shares by Haresh Karunanayke and one share by Dayananda Tissa Karunanayake.
Director Operations Environmental Foundation Limited Vimukthi Weeratunga on July 17 has sent letters of demand to the Chairman, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Charitha Herath, Acting Director General, Wild Life Conservation Department (WLCD) Udeni Wickremasinghe and Conservator General Forest Department H. M. P. Hitisekera by registered post for their failure to stop de-forestation with the powers vested on them which has caused immense destruction to the country’s natural forest.
Meanwhile, Managing Director, United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd Haresh Karunanayake said that they obtained 500 hectares of shrub land in Amarawewa from the Forest Department (FD) on February 2, 2011 for gliricidia cultivation.
“This land has been allocated to the Dairy Farm Association of Amarawewa to grow grass for the cattle. Since it is a yeomen task for them to remove the thorny ‘katu andara’, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who is the SLFP organizer to the area gave us the land through the Forest Department to clear the thorny shrubs and to plant gliricidia for sustainable energy generation,” said Karunanayake.
When asked whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out before developing the land, Karunanayake said that on FD’s request this procedure was not followed.
“When we came with an agreement with the FD on February 2, 2011 we were told that there is no necessity to do an EIA. So we did not follow that procedure. We have not cut down any big trees in this land other than uprooting the shrubs. We deny claims that we have bulldozed the land,” said Karunanayake.
However according to reliable Forest Department sources who wished to remain anonymous, the land in question has not been given to United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd but to a dairy farm association in Amarawewa to cultivate grass for cattle.
“Although the energy company now claims that they have obtained the land from the Forest Department, this department has never given lands to United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd but to the dairy farm association Amarawewa on a lease agreement to cultivate grass for cattle,” said the sources.
According to him, United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd had come to an agreement with the diary farm and has now planted gliricidia while the dairy farm association is growing grass for the cattle.
“This energy company does not have any authority to have an agreement with the dairy association as this is a forest land and there are no provisions for a third party involvement here. However these two groups signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Forest Department on January 28, 2011 and are now requesting the District Forest Officer (DFO) Hambantota to issue permits to transport the uprooted ‘katu andara’ (prosopis juliflora) to their factory in Biyagama. Who gave the authority for them to uproot these shrubs? We do not consider the MoU they signed with the Forest Department (FD) as it is not valid since we have singed an agreement with the diary farm association a few years before,” said the sources.
He further said as to how this energy company wrote to the FD Head Office requesting the permit to transport the shrubs.
“In a letter dated July 4, they have requested the higher officials to grant permits to transport the shrubs but the department is adamant that this cannot be granted since they are illegally developing the land,” claimed the sources.
It has now come to the light that Karunanayake has taken over 1,500 hectares even though the FD has only released 500 hectares to the diary farm association Amarawewa.
Meanwhile Vimukthi Kumaratunga further accused Karunanayake and the LOLC for clearing prime wild life habitat since 2011 and added that he was surprised to understand as to why LOLC who is always boosting for environment conservation and protect the greenery is silent when the natural scrub jungles which are one of the main forest types in the country are being destroyed.
“Where is the ‘green’ they were talking about when destroying the natural shrub jungle. It is disheartening to see as to how the prime wildlife habitat in the Yala buffer zone is being bulldozed for gliricidia cultivation. Although United Dendro Energy company claims that they are removing ‘katu andara’ which is an invasive plant there are no ‘katu andara’ plants at Yala but only could be seen at the Bundala National Park. To remove ‘katu andara’ scientifically in a hectare it cost more than Rs.6 lakhs. These plants are native katu andara which is not a disruption. I challenge Karunanayake to show the invasive ‘katu andara’ plants in Amarawewa,” said Weeratunga.
Meanwhile Jagath Gunawardena Attorney-at-Law specializing in environmental studies said that conversion of more than one hectare of forest land to non-forest land has to be done subject to an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
“As per the gazette notification No: 772/ 22 of June 24, 1993 of National Environment Act, an EIA has to be carried out before clearing any forest land for any development.
If the land is within one mile from the Ruhuna National Park boundary, permission has to be obtained from the Director General WLCD under provision of Section 9A of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO).
According to the National Environmental Act, the Central Environmental Authority can issue a directive under section 24 B to stop all development work immediately and in case of non compliance of the directives they can enforce it as a court order,” said Gunawardena.
Meanwhile an angry villager on condition of anonymity described as to how bulldozer operators hadchased away the angry villagers who were protesting against bulldozing the natural shrub jungle.
“When we were protesting, the bulldozer operators wanted us to complaint to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. These are the forest lands that belong to the people not to the rulers of this country. Whether it is Rajapaksas or any other person we don’t mind but cannot allow forest destruction. These forests are the home for wildlife,” alleged the villager.
Meanwhile Kithsiri Gunawardena Chief Operating Officer LOLC denied allegations leveled against their company for forest destruction in the Yala Park buffer zone.
“We are always for a greener environment and there is no way for us to clear the jungle for any project. We have only removed the invasive shrubs and planting gliricidia for sustainable energy generation. We have obtained the lands legally from the FD and have not violated any rules or regulations,” said Gunawardena.
Meanwhile Deputy Conservator Forest (Environment Management) Mahinda Seneviratne confirmed that the FD has not given land to United Dendro Energy Pvt Ltd.
“We are yet to find out as to how much hectares this company has encroached although we have given only 500 hectares for the dairy farm association,” said Seneviratne.
According to him strict action could be taken against those who have violated the Forest Conservation Ordinance and said that he has already instructed the DFO in Hambantota to instruct the energy company to stop all their work forthwith until a full scale investigation is carried out.
“Although we have received many complaints against forest destruction we have to find out whether these accusations are true or not,” said Seneviratne.
Operations Director WLCD H. D. Ratnayake meanwhile said that although the described area is within the Yala buffer zone he has to get a report from the Yala park officials to ascertain whether the land in question falls within the buffer zone.
“If these allegations are true then we could take action against those who have violated Section 9A of the FFPO as amended in 2009,” said Ratnayake.
Chairman CEA, Charitha Herath said that in the event United Dendro Energy (Pvt) Ltd has not carried out an EIA before clearing the jungle it is a serious offence.
“Up to now they have not done any EIA or have requested our views on this regard. In such an event I have the power to produce them in court and it is up to the legal authority to decide what the punishment that could be given,” said Herath.
Meanwhile Divisional Secretary Tissamaharamaya H. S. N. W. Siriwardena said that the company has already taken over 3,750 acres of land and has requested another 10 acres more.
“They will remove the shrubs and grow grass for cattle and grow gliricidia for sustainable energy generation,” said Siriwardena.
However Siriwardena was not aware whether the said land has been bulldozed but added that it is illegal to bulldoze a forest land.