The Sunday Leader

DWC Accused Of Double Standards

By Nirmala Kannangara in Irudeniyaya, Kurunegala
Pictures by Thusitha Kumara

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) has been accused of adopting a double standard over encroachers at the Kahalla-Pallakelle sanctuary.
Kahalla-Pallakelle was declared as a sanctuary through gazette notification No. 566/ 5 on July 1, 1989 and is 21,690 hectares in extent spanning through Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts.
According to Section 7 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (amended) No. 22 of 2009, it is an offence to destroy wildlife habitats and breeding grounds, destroy trees or to carry out any road or other permanent or temporary construction within a sanctuary.

Wimaladasa, Ranbanda, Police restraining protestors and Protesting villagers of the Gurudeniyaya Farmer Associations

Apart from the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) rules and regulations, the gazette notification No. 859/14 of February 23, 1995 in accordance with the National Environmental Ordinance it is also an offence to carry out any development work within a sanctuary or 100 meters radius from the sanctuary boundary without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study.
Although the law is such, it is clearly evident as to how the DWC officials enforce the law and order on encroachers in two different ways in the two districts.  In order to protect the FFPO guidelines, the officers of the DWC have sent an ultimatum to the sanctuary encroachers in Irudeniyaya, Kurunegala to move out of the sanctuary in which they were living for the past 40 years. However interestingly, the same wildlife officials have openly allowed ruling party supporters to build houses within the same sanctuary but in a different place – Kalawewa in Anuradhapura district.
“Irrespective of party politics all encroachers have to be removed immediately as a sanctuary is not for humans but for wild animals. In this regard, as usual the wildlife officials have not only failed to take immediate action against the FFPO violators but also have allowed ruling party supporters to trespass a sanctuary. Legal action could be taken against such government officers who have failed to discharge their duties,” said Director Environmental Conservation Trust, Sajeewa Chamikara.
The farmer families in Irudeniyaya who claim that they were settled in these forest lands by the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranayake to cultivate in order to find a solution to the import restrictions during early 1970s, at a time when the country faced food scarcities, meanwhile are not ready to follow wildlife orders.
On Wednesday October 10, with the participation of Irudeniyaya villagers, a massive protest was held against the DWC’s decision in front of the clock tower in Kurunegala.
According to the protestors, although this area was declared a sanctuary in 1989 by President Ranasinghe Premadasa, his successor President D. B. Wijetunge, on the request of the then Chief Minister G. M. Premachandra, made this the Irudeniyaya Scheme and allowed them to continue farming.
“What made this regime to chase us away from here? We came to know that it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at a meeting held in Kurunegala recently, that has given directions to send us away from the sanctuary – which is meant for wildlife,” said Wimaladasa, one of the organizers of the Kurunegala protest.
Although the farmer families in Irudeniyaya, Kurunegala are not allowed to carry out any development work in their lands by the wildlife officers, at Kalawewa in Anuradhapura district more than 200 fishing families have been settled in a fishing village, which too is within the same sanctuary.  However, according to a Wildlife Ranger, the Kalawewa fishing village has been taken out from the Kahalla-Pallakelle sanctuary on instructions.
“On the request of the then Fisheries Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, President Chandrika Kumaratunge allowed 50 acres from Kahalla-Pallakelle sanctuary for a fishing village through a cabinet paper. Since there is a cabinet approval, lands were distributed amongst the fisher folk. That was why we do not take any action against the fisher folk. In regard to Irudeniyaya, had there been a cabinet approval, they too would have allowed to live there forever,” he added.
Although the wildlife officials claim that this 50-acre land was distributed amongst the fisher folk legally on a cabinet approval, environmentalists argue as to how this land, which was declared as a sanctuary through a gazette notification, could be given away merely on a cabinet decision.
“Without de-gazetting the 1989 gazette no one has the power, even the executive to give away sanctuary lands on their whims and fancies. We know as to how the former Chief Minister North Central Province Berty Premalal Dissanayake too obtained lands to construct a large hotel within the sanctuary overlooking the Kalawewa tank. It is surprising as to how the DWC officials are not aware that their lands cannot be given to any other party without de-gazetting the land,” said Chamikara.
Last week The Sunday Leader exposed as to how the DWC officials are turning a blind eye on the two constructions overlooking Kalawewa and Balaluwewa respectively by two government heavy weights in the North Central Province – the former Chief Minister Berty Premalal and Deputy Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife S. M. Chandrasena.
Even though the wildlife officers have failed to take any action against these two powerful politicians, all building materials including the tools have been removed from Sriyalatha’s house by the wildlife officers for constructing a small house in Irudeniyaya recently.
“While the construction was going on, a wildlife jeep with two officials came and took the building materials and mason tools in the jeep and never returned. Later they filed legal action against my husband in Mahawa Magistrate Court for illegal constructions within the sanctuary. The next hearing date is October 31 and we have to find Rs.2,000 for lawyer’s fees,” said Sriyalatha.

This Is Politics, Not Development

Convener National Fisheries Solidarity Movement Herman Kumara accused respective governments from the past for their failure to stick to one plan when developing the country.
“I too agree that this sanctuary lands are for wild animals and not for humans. But if these lands were given then, why does the present government seeking to take them over? This happens continuously. The same happened in Karuwalagaswewa in Puttalam in early 2000. The then MP, D. M. Dassanayake got 200 houses built within a wildlife area for his supporters. When the UNP came into power, Range Bandara got them demolished claiming it is prohibited to do any constructions within a wildlife area. With regard to Irudeniyaya, it was Mrs. Bandaranayake that settled these farmer families there. Later President Premadasa and the then Chief Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera wanted to acquire these lands. But due to strong protests it had to stop and later President Wijetunge allowed these farmer families to stay there. President Rajapaksa recently at a District Development Committee meeting held in Kurunegala wanted to take back this land from the farmers. This is politics but not development. This method will go on forever. The fishing village within the sanctuary was given by President Rajapaksa when he was the fisheries Minister. In future when another leader is elected, this particular land too would be taken back sending the people from pillar to post,” said Kumara.

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We Will Not Move An Inch – Ranbanda

When we were settled in nine villages – Madahapolayaya, Walagambapura, Irudeniyaya, Bambaragalayaya, Thelambuela, Mahapitiya, Rekewula, Erehepolayaya and Kattamberiya by the then Prime Minister we were given permission to live here forever although we were not given any title deeds. Even in 1986, the Survey Department surveyed our lands promising to give us deeds. This was the time the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected to office and during his tenure these forest lands were given to DWC and without our knowledge this was gazetted declaring it as a sanctuary,” said Ranbanda, who had settled in Irudeniyaya in 1972 with his family.
Ranbanda said how tough it was for them to clear the jungle and make chenas and paddy fields to cultivate paddy and chillies to supply rice and dried chillies to the market.
“As young men we were able to do all the hard work and bring these cultivated lands into what they are today. The wildlife officers are asking us to move away from here, claiming that this is an elephant corridor. All these years this was not an elephant corridor but all of a sudden this has become an elephant corridor. In order to scare us and chase us away from these lands, we were told that wild elephants from other sanctuaries have been released to Kahalla-Pallakelle sanctuary. We have lost more than 10 villagers due to elephant attacks but we will control them from here without moving an inch from where we were settled in 1972,” he added.

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No Cabinet Paper For Irudeniyaya – Wildlife Ranger
According to him, since there is a cabinet paper the DWC has allowed the fisher folk to build houses in the fishing village in Kalawewa but the Irudeniyaya villagers have to vacate their lands soon as they do not have such permission.

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No Comment – Deputy Director DWC Kurunegala

Deputy Director DWC, Kurunegala Mr. Sumanasena said that he couldn’t make any comments in regard to the Irudeniyaya issue but to speak to Director Operation DWC.  “Please don’t ask anything in regard to this as I cannot speak to the media. Speak to our Director Operation in head office,” said Sumanasena.

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Have To Give Alternate Lands – Director Operations DWC

Director Operation DWC, H. D. Ratnayake however claimed that a final decision would be taken this week to discuss what action would be taken.  “According to the FFPO, no one can be allowed within a sanctuary. But the Irudeniyaya issue is different.
They have been living in these lands before Kahalla-Pallakelle was declared a sanctuary. The issue is not with the original encroachers but with some new encroachers who have damaged the elephant fence and gone further inside the sanctuary for cultivation,” said Ratnayake. However, Ratnayake said that in the event if all encroachers have to leave the sanctuary lands, it is up to the respective Divisional Secretary to find out alternate lands for the farmers.  “We cannot send them without providing alternate lands. The main issue is that these farmers encroach more and more land towards the middle of the sanctuary damaging the elephant fence. That is the start of human-elephant conflict,” added Ratnayake.

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