The pros and cons of the chainsaw ban | Sunday Observer

The pros and cons of the chainsaw ban

The possible ban on mobile sawmills might stymie the expansion of the industry making it a dying trade
The possible ban on mobile sawmills might stymie the expansion of the industry making it a dying trade

Addressing the national event to commemorate ‘World Environment Day 2019’ earlier this month, President Maithripala Sirisena announced that he had given instructions to implement a ban on chain saws and to halt the registration of new carpentry workshops in a bid to combat the rapid and illegal deforestation plaguing the country.

While the decision left those involved in the timber and carpentry industries disgruntled, timber mill owners and carpenters in Moratuwa held several protests including a Satyagraha last week to voice their dissent against the decision. They had, in particular, felt they were unfairly targeted by the regulations and claimed many were not relevant to them.

However, assured by State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne that the steps taken to protect the environment would not invariably affect the timber and carpentry industries, they seemed somewhat placated.

Following through the proposals, on Tuesday, the Cabinet unanimously approved the ban on importation of chainsaws. While traditional sawmills are expected to remain unaffected, the government is also set to impose a ban on mobile sawmills from December 2022. Mobile sawmills have been identified as facilitating the decreasing forest cover in the country.

But now, despite the assurances following the protest, those involved in the timber and carpentry industries in Moratuwa claim they have no confidence in the promises given. Saman Kumara has owned the Sisira Carpentry Workshop in Moratuwa for over 30 years. He currently employs around 20 individuals. The recent decisions of the government has left him concerned for the future of his business. “The electrical chainsaw is essential for use in the trade,” he said, pointing out that the livelihood of many depend on the industry.

Many in the area feel they have been unfairly targeted as they assure that the timber used in the industry in Moratuwa come from legal sources.

According to Laksiri Fernando, the owner of Laksiri Timber Stores in Moratuwa, one cannot find illegal timber in the area.

“These bans should not apply to us as we do not purchase illegal timber,” he said. Fernando claims the majority of traders purchase timber from the State Timber Corporation or licensed merchants. Already suffering from financial hardships, the latest regulations are worrisome to Fernando.

The 2020 ban will not apply to traditional sawmills. However, those using traditional saws in the timber trade are now few and far between. According to the timber mill owners, the possible ban on mobile sawmills might stymie the expansion of the industry making it a dying trade.

“We have learned carpentry from our parents and we pass carpentry education to the younger generation. We will be trapped if this trade is banned.

Whatever the laws imposed should be made correctly to the relevant parties. Innocent people’s lives will be in danger if the ban is implemented,” carpenter Sumith Rohana said.

However, according to the Mayor of Moratuwa Saman Lal Fernando, who has roots in the timber and carpentry trade, the ban on the mobile sawmills is a welcome move due to the destruction they cause. “The forest cover will drastically reduce if they are allowed to carry on for the next three years,” he pointed out. But Fernando claims the ban on chainsaws will, however, affect the industry. “It is an essential part of the industry,” he said adding that it will be difficult to engage in the industry without it.

He feels the new regulations should not apply to Moratuwa. “The timber used in Moratuwa is 100 per cent legal.

The illegal timber trade could be mostly seen in Anuradhapura.

The furniture which is made from illegal timber is brought to Moratuwa and sold for a lesser price by illegal traders,” Fernando said.

According to him, it is unfair to expect those in Moratuwa to submit reports to the Forest Officers on the origins of the timber. “This law is once again irrelevant to us,” he said.

But with the forest cover said to be decreasing at a rate of 1.5 per cent annually, Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardene said chainsaws are problematic as they can cut trees down in a matter of minutes. “There are many who use this illegally,” he said, adding that the relevant authorities including the police should take immediate moves.

Gunawardene also suggests other than these recently announced regulations the Forest Ordinance should also be managed and regulated. “The forest areas should be protected and the Department protecting forests should be facilitated and strengthened,” he said. According to him, laws in relation to the timber trade should also be regulated and implemented.

Meanwhile, despite concerns of the Moratuwa industry stakeholders, Minister Wickramaratne said timber mills and workshops currently in place need not worry as only the opening of new mills will be prevented.

And as for chainsaws, the Minister said those who own them must register them. “When they have to purchase a new chainsaw that registration could be utilised,” he explained.

On behalf of the industry, the Minister will also request the President and the Ministry of Environment to assist small scale carpenters to enable and strengthen the carpentry industry in Moratuwa. “Moratuwa is the capital of the carpentry industry. We should provide the city with all the support we can.”

Despite the assurances, those in Moratuwa appear to be worried. “We are poor people and this is our livelihood,” Chaminda Fernando, a worker at the Sisira Timber Workshop said. Not knowing another trade and having to support a family of five, Fernando says he is prepared to take to the streets once more to protect his livelihood. “If the government goes back on the promises made we will protest again,” he said.

Pix Gayan Pushipika