CEA vows to take action against Wanathawilluwa squatters | Sunday Observer

CEA vows to take action against Wanathawilluwa squatters

13 September, 2020

The Sri Lanka Cement Corporation (SLCC) will formulate a scheme during a meeting on Monday (14) in order to remove illegal residents from its land I at Eluwankulama, Wanathawilluwa, SLCC’s Chairman Attorney-at-law Gamini Ekanayake said.

During the meeting, that is scheduled to be held with officials representing the Central Environment Authority (CEA), Forestry Department of Sri Lanka, Siam City Cement (Lanka) Limited, Grama Niladaris, and other stakeholders, the SLCC will also draw up an action plan to limit the damage that has been already caused to nearly 100 acres in Wanathawilluwa.

The illegal deforestation in a land of over 5000 acres owned by the SLCC came into the limelight recently igniting an outcry from environmentalists and other concerned parties. It is believed that the 100 acres in this land was cleared for cultivation and also for re-selling purposes. Nine people connected to the crime were arrested and the police are hunting for three other suspects. The suspects were remanded till September 15.

The SLCC land was given on lease in 1996 to private cement producers to extract lime stone. As part of the agreement, the private company signed an agreement to not allow any person into the land, nor allow persons to reside there. Siam City is currently engaged in lime stone extracting on the land in question.

Under Standing Order 27(2) ,Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa, questioned about the incident in Parliament. He said that this and the clearing of up to two acres in Anavilundawa in Puttalam are violations of Section 27(4) of the Constitution.

Minister of Wildlife,C. B. Ratnayake,said that there is no excuse for people to cause such environmental damage. “ The Government will not hesitate to take action against any wrongdoer who had engaged in clearing the Anavilundawa sanctuary,” he said.

According to the CEA, in Wanathawilluwa, large trees as old as 250 years were felled and these included palu, weera and satinwood.

“We know the extent of the damage caused to the trees, but not about the animals which were harmed during the deforestation and the fire that was set in the area,” Chairman of the CEA S. Amarasinghe said vowing to take action against anyone found guilty of such crimes within 24 hours.

Ekanayake, Chairman of the SLCC, said they will formulate a scheme to look into the illegal settlement of persons in the land.

“There are nearly 500 families settled here. I have requested for details of these families. We will categorise them according to the number of years they have been living in this land. Last to settle will be the first to go,” he said.

He added that no alternative residences will be provided to the settlers. “They can go back to where they came from. They came to this land because they assumed it was easy to grab land.”

However, the Sunday Observer learns that some settlers have lived in the area for over 20 years and do not have alternative residences.

Ajith Gihan, the organiser of the Wayamba Voice Environmental Organisation said that the authorities are taking action against the ‘sprats’ and letting the ‘sharks and whales swim free’.

Gihan, who said there are several irregularities I within this incident, pointed out that the location where the deforestation has taken place is not far from the area where the lime stone is harvested.

“There is a train that is operated to transport the lime stone. And it goes only about 10 metres from where the trees were felled. Then how can the authorities say that they were not aware of this incident,” he said.

He added that the felling of trees has taken place over a long period, and that much of the damage was done within the last month.

“The people were arrested were innocent farmers.

We spoke to the wives of some of these arrested men and they are helpless and the real culprits are still free,” Gihan said adding that the villagers also mentioned that an officer from the SLCC was also involved in the deforestation in Wanathawilluwa.

It is said that powerful politicians, along with the state officials, were also behind the deforestation, where large trees were cut down using mechanical saws, the timber sold and the forest set on fire later in the hope of selling the land.

This land located in close proximity to the Wilpattu National Park which is a haven to wildlife including wild elephants. Gihan urged the authorities to take action against those who are directly involved in the incident and those who let it happen for a large period of time.

“This is a massive land racket that needs to be stopped,” he said.