Victory for environmentalists | Sunday Observer
Judgement on unauthorised settlements at Wilpattu:

Victory for environmentalists

22 November, 2020

The country marked a significant day last week with the Court of Appeal issuing a landmark judgment on the unauthorised settlements at a forest reservation close to the Wilpattu National Park, paving the way for the clearance of the land for tree planting, an order supporting measures for environmental justice.

Having taken into consideration all the circumstances of the case, Court issued an order in the nature of Mandamus ordering the First Respondent (Conservator General, Department of Forest Conservation) to take action to implement a tree-planting program in any area equivalent to the reserve forest area used for resettlement of IDPs.

Also, the Court issued an ancillary or consequential order directing the seventh respondent Rishad Badiuddeen to bear the full the cost of such tree planting program applying the Polluter Pays Principle since according to the evidence before Court he was instrumental in using the reserved forest land for the resettlement of the IDPs.

The Conservator General, Department of Forest Conservation (first respondent) is directed to calculate the costs of the tree planting program directed by Court and inform the 7th Respondent of this cost and the details of the account to which the said sum should be paid by him within two-months of the date of this judgment. The seventh respondent shall pay the said sum within one month of such notification.

Importance of the judgment

The court has drawn special attention to few important principles in the Environmental Law including the Polluter pays Principle enshrined in Principle 16 of the Rio De Janeiro Declaration, Constitution dictates in the Directive Principle of State Policy in public interest litigation confirming the Article 28(f) of the Constitution dictates that it is a fundamental duty of every person in Sri Lanka to protect nature and conserve its riches.

The Northern sanctuary of Wilpattu National Park, Marachukkaddi, Karadikkuli Reserved Forest areas, westward of Wilpatthu blocks II and IV, forest complex of Madu Road Sanctuary and Madu Road Reserved Forest have been cleared, divided into plots, paved roads and have set up unauthorised settlements making irreparable damages to the whole environment and ecosystem and wildlife habitats. Approximately 3,000 hectares in the forest complex adjoining Wilpattu National Park has been cleared for unauthorised resettlements.

The Centre for Environmental Justice filed a public interest litigation in the Court of Appeal in 2015 seeking an order of Writ of Certiorari and Mandamus against setting up unauthorised resettlements in a forest reserve by clearing the reserved forest areas. In this matter, a special focus was on the absence of provisions for respondents to release the land within a national park and the reserved forest areas.

The Conservator General of Forest, Director of WildLife Department, Commissioner General of Land and few others and Attorney General are the Respondents of this case.

In the said Petition, Petitioner has sought the following relief an order in the nature of Mandamus ordering the first respondent (the Conservator of Forest) to take action against the illegal removal of forest cover, and illegal re-settlement done by the encroachers and reinstate the forest lands to the forest reserve and organize forest replanting programme under and in terms of the provisions of the Forest Ordinance No. 16 of 1907 as amended.


A report issued by the Auditor General found that there were many violations of laws related to forest, wildlife and land laws during the resettlements in the Vilaththikulam forest area.Meanwhile, former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and others tried to publish a new gazette declaring the remaining forest area as a forest reservation excluding the areas where people have been resettled on the clearing forest adjoining Wilpattu National Park. Petitioner totally objected to this move and the court allowed to rescind/withdraw this Gazette Extraordinary No. 1779/15 and dated October 10, 2012.

In this case, the Court of Appeal found that there is evidence that it was the seventh respondent Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce who was instrumental in getting this land released for the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) after having a meeting under his championship in 2013.

At this meeting a decision was made to release several lands for the resettlement of IDPs. Deplorably the then Conservator General of Forest compliantly took part in the meeting and signed the decision to release the reserved forest land.

The case was fixed for the judgment on April 3, 2020, however, due to Corona-19 pandemic the judgment was postponed without a due date.

Finally, the Court of Appeal delivered the judgment on November 16, 2020.