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Illegal deforestation continues with the help of politicians

The devastation caused to Sri Lanka's forest cover by stooges connected to powerful provincial politicians of the ruling alliance is continuing unabated amidst slow action of the police and state forest conservation authorities, environmentalists complained.

In another such attempt of illicit timber racketeers, mammoth valuable trees that are over 100 years old located on the banks of the Ihala-Thalawa tank in Anuradhapura have been cut down.

Locals in the area allege contractors are engaged in a timber racket under the guise of developing the agrarian tank.

10 months ago, the renovation of the Ihala-Thalawa tank located in the heart of Thalawa, Anuradhapura commenced following requests made by the farming community for many years.

The project cost is over Rs. 30 Million and is funded by the World Bank as part of the Climate Resilience Improvement Project.

A firm known as Jayantha Contractors located in Galnewa had undertaken the contract to remove silt in the tank and to renovate the banks and gates.

According to residents, after felling the mammoth trees for timber, the remaining parts were dumped into the tank by the contractor.

Villagers urge the authorities to take stern action against those responsible for cutting down trees which are more than 100 years old and causing serious environmental issues  in the area.

Making the latest revelation in the series of forest destruction countrywide, opposition MP Rohini Kavirathna said that 22.668 hectares of forest land in the Central province including 1802 hectares in the Matele District are now under the threat of devastation due to illicit timber dealers.

The Centre for Environmental Justice has already sent a letter of demand to the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment demanding him to protect the 5/2001 circular which brought residual forests/other forests under the protection of the Forest Department.

At the moment, there is huge pressure by certain parties to cancel this circular and return those forests back to the full control of the district secretaries and divisional secretaries.

Attempts to abolish a circular limiting arbitrary allocation of other forest lands have stirred up public outcry with environmentalists leading the campaign.

According to circular 5/2001, any allocation of other forest lands for development activities require the approval of a special review board.

Forest lands that have not been protected under a parliamentary act are classified as other forest lands.

If the circular is revoked, district secretaries and divisional secretaries will be empowered to make decisions regarding these other forests.

“They have prepared to hand over these lands to five multinational companies,” Ven. Pahiyangala Anandasagara Thero, the President of the ‘Surakimu’ Sri Lanka movement said.

He claimed that the government is planning to hand over 500,000 acres of other forest lands to multinational companies by abolishing the gazette.

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