Sri Lanka’s forest coverage spans across an estimated 27% of the country’s land, most of which consists of national parks and forest reserves. During 2010 to 2014 part of Wilpattu, the Sri Lanka’s largest national park, was cleared for “humanitarian” purposes. A task force appointed by the president, decided to clear the forest in order to build a resettlement for war refugees of the ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ program. This decision violated existing laws and enactments that are designed to protect the National Environment Act and forest ordinance.
An estimated 2000 hectares of forest was lost from the Northern sanctuary of Wilpaththu National Park and the Maraichukkaddi/Karadikkuli forest reserves. An additional 1000 hectares was cleared from the forests of Madu, Periyamadu and Sannara area, which is part of the larger Madu Road Sanctuary. The cleared areas were divided in to plots, lined with paved roads, and converted into settlements.
The first action in support of Wilpattu was in 2015 when Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) put forward a case against the unauthorised forest clearing through the court of appeal. Since then, ‘Save Wilpattu’ has become a nation-wide campaign, with thousands of youth rallying through social media, and organizing mass protests in the Capital of Colombo, as well as other cities across the country. In August 2019, the public’s attention again turned to the courts after a judge refused to deliver a verdict for the case.
Following the forest clearing, the Housing Authority attempted to clear an additional 10 hectares for a housing project. CEJ immediately responded by filing a motion through the courts. The Conservator General has since agreed to ensure that no any further clearings will happen within the forest until the court delivers its final judgement.
The struggle to Save Wilpattu continues. The case is currently waiting to heard again under a new bench. Centre of Environmental Justice urges for the government to ensure that people have access to land for settlement purposes, however this should not come at the cost of the country’s forests and national parks. CEJ will continue to watch over Sri Lanka’s forests and advocate for their protection.
For more information contact:
Centre for Environmental Justice/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka