Medawachchiya Teak Forest Plundered
By Eunice Ruth and Sajith Gayan
The one and only teak forest in the Medawachchiya District, which is more than 24 years old has been taken over by some timber smugglers due to the carelessness of the Medawachchiya Forest Officers, claimed the Chairman of the Medawachchiya Pradeshiya Sabha, Herath Senaratne, He stated that the Teak forest cultivation was started in 1997 in Lindawewa village No. 77 in the Medawachchiya Divisional Secretariat area by Lindawewa Rural Development Society. This forest plantation was done at 63 acres of land and more than 63 farming families were engaged in the forestation process.
This teak forest had farmers from Lidawewa, Ralapanawa, Duminnegama and Karambankulama villages. Previously, the teak plantation has been successfully cultivated by farmers for many years. However, the land area has started reducing day-by-day and at present, only 23 acres are remaining. The major reason behind this is, the negligence of the Medawachchiya Forest Office, he alleged. We acquired this land from the Divisional Secretariat for teak cultivation and farmers even had permits for these lands, said Senaratne.
Later, all our permits were taken by the Forest Officers of Medawachchiya. They said that they will issue us deeds for the land. However, no one has returned to us after collecting the permits, and still, we have not been given deeds or any other Government approved documents. Due to this, slowly, the farmers reduced working in the teak forest and they have stopped the plantation process also. In the meantime, he further said that an Extraordinary Gazette Notification, No. 18/18/14 was issued on 20 July 2013 in accordance with the surveys carried out in the year 2006, and the area covering 823.33 hectares of forest has been designated as Karambankulama and Seven Tanks Reserve Forest.
Senaratne also pointed that, they went to the forest office with the farmers to get the permits back, the forest officers did not respond to us and they made us wait and waste our time, without receiving any responses. At present, the smugglers have started their work by cutting down the teak trees, and currently, only 23 acres of forest remaining due to this. We informed in this regard to the Government and requested the Government to help the farmers to harvest the remaining portion. Accordingly, after realizing the hard work and injustice of the farmers, even the District Development Committee made a reasonable request to the authorities to allow it to be cut down by the farmers.
After that, even the measurements of the trees were and a few days later, the forest officials came and asked us to allow them to cut the trees with their brokers, he said. We stood against it, due to our objection; they started cutting down the trees even without our permission. Later, they named it a failed plantation. “Our hard work and our plantations were offered to the smugglers. We kindly request the Government and the responsible authorities to help us to harvest these Teak plantations and also to start a new teak plantation in the District.
Also, we request the authorities to provide the deeds and ownership of the land to Medawachchiya Divisional Secretariat,” said Senaratne. A Teak cultivator, M. Y. Gunaratne noted that the Medawachchiya Forest Office has destroyed the Teak plantations in the District and they have made our hard work useless. We urge the authorities to allow us to cut down the remaining Teak trees. By the time, 25 or 30 thieves have cut down many trees from the Teak forest and we request the authorities and Government to help us by proving a proper and fair solution to this problem.
Meanwhile, when we inquired regarding the Teak forest allegations from the Acting Forest Officer of the Medawachchiya Forest Office, H. B. Cooray, noted that he is new to this forest office and I have been in this area for only about two weeks. However, after referring to the details, he noted that, according to the agreements regarding this event, the time to cut down the trees will be next year.
Also, the District Development Committee has no right to make decisions in this regard, as this Teak plantation belongs to the Forest Department. He further said that, if the department signs an agreement, they will consider all the aspects before comes to conclusion and decisions will be taken according to it. Accordingly, a request letter with the signatures of the Chairman of this Farmers' Committee and other farmers should be sent to the District Forest Officers of Anuradhapura District Forest Office and then, I will be able to conduct discussions and make decisions regarding the teak forest issue, he said.