Uproar against Circular Withdrawal…: Scare threatens huge forest land appropriation
By Ranmini Gunasekara
Around 500,000 hectares of forest land coming under the purview of the Department of Forest Conservation (DFC) will be destroyed, if Circular 5/2001 is removed, claimed Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice, Hemantha Withanage yesterday.
The circular was issued by the Ministry of Environment on 10 August 2001 in order to protect small forest patches previously managed by Divisional Secretariats, by transferring these areas to be managed and protected by the DFC.
However, the Ministry under the directive of the Government now plans to remove this circular, he claimed.
“This circular prevented the Divisional Secretariats from transferring the ownership of these areas to non-State entities at their own discretion. Therefore, these lands and the natural resources of these lands were protected under this Circular,” added Withanage.
Objecting to this decision, a number of activists and environmentalists gathered at the Ministry on 29 June, to urge the Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Sarath Wijesinghe not to proceed with this decision.
Convener of the Rainforest Protectors Organisation Jayantha Wijesinha told Ceylon Today yesterday at the demonstration that there was political pressure behind this push to remove this Circular.
“When we went there and asked Wijesinghe about this, he said that the Circular will not be removed but will most probably be amended. However, our stance was that no amendment is needed because there is an inter-Ministerial committee proposed through the Circular and that this can handle any land-related matters. If there are any specific requirements for lands, in that instance, this committee can address them, review, and potentially release land if there is any urgent land-related requirement. Therefore, there is absolutely no requirement to withdraw the Circular. From what we gathered from our conversation with him, it was the Ministry of Lands that was pushing for this, but the Ministry of Lands is also under the Minister of Environment S.M. Chandrasena,” Wijesinha claimed.
Meanwhile, Wijesinghe told Ceylon Today that a meeting in this regard will be convened today (1). “We will be having a discussion with the Minister of Environment today. We need to take a policy decision on this,” he added.