President Gotabaya Rajapaksa today demanded forest officials to withdraw cases filed against those who had entered areas gazetted as protected by the Department forest and wildlife conservation and deforested the land for chena farming. The President asked the officials to take steps to withdraw the cases during another ‘Meet the village’ program held in Hambegamuwa today (30).
“Now new circulars have been issued. Therefore withdraw the legal cases filed under the old circulars and allow those occupying the lands to cultivate,” the President said.
However, according to Attorney-at-Law Ravindranath Dabare, the President cannot order any authority to withdraw legal cases already filed. He questioned as to what would become of the rule of law if this is allowed.
“Parks such as Udawalawe, Yala, Lunugamvehera, Galoya, Maduroya, Kumana and Lahugala either belong to the Monaragala district or border it. Also, all these parks are surrounded by forest lands belonging to the Department of Forest Conservation,” an environmental activist in the area noted.
According to him a large number of chena farmers, various individuals and various companies have taken over these wildlife and forest reserves, including politicians.
With this decision of the President not even the remaining forests that have been gazetted and protected will be saved. Already due to government pressure the department released nearly 53 000 acres of forest land in the Monaragala district. In such circumstances what the President is now doing is a grave environmental crime” he added.