Vedda chieftain Uru Warige Wannila Aththo and the Center for Environmental Justice (ECJ) today filed a writ petition against the massive environmental destruction taking place in the Galwalayaya government forest reserve near the village of Maha Oya, Pollebedda in the Ampara District.
In January the Chieftan had visited the area to inspect the destruction of hundreds of acres of the state forest by large scale dozers and machinery,
The writ petition filed in the Court of Appeal is seeking an immediate restraining order against the move to take over the aboriginal homelands and hand them over to major companies for maize cultivation.
The Minister of Wildlife, the Secretary to the Ministry of Environment, the Mahaweli Development Authority, the Directors General of the Wildlife and Forest Conservation Departments have been named as respondents in the petition.
The petitioners, including Uruwarige Wannilaeththo, have pointed out to the Court of Appeal that the Mahaweli Development Authority (UDA) has taken over more than 5,000 acres of forest, which its people have been using for hundreds of thousands of years for their livelihoods, and is therefore now at the risk of losing their livelihoods to large-scale maize cultivation.
The petitioners have pointed out to the court that the companies that acquired the plots of land had illegally filled and closed the canals supplying water to the Rambaken Oya, causing great environmental damage. Therefore, the petitioners have asked the Court of Appeal to issue a writ order restraining the activities of the respondents immediately.
“If these trees can talk, they will talk about the destruction that has been done to these trees. Many of our generations lived in the mountain ranges of Pollebedda, the cold Vanni and Horikana. But now they have lost their right to live. Land ownership has been given to companies from foreign countries. This is wrong and it must be stopped. If not, I have made all arrangements to go to court together with the Environmental Justice Center” Wannilaeththo said at the time he visited the area.
It was revealed during the earlier inspection tour that the Mahaweli had divided nearly 5,000 acres of forest land in that area into 15 parts and handed it to 15 companies with the consent of the government.
The people who were present at the event had pointed out to the tribal leaders and others that the clearing of the lands sold in such a manner would result in massive environmental destruction as well as damage to the catchment areas of the Rambaken Oya Reservoir.