By Pabodha Hettige –
How justifiable it is to turn a blind eye on the obliteration of Sri Lankan environmental resources? The destruction of Sinharaja, a UNESCO world heritage and Anawilundawa, a Ramsar wetland is one of the biggest hullabaloos apart from the political clutter Sri Lanka is currently experiencing.
The ongoing road development of Neluwa-Lankagama road that is under scrutiny rang the alarm bells with the possible destructive impact it could leave on Sinharaja rain forest, which is protected under the National Heritage and Wilderness Area Act.
The road, which has gotten the approval of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being constructed with the military patronage. It seems an environmental feasibility study needed prior to any construction has disappeared into thin air yet the project is ongoing. Rather than sniffing future votes and establishing good faith for the underlying exclusive Rajapaksa political gains, a president is expected to initiate sustainable development goals.
This initiative is further approved by the residents of Lankagama, one of whom even having the nerve to pronounce that the environmentalists are a vicious force who hinders a country’s development. (Not to mention he could be a clown from the faithful Rajapaksa travelling circus making constant appearances, than being an original dweller of Lankagama) This is nothing but an extension to the statement “Why do we need Oxygen”, that was heard prior to the general election.
However, upon a closer look, as responsible citizens, their demand should have been pressing the government to relocate them to an area with better infrastructure.
In fact, the former President Maithripala Sirisena is said to have signed a gazette calling for the annexation of 13 proposed forest reserves to Sinharaja to spread out the protected area as a counter measure to the possible environmental hazards that could have occurred in the future. But, it has not yet been brought to the limelight.
It is a similar story with the clearance of Anawilundawa wetland, where the government could ultimately toss the ball to the court of an entirely unrelated individual or with all pun intended, convict the bulldozer that caused the destruction, reminding us of the famous decision of King Kekille.
Yet, we could still expect the majority not to realize that a corrupt regime thrives by pulling the wool over somebody’s eyes.
Is it a lick ass ideology?
It is evident that all the felonies committed during Rajapaksa regime has received less or no significant criticism from the general public, while even the slightest tick bite was made the government’s responsibility during the yahapalana regime. The lack of public outcry regarding the two aforementioned cases signifies it.
It is an anticlimax that many social media heroes and representatives of various social tiers, who rallied against the deforestation of Wilpattu for resettlement, are conveniently turning a blind eye towards Sinharaja and Anawilundawa destructions. The patriotic slogans of “Save Sinharaja/Anawilundawa” have hardly materialized and the lack of public reaction portrays nothing but their allegiance and reverence to their preferred political ideals. Is it the obviously wicked conscience or could it even be the enslaved mindset, would be the next point to ponder. It is not to be dismissed that, the freedom of expression was respected and upheld under the Yahapalana regime, unlike the oppressive Rajapaksa rule.
One could even construe that more than the desire to save Wilpattu, the public outcry boiled down to the dislike for the individual accused of the destruction. If that’s the case the deep rooted hypocrisy, religious, racial and political discrimination seem to have played a key role, overpowering the objective of preserving the environment.
However, unnoticed by many, Wilpattu is back in the spotlight with the scheme to expand the land for an aloe vera plantation project. The venture is said to hinder an elephant pass and destroy the catchment areas.
Should we let this happen since it’s done under the preferred regime of 6.9 million Rajapaksa voters or should we embrace the fair and just conscience, would be something interesting to see.
A nudge to the memory
It’s not contested that the worst environmental transgressions during the past few decades have happened under Rajapaksa regime. If the Sri Lankan public can still recall the massive scale baby elephant smuggling by killing mother elephants, it can be classified as one of the most heinous environmental crimes.
Baby elephants became a status symbol among many who acquired wealth during Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, evidently under the patronage of the Rajapaksas. Even the current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is said to have kept two baby elephants in his possession, which he later handed over to the zoo through the then Minister of Wildlife of Yahapalana regime, Vasantha Senanayaka.
The public outcries regarding these events were minimalistic at the time, that the Rajapaksas allowed the trade to be carried out according to their whims and fancies. It in fact aggravated to a point where, the Buddhist Monk Uduwe Dhammaloka thera keeping a baby elephant at infamous Alanmethiniyaramaya, Colombo, was furnishing the biggest joke to the nation that the baby elephant was abandoned in his temple just like a puppy was being abandoned on the roadside. Such were the yarns we had to listen to while the Rajapaksa henchmen like Niraj Roshan alias Ali Roshan roamed the national parks and forests in “Defenders” to hunt for baby elephants.
It’s a tragedy that many Sri Lankans are suffering from a temporary memory loss at the expiry of just half a decade to overlook these issues and let Rajapaksas make their own very merry dance party.
If we could shed the politically enslaved mindset and be savvy about the climatic changes, the disappearance of ground water resources, destruction of urban wetlands and forest patches, at least there would be certain optimism left for the future.