30 July, 2021

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President’s ‘Conversation With The Village’ A Devastating Blow To The Wild Elephants, Leopards & Forests  

By Rajasinghe Bandara

Dr Rajasinghe Bandara

With ‘Conversation with the Village’ (Gama samaga Pilisandara), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given a ‘Green light’ to the villagers for chena type cultivation (Hain Govithan) which could lead to destroy a massive area of Island’s green space including the forests grown freely during the 30 year long civil war because the villagers claim they had been living and farming there for a long time and fled to other arears during the war. In fact, those who genuinely lived there, for a long time, returned to their traditional villagers soon after the war, about 10 years ago. For example, Sinhalese villagers in Vavuniya, Padaviya, Horowupothana.

Beauty and Tranquillity of the catchment area of a lake in Vavuniya

Do villagers tell the truth to the president? if they do, there must be evidence like permanent houses, grown coconut trees etc. In most cases those people had previously encroached (occupied or cultivated without permits) lands even in the catchment areas of the reservoirs and lakes such as Kala Veva or even in the protected forests or forest reserves. Some of those lands were parts of historical sites. There are thousands of examples to prove this. On one occasion they were requesting from Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa to construct a road which may well cross the elephant corridor in Thimbiliyakada. 

On the Independence Day celebration, 04th February, I watched on a news channel, people in the tourism industry, in the South, holding a news conference to protect Dahaiyagala elephant corridor. They claim some people have already started encroaching and destroying the reserve. Which is the only safe passage for the elephants to move between several national parks in the area. Wildlife and forest conservation officers have a duty to protect them because they are sensitive to protect remaining forest cover, endangered wildlife, to minimise human-elephant conflict, and as well as to maintain a sustainability of the economy.

When president instruct the officers to take immediate actions or take no action to prosecute the villagers, they become helpless because they need to have meticulous planning to address those issues. At Haldomulla in Haputhale district, when officer asked ‘Sir, we need circulars to implement it’, Mr Rajapaksa said, ‘Take my words as circulars, I’m the executive president’ No doubt he has enormous powers with the 20th amendment. In fact, the president’s duty should be leading the officers to set up protocols to make fair judgments while minimising damage to the environment.

Reborn jungle in the catchment area of Madukanda Lake

Sri Lanka recorded highest number of elephants’ deaths in the world, 407, in 2020, due to human elephant conflict, just a year after Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the president. In the same year 122 people were killed in the conflict. This figure is alarming because previous annual average was 272 elephants’ deaths and 85 human victims. According to Times of India, Sri Lanka also ranked number two globally after India where highest number of human deaths reported due to human-elephant conflict. 

In 2019, our country recorded highest number of elephant deaths, 361, since independence in 1948. This shows, year after year the figure is rising despite the public outcry over the human-elephant conflict and the deforestation.   

As an endangered species, leopards have been listed in the Red Data Book since 2008, means now they are on the brink of extinction. Despite the wake-up calls to the government with the death of extremely rare Black Panther, last May, in 2020, 13 leopards were reported killed. Most of them died after being trapped in the snares including the beautiful, young black panther. The leopard population in Sri Lanka is around 900.  How long they are going to survive? Leopards are roaming in Sri Lanka because their habitats have been destroyed and they enter villages in search of foods and kill domestic dogs, even cats. It is another sad conflict between villagers and the wild animals. As far as the tourism industry is concerned, elephants and leopards are treasures of Sri Lanka.

Despite numerous media revelations and the constants reminders on the television channels, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been keeping his blind eye on the tragedy of the wildlife. Therefore, I published a detailed article, covering all aspects of the wildlife, on Sri Lanka Guardian, on 17 July 2020, with the title,

‘Forgotten Black Panther and President Gotabaya’s blind eye on the tragedy of the wildlife’

As an educator, with my local and international experience, I suggested effective solutions to the president to address the human-elephant conflict. I quote them bellow:

‘’It is evident all efforts of the current and previous governments failed to bring effective solutions to human-elephant conflict because they did not try to treat the root cause. The root cause is the shrinking wildlife habitats with human activities including government development projects and settlement schemes such as ‘Gam Udava’. There are straight forward solutions:

* President Gotabaya should set up a taskforce and consult experts in the field, representatives of the villagers and the interested parties who have passion and vision about the solutions.

* With immediate effect, the president should ban any form of further destruction of jungles and forests.

* Jungles grown freely during the 30-year long civil war must be protected from the villagers and the farmers.

* The farmers and the villagers, by the habitats of wild animals including elephants, should be resettled where they are safe and able to make living.

* From now on solutions to homelessness or housing for the ever-increasing population should be building Chinese and European style apartment buildings even at village level to save the lands and forests for future generations. Any project like ‘Gam Udawa’ must not be the solution.

* Any people who have had encroached the catchment areas of the lakes and reservoirs such as Kala Veva should be removed and resettled for the benefit of the agriculture, wildlife and the future generations.

* Tougher laws should be introduced to punish those who destroy nature and wildlife.’’

After the publication, in his throne speech at the opening of the parliament last year he (Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa) pledged to bring a solution to the conflict and at two consecutive meetings he instructed to the relevant ministers and the secretaries to find a solution within two years. But, since then the problem has become worse as you can see from the figures, I mentioned at the beginning.  Instead of finding solutions, the government has come forward to help big companies including multi- national companies and tycoons by removing three circulars that protected more than 700,000 hectares (1,730,000 acres).  

The forest (700,000 hectares) labelled as ‘Other State Forests’ (OSFs), which are not classified as protected areas but account for five percent of the island nation’s remaining forest cover which is less than 16 percent.

Sri Lanka’s OSFs are areas managed by the Department of Forest Conservation (DFC) but are not a part of areas such as National Parks, Wildlife Reserves or Elephant Sanctuaries. It has been estimated more than 70% of the wild elephants live outside of the protected forests,  

With the removal of three circulars, particularly 05/2001, control over OSFs has been handed back to Sri Lanka’s local authorities: District and Divisional Secretariats. This was reported in Daily News on 17 December 2020.

Although there are island wide protests, demanding a sustainable solution to the human-elephant conflict and the deforestation, the government is reluctant to listen. People from Valsapugala have been on a Satyagraha nearly a month demanding to protect the Elephant sanctuary. Today, indigenous community (Vaddha Community) leader Uruvarige Vannila Attho filed a petition, through his lawyers, at Colombo high court to prevent the government giving their traditional lands, 7500 acres, to big companies to grow maize. Those jungles are integral parts of their livelihood.

I doubt whether the government and its advisors including ‘Viyathmaga’ (‘Professionals for a Better Future’) understand the balance between development and the nature/environment. With the removal of government circulars to support big companies how long our forests and the wildlife going to last. Recently president appointed Dr Anil Jasinghe as the secretary of the ministry of environment. He became popular among the citizens with his efficient handling of Covid-19, during the first wave of the pandemic, as the director general of health services. He worked extremely hard even without proper sleep, appearing on television and advising people etc. But he has no clue about addressing environmental issues, which I noticed during a recent television interview, called Mawatha, His role is now not more than ‘dead man walking’ as various pressure groups expecting solutions from him for the burning issues. 

Here is an amazingly simple example from London to save green space for future generations. When I moved to London, I was surprised when I saw the huge parks, heaths (undeveloped lands, almost like jungles) and the green spaces, all over. It is known as a green city with over 8 million trees, the world’s largest urban forest. Many parks are bigger than 500 acres and some are bigger than thousand acres. For example, extent of Richmond Park is 2,360 acres, Bushy Park 1099 acres, Hampstead Heath is around 800 acres. Richmond Park, originally a deer-hunting park, still has 300 Red Deer and 350 fallow deer. The deer in the park are wild animals. These are the breathing spaces for people to relax and enjoy. They consist of lakes with waterbirds like swans, flower gardens, manmade water falls etc. In addition to the locals millions of tourists come to enjoy these parks and heaths.

London is a densely populated area with 9,304,000 residents in 2020, and there is a massive demand for houses or living spaces, yet no British government allows the people to compromise the green space (which is 47% in total) to meet the demand for housing. Lands do not grow! To meet the need for housing for the ever-increasing population, London as well as other countries in Europe build more and more apartment buildings, skyscrapers and tower buildings even at village levels to save the lands for future generation. To prevent overcrowding some other big cities have been built in remote areas as an alternative to living in London like Milton Keynes. Why Sri Lankan government cannot learn from those experience to protect the catchment area of the lakes and save the remaining green spaces for our future generations and the wild animals.  

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    The trouble in this “Dialogue with the Village” is two-fold (1) The President is on a “Tour” of building his “Image” in the country and (2) There is a “Need” to address some of the problems faced by the villages especially the people who are dependent on cultivation for their lively-hood. The No, (2) is entangled in a complex situation with “Conservation Policies” and “Development Projects”, in that, Government Authorities and the village populations, both do not know what the limits are, namely specified as “Conservation” and “Development” boundaries are. There is yet another “NEW” game player who has entered the “Battle Field” and that is the No (3) the “Land Grabbing Mafia” baked by the “Local Politicians” and their “Goons”. The President instead of studying the “Complexity” of the problem, venture out to seek “Cheap Publicity” with an “Entourage” of Media and Public Servants to establish his “HIGHNESS”. That “Mission” is very well demonstrated with the type of “Directives” given and the “Worble Orders” (My word is the circular & I am the Executive President) that “Erupt” instantaneously without batting an eyelid over the complexities of both “Conservation” (including forest, wildlife) and the “Development” (including agriculture, industries and lively-hood of people) He must FIRST stop this “EGO Building Private Venture”.

    • 0
      1

      Simon@
      .
      The very same Nandasena a year ago so, paid a visit to RMV – if you would check the place today, nothing is changed in that highly corrupted palce.
      :
      The very same Nandsena was reported to have visited BIA and was displayed him to have oberved all the short comings, routinized corruption activities, routinzed crimes and all various kind of acts which people with some knowledge would not agree with, but what happened. – USUAL modus operandi of the very same authorities continues.
      .
      Now they waste millions for dram called – Dialogue with the Village”ගම සමග පිලිසන්දරක් “as if the state funds being wasted would be COMING from their Medamulana cave. The truth is people across the country struggle for their 3 meals, if a leader has a brain the size of a mustard seed, he should rather bring solutions to the poverty in this country.
      Besides, these funds belong to PEOPLE because they are tax payers funds.
      Please listen to the video below….. so called Dialogue with the village has only created the unexpected, becuase incumbent president behaves like a pimpy before a rural audience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI6rhSjINcQ

  • 5
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    continued… I was living in Singapore for a while during the ’80s. On many occasions, the cab driver with whom I have built a friendship, stop by to show me a “Person” who stood by the side of his car (no driver) and making notes on a note pad. On the first occasion, (could be around 5.30 am) I asked who that “Person” was. The cab driver told me “He is our Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yei”. What is a “PM” doing by “HIMSELF” at this time of the day? “He is making notes on the growth, maintenance, and what needs to be done. Next, he will summon all the officials, including the labour force involved in that particular area and discuss “HIS OBSERVATIONS” and give “Directives” and also “PULL UP” those not complying and discharging the responsibilities entrusted to them.” What a way that PM had “BUILT” that country? It is a small country compared to our country and I don’t expect our President to roam around in that fashion. But he must “KNOW” the “MECHANISMS” of delivering his responsibilities. Another good “Local Example” was our Late Mr Susil Moonasinghe who was the Chairman of CTB. I have SEEN him at the “BUS STOPS” and “BUS STANDS” by “HIMSELF” at around 4-5 a.m.

    • 4
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      Dear S,
      Yes that shows the difference of LKY who genuinely wants to privately serve the country’s problems as against the media circus here to gain cheap popularity.
      More than that there are subtle underlying motives. One is to project the image that he can solve problems to cover up that he has failed in the more important areas of economy and health and administration.
      Secondly see:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI6rhSjINcQ&feature=youtu.be
      This is very subtle. It projects a picture that you villagers (the backbone of the party) are dependent on me and you will forever have that idea of an inferiority complex which will make you see me as your saviour. This is new psychological spin in political thinking..

  • 11
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    Thank you so much for this article.
    I have been impatiently waiting for days for someone to write an article against deforestation to extend my support to Gampaha District Forest Officer, Devani Jayatilleke for her single-handed fight to protect the “amazingly rediscovered” IUCN red-listed giant “Crudia Zeylanica” tree from the “government”.
    .
    https://varunamultimedia.xyz/videos/btv/vmtube/news-specials/99-180051_-08-02-21/play.html?1
    .
    Sri Lanka should be proud of this “one patriotic Forest Officer who knows every tree in the area designated to her”.
    It is funny to learn that the Department of Forest Conservation has launched an “investigation to punish her” for “bravely stepping forward” to protect the “Crudia Zeylanica“ heritage tree from the government.
    I vehemently condemn the derogatory remarks made by the Minister of Wildlife & Forest Conservation, C.B. Ratnayake, in Parliament against Devani Jayatilleke. The Minister proved that his portfolio should be changed to “MINISTER OF WILDLIFE & FOREST DESTRUCTION”.

    • 9
      1

      Although it is horrifying to see that we have to protect our environment from the GOVERNMENT, it is promising to see the entire country, especially Maha Sangha, Biology Teacher & Nature-lover Tissa Jananayake, Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella, Environmentalist Dr. Jagath Gunawardene, Prof. Patrick Ratnayake and many other green activists coming forward to protect our “26-foot giant Crudia Zeylanica World Heritage Tree” from the government.
      Thanks to our brave Maha Sangha who visited the location, chanted Pirith and wrapped a Saffron Robe around the tree, the “Crudia Zeylanica tree in Daraluwa” is now “ordained as a Monk” and, therefore, nobody dared to cut it.
      .
      https://varunamultimedia.xyz/videos/btv/vmtube/news-specials/hiru-news169999_-10-02-21/play.html?1
      .
      https://varunamultimedia.xyz/videos/btv/vmtube/news-specials/crudia-zeylanica156895_-11-02-21/play.html?1
      .
      Tissa Jananayake (a very informative clip)
      https://varunamultimedia.xyz/videos/btv/vmtube/news-specials/tissa-jananayake227310_-12-02-21/play.html?1
      .
      (Avantha’s cartoon)
      http://www.ada.lk/cartoon/2021-02-11/14-374909
      .
      Since December 2019, I have written many comments against the gigantic deforestation in our country, quoting Global Forest Watch data and local news reports.
      The President, the Prime Minister and their cohorts all should know that what they are doing is DESTROYING the LUNGS OF OUR MOTHERLAND.
      Sri Lankan Government’s reckless deforestation is a violation of human rights for a healthy environment for its citizens.

    • 2
      1

      Ooooops…… the correct way to write the botanical name of this tree is; “Crudia zeylanica”. (The rule is to start the specific epithet always with a lower case letter.)

    • 4
      1

      Hey….. what happened to the last paragraph of my comment? I distinctly remember adding it to this comment. This is the missing part:-
      .
      On a separate matter, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the government is engaging in an ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM against the Vedda community by destroying and encroaching the lands occupying them immemorial. I understand the Vedda-Chief Wannilaththo has filed a court case against the government. We all should extend our support to the Vedda community too, in this most dangerous time of our history.

      • 2
        3

        Hey Chimpi, Hey….. what happened to the last paragraph of my comment? I distinctly remember adding it to this comment.

        TFN: just like when you were manufactured, at the last moment how the machine malfunctioned and churned you our without a brain, CT also deliberately left your last para out. Its ok, don’t worry too much.

  • 1
    3

    At the rate some people produce like rabbits they have to be accommodated in this tiny country. Either these people should be forced to practice birth control or introduce birth control to elephants.
    These dumbos who talk about environment do not try to understand why people risk their lives and settle down in these areas and engage in farming. Also, these dumbos (some who sit in A/C rooms) do not appreciate the contribution these people who sleep in a hut made on a tree top make to food security of the country. Elephants do not grow food crops, they destroy crops grown by farmers. Elephants are useful only to show them to foreigners and get few $$$s and take them in processions. How many people have to sacrifice their lives and people have to go through hell for this?

    Long time ago there were elephants in Colombo. Who killed or chased them?

  • 3
    1

    The President’s ‘Conversation with the Village’ and on the spot decision is very foolish and derogating step. It is one man show and micromanagement.he does not have the necessary data to make on the spot decisions.
    President should be left with only macro policy decisions , implementation should be left to the officials.the country has an array of elected officials to take decision s.
    A system with necessary checks should be installed and closely monitored.

  • 2
    0

    We are all aware that a majority of SL politicians are uneducated & self serving. For them, it is the vote to stay in power to maximise wealth earning opportunities is the objective. For the poor villager who grows crops for a living, the need is for land for the survival of his family. The ecology system, beauty of the environment & the existence of wild animals in their habitat is of little interest to the average citizen. In fact, in this much hyped Buddhist country, animal cruelty by trapping & poaching, as well as, ‘domesticating’ wild animals like elephants, instead of allowing them to roam freely, are not given a second thought but considered as normal. I remember Premadas jnr. championing wild life conservation in the 90s with his ‘elephant watch’ programme. Wonder what happened to it, now that he is in a better position to conduct the campaign.

    Tourists from developed countries today are concerned about the environment, fair distribution of wealth from tourism & overall sustainability. Wild life & natural beauty is one of the attractions of SL but an abundance of luxury hotels & golf courses in nature reserves are not ‘sustainable tourism’ & unlikely to be promoted by international tourist organisations. Highways & multi story buildings are not necessarily a sign of development & prosperity, which the govt. & the oligarchs do not seem to understand, although, the average man on the street may be convinced.

  • 1
    2

    Champa: I appreciate your concerns and the valuable comments on this subject. We are quick enough to point fingers at the politician and that is in a sense unavoidable because of their idiosyncrasies. We have however completely forgotten another segment of the Public Administration who are responsible for this large-scale destruction of the environment. In this particular case of the Highway construction, haven’t the “Professionals” (Enginers, Environmentalists) taken note of this “World Heritage Tree”? Haven’t they issued an “Environmental Assessment Certificate”; a “Design of the Roadway” etc. before beginning the work? Shouldn’t they too be questioned on their “Negligence” and “Irresponsibility” for overlooking the “Existence” and the “Need” to “PRESERVE” this tree? This is where my story of Lee Kuan Yie of Singapore becomes relevant. The “Higher Authorities” (Minister, Ministerial Secretary) should have studied the relevant “MAPS” and “Proposals”. Why waited all this while to “CREATE” a big “SHOW” and now to make this tree “Sacred” by “dressing” it with “Saffron Clothes”? Even “Politics” have come into the scene. No wonder all such social “Shows” take place in the land of “Miracle of Asia”.

  • 2
    0

    Many thanks, Mr Rajasinghe Bandara,
    .
    I’ve looked at the “Black Panther article” that you wrote last year as well. A number of useful things have also got said in the comments, by Champa, srikrish, and Raj-UK. Yes, it is unfortunate that we have to pay heed to the egos of politicians etc, but let’s make sure that Devani Jayatilleke’s contribution is marked out for special mention.
    .
    Some religious mumbo-jumbo was inevitable, and for once I half agree with Eagle Eye. We humans have been breeding too much. Hasn’t even the COVID taught us yet that although we humans uniquely exhibit certain traits that “animals” do not, we’ve got to see ourselves as just one life-form more that has evolved, and stop destroying other species?
    .
    I, myself, would be pretty lost in a jungle, but that is something that I see as my limitation; EE, objectively looked at an elephant is worth much more than me!

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