26 September, 2022


The Deforestation In Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve & Environment Law In Sri Lanka

By Umesha Satharasinghe, Methmi Perera and Upuli Amarasinghe – 

The concentration on the deforestation and the conservation of forests in Sri Lanka can reflect to an extensive forum regarding the several deforestation activities which reported from time to time from several parts of country. In this research, it has mainly focusing on the deforestation in Sinharaja. As a last viable area of the country, Sinharaja can be considered as the vamoosing leftover of tropical wet zone evergreen forest with more than 60% endemic species in Sri Lanka which became a world heritage recorded in UNESCO. Though this foresting area managed and directed under the authority of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development and under various number of rules and regulations and principles but still the issue of deforestation has not solved. Investigations and exposed encroachments, land mining, gem mining, illegal cultivation processes and firing inside Sinharaja area has become common sight nowadays. Development takeover outdoors the land indirectly strikes the area through development of roads which posteriorly exposed entering routes into the forest area and ease up illegal logging and removal of the resources with illegal mining also masquerading imminences. Against such a backdrop many projects are underway by opening a blind eye to the prevailing environmental crisis. Throughout the research it aims to educate the value of a World Heritage Sinharaja Forest Reserve and inform about the loopholes in Sri Lankan Environmental Law.


The deforestation can be pointed out as a global threat these days. This process refers to the diminish the forest areas across the world. This greatly expeditated by human activities since 1960. In the current Sri Lankan situation of the deforestation according to the statistics forest cover 16.5% in 2019 down form in 29.7%. In the past Sri Lanka is a country with zones of high biodiversity. Sri Lanka is one of the 34 recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world and has the highest biodiversity per unit area of any Asian country. In local situation we can recognize the forests like, Sinharaja, Wnathawilluwa, Anathawilluwa, Muthurajawela, Wilpattu etc.

The deforestation of current local hot topic is regarding the Sinharaja forest reserve. This is a primary tropical rain forest, more than 60% of the trees are regional and many of them are rare. It is a home to 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of animals. This Sinharaja rain forest was designated a world heritage in 1988. The current threat of deforestation is hotel projects inside the Sinharaja rain forest. And the major problem is despite the efforts of the human community to express their views and because of that right to freedom of expression is being revoked. This proves environmental laws and human rights law are not enforceable in present. To some extent to prevent this problem we hope to educate the relevant authorities the value of forest reservations in Sri Lanka and to inform about the areas where environmental law in Sri Lanka needs to be improve. It is benefited for the entire human community and for the environmental object.

Background To The Study 

The Sinharaja Rainforest reserve is considered as a World Heritage by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), currently it is about being called as a Heritage destruction which is done in a way more connected with a political myopia. But there is a possibility to stop the huge desertification of the most gigantic rainforest in Sri Lanka. The major issue that caused at first is that the investigation finds that the authorities are unaware of the deforestation of the boundaries in the Sinharaja which is in the year of 2016, it has been five years and the contemporary situation records that The Department of Wildlife Conservation has decided to acquire privately-owned lands with forest cover, surrounding the Sinharaja Forest Reserve to the government. According to the spokesperson of the Department of Wildlife Conservation it is figured that 400 hectares have been taken into privately owned lands with the forest cover around the reserve. And regarding the findings related to the issue it is found that the Wildlife Conservation has no provisions to prevent the deforestation under the forest Ordinance. In every way it was mentioned by the different authorities that the safety of the World Heritage will be ensured. Is it true? The study is based on the fact whether the safety of the Sinharaja rainforest has been taken into consideration or the myopia is continuing. The topic of deforestation of Sinharaja has been under discussion throughout the years, it is quite disappointing to know that still the administration as well the public officers who are under the examination of the issue are not been able to figure the right laws to protect the mother nature.


What is deforestation? The term deforestation has different definitions given by various scholars and institutions but simply deforestation can be identified as forests which were chopped down and burned and then clear the land by dozing. If this issue elaborated in Sri Lanka, as one of the biodiversity hot spot and at the same time home to the large number of endemic species and natural beauty become more prior than other states. Specially this research conduct regarding the deforestation in Sinharaja rainforest. As mega development projects such as highway constructions, mega city and other sustainable development projects cut down many trees and clear foresting areas from land of Sri Lanka. Generally, over centuries Sinharaja rainforest have been utilized by inhabitants at the peripheral subsistence. The process of forest utilization is increasing rapidly in Sinharaja forest coverage area threatening the existence of tropical lives. Focuses on both spatial and temporal aspects of forest resource utilization, trends in forest resource utilization, policy interventions in forest management and its impact on forest resource utilization by the peripheral communities of Sinharaja. This forest coverage of Sinharaja is confronting different degrees of threats due to human disturbances including habitat destruction due to cardamom and tea cultivation, the land degradation because of illegal gem mining, extraction of forest resources, illicit timber felling, collection of non woody products, setting fire to the forest and grasslands and the excessive usage of pesticides in plantations. Therefore, it is assumed that the population size of these endemic species is extremely low. In relation to age, it is noticed that the young generation is less interested in forest resource. utilization than the middle-aged group. Additionally, the timely changes in policy interventions in forest resource utilization focus on community-based forest management. All these measures should be practical and well organized. Policy interventions for this still seem ineffective and impractical. Therefore, immediate conservation actions are recommended. Specific attention must be paid over restoration of regarded areas with native fast growing forest species and establishment of habitat corridors to bridge the neighboring forest patches to yield space and resources to sustain the minimum viable populations.

Sinharaja rainforest reserve could get negatively affected to its Outstanding Universal Value of the Property, even though the road development was under temporary suspension by the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, according to the contemporary situation it is recorded that there are different kinds of activities taking place in deserting the gigantic rainforest Sinharaja. According to the 1972 Convention of concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage also known as the World Heritage Convention where each party identifies that “the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation, and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage… situated on its territory, belongs primarily to the state” which is certainly clear that each state party must ensure that “operative and active measures are taken” which can be found in the Article 4 and 5 of the World Heritage Convention.

After receiving the aforementioned information, the World Heritage Centre transmitted it to the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO for verification, in accordance with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The World Heritage Centre is awaiting feedback from the Sri Lankan authorities.

About it the Operational guidelines also specify the Environmental Impact Assessments, Assessments which must be carried out for the development projects planned within the World Heritage Property in this case according to the situation in Sri Lanka, the spokesperson of the Department of Wildlife Conservation mentions that activities which are done regarding the development projects are done by ensuring the protection of the World Heritage Land. Thus, it makes doubtful to identify whether the authorities are having a blind eye towards the issue of deserting the Sinharaja Rainforest or there is a powerful barrier which clearly defend them to raise their voices towards this issue. EIA as well as Heritage Impact Assessments or the Strategic Environmental Assessments are the clear out observation assessments carried out prior to any development project done and, in a condition, where the World sees the deforestation of Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve but not the administrative bodies is quite a devastating news to know. these assessments are followed by the IUCN World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessments and that it is always requested to the Sri Lankan authorities to submit these kinds of studies or assessments as a matter of emergency as a review of the ICUN, an Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee before any construction work is restarted.

Laws Operated In Sri Lanka Compared To Other Countries 

It is well known fact that the 99.5% of the forests in Sri Lanka belongs to the State and the management as well as its protection is under the government ministries, the Forest Department fall into two categories,

1. The Forest Department

2. Department of Wildlife Conservation

Since the day Buddhism was brought down to Sri Lanka, people and the communities were aware that cutting down the trees to make it as timber will harm the lives of the future generations, the kings imposed various kinds of regulations to restrict cutting down of the forests whenever they like. In the Contemporary situation the Constitution has number of legislatures which identifies the deforestation of the forests as an offense. The environment protection is a duty, as it is recognized in the Chapter VI of the Constitution of 1978,

“directive principles of state policies and fundamental duties”

The Article 27(14) mentions that the duty of the state to protect, preserve and improve the environment as it benefits the community whereas the Article 28 imposes the duty on citizens, which means the public to protect the nature and conserve its riches.

It is recognized that over the years there have been attention on protecting the environment and imposing rules and regulations as the Environmental Act No 47 of 1980 as it provides enactment to any person who deems to pose threats to the environment. The Timber Ordinance No 24 for the purpose of protecting the reserves like Sinharaja rainforest reserve cab be identified over the past years. When compared with countries like Brazil, America, Australia can we accept that the laws operate in Sri Lanka are effective?

It is an accepted fact that Deforestation and degradation is a complex area that every country need to work out, and that Sri Lanka has also taken several steps to address towards these problems by establishing various national parks, reserves, and sanctuaries. Even though Sinharaja Rainforest was considered as a World Heritage in the 1988 it can be seen in the present situation that the reserve is in danger. The following picture shows how a massive deforestation is done.

Even though Sri Lanka has various types of regulations, it is the duty of the administrative bodies to impose and regulate it, in countries like Brazil, measure taken to protect Amazon rainforest is by launching a project named, Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA), Brazil’s deforestation area was averaged 19,508 square kilometers (km2) per year during the decade of 1996-2005 and it dropped to 67% with 6451km2. With further analysis during the years, it was found that in the year 2015 Brazil’s global warming was nearly 1billion tons which was a huge challenge to Brazil. It is recognized that the Brazil’s National Institution cannot protect its World Heritage alone, which certainly mentions that a huge support from private enterprises and the public is essentially needed.

Taking USA as an example, In the United States, there are various types of laws and acts which supports in protecting the Endangered Species as well as the Wilderness, the acts like:

1. Endangered Species Act

2. The Wilderness Act

3. The Lacey Act and the Roadless Rule

Are used as regulations to support in protecting the forest resources and stop illegal activities done in the market. These are some of the significant Laws and Regulations in the US:

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – a Forest Service site with information about The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

National Forest Management Act (NFMA) – a Forest Service site with information about The National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA).

Environmental Appeals and Litigation – a Forest Service site with information about agency land management planning and appeals.

United States Code, Title 16, Chapter 2 – National Forests – laws governing the establishment and administration of the National Forests. This is a link to Cornell Law Institute’s Legal Information Institute.

The Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 – policy and purpose of the National Forests to provide for multiple-use and sustained yield of products and services. This is a link to Cornell Law Institute’s Legal Information Institute.

And as laws against deforestation, in 2008 Congress passed amendments to the Lacey Act, a century-old law that combats trafficking in unlawful plants and wildlife, and thus closed the entire U.S. market to illegally sourced wood. If effectively implemented, the Lacey Act will: Reduce prohibited logging and its costly impacts.

Criticisms Against Deforestation 

Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s last relatively untouched remanent of tropical humid evergreen forest. This deforestation is bad news for the entire biodiversity, climate and for the environment as well as the release of greenhouse gases and it affected for the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka. Mainly Sri Lanka is an agricultural country in ancient times. Mainly every Asian country depends on the agriculture and it is a huge threat from the deforestation. Forests are an important part of the water cycle and It causes high temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns then the climate became drier. because of these major issues there are so many criticisms against the deforestation in Sinharaja rain forest. And it mainly affects for the country’s economy, it is a reason to the increase of the import costs. Because agriculture sector can become decrease. Mainly about this current matter of this Sinharaja rain forest destruction environmentalists warn that the ongoing work is a greater harm to the rich biodiversity in the forest. And Sri Lanka is one of the many recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world. In additionally, Sri Lanka is gaining high income from the tourism industry. The Sinharaja is a center of a tourism industry. So that’s why we must protect Sinharaja forest as a Sri Lankan human community. Because this provides great service to the Sri Lankan economy. And we have to think about the future of our country as well. So, the question is these are such biological systems destructive simply because of narrow advantages? The question arises. And the main problem is whether the law is enforced in this country or not? To a small country like Sri Lanka the reason for the environmental degradation is the rich environmental beauty and biodiversity is a serious concern. As a human we have a right to argue that. But unfortunately, due to the lack of justifiable rights. However, directive principles recognized the importance of the environment and protection of the environment and the protection of the citizens of the country. But the problem is, it cannot be enforced in court. According to this context, the judicial review mechanism that overturns arbitrary decisions made by government officials have aided the absence of environmental protection provisions in the constitution of Sri Lanka. Because of this major issue according to our point of view we will requesting extensions in the laws to protect the world heritage of our country.


The study of deforestation of the rainforest reserve made it clear that the public has a vigilant knowledge on the prevailing situation whereas it gave the chance to educate the future generation as well as the students who are studying in the field of law to acknowledge the loopholes in the environmental law, it can be make clear from the fact that the issue is continuing year by year as the relevant authorities as well as the law is not practical enough to solve the matters, Main aim of conducting this research study to make the public aware and acknowledged on unconventional stances and to take all necessitous steps for combatting these issues of deforesting while taking necessary steps and initial steps to enact new rules and regulations. Also, to amend contemporary laws about the deforestation and conservation of foresting areas by making aware relevant authorities and political parties. It is more common in the society that younger generation is not very interested in utilization and conservation of forest resources. This needs to be change. Younger generation which includes university undergraduates as well as secondary educating students and active social workers from various organizations should get involved in this matter. Further, the timely changes in policy interventions in forest resource utilization are needed mainly focus on community-based forest management. It must be certain to that all these measures and actions should be practical and well organized. When considering the situation in Sri Lanka, it seems that policy interventions for this matter still seem ineffective and impractical. To eradicate this issue immediate conservation actions are recommended. Contemporary legal actions must be change for rigorous punishments against the deforestation issue. Cutting down trees and clear those forest coverage areas should be amended to extend to lifetime imprisonment or compensations which exclude some higher values. Otherwise as a responsible community this issue cannot be eradicate or stop from the state. Specific attention must be paid over statutes specially on related on this deforestation matter. Those contemporary rules should be badly needed for amending purposes. Present government should pay their attention on this matter very seriously as we all are facing bad consequences from this issue as one group. Besides from it, as a responsible community we all can restoration of regarded areas with native fast growing forest species and establishment of valuable environment protecting species. It would be a great support to the environment of the establishment of habitat corridors to bridge the neighboring forest patches to yield space and resources to sustain the minimum viable populations. In this research study with the usage of effective methodologies which used here be able to get some valuable responses from the targeted community. Results which came out from them would provide great support when those matters came out for an effective and practical situation. Additionally, with the support of several other areas relating to this matter had provided some precise attention and made it more distinguishing to get solutions to the deforestation issue.


1. Analysis on Deforestation and Environmental Law in Sri Lanka


2. “Policies Aimed At Reducing Deforestation”. Intergovernmental panel on climate change. N.p., 2007. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

3. “Protecting the Amazon for Life”. world wild life. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/forests/solutions -to-deforestation/

4. S Forest Service


5. Environmental Protection through Judicial Review: The Sri Lankan Experience

Sabaragamuwa University Journal Volume 17 Number 1 February 2019 pp 15-23 ISSN 1391-3166; eISSN 2386-2041 http://dx.doi.org/10.4038/suslj.v17i1.7728

6. http://www.cea.lk/web/en/acts-regulations

7. Sinharaja Forest Reserve


8. http://www.RainforestProtectors.org, 2020. Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka – Environment News. [Online]

9. Available at: https://rainforestprotectors.wordpress.com/tag/sri-lanka-deforestation/

10. Kariyawasam, R., n.d. Impact of Development on deforestation in Sri Lanka. Issue https://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jestft/papers/vol8-issue7/Version-2/G08723539.pdf.

11. Sellapperumage, S., 2020. Fighting Deforestation in Sri Lanka. [Online]

12. Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/fighting-deforestation-in-sri-lanka/

13. Surasinghe, T. D., 2010. Diversity, Threats and Conservation of Herpetofauna in and around the Eastern Sinharaja. [Online]

14. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247915568_Diversity_Threats_and_Conservation_of_Herpetofauna_in_and_around_the_Eastern_Sinharaja


*Authors are third Year LLB (Bachelor of Law) Undergraduates at General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Ecocide in SriLanka is a long happening tragedy and will culminate in dire consequences. Now we have the Rajapaksas back at it to accelerate the tragedy!

    The construction projects which the Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brothers have made possible in the Sinharaja forest is yet another prime example of utter incompetence, corruption and lawlessness in this country!

    Here’s a very recent must see discussion by an impressive panel comprising of some of SL’s top environmentalists (scientists and lawyers);

    • 4

      “Development takeover outdoors the land indirectly strikes the area through development of roads which posteriorly exposed entering routes into the forest area and ease up illegal logging and removal of the resources with illegal mining also masquerading imminences. “
      My dear young authors, you ought not to use Google Translator without manually checking.

      • 2

        Dear oc,
        Your observation is justified. I hope that the three authors will give this some thought, and consult somebody.

        • 4

          I do hope that this is not an indication of the quality of teaching at the Kotelawala Defence University. If it is, we are in BIG trouble. It might also explain the behaviour of some uniformed bureaucrats.

        • 3

          It probably is, but we’ve got to be careful not to say too much about these particular young people. They, too, are victims.
          After completing their courses of study what will they be able to do? Will they be able to discuss an issue related to their discipline intelligently – and intelligibly?
          They’re probably expecting posh jobs at the end of all this.
          You’re just getting an indication of just how standards have plummeted. What do we do to the politicians and the senior administrators who have brought things to this pass. They’re the ones to blame.

        • 5


          While we are on Environmental issues I just want you to watch the following a new Tamil Rap with English Sub-Titles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYq7WapuDLU
          I find it refreshing, fun with a message, education with entertainment.

          SJ may not approve it unless this is in red book.

  • 6

    Hello authors Umesha Satharasinghe, Methmi Perera and Upali Amarasinghe –

    what was missing in your research paper is the phrase “Sir Cular”
    you may research and write pages and pages of research paper.
    but just one Sir Circular will send your research paper to the dustbin

    unless of course you guys wrote this for a Sir Cular?

  • 4

    Today’s “Divaina” newspaper reports that 1610 jak tress were cut in the Kegalle area in January and February alone, and that 63,000 (yes, sixty three thousand) trees will be cut in the Monaragela area.

  • 7

    A newly made dirt road leading to acres of cleared land, is that going to be family,s vacation resort too. Just like the one completed in North KKS soon after war, and many other places. The apeman Ganasara went around accusing minorities of deforestation. Willpattu was again a Rajapaksa,s project which went wrong after relationship with cronies got soured.

  • 8

    Looks like 7 million or so Lankans handed over national assets to bunch of hard core dacoits to safeguard for them. Great job guys.

  • 4

    We have ministers who believe food is more important than oxygen & air quality is immaterial, development happens at the expense of the environment, road networks & urbanisation are signs of development, more tourist resorts means prosperity, etc etc. To these ignorant politicians, the eco system, sustainability & unmanaged village expansion, are beyond their comprehension. At the current rate of deforestation & ‘development’ projects, SL will soon become a barren land with water shortages. In the Ukraine, a vast lake has dried up & turned into a lifeless desert because the water feeding the lake was used to irrigate a massive cotton plantation by the communist regime, which, a decade later, became a ecological disaster, even contaminating the ground with pesticide after the water dried up.

    It is not only the Rajapakses but the Sirisena thugs & their cronies who are responsible for the destruction but if they are ever to be punished for their crimes is unlikely, considering the current trend of lawlessness, cronism

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