By Samantha Vidyarathna –
One of the most heart-breaking aspects of this ongoing lockdown is the colossal destruction of the rainforest carried out by powerful bigwigs with strong political affiliations. When the whole country is in a state of lockdown due to Covid pandemic, there is wanton destruction of forest unabatedly taking place in the state lands which comes under the purview of Divisional secretariat areas of Ridimaaliyadda and Meegahakivula. In this regard, Loggal Oya is no exception.
Loggal Oya which is located in Uva Province in Badulla district is situated in between the border areas of Mahiyanganaya and Viyaluwa electorates along the Mahiyangana road. Loggal Oya gets its source of water from the Madolsima Mountain range which again is fed by the eastern slopes of the Namunukula mountain range. Water flows a distance of about 45 km. before it reaches a place known as Loggal Oya Wekanda.
Right now, there is colossal destruction of forest reserves surrounding Loggal Oya and adjacent villages causing devastating consequences to the locals and wildlife. In the circumstance, it is incumbent on us to emphasize the importance of protecting the forest reserve, the fauna and flora including greenery in the catchment areas of Loggal Oya. Valuable indigenous trees like Kumbuk, Mee, Kon, Mora, Bakini and Wood apple are being unabatedly bulldozed and indiscriminately felled. What is more, even the shrubs are not being spared.
Our recent tour of this area on 21st of June provided us firsthand clue and an opportunity to witness the dozers working in full swing to clear the said area. Meanwhile, it has been revealed that most of the innocent farmers who were engaged for generations in illegal Chena cultivation had been harassed and forcibly evicted from their lands. Yet those who braved to stay behind, clinging on to their lands in the face of harassment were cajoled into selling their land for a mere pittance of Rs15000 or Rs 30000 per acre.
A colossal destruction of this magnitude cannot be carried out by mere ordinary citizens of our country. It is patently clear that powerful bigwigs with strong political affiliations are hand in glove behind this dastardliness. According to information available, a state minister of the incumbent government with the connivance of certain business tycoons and a top military brass having political patronage are responsible for this wanton destruction. Already, an area of about 50-60 acres of forest cover in the tank bund and catchment areas belonging to the state had been cleared and a road network has been constructed.
Apparently, these miscreants have purchased some lands in the interior of the village and some have even encroached on the state owned land, forest reserve inclusive of the tank bund. They have already established boundaries themselves and have installed a huge gate at the entrance to prevent common people from entering the premises. Meanwhile, a few cabanas have also come up in the area under question. It is now evident that a building is under construction, apparently for a huge hotel targeting tourists.
It is being evidenced that Loggal Oya basin is now being filled with mud and silt sediments. As already indicated, the perpetrators behind this horrendous crime are responsible for the destruction of the forest reserve. Further aggravating the situation, they have resorted to dump the remnants of the bull dozed parts of fallen trees, debris including soil to Loggal Oya.
This reservoir which is situated in a picturesque area at the foot of the Madolsima mountain range is mainly fed by the waters of the Mahaweli River. Minipe stream feeds Loggal Oya through the right bank. The “Vianna” stream which is a “V” shaped tributary is the main source of water feeding the tank. The capacity of the tank is around 38,800 acre feet of water and kept stored at any given point of time. Water from this tank is being released at the rate of 64 square meters per second to all other minor tank networks through the main tributaries from the Vianna stream.
Vianna stream feeds the irrigation schemes at Mapakada Irrigation Project (Capacity: 9300 acre feet of water capable of irrigating 1555 acres of paddy land), Dumbarawa Irrigation Project (Capacity: 9000 acre feet of water capable of irrigating 1500 acres of paddy land ) and Sorabora Iryrigation Project ( Capacity: 16800 acre feet of water capable of irrigating 2000 acres of paddy land).
Lastly, the Vianna stream goes to feed Ulhiti Oya and stops there. Ulhiti Oya and Rathkinda Oya are twin reservoirs. Therefore, water fed to Ulhiti Oya also fills Rathkinda reservoir. Both Ulhiti Oya and Rathkinda Oya taken together have a capacity of 118260 acre feet of water. Finally, Loggal tank water reaches Maduru Oya from Rathkinda tank through an underground tunnel.
Accordingly, all these tanks provide irrigation facility to Mahaweli C and B zones. Although initially, 22800 hectares of land was earmarked and tilled for paddy cultivation in the Mahaweli C zone, as of now, approximately 25000 hectares of paddy is cultivated (ie; 62500 acres). At the same time, in Mahaweli B zone, there are about 32200 hectares, (i.e; 80500 acres) of paddy lands and water is being issued from the starting point at Loggal Oya. At present, left bank of the Madura Oya reservoir (Capacity: 483570 acre feet of water) is operational and the right bank is under development. On completion of the right bank development work, a total of around 40000 hectares (100000 acres) of paddy land could be brought under irrigation in the Mahaweli “B” zone.
Mahaweli B and C zones have vast extents of irrigable fertile lands. This land extent covers Uva province, Eastern province and NorthWestern Province. Districts such as Badulla, Ampara, Polonnaruwa, and Baticoloa are located within the precincts of these two Zones. Mahaweli B and C encompasses Girandurukotte, Nawamedagama, Dehiattakandiya, Siripura, Dimbulagala, Aralaganwila,Pimburuttawa, Manampitiya Welikanda, Sinhapura, Sevanapitiya, Welioya, Punani villages and extends all the way up to Kalkuda township.
Within these two Mahaweli zones, there are protected fauna and flora reserves and a number of elephant corridors. Further, this area serves as a sanctuary for elephants and home to many other wildlife. This area is also home to some 5000 locals whose mainstay is farming and fishing. Their main water requirement for their livelihood, daily needs, irrigation and inland fishing activity is totally dependent on Loggal Oya water.
Although this information had been brought to the notice of top state officials, it appears that they have conducted only a site inspection tour of the area at face value. It is disheartening to note that nothing tangible had been done to enforce the law of the land. On the contrary, as a red herring, the authorities seem to have advised the perpetrators to re-plant some Kumbuk and Mee saplings in the catchment areas of the forest reserves.
It is now crystal clear that perpetrators have strong political clout and blessings of the politicians in power. On the other hand, when an innocent villager is nabbed while cutting even a small branch of a tree for a mammoty handle or for a rafter to mend his broken roof, the strict law of the land is applied. More so, the poor man is immediately taken into custody and incarcerated for 14 days or 3 months and on top of that a huge fine is imposed before being released.
This goes to show that there is no justice and equity prevailing in our country. Despite large scale destruction of forest reserves and reservoirs, powerful bigwigs with political clout behind these heinous crimes goes unaccounted for their deeds. They go scot-free in the eyes of the law enforcement due to unequal and discriminatory laws enforced by the authorities. In the circumstances, the masses are left in the lurch compelling them to opt for alternate means of redress by creating awareness among people and muster them for staging agitations.
*Excerpts from a speech delivered by Samantha Vidyarathna JVP on 21st of June