Houses of one of the alleged illegal settlements in the Wilpattu region

Environmentalists are due to file legal action next week regarding alleged illegal forest clearance and construction of illegal settlements in the region around Wilpattu National Park.

Speaking to The Nation, Executive Director of the Center for Environment Justice (CEJ), Hemantha Withanage, said his organization would file action in the Court of Appeal against the decision by the Department of Forest Conservation (DFC) to release forest lands for resettlement purposes.

Former Conservator General of Forests, K.P. Ariyadasa released these lands for resettlement purposes in February 2013. Environmentalists have long alleged that the lands were released due to pressure exerted mainly by then Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen.

However, under Extraordinary Gazette Notification No. 772/22 of June 24, 1993, issued in accordance with National Environment (Amendment) Act No. 47 of 1980, written permission must first be obtained after conducting a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to clearing more than one hectare of forest land or prior to launching a project that seeks to settle more than 100 families on one occasion. However, no such EIA has been commissioned prior to the release of these 1080 acres. The land release is also said to be in violation of the Antiquities Ordinance as under Extraordinary Gazette Notification No.1152/14 of October 4, 2000 written permission has to be obtained after conducting an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) prior to going ahead with a settlement project. No such AIA was ever conducted either, according to environmentalists.

As such, Withanage said they will argue that proper legal procedures were not followed in the release of these lands and that they will move court to declare the release of these lands to be illegal.