Chandrasena passes the buck

Clearing of forest for banana growing:

By Ifham Nizam

Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S. M. Chandrasena yesterday said the area being cleared by a US multinational company. in the Somawathiya National Park. for banana cultivation came under the purview of the Livestock Development. "This was an area isolated for more than 30 year and my ministry has no control over the land," he added.

Chandrasena warned that if anybody encroached on land belonging to the Wildlife Department, he or she would be severely dealt with under the Fauna and Flora Act Ordinance.

Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) President Sajeewa Chamikara told The Island yesterday nearly 5,000 acres of the Somawathiya National Park were being cleared for a large scale banana plantation.

He said the large scale clearing of forest was carried out in Kandakaduwa in Welikanda Divisional Secretariat area of the Polonnaruwa District with the help of heavy machinery.

Nearly 600 labourers were employed to clear the Wet Villus, Dry Evergreen Forests and Riverine Forests from the Kandakaduwa canal to the Mahaweli River, Chamikara said.

According to ECT, clearing of the Somawathiya National Park is done by ‘Letsgrow (Pvt) Ltd.’ which is the Sri Lankan partner of the ‘Dole Food Company’ of California. ‘Letsgrow’ is owned by two of our former leading cricketers, Pramodya Wickramasinghe and Muttiah Muralidaran. They have acquired the lands being cleared from the Sri Lanka Army.

Chamikara said that the land had been in the custody of the Army since it was liberated from the LTTE.

Instead of being vested in the Wildlife Conservation Department, it was being cleared for banana cultivation, Chamikara said.

ECT says even the Wildlife officials don’t have access to the forest being cleared.

"Somawathiya National Park, its floral and faunal legacy, Mahaweli River and the Kandakaduwa canal face a grave threat due to pesticides and chemical fertilizers that will be used on the banana plantation and the livestock farm in the future," he added.

Somawathiya was declared a National Park through the Gazette Notification bearing No. 417/5 of 02nd September 1986 published under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Later, another forested area of 16,589 hectares was incorporated by Gazette Notification bearing No. 453/30 dated May 9, 1987. Hence, the total area of the National Park is now around 37, 645 hectares.

The ECT President said illegal operations were being carried out in contravention of sections 5 and 6 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance as Amended by Act No. 22 of 2009. According to the Act, entering a National Park without permission, clearing and plantation are non-bail able offences.

"We warn in advance that if the Wildlife Department does not take necessary action to remove these plantation activities, the entire National Park will be destroyed by multinational and their local agents, Chamikara added.

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