Minister condones illegal gem mining in national parks?

By Ifham Nizam

Wildlife Department officials are finding it hard to conduct raids against illegal gem miners, in three national parks, as the culprits had claimed they were operating with the blessings of Wildlife Resources and Conservation Management Minister Vijith Wijithamuni de Zoysa.

Officials, who fear the influence of the minister in charge of the subject, said that Kiri Oya, in the Wasgamuwa National Park, Nilgala area, in the Gal Oya National Park and a place in the Angammedilla National Park, had become havens for illegal gem mining.

The officials also said that Minister had not taken any interest in the matter despite it being brought to his notice.

"During a recent meeting, the minister told us that people in the area should have the right to use natural resources in their respective areas," an official added.

Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Convener Sajeewa Chamikara told The Island that they had taken up the matter with the minister and pointed to the gravity gem mining in national parks, however, he had failed to come with a concrete answer.

"We would certainly go on pressuring the minister, based on the Fauna and Flora Act," he added.

Numerous attempts, over two days, to contact Wildlife Conservation Director H. D. Ratnayake and Minister Wijithamuni de Zoysa were of no avail.

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