Thousands of years-old Nilgala medicinal forest being destroyed by weedicides

Trees ‘ordained’ to prevent destruction


In the area to the south east of Bibile are the medicinal forests of Nilgala. These are said to have been planted by the physician King Bodhiwansa in the early years AD, and have survived until recently.

Many years ago, perhaps less than one hundred, they were the grounds of the Aadivaasi (Veddah) tribes who were living in the Rathugala hill caves and hunting in these forests; but no more, with the civil wars and diseases. Small villages are found in the Nilgala forests and the people live in harmony with the wild life and have been doing so for many generations.

Drive on the Bibile-Moneragala road and turn left at Ayiwela along to Kotabowa, you will pass some small villages, which would have had savannah forest which provided them with non timber forest products which gave them an income in season, not too far away. But today the land is being sprayed with weedicide and the trees felled. Plots are fenced off leaving acres with nothing on them but burnt out grass and plants. A few banana saplings have been planted on some of the cleared and fenced land to claim ownership. Go further along this road and cross the Dahamaloya, a few kilometer before the Gal Oya National Park, and the devastation is colossal. A man with weedicide sprayer killing all living things in his stride could be seen if you are so (un) lucky. When asked by those who met him what he was doing destroying the land, he had said that this was land of xx acres was given to him. He was a Samurdhi Niyamaka. A Samurdhi Niyamaka is now an appointed government servant and not a landless peasant. He was busy using the weedicide sprayer to kill everything on the next plot too which also was given to another ‘Niyamaka" who was his wife (How lucky can you get?) There were many such plots given to Niyamakas, where the forest and its creatures were destroyed for kilometers.

These plots of xx acres are supposed to have been given by the Department of Forest Conservation. This forest is managed by the Department of Forest Conservation although it had not been gazetted to it. How then could they give away land which they were supposed to manage, by which we understand conserve and protect? Did these ‘Niyamakas’ come from the forest villages nearby? No they came from outside areas. This accounted for the hostility of the ‘purana’ villagers to these outsiders. Some persons say it was given at the request of a `Minister’. If so, we should investigate why?

Not only Samurdhi Niyamakas, but Pradeshiya Sabha members are also helping themselves. Who gave them ‘oppu’ (deeds) If they have them? Some plots had also been given for the cultivation of rubber. Rubber is a wet zone crop and even if the plants take root, the latex will be negligible as people even in the intermediate zone have found. So how about the dry zone, where the Nilgala forest is situated?

These forests are a continuation of those in the Gal Oya National Park where there are herds of elephants and many diverse animals. The Field Ornithology Group found rare Pratinicole a bird seldom seen elsewhere. Animals are no respector of boundaries that we draw, so definitely clearing the Nilgiri forests will exacerbate the human-elephant conflict in the area.

It was the sheer frustration of the villagers and monks of the area who were helpless to prevent this destruction of a medicinal forest that led them to organize this ‘Ordination’ of trees together with the Centre for Environmental Justice and other environmental organisations on January 11, 2014,following on a similar activity initiated by Buddhist monks in Thailand. The Maha Sangha Nayaka of Uva-Bintenne, the Ven. Badullegammana Sumanasara was present together with other nayaka monks and a large number of others (over 60) to conduct this ceremony on one of the of the lands being devastated. But this was not purely a Buddhist activity. The Imam from the local mosque was present and gave his blessing and Muslim villagers also participated in the activity alongside their Buddhist brethren.

We hope to develop this type of peaceful non violent protest and protection of forests with the participation of all ethnic/religious groups in the country. This is our answer to the hopeless cry "kata kiyandatha?" (to whom shall we tell our woes?) Please join us.

Kamini Meedeniya Vitarana


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