Defended also Opposed - President’s decision to issue gazettes on Mawillu forest reserves
The Government yesterday defended its decision to issue a gazette notification declaring four forest areas bordering Wilpattu, as a forest reserve, but Minister of Industry and Commerce and Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen Opposed it, vowing to “bulldoze” the four gazette notifications.
Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha yesterday denied reports that the gazette notification which created the ‘Mavillu Conserved Forest’ in the North of Wilpattu affected Muslim settlements or villages in the vicinity.
Minister Faiszer Musthapha in the meantime added that President Maithripala Sirisena would not be revoking his gazette, contrary to certain media reporting it so.
“The gazette will not deliver injustice to Muslims,” Minister Musthapha said and explained that the gazette only dealt with state land.
The Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara was addressing a media briefing together with Minister Musthapaha at the Government Information Department yesterday.
“Muslim settlements, places of worship or any private land has been included in this gazette. There is a settlement to the West of Weppal, another to the North of Marichchikadi and one to the West of Vilaththikulam. By putting these forests together, these settlements have been clearly demarcated and left out”, explained Jayasekara as he traced the gazetted areas on a map.
The Sports Minister also lashed out at certain groups of making the issue an ethnic one, especially within the Muslim community, “The Muslim community showed great support to the President and that became a turning point at the Presidential election. We are currently undertaking resettlement of the displaced and in Puttlam there are many IDPs. It is essential that they be resettled; this is a priority of the government. We are taking all measures for that".
Minister further said, "But, while we accept their right to their land, we must also note that our forest cover is receding and it is at a mere 25 percent right now. The President is trying to increase it up to 35 percent as the country moves towards sustainable development. This was part of that plan. There is no hidden agenda or racism here.”
“We are not planning to take away any Muslim lands,” the minister said and denied reports that over 100,000 acres of land have been included in this gazette. It is only 600 acres, said the minister.
Earlier this week, President Maithripala Sirisena signed a gazette notification declaring four forest areas of Mavillu, Weppal, Marichchikadi-Karadikkuli, Vilaththikulam and Periyamurippu as the Mawillu Forest Reserve.
The move received backlash from different quarters, prompting the President’s office to issue a clarification on the matter.
Making a special mention of the settlements in the Marichchikadi and Vilaththikulam areas, Minister Jayasekera reiterated that the gazette will not affect settlements, cultivation land, paddy fields, private properties or mosques.
He stated that the gazette was to clearly demarcate between forest reserve and human settlements.
“If anyone has been unfairly treated because of this gazette notification, we can work to address this within the gazette,” he said.
In the meantime, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said on the evening of 31 March in Colombo, “I informed the officials that I will present a Cabinet Paper to remove the gazettes affecting resettlement of Northern Muslim IDPs.”
Minister Bathiudeen was speaking to some members of the Press shortly after he met a team of government officials led by Secretary to the President P.B. Abeykoon at the Presidential Secretariat, Colombo on the afternoon of 31 March.
Minister Bathiudeen who met them to present his side of facts, made a specific demand in earnest– to de-gazette the Weppal, Karadikkuli/Marichakatti, and Wilathikulam areas gazetted by Extraordinary Gazette 2011/34 of 24 March 2017 since they are inhabited by people, including Northern Muslims displaced at one time. The recent Gazette 2011/34 also gazetted and claimed Mavillu, and Periyamadu reserves in addition. “But I did not insist on these two locations since they are not inhabited and gazetting them do not affect Northern Muslim IDPs” he said.
The gazettes Minister Bathiudeen wants de-gazetted through a Cabinet Paper are the Gazette 1779/15 of 10 October 2012 which claimed 6042 Hectares of Marichikaddi/Karadikkuli Forest Reserve, the gazette numbered 1759/2 of 21 May 2012 which claimed 2108 hectares of Vilathikulam Forest Reserve, and gazette numbered 2011/34 dated 24 March 2012 which claimed 40030.525 Hectares of Mavillu Conservation Forest.
“I called them to return them to the original families living in those villages prior to eviction in 1990. Apart from presenting Cabinet paper to withdraw the three gazettes of 2012, I also directly requested the officials to withdraw the recent Extraordinary Gazette 2011/34 of 24 March 2017.
As for this March 24 Gazette, they responded saying that they would consult HE the President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wicjremesinghe and shall work for a positive, fruitful outcome.
They also informed me that future Northern wildlife gazetting may not come under “Wildlife Conservation” but mostly under Forest Conservation” said Minister Bathiudeen, and added: “The LTTE forcibly evicted the entire Muslim Population of the North in 1990-the worst ethnic cleansing exercise in the history of Sri Lanka. These Muslim victims were forced to leave their homes in 24 hours from these lands now said as conserved forests.”
Among the 24000 Northern Muslim families expelled by LTTE on 1990 October 30 from their traditional homes and became overnight IDPs, was the eight-member family of Vanni MP and Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.
However, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara said that resettling the large number of persons displaced in the war was a priority, and the Government has taken steps to address this. However, he also stressed on the need to protect the environment.
“Today, forest cover in Sri Lanka has reduced to below 25%. A number of programs are taking place under the President’s leadership as a part of the Government’s sustainable development program. The objective of this program is to increase this forest cover up to 35% by protecting forests and wildlife,” Jayasekera said.
He added that the new gazette was in line with this program and does not discriminate or target a specific community.
With regard to the outcry against the Government move, the Minister alleged that certain forces were spreading misconceptions and misinformation against the President’s decisions. He claimed that these forces are attempting to distance the Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala communities from the President, and promote racism. When quizzed, however, the Minister refused to identify these forces.
Addressing reports that the President would revoke the gazette, Minister Faiszer Musthapha said that the President is not going to revoke the gazette as it does not cause any detriment to any community or settlement. “This gazette concerns state land; there is no privately owned land in this area. If there are any concerns, they can be addressed.”
- Asian Tribune -