Co-cabinet spokesman Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne yesterday defended Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen over the destruction of the forest cover in the Wilpattu National Park buffer zone. He said no houses had been built inside the park.
Responding to a query by a journalist at the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Government Information Department yesterday, Dr. Senaratne said the areas cleared for resettlement were private lands owned by certain people before the separatist war had erupted.
During the war the people including Minister Bathiudeen had been chased away by the LTTE from their lands and they had stayed in rehabilitation camps since then.
Therefore, it was understandable the Minister’s involvement in the resettlement as he was obliged to do justice to his people, Dr. Senaratne maintained.
Those lands did not belong to the Wilpattu National Park and they were situated around the border of the park and the IDPs had the deeds for the lands, which had been given to them in 1915. If the area belonged to the national park there couldn’t be private deeds and there were some ruins of schools and hospitals, the Minister said.
However, last December, President Maithripala Sirisena ordered the issuance of a gazette notification extending the land area coming under the Wilpattu National Park.
He ordered the expeditious implementation of a programme to protect the forest cover with the help of an aerial monitoring system.
The President also ordered the enforcement of the law against persons responsible for the destruction of forests irrespective of their social status. He said that he would request the Judicial Service Commission to implement the penalties and sentences within the existing laws against the deforestation and forest degradation.
Meanwhile, the environmentalists pointed out that deforestation at Wilpattu was taking place rapidly with the blessings of Minister Bathiudeen in the name of resettling persons who were displaced due to the separatist war.
Earlier, on May 11, 2015, a committee report prepared on the alleged deforestation of Wilpattu National Park buffer zone was handed over to President Sirisena.