By Lakshman I .Keerthisinghe
“These folk are hewers of trees and hunters of beasts; therefore we are their unfriends, and if they will not depart we shall afflict them in all ways that we can.”-John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, English writer, poet and philologist
Media reported that the Galgamuwa Tusker ‘Dala Puttuwa’ had been brutally killed and the tusks removed. Later six persons were arrested and the tusks recovered. Another tusker ‘Thani Dalaya’ was recently killed in the Sellankandal Reserve in Puttalam and the tusks removed. Altogether in the recent past four tuskers were killed and the tusks removed. The cruelty committed on these tuskers is due to the never ending greed of criminals who some say receive political patronage. These rare majestic tuskers were cared for by ancient kings as God-given gifts and some were supposed to be born due to the fortune of the ruler for his use. While the Department of Wild Life has been blamed for their loss it is the duty of all patriotic Sri Lankans to safeguard these tuskers as national assets and assist the authorities to bring the culprits to book. The law has to be amended to enhance the punishment prescribed for such offences. The human-elephant conflict has emerged due to humans occupying the natural abodes of these beasts thereby depriving them of their natural habitats and forest cover. Illegal timber felling to earn money with political patronage has also resulted in the destruction of forest reserves.
Some politicians in order to expand their vote bases have endeavoured to clear forest reserves adjacent to wild life sanctuaries such as Wilpattu to erect houses and build villages for their political supporters. Such politicians are unmindful of the destruction that is caused to the environment due to the removal of forest cover resulting in prolonged drought and untold misery to the people. The controversy over the alleged deforestation in the Wilpattu area by certain politicians has now resurfaced.
It had been dragged on for the past three to four years intermittently creating media debates, without the authorities attempting to settle the issue for good. While pointing the finger at Commerce and Trade Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, the environmentalists argue that a large area of land belonging to the Forest Conservation Department has been cleared by the encroachers unlawfully. On the other hand, the Minister strongly refutes the allegations levelled against him of attempting to create Muslim colonies in Wilpattu. He contends that it was the people who had been forcibly driven away by the LTTE in 1990 in accordance to their ethnic cleansing policy who had returned to their original villages. In fact an area north of the Wilpattu National Park seems to have been under the Forest Conservation Department as well as traditional villages in different occasions, providing both contending parties ammunition to continue their controversy.
In a recent television debate in which Minister Bathiudeen participated, it was revealed that twenty years after the Muslims were chased away from the North by the LTTE, large trees had grown in the areas where they lived and the villages had literally turned into jungles. A Gazette Notification issued in May 2012 brought the areas north of the National Park including the former villages under the Forest Conservation Department. Later, it was argued that the State itself had provided facilities to resettle the displaced people. At a recent press briefing, it was said a Presidential Task Force was appointed to look into the resettlement process and it has been shown that people lived North of the Wilpattu National Park before October 1990 with remains of mosques, schools and other buildings in areas such as Marichchakatti. The government has to settle the issue which has taken an ethnic twist.
In the resettlement process, it is not difficult to identify the former villages in the area using the documents of the respective Grama Niladharis who served before 1990. The task can be made further easier by using the electoral lists prepared by the Mannar District Election Office before 1990. The government has embarked on a scheme to bring in reconciliation and set up several mechanisms towards the purpose. Also, the week from 8-14 January in 2018 has been declared the ‘National Integration and Reconciliation Week’ by President Maithripala Sirisena. But at the same time the government has paved the way for the issues such as this to drag on. It is the duty of the government leaders to genuinely intervene and solve them without further delay In conclusion, as Professor Tolkein stated and quoted at the outset, all patriotic Sri Lankans should note that “these folk are hewers of trees and hunters of beasts; therefore we are their unfriends, and if they will not depart we shall afflict them in all ways that we can.”