Dec 30, Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has instructed the expansion of the forest area of the country's oldest wildlife sanctuary, Wilpattu National Park in the northwest.
During a meeting with the officials of the Ministry of Environment held Friday at the Presidential Secretariat, the President instructed the relevant authorities to issue a gazette notification declaring a larger Wildlife Reserve, including the surrounding forest area which is not under the purview of the Department of Wildlife, further expanding the forest area belongs to the Wilpattu National Park.
The President instructed to expeditiously implement a program to continuously monitor the forest, including the Wilpattu National Park with aerial monitoring utilizing modern technology.
The wild life park that borders Anuradhapura, Puttalam and Mannar districts in northwestern Sri Lanka is a unique habitat for numerous wildlife species. The park has recently drawn attention after environmental conservation groups alleged that the Muslim IDP resettlements led by Ministry of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen are damaging the Wilpattu Forest Reserve.
At the meeting President Sirisena further instructed the officials to enforce the law against the persons who are responsible for the forest destruction irrespective of their social status. He further said that he will request the Judicial Service Commission to fully implement the penalties and sentences within the existing laws against the deforestation and forest degradation.
He also told the officials to appoint a special investigation team to look into the allegations leveled by some section of the society regarding the deforestation taking place in the Puttalam and Mannar districts.
The investigation team will comprise officials of the Ministry of Environment, Department of Forest Conservation and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, representatives of the environmental organizations as well as journalists.
During the meeting the officials apprised the President that there is no forest degradation taking place in the Wilpattu National Park. Some incidents emphasized by some media institutions and the environmental organizations are taking place beyond demarcated areas of the Wilpattu National Park and those incidents taking place as a result of giving permission during the past regime in 2007 to resettle the people in those areas.
Nevertheless, if any, illegal forest degradation occurred in those areas, the President instructed the officials to enforce the law against them and instructed the officials to implement a special program to identify land outside the forest areas for the purpose of Resettlement.
The officials pointed out that they have recently taken steps to take legal actions against two persons who were caught with equipment including a backhoe during a raid conducted on deforestation in Musali Divisional Secretariat Division in Mannar.
Secretary to the President, P. B. Abeykoon, Secretary to Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment Udaya R. Senevirathne, Secretary to Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, R.M.D.B. Meegasmulla, Director General of Central Environmental Authority K.H. Muthukudaarachchi and other senior officials participated in the meeting.