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* President, cabinet defend the Forest Department officer
Thu, Feb 13, 2020, 10:33 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Feb 13, Colombo: The President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of Ministers will defend the Forest Department officer, who fearlessly refused to bow down to a politician standing for the protection of environment, cabinet spokesman, Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena said.

The Minister emphasized that it is the responsibility of the government to protect public officers who refuse to bend the rules adhering to the law.

The Gampaha District Assistant Conservator of Forests Devani Jayatilake earlier this week assertively refused to violate the law to allow State Minister of Fisheries and Inland Fisheries Industry Sanath Nishantha Perera to build a playground on the villagers’ demand in a protected mangrove land in Negombo.

Pointing out the importance of having a balanced Eco-system, especially in a mangrove forest area, and the law against using protected state land for development projects, the Forest Department Officer at the Negombo Lagoon Development Meeting stood by her decision not to release land on the request of the villagers and the State Minister.

The officer’s action taken to protect the mangroves in the lagoon went viral on social media earning praise from all quarters and drew the attention of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The issue with the development of the 14-hectare land of Sinnadithottam Island in the Negombo Lagoon had been in discussion since 2014. During the last government, measures have been taken under the direction of the then Minister of Fisheries Vijith Vijayamuni Zoysa to cut down the mangrove trees in the land that belonged to the Forest Conservation Department and build a playground for children.

As this is a state owned land, officials of the Forest Conservation Office in Gampaha took legal action against the construction of a playground. Accordingly, the court ordered the removal of the soil that had been brought to the island by the Fisheries Department.

When the issue was taken up at the Development meeting on Monday (10), Forest Conservation Officer Devani Jayatilleke stressed that the land could not be used to build a playground and the mangrove environment should be protected. Her refusal to back down from her stance created a tense situation with the villagers and the State Minister at the meeting.

As the video of the argument went viral on mainstream and social media, the State Minister Sanath Nishantha yesterday accused the forest officer of impeding government development projects. He further said he saved the officer from the ire of the villagers.

Minister of Environment and Wildlife Resources, SM Chandrasena at a media briefing said the forest conservation officer had done what was right and he defends the officer who stood for the protection of the environment despite the orders of politicians and will protect her.

The Minister said the land owned by the Forest Department under the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance cannot be released for any purpose unless approved by the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the State Minister should be educated on the law.

Minister Bandula Gunawardena today said the President and the Government are in support of the official who is dedicated to the protection of the law.


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