Rape and rapine of the Range

By Shane Seneviratne in the Knuckles

The Matale & Kandy districts known as the Dumbara Valley nestling in the central hills of Sri Lanka boast of rugged mountains and deep winding valleys which cover over 21,000 hectares of land.
A characteristic of the Dumbara Valley is its rich biodiversity.

Sadly, today in contravention of regulations of the Central Environment Authority (CEA), governing nature reserves, some unscrupulous persons are ruining these pristine forests --felling timber and even erecting unauthorized buildings-- much to the despair of environmentalists and conservationists.
One such example is a hotel being constructed in proximity to the Ratiya village. The construction even blocks the flow of an oya (stream) in Mirisketiya.

Unscrupulous persons are ruining the pristine forests --felling timber and even
erecting unauthorized buildings

A flight of steps leading to the hotel has been built blocking the water which flows to a water fall in the vicinity, while the building itself has been erected on the banks of the stream. Several large, beautiful and valuable trees which stood for generations have been cut down in a misguided effort at landscaping.

A garish cafeteria has been erected in their place. In the upper reaches of the stream, backhoes are busily digging up the land in an apparent bid to build a swimming pool! It is suspected many more buildings are planned to be put up.

The land itself is what is known as ‘crown land’ and any felling can only be undertaken with official permission. Even cutting down of trees on private land in the area cannot be done without official sanction.

The rape of the Knuckles is being carried out with gross disdain of the people, the laws and law enforcement officers of the land. A tragedy is unfolding before our eyes.

While permission may have been granted to put up a few temporary structures made of thatch and wattle and daub, the new constructions are permanent features constructed with brick, mortar and asbestos roofing.

The interior décor of theses buildings has been created with trees and creepers unique to the forest. The timber known as ‘Keena’ and the creepers used are found only in the Knuckles Range. Unlike traditional dwellers in the range, these new invasive builders and constructors care a tuppence for the environment or the damage they are doing to it.

A couple of cabanas -part of the illegal complex

People in the area lament the destruction of the Dumbara Valley. The Knuckles reserve will soon be nothing but a vague memory. The reserve which was a delight to both locals and foreigners will soon be no more than a memory they said, unless the state steps in and calls a halt to its wanton destruction.

13th century chronicles reveal Chinese royalty spent time in the reserve. The British rulers of this country appreciating the unique features of the range declared it a natural reserve and in 1990 the Government gazetted 17,000 hectares as a forest reserve.

The question we face today is will the Knuckles range survive the rapacious attacks of the new rich bereft of a sense of history, the environment or natural beauty.

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