Politicos block fencing of Dahaiyagala Sanctuary

By Malaka Rodrigo

Local politicians have thwarted Wildlife officers from erecting an electric fence in the Dahaiyagala sanctuary, according to eyewitnesses.

A member of the Thanamalwila Pradeshiya Sabha on Thursday sat down in front of the bulldozer brought down to clear the area for an electric fence, and the police who were summoned to the scene, did not use sufficient force to disperse the crowd, thus aborting the exercise, the eyewitnesses said.
Villagers living on the fringes of the sanctuary, with hopes of encroaching forest land for farming, joined the politicians in the protest, according to environmentalists in the area.

This area is an important elephant habitat linked to Udawalawe. But most of the villagers face hardships because the Udawalawe elephants move in and out of the national park through a corridor in the Dahaiyagala Sanctuary, Udawalawe in search of food and essential mineral intake. This behavior known as ‘mineral licking’ is important for the elephants’ health, according to elephant experts. Their trek across Dahaiyagala Sanctuary is through the “Dahaiyagala Corridor”, which still has some chena cultivations.

According to Wildlife officers, about 15 elephants have been killed in this area in recent years, when they wandered into cultivated areas bordering their ‘corridor’, and destroyed the crops.

Another group of people backed by local politicians also attempted to grab land from Dahaiyagala Santuary in 2008. Angered by the clearance of forest land using heavy machinery, environmentalists had petitioned the Supreme Court, which ordered a stop to the destruction and directed that an electric fence be erected according to the proposed DWC map.

“The Court Order clearly instructs to demarcate the boundaries according to the map drawn by the DWC,” says Vardani Karunaratne, the EFL’s legal department chief, who led the legal battle.
The Wildlife officers were trying to implement this court order on October 14. “What happened in Dahaiyagala was an attempt to flout a Supreme Court order, hence it could be contempt of court,” commented Kaluthota range OIC Raveendra Kumara, who made a complaint to the Hambegamuwa police against the protestors.

He pointed out that even President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing a gathering in Halawatha recently, emphasized that State land will not be allowed to be forcibly taken over, and this group of politicians disobeyed this policy too.

However, the Pradeshiya Sabha member, Anura Bandara, who led the protest, said he was not against erecting the fence, but alleged that the DWC officers are setting up boundaries blocking the movements of the villagers in the area. He also alleged that the areas the DWC was fencing off, was not the same as ordered by the court order. The DWC officers denied this allegation.

Local activists complain that the Hambegamuwa police have not taken adequate action against the protestors. Attempts to contact the OIC of Hambegamuwa police failed due to his unavailability.

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