The increasing number of reports of environmental destruction and devastation across the country suggest a spike in such activities on an unprecedented scale. The media is awash with stories where forests and other protected lands are being desecrated with no concern for environmental protection concerns. Even if only 50 percent of what is reported in [...]


Welcome youth activism to halt spike in environmental destruction offers a glimmer of hope for the country


The increasing number of reports of environmental destruction and devastation across the country suggest a spike in such activities on an unprecedented scale. The media is awash with stories where forests and other protected lands are being desecrated with no concern for environmental protection concerns. Even if only 50 percent of what is reported in the electronic and print media is true, one can conclude that the damage being caused is of an unprecedented magnitude that has never been witnessed in the country before.

What is most baffling is how these environmental crimes are being committed in broad daylight with little or no  intervention by the authorities to curb such activities. Unlike other crimes such as the sale of narcotics which can be sold stealthily, harm to the environment cannot be inflicted in secrecy and inevitably has to be done openly in  daylight in the full view of the public.

How such miscreants escape the eye of the Police and Forest and Wildlife officers is difficult to fathom. The only explanation is that some of them are hand in glove with those who are causing such destruction and deliberately turn a blind eye to all that is happening.

Precisely because the cutting down of trees in protected reserves are acts of high visibility  it cannot be too difficult to contain such  illegal activities. All it requires is regular policing in which case clear directives have to go out from the top.

The dangers arising from environmental destruction are too well known to bear repetition but Dr. Ajantha Perera, the environmentalist turned politician, pointed to one such danger on the Newsline programme on MTV Television last Friday.

She drew attention to the fact that global warming resulted in islands succumbing to increased sea levels and Sri Lanka being an island could face various challenges in the future.

The reports in the media showcase some of the consequences of environmental damage in the past  with the human-elephant conflict being one of the most prominent. Almost daily one hears of villagers being killed or attacked by elephants who enter the homes of these helpless people as a result of their natural habitats being encroached upon.

The State seems totally impervious to the situation with no serious or concerted action being taken to provide redress to the populace. This is evident from the fact that a satyagraha has been going on in the Hambantota District for more than 60 days with the Government still unable to address the grievances of the satyagrahis which is all to do with the human elephant conflict.

In this pall of gloom that is descending on the environment, the glimmer of hope is the sight of the youth lining up in opposition to the marauding spectre of environmental destruction. Recently 18-year-old Bhagya Abeyratne caught the headlines when she drew attention to the destruction in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Appearing in the Sirasa Lakshapathi programme, the teenaged A/L student spoke her heart out about the destruction going on in Sinharaja right before her eyes.

Speaking about the three big elephants that had roamed the reserve and how one of them was now not to be seen, Bhagya lamented that maybe those vested with the responsibility of preventing environmental destruction may have been too busy to look into it.

But what was striking was the speed with which a Police Offcer and  thereafter a Forest Officer visited the house of the teenager in Rakwana to record a statement. Minister C. B. Ratnayake was quick to caution Bhagya from a public platform to make sure of her facts.

This overreaction to a spontaneous statement by a youth  is viewed by many as an attempt to stifle the voices of the youth who are awakening to the dangers arising from the current trend of enormous environmental destruction.

A wide range of individuals ranging from the Buddhist clergy, politicians and environmentalists hailed Bhagya’s remarks and her resolute stand not to be intimidated. National People’s Power Parliamentarian Harini Amarasuriya viewed the reaction of Government officials as a threat to freedom of expression.

“This is what happened to Bhagya. She expressed her opinion and now she is being taken to task by state officials. It was an unnecessary reaction as she has not committed a crime and has not done anything wrong. There is no need for the Government or the Police to intervene her opinion,” said Dr. Amarasuriya.

Dr. Amarasuriya also said environmental destruction is at an all time high and that the Government sees environmental activists as a threat and were extremely intolerant of dissent.

“They do not need to be edgy if they are doing the right thing. This Government got elected with a 2/3rds majority so why should they be edgy?” asked Dr. Amarasuriya.

The Free Media Movement too came out strongly and condemned the response and comment made by government authorities and officials deeming it a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression.

“It is good to see young people expressing their concerns over environmental destruction. The civil society should rally round her and speak for her rights. She has done nothing wrong and she has not broken any law. This is a violation of her right to freedom of speech. She deserves admiration and support as she’s raising some pertinent questions,” Open University of Colombo ‘s Department of Legal Studies Head  Camena Gunaratne said. She is also a specialist in Environmental Studies.

Another overreaction by the Government to the increasing expression of discontent by the youth to the large scale destruction of the environment took place last Friday when Colombo Municipal Council workers moved into take down a huge mural which had been put up at the Vihara Mahadevi Park to depict and protest what was described as the ecocide taking place in the country.

According to the  Daily Mirror online edition report on March 19, 2021, the mural which is 70×20 feet, was put together by children who are part of the Youth Wing of the Wildlife Nature Protection Society. They were protesting against the ecocide taking place in Sri Lanka such as the killing of elephants, destruction of forests and elephant corridors etc.

According to the organisers the mural was put up  after gaining approval from the CMC and Police.

However, eyewitnesses and organisers had told the Daily Mirror that following instructions by the President’s Office, the CMC had begun taking down the mural to which the organisers had produced all the necessary approvals.

“The excuse they used was that we did not have permission to use the scaffolding which had been used to put up the mural since it was very heavy,” one of the organisers said.

At a time when the elders seem helpless in halting the environmental destruction taking place in the country, the activism of youth in this sphere gives the country a glimmer of hope.


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