10th October 1999

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion| Business|
Sports Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine  

The Sunday Times on the Web


Gone is the green

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Some weeks ago, the sleepy village of Pitakumbura was rudely woken to the sound of trees being felled. The massive thalawa land, the pride of the Uva people for generations was being rapidly cleared.

As protests from concerned environmental groups mounted, it was alleged that a powerful provincial minister was at the helm of the move to clear 12 hectares, (approximately 30 acres) of this unique forest cover which is a part of the proposed Nilgala elephant corridor.

The work continued, day after day with valuable medicinal trees such as aralu, bulu, nelli being felled- all within the Pitakumbura grasslands.

Helpless villagers could only shed silent tears and appeal to the gods to protect their little habitat which provided some of them with their only source of income: gathering of forest produce with medicinal value. With dismay, they watched timber loads being transported from Pitakumbura and Ambagahabedda to unknown destinations.

Thalawa grasslands which are found in the Uva Province have unique features, being similar to the Savannah in character. In the south-east, these grasslands have provided a unique habitat for valuable medicinal plants in addition to being home to many species.

According to environmentalists, aralu, bulu, gammalu, kudumberiya and nelli are common here, in addition to many shrubs of medicinal value. While the plant life in these grasslands has less timber value, it has immense commercial value when made into various products such as mugs and herbal pellets.

A regional forest officer who requested anonymity explained that it was mandatory to obtain a permit to clear state land with special requirements having to be met if the land was also forest land as in this case.

"Under the State Lands Ordinance, a permit has to be obtained through the relevant Divisional Secretary to clear any state land. In addition, under the Forests Ordinance, clearing of over one hectare of forest land requires the conducting of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) whereupon the Central Environmental Authority will act as the concurrent approving agency," he explained, adding that none of these requirements had been met with when the clearing in Pitakumbura commenced, or even after.

Lawyer Jagath Gunewardena said that Thalawa grasslands are a specialized forest area with unique features which, in his opinion required special legal protection particularly in the present context.

But the problems do not end there. As the area comes within the proposed Nilgala corridor under the Mahaweli Environment Programme of 1985, environmentalists are concerned that the illegal clearing would result in unnecessary conflicts between elephant and man.

Mr. Gunawardene further warned that the possibilities of human- beast conflicts were imminent as the cleared area fell directly within the Maduru Oya- Gal Oya elephant passage.

The project began just when the welcome monsoonal showers commenced. In mid- September, heeding the environmentalists' call, forest officials have called for a halting to the unauthorized clearing. And the Timber Corporation has cleared the timber felled since. But with 125 acres of unique forest land proposed for clearing, the villagers are anticipating the worst.

For fruit project

Senerath Attanayake, Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Irrigation and Forestry of the Uva Province who is in the midst of the illegal clearing controversy said the clearing of lands was done to grow fruit, though by mistake, people had cleared forest land instead of other barren lands as originally intended.

He said that the project had to be initiated before the rainy season commenced in October, hence it was begun prior to obtaining a permit.

He also said that the clearing commenced while discussions were on with forest and land officials and that there was no plan to destroy the natural habitat or the forest cover.

Index Page

Front Page





Sports Plus

Mirrror Magazine


More Plus

Return to the Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports| Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd. Hosted By LAcNet

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.