CEJ Files Writ Application In The Court Of Appeal

Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Executive Director Hemantha Withanage on Saturday filed a new Writ application in the Court of Appeal against revoking the Circulars No. 05/2001 dated 10.08.2001 and Circular No. 02/2006 dated 2006.05.17.

Attorney-at-Law, Ravindranath Dabare yesterday said that these Circulars were revoked by way of Circular MWFC/1/2020 dated 04.11.2020 titled `Government residual Forest Management’ by Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation with immediate effect and without any authority under Forest Conservation Ordinance or any other written law to issue such circular.
“We seek Writ of Mandamus and Certiorari against the respondents of the Secretary of Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Conservator General of Forests, the Secretary of Ministry of Environment and the Hon. Attorney General under the Article 140 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka,”he added.
CEJ legal team also stated that “Other State Forests” came under the purview of District or Divisional Secretariats and Government agents before issuing the Circular No. 05/2001. And it was specially issued to prevent misusing of these areas or giving them to various entities and individuals at their whims and fancies thereby causing irremediable destruction to fauna and flora.
Petitioners stated Forest Conservation Ordinance was amended by Forest (Amendment) Act No. 65 of 2009 and Section 20 of the principal enactment was repealed and replaced.
The new Section 20 listed out the acts which are prohibited in any Forest other than a Conservation Forest, Reserve Forest or Village Forest (i.e. to mean and include Other State Forest) and also set out the punishment for the commission and for aiding and abetting in the commission of any offense under the said Section. Thus, by the said amendment Other State Forest was brought under the protection of the Forest Ordinance and the purview of the Forest Conservation Department.
“On July 2, 2020, Cabinet Spokesperson announced a Cabinet proposal taken for discussion on July 1, 2020 to transfer lands considered as ‘residual forests’ (State Forest Lands) presently under the authority of the Department of Forest Conservation to the control of Divisional and District Secretaries, for “Chena Cultivation and economically productive purposes,” CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said.
The Circular No. MWFC/1/2020 has set out a list of areas that should be excluded when releasing other state forest lands for economic and other purposes. Water catchment areas, elephant corridors, areas of historical, cultural and archaeological significance, areas that should be conserved for the protection of endangered flora and fauna are a few such areas that should be excluded. However this is not comprehensive enough to control the damage.
As a result many forest have been grabbed around the country, in Pollebadda,-Mahaoya, Lahugala, Nilgala and many other areas. These forest lands serve as the connectivity between protected areas and linking reserve forests with national parks and are commonly used as corridors for animals to travel between ecosystems. The absence of these Other State Forests will lead to National Parks and Forest Reserves being isolated and fragmented.
CEJ said that this will be one of main cause to the Human – Elephant Conflict in the Country.  Moreover, Other State Forests harbor many endemic species and during the last decade or so, multiple new flora and fauna species were identified within other state forests.