Issues surrounding the Wilpattu National Park encroachment have reached an all-time high with the Auditor General's Department report that was released earlier this month. The matter which went under cryosleep and forced on the ice, like every other subject in the country, saw resurgence, last week, with several events. The destruction of the forests around Wilpattu has become a major issue after a coalition of environmental organizations began lobbying the Government for a halt to the deforestation. Earlier last month a collective of environmentalists and social activists staged a rally in Colombo that drew more than 5,000 people who demanded action.
The most startling revelation came, however, from the Auditor General's Department. The controversial report submitted by the Auditor General revealed that intense political pressure was exerted on various officials during the previous Government's tenure, to release lands belonging to the Vilaththikulam forest reserve, bordering the national park, to resettle people. The revelation, given the context of the forthcoming Local Government Election was groundbreaking.
In what seemingly turned out to be a political play to provide lands for the displaced, through the encroachment of a national forest reserve, in order to gain a political superiority and a mere vote, the previous administration's supposed crimes have certainly taken another black mark to its collection. Equally, it goes to show that the current Government is also no better at it, for taking the same perpetrators of the crime, under its wing and prizing the national reserve with a bow on top like a pretty Christmas present. One crime would not negate the other, especially when it was committed by the same group of people for the same purpose.
Yet, these matters only make sporadic ripples in our livelihood. A forest is cut down to secure a temporary political strategy. The people move out of the forest and the forest grows back. But its initial pristine nature, its original eco-system will never fully recover. It'll forever be tarnished and tainted by the human touch; for our buildings-decrepit and roads-potholed will remain under the new canopy of trees and ferns. Life will find a way, but it'll never be the same.
But it's not too late for the truth to come out. In the backdrop of the February Local Government polls, it would be wise if the Government finds an avenue to do something about it. The polls can be utilized to establish the controversial presence of the five villages that are supposedly within the area demarcated within the forest reserve buffer zone of the Wilpattu National Park. If no such establishment is made, then the answer is simple, something wrong has been committed, despite the lack of human presence. But, if votes do come in from those areas, it might as well be too late. It would not be just to remove the villages from the area.
Furthermore, the Auditor General's report is a clarion call to the Government to do a tangible and transparent investigation into the Wilpattu controversy. This is on par with the Treasury bonds issue of 2015, as well as the SriLankan and Mihin Lanka airlines debacle, which are to be graced with their Presidential Commissions of Inquiry. So what's the harm in getting to the bottom of this particular issue? We are finally gaining some success when it comes to Inquisitorial Commissions. So why not utilize that for the Wilpattu issue as well?
Daily Mirror, January 4, 2018