Cabinet proposes Forest Land for ‘economic purposes’: environmentalists up in arms

Cabinet proposes Forest Land for ‘economic purposes’: environmentalists up in arms

Written by Zulfick Farzan

02 Jul, 2020 | 5:59 pm

Colombo (News 1st);  Announcing Cabinet Decisions taken on the 01st of July, Joint Spokesperson Minister Bandula Gunawardena announced a Cabinet proposal to transfer lands, which are considered to be ‘residual forests’, to District and Divisional Secretariats.

The proposal, which Gunawardena confirmed was made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa notes the administration of ‘Residual Forests’ have been brought under the Department of Forest Conservation in terms of the provisions of Circular No. 05/2001.

He said the Cabinet was briefed that these provisions have resulted in a ‘long procedure’ for the use of these lands for ‘other purposes’.

It notes, in particular, Chena farmers are inconvenienced as a result of this and it also poses a barrier to economically productive purposes.

The Cabinet has discussed this matter and decided to request the Minister of Environment to look into this matter and prepare an ‘appropriate mechanism for vesting power in the District Secretaries to engage such lands temporarily for other purposes’.

The Cabinet brief goes on to note the mechanism should retain government ownership of lands and wildlife ‘should not be harmed’.

No Such Thing as Residual Forest stressed Jagath Gunwardena:

Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena speaking to News 1st said there is nothing called residual forests because forests don’t have a residual area.

He explained, under the Forest Conservation Ordinance, three types of forests have been declared as protected areas and they are:

01. Conservation Forests
02. Reserved Forests or Forest Reserves
03. Village Forests

Further, there are other areas that are not declared under any other enactment (Forest Conservation Ordinance, Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance or the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act), but are nevertheless forest areas that come under the purview of the Forest Conservation Department, said Gunawardena.

Such forests are called “Other State Forests” from the very earliest of times said Jagath Gunawardena adding “Other State Forests” means they are forests which other than protected areas.

He stressed the term “Other State Forests” does not denote these forests have any low value stressing the fact it just shows the legal position that it is not declared under any other enactment.

Jagath Gunwardena went on to note this also does not mean these lands are totally unprotected adding as they come under the purview of the forest conservation ordinance, basic protection is given under section 20 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance in addition to certain sections of the other enactments.

Calling them “residual” forests is a misnomer of the worst means because one terminology used to describe other state forests in Sinhala is “Avashesha Rajaye Wananthara“.

Avashesha” means other or residual said Gunwardena adding, “I think it is a bad translation of the Sinhala term back into the English term”.

He said it was initially the English term which was translated to the Sinhala term and at this instance, the Sinhala term may have been retranslated erroneously into English.

Jagath Gunwardena stressed there is nothing called residual forests because forests don’t have a residual area and it gives a totally mischievous connotation to the whole concept of other state forests because the moment you call it residual it means it has no value or less value in it.

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