ECT director Sajeewa Chamikara says in a statement that 7,200 acres of land in Pannikkamkulam, Vannivilankulam and Mankulam forest reserves are to be released for development.
A cabinet paper in this regard (no. 08/1444/350/058) submitted on 29 August 2008 has been approved and Mankulam declared as an urban development region by gazette no. 1617/2 of 22 September 2009.
The gazette says 10,000 acres (41 square km) will come under the town planning in four stages – 2,320 hectares for residential, 400 hectares for industrial, 160 hectares for commercial and 240 hectares for agricultural purposes.
However, the integrated strategic environmental assessment of the northern province of Sri Lanka of 2014, prepared by the Central Environment Authority and the Disaster Management Centre together with the UN environment and development agencies stresses the need to pay attention to protect the three forest reserves.
Also a key elephant habitat, these forest reserves have 986 square kilometres of waterways and is the main catchment for Kanakarayan Aru.
The area has been identified as one where human-elephant conflicts are on the rise due to the clearing of forest cover, with 35 elephants being killed last year alone.