Mar 23, 2019

Who felled trees in Wilpattu? Here’s Rishad’s answer Featured

The Wilpattu national park was cleared and handed over at the time by the Divisional Secretary on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the then minister Basil Rajapaksa, said Commerce and Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen in parliament yesterday (22).

Bathiudeen noted that someone else had built a hotel in the forest after having cleared it, adding that if it is proved he had destroyed Wilpattu, he is ready to endure any punishment.

Bathiudeen said this in response to questions raised by JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake regarding the allegations about Rishad having cleared a part of the Wilpattu forest reserve and resettling his supporters.

Who is behind this instigation?

The Wilpattu issue had come to the fore again, but the motive is yet unclear. Some question as to who is behind this issue.

However. There is a massive social media discussion regarding the Wilpattu deforestation these days, while the media attention was focussed on the mass deforestation several years ago.

In this issue, there are direct allegations levelled at Rishad Bathiudeen.

“Government job”

Two years ago Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had told the BBC Sinhala Service that it was not he who had caused the massive deforestation, but that it was the government for resettlement.

“It was not the people who cleared Wilpattu it was the government. As the government it was the Provincial Council, or the Timber Corporation or the Forest Conservation Department who cleared it and resettled the people.”

“Now they are hiding all that and blaming it on me,” Bathiudeen said.

He said this during a FB discussion.

JVP leader’s story:

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake noted that resettlement was not the responsibility of Minister Bathiudeen.

He said this during a previous media briefing on the Wilpattu issue.

“That is the responsibility of the goverenmnt and not Bathiudeen’s as he is not even the minister of resettlement,” Anura Kumara noted. 

He said not only in Wilpattu, but forest destruction is happening throughout the country. “In most areas the politicians are using their power and engaging in deforestation to resettle their supporters,” he said.

“I have no connection to Wilpattu”

However, according to Bathiudeen, there has not been any deforestation in Wilpattu and that people had been resettled there after the war ended.

“Wilpattu is located between the Puttalam and Anuradhapura Districts but our people are resettled in Mannar District. Therefore, neither my people or I have any connection to Wilpattu. These are all false allegations levelled against us.”

He said if the forests are cleared for resettlement it is wrong. “However, the people who returned after the war settled in their ancestral lands and after 20-30 years these lands were covered in trees.”

“Sinhala-Muslim split”

Bathiudeen said that a small group of Sinhalese from the South are blaming him with the intention of creating a split among the Muslims and Sinhalese.

“This is a conspiracy where a small group of Sinhalese are trying to create a clash among the Sinhalese and Muslims. This is a attack against the Muslims,” he said.

When asked about allegations that he is resettling the Muslims with the intention of broadening his vote base, he responded that it was the Provincial officials who are responsible for resettlement and he was sure of it after having inspected the documents.

Bathiudeen noted that when a person who had fled during the war returns to his own home, he cannot chase them away.

“The lands had been cleared with government funds for the people to return to their homes. The Timber Corporation had cut the trees that had grown on their lands. Other than that the people did not deliberately cut trees in the forest and resettle there,” the minister said.

Nagananda

Meanwhile a petition was filed seeking the removal of all illegal constructions within the Wilpattu forest reserve and acquisition of these lands, for which Appeals Court approval to proceed was obtained.

Court approval was granted, having taken into consideration the petition filed by Attorney Nagananda Kodituwakku.

Minister Rishad Bathiudeen is also name among the list of respondents.

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