Feature Article

Maithiripala ‘coordinates’ relentless land grab at massive-scale in North-East

[TamilNet, Saturday, 28 July 2018, 22:49 GMT]
Occupying Colombo's Forest Conservation Department and Wildlife Conservation Department have grabbed tens of thousands of acres of lands in the eight districts of North-East. These departments, coming under the unitary state system based in Colombo, are refusing to hand over even a few hundred of acres of these lands to the Divisional Secretariats and other mechanisms, which are also controlled by the same unitary system. A meeting convened by the SL Presidential Secretariat on Friday ended up strengthening further the position of the SL Forest and Wild-Life departments, Tamil officials who attended the meeting said. The Ministry of ‘Mahaweli Development’ and Environment, to which SL President Maithiripala Sirisena is the responsible minister, plays a central role in determining the extent of lands that could be released back, the officials told TamilNet on Saturday.

The meeting only aimed to resolve the internal conflicts prevailing within the authorities operating under the unitary state mechanism.

The District Secretaries (SL Government Agents) in the North and East have been facing bottom-up and people-based pressure, demanding the GAs to get back the private and public lands that have been deliberately seized by various SL Departments and Authorities, such as the Forest Conservation Department, Wildlife Conservation Department and the so-called Mahaweli Authority.

Facing the bottom-up pressure, particularly in the form of resolutions passed at various Divisional and District Development Coordination Committee meetings, the GAs started to pass the pressure on to the various ministries in Colombo.

The meeting on Friday was convened to address the bottom-up pressure through a top-down clarification process, the Tamil officials who attended the meeting told TamilNet.

The GSs were asking to release only a small portion of what was in fact resolved in the DCC meetings, they said.

However, the Sinhala officials of the Forest and Wildlife Departments of the unitary State of genocidal Sri Lanka started to cite various procedures and involvement of approving agencies to release the lands.

The SL Forest and Wildlife departments were not following any proper procedure or approval processes when seizing the lands, they said adding that the Provincial Councils were also not consulted on the matter.

For example, 1800 million rupees were allocated for farming of fresh-water shrimps and crabs in an area of 3,500 acres in Maanthai-West Divisional Secretariat Division in Mannaar in 2016. The lands were supposed to be distributed at 50 acres for each farm. However, the area has been seized by the Wildlife Conservation Department in the meantime. Divisional Secretary K. Ketheeswaran has been concerned that the allocated money was going to return as the project land was not being released.

SL Forest Department officials were insisting upon an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) under the provision of National Environment Act (NEA) if any area of ‘forest’ beyond two and a half acres were to be released.

The district secretaries of seven of the eight districts in the North and East, officials of various ministries and departments, including the SL Ministry of Lands, SL Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, SL Department of Forest Conservation and the SL Department of Wildlife Conservation, took part in the meeting.

SL President and ‘Mahaweli and Environment’ Minister, Maithiripala Sirisena, hails from Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province, which borders with all the three districts of the Eastern province, Ampaa'rai, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The NCP borders with two of the five districts, Mannaar and Vavuniyaa in the North.

At the same time, Mahaweli L Zone project, being carried out by SL President Maithiripala Sirisena, is Welioya centred (Mullaiththeevu), which is Sinhalicisaton of the country of Eezham Tamils. At least 6,000 new Sinhala colonists families have been settled in what is being called a ‘massive infrastructural development project’ by the SL Ministry of Mahaweli and Environment, which increased the land capacity of the entire L Zone from 163,000 hectares to 192,000 hectares after the genocidal onslaught on Vanni in 2009.

Vast forest lands have been cleared to create the Sinhala colonies.

Similarly, SL Army was getting lands from the Mahaweli and Environment Ministry for its military corporatism, for example, 11,400 acres in Seruwila division of Trincomalee district. Some of these lands were leased to commercial firms such as Browns Group in the South, Singapore-based Let’s Grow Pte Ltd and USA-based Dole Food Company, violating all the procedures.

However, the same SL Ministry was seizing more lands to Somawathiya National Park and Trincomalee Nature Reserve, taking the lands of Tamils and Tamil-speaking Veddahs in the East, they further said.

Apart from the district of Mannaar, the District Secretary from Mullaiththeevu was requesting 1,500 acres of lands. The District Secretary from Ki'linochchi was seeking only 90 acres, and Vavuniyaa was urging the release of 65 acres before the meeting on Friday.

However, there is no hope in sight of getting lands released through official processes, the Tamil officials said.

Instead, Tamil politicians and activists should get together and conceive strategies to fight against the massive land grab by the SL departments, which is much dangerous in scale than what the people are fighting for to retrieve in Valikaamam North, Keappaa-pulavu, Puthukkudiyiruppu and in Mu'l'lik-ku'lam in Mannaar, they said.


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