Tamils must fight back against illegal seizure of lands by SL Forest Department: Kurunathan

[TamilNet, Friday, 02 August 2019, 21:18 GMT]
The SL Forest Department has been systematically thrusting upon the divisional secretariats in the North-East various mischievous interpretations of forest conservation laws of the unitary state system to seize the lands of the uprooted Tamils. The SL department was violating the constitution by declaring 220 acres of lands that belonged to 200 landowners at Kanakar-kiraamam in Ampaa'rai as coming under its domain in December 2015. It took four years for the SL Forest Department officials to admit the seizure as a 'failure', said Former Eastern Provincial Land Commissioner Kathrigamathamby Kurunathan. He was confronting the SL department officials at a meeting organised by the SL Human Rights Commission in Ampaa'rai on 20th July. However, the people are yet to see any positive sign on the ground.

The SL Forest Department has no right to claim the deed or permit lands that belonged to uprooted Tamil landowners. Tamils should not hesitate to legally and politically confront the department with facts, Mr Kurunathan told TamilNet on Friday.

The Tamil settlement, located 7 km north of Poththuvil, was created in 1978 by a Tamil minister, M Canagaratnam, who had defected from the TULF to the UNP in 1977.

It took one year to get a meeting with the SL Human Rights Commission and the Forest Department to discuss the issue.

Finally, Mr Kurunathan confronted the Forest officials questioning whether the lands under the question had been specifically gazetted or demarcated as a plantation. The Forest officials responded in the negative.

The former land commissioner told them that they could only apply the argument taking over forested lands for conservation for crown lands. However, properties that belonged to private people could not be seized by the department simply because the area had become forested. Furthermore, the act of refusing the grounds back to the people is also a violation of the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP) adopted in 2001, he explained.

Unable to withstand the arguments, and thanks to a Tamil-speaking Muslim official present at the meeting, a consensus was reached at the meeting, he said. The SL Forest Department officials agreed to hand over the 220 acres back to the rightful owners once the villagers were able to document their ownership.

Apart from the 220 acres, almost 1,300 acres of crown lands have come under the SL Forest Department.

The SL Forest Department was claiming the lands through the divisional secretariats stating that all forested areas had come under its domain according to an Environmental circular issued in 2001.

Since Ampaa'rai district was carved out of Batticaloa district in 1961, a systematic demographic genocide was committed against Eezham Tamils reducing them from 23% of the district's population (1963 Census) into 17% (2012 Census).

At the same time, the Sinhalese population increased from 29% to 39%. Tamil-speaking Muslims remain as the majority population constituting 43% of the population.

Ever since 1956, when the Tamils in the district were chased out from their traditional and later settlements for the first time, the successive regimes in Colombo have operated against the resettlement of Tamils in Ampaa'rai.

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