State sponsored illegal felling of Teak under the guise of ‘reforestation’

By Siva Parameswaran

In the scenically beautiful Mullaitivu district, locals and environment activists have witnessed illegal plundering and felling of Teak tress are rampant with apparent state patronage under the guise of ‘reforestation’.

The district has the largest forest cover in Sri Lanka and valued for its ecological richness in the northern part of the island and plays a vital role in the annual rainfall on which the majority of the population of the district survive.

Agriculture and fishing are the main occupations of the Mullaitivu people and the forest cover and rain are of paramount importance for their livelihood.

Locals constantly allege the natural resources of Mullaitivu district are destroyed intentionally since the brutal war came to an end as announced by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). Such activities have deprived the locals of their livelihood and illegal deforestation has only added to their woes.

Forest cover under grave threat

Gravel mining, Granite extraction, Sand minding, illegal lumbar smuggling are cited as examples of the deforestation. While the GOSL proudly claim that forest cover in Sri Lanka is increasing and Mullaitivu district has the largest cover, it is losing its cover slowly but steadily due to illegal logging.

The teak plantation conceived and implemented by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is being chopped off at a rapid pace which the locals say seriously affect the local ecological system.

The timber cut from these plantations are being procured by the State Timber Corporation and sold elsewhere when the demand for the same is high in Mullaitivu district itself.

Locals say Teak plantations in hundreds of acres planted by the Tamil Eelam Forestry Division (TEFD) of the LTTE during the 2002-2006 peace process had been handed over to the State Timber Corporation by the Forest department.

While the issue of illegal felling of Timber was raised in the Parliament last year by the TNA member Sivagnanam Siritharan, no affirmative action has been initiated by the GOSL to stop this. The District Development Council even decided that it has to be consulted and a decision taken at its meeting but has not been put into practice.

The most recent decision by the government to hand over the control of forests to local officials have raised alarm bells.

A circular issued by Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation Ministry Bandula Harischandra gives District and Divisional Secretaries authority to transfer ‘other State forests’ for economic purposes, a move that is strongly opposed by environmental groups who justifiably fear that it would only lead to unrestrained deforestation.

Expired licence

Sign boards kept at the forest in Mullaitivu clearly show the licence for the cutting of Timber has expired. In spite of this the illegal logging continues in the Murippu division.

Now even without any decisions taken and resolution passed at the DDC meeting the forest department ‘under the guise of reforestation’ continue to fell Teak trees in areas contracted out the State Timber trading corporation.

As such, Teak trees in about 40 acres of land continue to be cut in Murippu area, causing irreversible damage to the eco system. Eyewitness say that not only mature tress fit for logging are being cut, but also even those small trees which have not reached the maturity age for cutting are also being felled. It is being said that the process is part of the reforestation programme which ecological activists and subject matter specialists have dismissed.

A journey to Murippu shall reveal that no fresh planting has been done in the forest area during the last four years where Teakwood has been felled. Continuous illegal logging in the Murippu area and transporting them to the rest of the country has affected the ecological balance of Mullaitivu.

Irreversible ecological damage

Environmental activists say Soil erosion, loss of bio-diversity, reduction in rainfall, habitat loss and depriving locals of their livelihood are some of the ill effects of logging.

Deforestation under the guise of 'reforestation' is nothing but hoodwinking the locals and causing ecological disaster. While Sand mining and gravel mining are already a menace causing environmental damage, illegal logging and deforestation are causing worry the locals say.

In particular the State Timber Corporation is accused of aiding and abetting illegal logging. As a result rainfall in Mullaitivu district has seen sharp variations with decline in rainfall with has caused a serious setback to agriculture in Mullaitivu district. This has left thousands of vulnerable people who thrive on agriculture for their survival in a precarious position.

Locals are strictly barred from entering the demarcated forest area with Timber plantation as can been seen from the sign boards displayed in the Murippu forest area.

‘Stop logging totally’

The only solution to the manifold problems locals say is to stop the illegal deforestation and put an end even to the ‘legal permit to cut timber’. Also, the locals demand that GOSL should ensure adequate water facility for them to carry on their agricultural activities.

Sustainable reforestation combined with a ban on even legal felling of logs is the only solution to ensure the lost ecological imbalance is at least restored partially.

Lack of immediate action by the GOSL will affect the people of Mullaitivu district who continue to live under squalid conditions even after a decade of the civil war coming to an end.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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