News

Top official confirms land grabbing, deforestation around temple 

  • Buddhist Affairs CG requests chief monk to send docs of lands 

BY Dinitha Rathnayake

Buddhist Affairs Commissioner General (CG) Sunanda Kariyapperuma, who has visited the Ancient Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya in Atharagalla in the Kurunegala District of the North Western Province to look into the alleged destruction of forest lands, has observed evidence of both land grabbing and deforestation. 

The Morning, citing Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka, revealed this issue on 27 September, where deforestation attempts have been reported in the Ehetuwewa area in the Kurunegala District. Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the destruction of forest lands belonging to the Ancient Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya.

Kariyapperuma, speaking to The Morning, said that he had visited the site after this revelation and requested Chief Incumbent of the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya, Ven. Rahula Thera, to send all the information about the temple lands.

“There are around 5,000 acres belonging to this temple and we have observed land grabbing and destruction when we visited the land.”

Forest lands coming under the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya are being destroyed using backhoe machines near the Palukadawala Tank, Hunugallewa, Atharagalla, and other areas belonging to the Nakolagane Grama Niladhari Division. 

The forest lands in the catchment area of the Palukadawala Reservoir, belonging to the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya, are a key elephant home range in the area. More than 60% of the free range elephants in the north western wildlife administrative regions live outside the protected areas and they use the forest patches for their survival and moving paths. This area has a valuable ecosystem, and around 500 elephants are being monitored and fed in the area, and therefore, it is essential to protect such forests to mitigate the human-elephant conflict and for the conservation of the elephants in the area. 

Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka claimed that 750 acres out of 2,700 acres of nindagam lands (lands under the Buddhist Temporalities Law) belonging to the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya have been leased out with the influence of Rahula Thera to a few businessmen, illegally, with the help of political influence. 

Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) also claimed that since early 2015, EFL has received various complaints from the Ehetuwewa Division relating to deforestation and/or the use of forest land. The complaints received were associated with a large-scale clearing of approximately 15 to 20 acres of forest land and the subsequent establishment of an electric fence in the immediate vicinity of the Nakolagane Purana (Ancient) Rajamaha Viharaya, in Ehetuwewa. According to the information received, the large-scale clearing and subsequent mango plantation surrounding the temple premises were carried out by the Nakolagane Purana Rajamaha Viharaya in collaboration with funding by private investors.

The clearing and development of this area will result in the blocking of the seasonal movement of elephants while leading to the loss of critical resources and habitat. Inevitably, this will force the elephants to move to surrounding villages looking for food, thereby increasing the destruction of crops and cultivation. When elephants are prevented from accessing natural forest land, they are compelled to use areas inhabited by humans, thus leading to the escalation of the human-elephant conflict.

A letter has been sent to Kariyapperuma, dated 25 September 2021, related to this matter, and Kariyapperuma, speaking to The Morning earlier, said that he had received the relevant letter sent by Rainforest Protectors Sri Lanka.

“I have received a complaint related to the same matter three months ago and when I made inquiries, Rahula Thera said that they are growing local rice in these fields. However, if there is an attempt to clear the nindagam lands, which belong under the Buddhist Temporalities Law, it is an illegal attempt and I would start an investigation related to this matter.”

A protest was also staged on 14 March 2021, opposing moves to lease out nindagam lands belonging to the Galgamuwa, Ehetuwewa, and Nakolagane temples to multinational companies. The demonstration was staged at Palukadawala. The protestors demanded that the authorities immediately halt the continuous deforestation taking place at the hands of multinational companies.