- The remaining lands in the Knuckles Conservation Area will be used for projects such as bottled water plants
- lands belonging to the Land Reclamation Board within 500m of the Knuckles Forest Area were not demarcated and they still remain as it is
- Knuckles represents 30% of the water catchment area of the Mahaweli River
Although Sri Lanka has attracted tourists from around the world for its greeneries and beaches, the authorities seem to have less knowledge on the importance of preserving its resources. While Wilpattu is already being deforested for housing projects, the authorities seem to have identified the Knuckles Conservation Area as the next bait. Several areas around this location have been demarcated for commercial projects which would cause an irreversible damage to the ecosystem. As Knuckles has already been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, disrupting its ecosystem would be a ground for de-listing, eventually imposing a black mark on the country. However, it has also been observed that the said lands which are being given out on lease for these projects are owned by the State Plantations Corporation and Elkaduwa Plantations Ltd.
In such a backdrop, the Daily mirror sheds light on the importance of conserving this valuable resource in the island.
The Knuckles Range also known as the ‘Dumbara Range’is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Through a survey done by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment it has been found that the Knuckles mountain range is home to 128 species of birds, 60 species of butterflies, 15 species of fish, and over 324 species of animals.
Through a survey done by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment it has been found that the Knuckles mountain range is home to 128 species of birds
Out of them five species are endemic to Knuckles itself. Due to its significance, the Knuckles Forest was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the 34th Committee meeting held in 2010. Therefore 31305 hectares of land and a buffer zone spanning 35074 hectares were declared as the World Heritage Site. The UNESCO identifies a certain area as a World Heritage Site by considering its value and the fact that it is rare. Hence it funds for further conservation of such sites. However it has been revealed that several lands belonging to the State Plantations Corporation and Elkaduwa Plantations Ltd., will be given away on lease. Moreover, projects with a starting value of Rs. 2 billion will be given 55 years lease period whereas the lease period for the rest of the lands will be 30 years. So far Alakole Waththa near Waththegama town has been identified for an eco-tourism project along with other areas such as Alpe Ella Estate – Panwila, Gomare Estate - Panwila, Haagalawaththa, Kaallabokka Estate, Midland Estate – Raththota and Nikoloya Estate.
Speaking to the Daily mirror environmentalist and Environment Conservation Trust Director Sajeewa Chamikara said that several authorities have tried out different ways to acquire land around the Knuckles Conservation Area.
According to the areas in which these lands are being situated the usage of these areas for such projects will have a negative impact on the ecosystem
“The lands will be given to projects such as poultry farms, hotels etc. According to the areas in which these lands are being situated the usage of these areas for such projects will have a negative impact on the ecosystem. Through the 1972/1 Land Reform Act, these lands were given to the State Plantations Corporation. It is through the 1975/4 State Agricultural Corporation Act that the State Plantations Corporation was established. Therefore these lands cannot be given for projects which don’t include agriculture-related activities. The remaining lands in the Knuckles Conservation Area will be used for projects such as bottled water plants, hydropower etc. Therefore we have several requests from the Government one being that in the year 2000 during President Chandrika’s tenure, lands belonging to the Land Reclamation Board within 500m of the Knuckles Forest Area were not demarcated and they still remain as it is. Therefore we request the Government to include these lands also into this Area. Thereafter we also request the Government to declare a buffer zone according to the National Environmental Act. The Knuckles forest is also one of the main ecosystems with a rich biodiversity. It has many endemic species and if they become extinct it will be a huge loss. It represents 30% of the water catchment area of the Mahaweli River. This is also one of the main drainage basins of the Moragahakanda and Kalu Ganga projects. This area is suitable for organic agriculture, eco-tourism and similar projects which could be sustained.”
According to former Customs Deputy Director Samantha Gunasekara the lands in the Knuckles Forest Reserve are situated above 3000 feet. “There’s cardamom in it’s under growth and the forest is still a virgin forest.
The Knuckles Forest Reserve is a sensitive ecosystem and the Government in turn has to acquire these areas and growth them further
There are people living below the forest and once poultry farms and other projects are established in the upper areas the water will be contaminated. Then the people will have to utilize this water as well. The Knuckles Forest Reserve is a sensitive ecosystem and the Government in turn has to acquire these areas and growth them further. We have to focus on ecosystem services as well. There are areas demarcated through GPS, but that isn’t enough. There has to be more vegetables and plants grown to sustain the environment rather than giving it away for mega scale projects which would disrupt the entire ecosystem. If the projects continue and the ecosystem is disrupted, Knuckles will be de-listed from the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If it happens it will have a negative impression on the country. This will affect tourism, foreign investments and other projects which would attract tourists and foreign income,”said Gunasekara.
Saminda Vidanage, an environmental activist in the area, believes that the Knuckles Forest should be preserved as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. “There is no buffer zone marked at Knuckles and when they start giving projects the entire ecosystem breaks down.
They are going to initiate close to 253 projects. But the Government should educate the people about what they are going to do
None of the authorities have specifically issued a statement saying that they will discontinue issuing lands. The President who is also the Minister of Environment should speak out on this issue because it is more important that whether the two elephants should be at Sinharaja or not. They are going to lease out16 lands for poultry farms, water bottling plants and power generation plants. They are going to initiate close to 253 projects. But the Government should educate the people about what they are going to do. In most instances the people are not aware of what is happening around them,”said Vidanage.
Minister of Public Enterprise and Kandy Development Lakshman Kiriella was blamed for giving away land around the Knuckles Conservation area. However he denied all allegations and stated that there has been no such move. He further challenged all parties to present him with proof in the event such an activity has taken place. Speaking to the Daily mirror Ministry Secretary Ravindra Hewavitharana said that the Ministry has instructed the companies to not violate any environmental laws.
We also issued another letter asking them to get environmental clearance from the authorities before they proceed
“None of these companies have started projects within the conservation area as alleged. We have received 257 proposals from various companies and most of these projects are quite small spanning from 10-15 acres for cattle rearing, pepper cultivation and other industries. We also issued another letter asking them to get environmental clearance from the authorities before they proceed. We have categorically asked all institutions to follow these instructions we have issued,”said Hewavitharana.
Several attempts to contact the State Plantations Corporation and Elkaduwa Plantations Ltd.proved futile.