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Unchecked fire in Vavuniya forest plains

22 October 2020 02:24 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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villagers and environmentalists allege that various parties are attempting to use this land for commercial projects, adding that these were merely attempting to  clear land

the area which has been set on fire is a catchment area for this region which receives relatively less rainfall

 although security forces and a police station are located very close to the forest area, no arrests have been made in connection with  the incident

villagers estimate nearly a hundred acres  have been destroyed in the Mamaduwakanda area due to fires

ancient ruins of the Elara, Dutugemunu and Agbo dynasties could also be found in the vicinity of Mamaduwa mountain

 

State forest land in Mamaduwa, Vavuniya has been set ablaze for the third time, environmentalists allege. The State land estimated to be over 100 acres has been set on fire for the third time within weeks, which has led to the destruction of several hectares of forest plains.  Following several inquiries, Vavuniya Police and area Forest Department officials who visited the area observed that fire had been set by a few locals on October 16 and 17.  


Mamaduwa Police OIC Lakmal speaking to the Daily Mirror said this was not an isolated incident, adding that there is no evidence that this was an organised arson crime.  


“These fires are reported in this area from time to time, as the villagers are accustomed to traditional chena cultivation, which requires the soil to be burnt. Therefore there is no evidence to say that these fires, even though they are frequent are carried out by an organised group,” he said.  


According to the Police officer, this particular stretch of land is grassland, which is often used by traditional farmers of the area, to not only feed their cattle but also for cultivation.  


“Whether it’s State land or their own private land, these villagers would first set fire to the land, before they begin cultivation. However, during our observations on October 17, we observed that this would have been a fire set by a few individuals of a nearby Civil Security Force Camp. We believe that a small fire set by a few individuals of the camp, had gone out of control due to the strong winds,” the OIC said.  


The Mamaduwa Police OIC said the fire resulted in damage to at least 2.5 hectares of the forest, adding that the area Forest Office would be taking legal action against responsible individuals.  


However, villagers and environmentalists allege that various parties are attempting to use this land for commercial projects, adding that they were merely attempting to clear land. District officials denied any evidence of such a motive. The Daily Mirror spoke to Vavuniya District Secretary Saman Bandulasena, who declined to comment on the details of the incident.  


“There has been a small fire, I have not visited the area personally and I’m yet to receive the details,” he said. The District Secretary denied commenting on any further inquires.  


Environmentalists, quoting villagers, said that there had been attempts to utilise land such as these for the cultivation of several commercial crops. The land has also been cleared in the past to allow the operation 
of metal quarries in some areas.  “The stretch of forest is visible to anyone travelling along Vavuniya to Madu Kanda road. It is also an ancient archaeological area, the area is in fact dotted with ancient ruins,” Ravindra Kariyawasam of the Centre for 
Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) said.  


He alleged that for decades, this stretch of forest was well conserved, despite the raging civil war in this region. “Following the end of the war, metal quarries were permitted to operate in several areas close to this stretch of forest, adding to the depletion of natural resources in the area.”  


He believes that unidentified individuals have been setting fire to this land and it is evident that there is some sort of government support for this. “There have been no arrests made over this incident thus far, while no action has been taken by the Police or any other State authority to prevent this recurring 
disaster,” he claimed.  


According to Kariyawasam, the area which has been set on fire is a catchment area for this region which receives relatively less rainfall. Mamaduwa is a small village in the North East of Vavuniya, only a short distance away from the A9 highway, surrounded by the Agbopura, Eropathana and Omanthai areas.  


There is danger in setting fires in catchment areas, Kariyawasam said as the residents of these villages in the Vavuniya District, which anyway receives very little rainfall, feed their paddy from the rainwater and water supplied through the Mamaduwakanda water reservoir.  


“People in this area still use this forest to meet the food requirements of the cattle that support their farms and to obtain medicines. Some also rely on this forest to source material for their handicrafts, which is also another important cottage industry upon which villagers rely,” he explained. 


He insists that authorities are not taking the necessary precautions to safeguard these people and their livelihood.  
Interestingly ancient ruins of the Elara, Dutugemunu and Agbo dynasties could also be found in the vicinity of Mamaduwa mountain and the vicinity of Mamaduwa lake, according to Kariyawasam.  


“Therefore this area should be protected and preserved for its archaeological value as well,” he said.  


Kariyawasam adds that an attempt to encroach the Mamaduwa mountain range, which is an isolated mountain, was blocked by the villagers of the Mamaduwa area as well as those of surrounding villages. In contrast to the official figure, villagers estimate nearly a hundred acres  have been destroyed in the Mamaduwakanda area due to fires.  


“Dotted with large trees varying from palu, weera, kon and keta this area is a grass plain with vegetation scattered throughout. It can also be described as an elephant corridor where elephants can roam. About 94 species of migratory and endemic bird species are presently found in this area, which is imperative for the protection of the dry zone eco-system. The Mamaduwakanda and Madukanda areas are also highly valued for its mammal diversity,” 
Kariyawasam explained.  


“Due to the red and yellow mixed lateritic soils scattered throughout this area, the acidity of the water remains high and the water is highly purified due to the existing plant system and its root system. Such an essential and valuable ecosystem is currently being destroyed for the expansion of commercial crops in the area,” 
Kariyawasam alleged.  


He charged that although security forces and a police station are located very close to the forest area, no arrests have been made in connection with the incident. “Whether this land is obtained for cultivation or any other reason, this is not the way to do it,” he said. “A large number of forests in the war-torn Central and Northern Provinces are being destroyed today and if there is no state intervention, the people must take immediate action against it,” he cautioned.     

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  Comments - 2

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  • Umar Perera Thursday, 22 October 2020 11:46 AM

    Again, forest cover which is so essential to prevent further global warming and ecosystems and elephant corridors are blindsided by greed and the obvious incompetence of the local authorities - Police, Local Govt Authorities, Archaeology and Wildlife Depts. What do they really do for work? We look forward to follow up on these and similar news reports

    Pukka Sahib Friday, 23 October 2020 09:57 PM

    Who has the POWER to silence Security Forces, Police, and Forestry Dept. and cause such massive destruction to forest cover? Of course, ruling POLITICIANS' strong arm.


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