Wilpattu National Park (WNP) was declared as a national park in 1938. It is the oldest and the largest national park in Sri Lanka. WNP consists of a unique and sensitive ecosystem forming one of the ‘Villu’ ecosystems present in the North Western region. A total of 284 faunal species belonging to 101 families have been recorded within the WNP, with 21 endemic and 30 nationally threatened species among them.
With the onset of the terrorist movement by the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE), the WNP was subjected to a series of attacks. As a result, in 1987 the Park was closed to visitors. The park was re-opened around in 2010 and has been subjected to numerous illegal human activities ever since.
After the re-opening of the National Park, there have been alleged expansions of structures and buildings transforming a small jungle shrine situated within the WNP into a well-constructed church, Pallekandal Church.
This small jungle shrine in the Pallekandal/ Pomparippu area, which was established over a few centuries ago, was acquired by the Government as a state land along with its tiny block of land in 1969 under the Land Acquisition (amendment) Act No. 28 of 1964 (Gazette bearing No. 14,886 dated 1969.12.26). Thereafter the Block V of the Wilpattu National Park was declared in 1973 by way of a gazette over the same area and the entire Pallekandal Village including the small jungle shrine effectively became a part of the WNP. During the war-torn period, this small jungle shrine went into disuse.
After the re-opening of the WNP, a set of new permanent structures have been illegally added to the jungle shrine.
These illegal expansions of the church and increased festivities have allegedly resulted in more human intrusion into the WNP without any regulation and/ or any control in contravention of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No.02 of 1937 as amended (FFPO).
In terms of the Section 2 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, once the Minister in charge of the subject by Order published in the Gazette declares an area of land to be a National Park, the management, regulation and governance of such National Park is vested with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).
According to Section 6 (1) of the Ordinance it is prohibited inter alia to engage in activities within a National Park that disturb, interfere with any wild animal or breeding place of any such animal, felling, girdling, lopping, tapping, burning or in any way that damage, destroy, remove and take any plant, clear or break up any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purpose, make any fresh clearing, erect any building, whether permanent or temporary, or occupy any building so erected without obtaining a permit issued by the DWC, construct or use any road or path so constructed by such persons and carry on any activity which may pollute waters or cause an adverse impact on the existence of the fauna and flora therein or the ecosystem.
Therefore, it is evident that there are expansion activities of the Church relating to festivities, construction of structures, road development and clearing of forest lands within the WNP.
Therefore, it is high time that the DWC and relevant government agencies to ensure that they fulfill their duties, obligations and responsibilities vested in them in a manner that protect and conserve the WNP for the future generations.