Elephants roaming around Ehetuwewa
Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya
It has been confirmed that there are no “Sannasa” lands in this area and all lands belong to the government
Forest land which is habitat for elephants is currently being cleared for cultivation
There are many places of archaeological value in this area
There is a plan to forcibly acquire state forest lands located in the Grama Niladhari Divisions namely Nakolagane, Eriyawa, Atinimale, Palukadawala, Manakkuliagama, Divulwewa and Kalegama under the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat in Kurunegala District and give them to businessmen and politicians for lease, according to Sajeeva Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform. “Around 2,000 acres of forest land serving as habitats of elephants and water catchment areas and cultivated land are being acquired in this manner. There is a big racket involving leasing these lands to businessmen, politicians and various ventures claiming them to be Nindagam land belonging to the Nakolagane Raja Maha Vihara Temple. These activities are backed by influential politicians of the Southern, Western and North-Western Provinces, their children and secretaries,” said Chamikara.
The police officers of Ambanpola, Ehetuwewa and Galgamuwa and some officials of the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat are providing legal protection for this land racket. Former Divisional Secretary of Ehetuwewa Renuka C. Wijerupa and Chief Incumbent of Nakolagane Temple Ven. Valatwewe Rahula Thera and Ven. Valatwewe Sunanda Thera are under the spotlight for their involvement in this activity, according to Sajeewa Chamikara. “They have allegedly forged a fraudulent “Sannasa” (document issued by the temple) to carry out this massive land racket,” Chamikara added.
In studying the final village plan of the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat, it was confirmed that there are no “Sannasa” lands in this area and all lands belong to the government. According to Chamikara several officers of the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat and some GN officers being aware of all this information, have continued their support for these land smuggling efforts by hiding the truth.
Forest reserve lands have been cleared for agriculture activities
A two-acre land belonging to Atargalle Junior College has been handed over to a private company on lease for mango cultivation. In addition, a 20-acre land of the Nakolagane Purana Raja Maha Vihara Temple has been leased for the same purpose. A member of Nakolagane United Funeral Aids Society is illegally cultivating a 5-acre plot of land in the catchment area of Palukadawala Wewa. He also acts as a coordinator when handing over state forest lands to certain businessmen, according to Chamikara. A former OIC of the Ambanpola Police has acquired an 8-acre plot of forest land around Kondagala Kandha in the Kiribathpalassa area for the construction of a solar power plant with his aid, according to Chamikara. A specialist doctor has acquired about 5 acres of temple land on lease in the Kandubodayagama area in Palukadawala water catchment area to start papaya cultivation. According to Chamikara 50 acres of forest land in its vicinity, which is habitat for elephants, is currently being cleared and the cultivation land is being expanded. The clearing of forests has started with the making of roads using dozers.
Chamikara added that with that more and more elephants in the area have begun raiding villages.
Although it was stated that the land being leased belongs to the Nakolagane Rajamaha Purana Temple, investigations revealed that the land was acquired for the Mee Oya project. Ambakola Wewa, Atharagalla Wewa and Palukadawala Wewa built across the Mee Oya were widened and in 1953 lands were given to farmers under the Atharagalla project. Chamikara said that paying compensation for the land acquired for that purpose was completed in 1968. In addition to the said three main tanks, water is also supplied to the three tanks Paluva, Arasan and Vannikuda under the Atharagalla project and about 4,000 acres of paddy land are cultivated using water from all these tanks. About 1,000 farming families are engaged in cultivation using this water in the villages namely Ambakola Wewa, Nikawala Yaya, Seruguda, Aluth Kolaniya, Wane Kolaniya, Eriyawa, Nakolagane, Weheragodaya, Yakdessawa, Palukadawala, Kurundewa, Jagama and Kattakaduwa. According to Chamikara the chief incumbent has handed over state lands in areas such as Nakolagane, Kandubodayagama Yaya, Kiribatpalassa, Karambeya, Pula Amuna, Ulpatheya, Gurugoda Yaya, Aguruwella, Handugodaya, Madadenigama Yaya, Kivulegama to private businessmen. There are many places of archaeological value in this area such as Nakolagane Raja Maha Vihara, Gurugodayaya, Weheragala, Karagassana Raja Maha Vihara and Adigama-Kiribatpalassa. There are also many rock caves in the forest. Chamikara added that all these places have been affected by this land racket.
Lands cleared for various commercial projects
|During my tenure, there was a TJC mango plantation in those lands. Even at that time, mango plants were three to four years old. I don’t know anything about that land deal. It was not done through the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat. As it was a temple land, this transaction has been between the monks and the people of those companies
- Renuka C. Wijerupa former Divisional Secretary of Ehetuwewa
|Around 2000 acres of forest land serving as habitats of elephants and water catchment areas and cultivated land are being acquired in this manner. There is a big racket involving leasing these lands to businessmen, politicians and various ventures claiming them to be Nindagam land belonging to the Nakolagane Raja Maha Vihara Temple
- Sajeeva Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform
According to the latest figures of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), most elephant-human conflicts in Kurunegala District is in Galgamuwa and Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariats. But due to the destruction of forests in this area, only 27% of the total forest land area is left as habitat of elephants in Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat. The total area of this divisional secretariat is 17,500 hectares and its forest cover is found only in 4,760 hectares of the land. Out of that only about 40% of forests has been declared as protected forests and receive legal protection. Most of the remaining forests exist without strict legal protection. They are constantly cleared. Chamikara pointed out that the final result of clearing these forests is the further escalation of the elephant-human conflict.
All the forest lands acquired on a lease basis from the Nakolagane Raja Maha Viharaya have been cleared by now. In some places electric fences are seen erected with the purpose of surrounding such lands. Due to this, the roads leading to the habitats and main feeding grounds of the elephants in the Palukadawala Wewa area have been blocked. These animals have begun to invade villages looking for food; thus creating elephant-human conflicts in the area, according to Chamikara.
We inquired the Nakolagane Rajamaha Viharaya about the allegations raised by Chamikara. Responding to these allegations Sunanda Thera of the Viharaya said that the temple land was given by a “Sannas” in 1679 during the reign of King Rajadhi Rajasingha. “Now the land is owned by five title plans. There is one title plan bearing number 80156. It can be confirmed through the Survey Department. The plan bearing that number mentions the Nakolagane Viharaya. There are two thousand acres in that plan alone.
Temple land cannot be sold. Under the lease system, those who used the land since then can continue to use it. It is done on the recommendation of the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, Chief Incumbent and the priest in charge. The Chief Incumbent can hand over temple land. If a thirty-year lease is to be adopted, the recommendation of the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner should be sought. “There is a system of paying lease to those who use village land for three generations. The Commissioner’s recommendation is needed only when obtaining a long-term lease facility. No land in the temple has been given to any politician, their sons, secretary, or any specialist doctor. Those who make accusations should prove these matters with written evidence and not do it verbally. We are carrying out cultivation activities under the supervision of the temple. We have also sought the permission of the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs to make drafts for some lands. We have never sold land to outsiders. Temple land cannot be sold like that,” Sunanda Thera added.This newspaper tried to contact the Galgamuwa Police several times, but our call went unanswered. Then attempts were made to call the Ehetuwewa Police Station to inquire into these allegations, but the Ehetuwewa DS office informed this writer that there is no contact phone number to call them because the police station has been opened recently. This newspaper then contacted the Acting OIC of the Ambanpola Police R. M. Jayaratne to inquire into these allegations. He said the following: “All the related government officials, all the officers of surrounding police offices, the monks of the temple and the people who are occupying the land were invited to discuss all these matters. The incumbent pointed out that the Nakolagane temple has the right to the land through a ‘Sannasa’. After that discussion, it was decided that the temple has the right to the land and the wildlife, forest conservation or any other government institution does not own this land.
After that, the issue which was buried for a while resurfaced. The Inspector General of Police has also ordered to carry out an investigation into those matters and submit a report. Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretary should produce an answer regarding these matters. We have asked him about this. Based on their answer we can inform the higher officials. Currently, several companies are cultivating mangoes in the said land while some are engaged in producing local seed paddy. Such cultivation activities are carried out in several places. These lands are cultivated lands of the Irrigation Department. Neither have these lands been given to anyone nor has anyone in the police taken the land to carry out a solar panel project”.
This newspaper then contacted the Irrigation Department and an official said that there is no record that the Mee Oya project belongs to the Irrigation Department.
Then this newspaper made inquiries from former Divisional Secretary of Ehetuwewa Renuka C. Wijerupa. She said that the incident involving the handing over of Nakolagane temple land to a private company, a doctor or a politician did not occur during her office. “During my tenure, there was a TJC mango plantation in those lands. Even at that time, mango plants were three to four years old. I don’t know anything about that land deal. It was not done through the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat. As it was a temple land, this transaction has been between the monks and the people of those companies. A Divisional Secretary cannot hand over ‘Sannasa’ lands. We only give government land. I do not know whether those lands belong to the Mee Oya project,” she added.
Attempts made to contact the present Divisional Secretary Ehetuwewa proved futile. R. S. H. Malalasekara, the Land Officer of the Divisional Secretary said that there is a ‘Sannasa’ for Nakolagane temple land. ‘But these lands were settled in the 1950s under the Waste Land Ordinance. Lands with documents submitted in the settlement were given to people. The rest of the land was handed over to the government. Accordingly, issues with lands in about 10 villages were settled. Divulwewa, Nakolagane, Atinimale, Manakkuliagama and Kalegama belong to the temple according to our jurisdiction. But I don’t know how many acres were given to external parties for cultivation and other activities. They do not obtain our permission when handing over that land. The chief incumbent handles everything. The temple lands and private lands don’t come under our purview. Therefore, he acts as he wishes. Also, the Ambanpola Police has not asked us for a full report on this land issue so far. Ehetuwewa DS has nothing to do with these land transactions,” said Malalasekara.
When inquired, Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs Sunanda Kariyapperuma said that an inquiry into the land issue of the Nakolagane Rajamaha Vihara is currently being conducted under the Kurunegala Deputy Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs. “I have not received the report yet. Even though there was a “Sannasa”, the monks have no power to dispose of the land as they wish. Such activities can be carried out only with approval according to Section 29 of the Buddhist Temporalities Act. No such permission has been sought so far,” he added.
Ishani Gunaratne, Kurunegala District Deputy Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, said that there is a “Sannasa” for the land of Nakolagane Rajamaha Vihara. “My Permission was to dispose of the land belonging to that “Sannasa” and it is being processed at the moment. The land has not been leased by law. I don’t know if the land was leased before obtaining legal permission. If so, it is wrong. I go to inspect a land when it is being leased. Lands cannot be leased in this manner. If already done, it is an offence. As far as I know, the monks had not given the land as they wished. I cannot provide more details,” she added.
This newspaper attempted to inquire from the Department of Archaeology to find out whether the disposal of the land belonging to the Nakolgane Temple has caused any damage to the places of archaeological value, but there was no response.
When inquired from an officer of the Galgamuwa office of the Department of Wildlife, who maintained that due to the development activities in the forest land in Nakolagane the human-elephant conflict has escalated. “Elephant raids on villages have increased. Elephants living in small forests near lakes have been raiding villages in search of food as their habitats have been destroyed and elephant corridors have been blocked using fences.