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Law favours herding cows over farming: DWC’s double standards put Dimbulagala farmers in jeopardy

19 May 2021 03:59 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Farmers show the land to which they possess deads

 

  • Farmers belonging to the three ethnic groups Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims live in these lands and possess deeds highlighting traditional ownership
  • Villagers said that the authorities authorised to protect flora and fauna are obstructing cultivators showing them circulars
  • When lands were confiscated under National Park Gazette in 1984, the deeds previously given were annulled

 

The farming community in Dimbulagala is complaining of grievances because the Department of Wildlife and Conservation (DWC) has acquired their legally owned fields which were cultivated on for hundreds of years. While they are treated indifferently there are separate laws for those who herd cows in the flood plain in Kalukele area in Dimbulagala. The DWC does not allow farmers to enter their fields, but they have allowed several individuals to fell Kumbuk trees and cultivate on an area belonging to the DWC reserve. 

 

The sign that shows the authority of the Department of Wildlife and Conservation (Pics by Shantha Ranatunga our Dehiattakandiya Correspondent)

“Our lands have been taken. For generations we have been living in Dimbulagala. Our history dates back to the monarchy. Our ancestors have cultivated these lands. We have deeds we received in 1906. The Department of Wildlife and Conservation has taken over our lands by force. We are not allowed to cultivate or enter our lands. We have no means of income now,” locals from Dimbulagala said while accusing the Wildlife Officers. Farmers of 80 families from Paletiyawa, Soriwila, and Manampitiya under the Dimbulagala Divisional Secretariat in Polonnaruwa district are fighting for the right of the irrigation land known as Mahakumbura. There is no responsible authority to lend an ear to their grievances. They are going after politicians with the deeds they received in the years 1906, 1925, 1946 respectively requesting the right to cultivate, but the politicians have turned a blind eye to such pleas.

P. B. Gunawardena, a farmer aged 56 from No. 288, Soriwila in Dimbulagala, said that his generations have been living in Soriwila. “Our history dates back to the monarchy. Our ancestors are the real owners of these lands. We have been living here even before the Chief Incumbent of Dimbulagala arrived here. We lived off the income from our fields. Our houses were filled with paddy. We cultivated the fields, during the Yala, season from Paletiyawa to Manampitiya located at an elevation above the Mahaweli River. There were less opportunities to cultivate them during the Maha season due to floods. The harvest we receive during one season was enough for us to live for a few years.

“As I did not have a field to cultivate, I cultivated manioc in one and half acres using Goda Idam during the last season. Elephants destroyed my cultivation within two days. Now I work as a labourer and buy rice with my daily earning - Kannamuttu Siwaghanam (Resident) 

 


“By the time the Mahaweli Development Project commenced in 1984, there were villages in Dimbulagala and Soriwila. We cultivated 600 acres of fields-on the Mahaweli bank-to which we had the legal rights. We received deeds to these lands even before the country won independence. Under the Mahaweli Project people from other provinces were made to settle here. We both received lands around Mahaweli. We donated 600 acres of our lands with deeds to the Flood Plains National Park. However we continued cultivating the 100 acres near the village and they were distributed among 80 farmers. We obtained water through a dam from Menik Ela. Some farmers had one acre while some had one and half acres. These fields are not connected to the Mahaweli. As we ourselves cultivate these lands during one season and these fields get inundated during floods, they have rich soil. The income we obtain from cultivating one acre of these fields is equal to the income obtained from cultivating a hectare of the fields in the Mahaweli. As we encountered trouble from wild elephants the Department of Wildlife and Conservation intervened to build an elephant fence. We requested to build fences along our fields and on elevations above the river to protect people. They said that if fences were built along the fields they could get inundated, so they built fences across our fields with gates to enable us to go the other side to attend to cultivation activities. 

“The Department of Wildlife and Conservation has made them lose their fields which they have cultivated for hundreds of years. As the farmers cannot make their children starve, they are engaged in sand mining. They question how thousands of cows can be herding in the wildlife zone to which they have no access - W. D. Nilanthi (Member farming community) 


“They cleared more than a half of my land nearing harvesting to fix the elephant fence. The officers behaved in an inhuman manner. On another occasion a herd of cows in the national park were made to enter my field and destroy the paddy harvest. I phoned the Aralaganwila Police OIC. When the police arrived the owners of the herd escaped. The police recognised them, but didn’t take legal action against the owners.
“Things went as planned for one year and during the next year we were not allowed to cultivate. We informed the then Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development Palitha Thewarapperuma about this grievance. He visited our fields and inspected our deeds and informed the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to build us a gate. Then they built a gate and allowed us to cultivate.
“We cultivated these fields amidst difficulties till 2018. Thereafter we were again not allowed to enter our fields. I have three children and we all live with the income from the field. Now we are forced to buy rice and see our fields go fallow,” added Gunawardena.


Farmers belonging to the three ethnic groups Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims live in these lands and possess deeds highlighting traditional ownership. They have been living in harmony and are fighting for their rights together. 

Kannamuttu Siwaghanam, a resident of No. 05, Dewanapiyawara, Dimbulagala, who speaks Sinhala fluently, said that the electric fence was set up to prevent elephants from entering the village, but the animals continue to enter. “As I did not have a field to cultivate, I cultivated manioc in one and half acres using Goda Idam during the last season. Elephants destroyed my cultivation within two days. Now I work as a labourer and buy rice with my daily earning. On one hand the Government is asking us to cultivate to increase food production in the country, but on the other hand these officers are interrupting us. 

“Three Mahaweli fields in Manampitiya are located beyond the electric fence, but farmers are allowed to cultivate them. We are prohibited to enter our fields. The then Divisional Secretary of Dimbulagala, four years ago, intervened to solve our issue - Siwanayagam Balachandran (Farmer) ”

 

“Poorna, who was a wildlife officer here five years ago, constructed a gate and gave us permission to cultivate. As we were staying beyond the elephant fence, elephants stopped coming to Mahaweli fields and the fence was safe too. The wildlife officers at present do not empathise with us, but they are friendly with owners of cow herds. 46 herds with 200 cows in each live in the national park. The owners herd cows inside the reserve and no legal action is taken. But if one of our farmers cross the electric fence, he will be produced before court and fined. One of the farmers was fined 35,000 rupees last week. The officers are protecting the illegal herds in the park and are chasing the farmers away, ” Siwaghanam complained. 

Siwanayagam Balachandran from No 91, Colony Road, Manampitiya, said that farmers from Peletiyawa and Dimbulagala are treated differently compared to farmers from Manapitiya. 
“Three Mahaweli fields in Manampitiya are located beyond the electric fence, but farmers are allowed to cultivate them. We are prohibited to enter our fields. The then Divisional Secretary of Dimbulagala, four years ago, intervened to solve our issue. She informed the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to allow us to cultivate. We could cultivate during one season and thereafter the gate was closed again.

“ Our ancestors are the real owners of these lands. We have been living here even before the Chief Incumbent of Dimbulagala arrived here. We lived off the income from our fields. Our houses were filled with paddy. We cultivated the fields, during the Yala, season - P. B. Gunawardena (farmer)

 

300,000 kilos of rice lost annually

W. D. Nilanthi from No 261, Peletiyawa said that these farmers are deprived of their lands, have lost their income and are helpless with children who are suffering from hunger.
“The department of Wildlife and Conservation does not allow us to cultivate our field. I have three children and my husband does not have a permanent job. We are now working for daily wages to feed our children. One of my children is an undergraduate I am begging from the Department of Wildlife and Conservation to allow us to cultivate our fields to somehow feed our children. More than 320 members of 80 families in the village who have lost their fields are starving. Wildlife officers of course earn salaries to feed their children, but how shall we feed ours? These lands are very rich and produce about 3000 kilos of paddy per acre. An area of 100 such acres is let to lie fallow. Around 300,000 kilos of rice is lost annually. We may not be well educated, but we understand several things,” she said in painful tone.

“When lands belonging to the Flood Plains Water Park were confiscated as an environmental project under the Mahaweli project, the landowners were compensated with money. However after the war, people belonging to all ethnic groups have come to cultivate lands under the purview of the national park by force and that is not allowed - - Wildlife Assistant Director in charge of Polonnaruwa Wildlife zone, W. M. K. S. Chandrarathna

 “The Department of Wildlife and Conservation has made them lose their fields which they have cultivated for hundreds of years. As the farmers cannot make their children starve, they are engaged in sand mining. They question how thousands of cows can be herding in the wildlife zone to which they have no access. State agricultural officers are advising people to cultivate every inch of land. Villagers said that the authorities authorised to protect flora and fauna are obstructing cultivators showing them circulars. The law should be equal to everyone. Cows or domestic animals cannot enter a national park. As cows herd in national parks, wild elephants enter villages. Farmers accuse that wildlife officers who claim that herds in Maduru Oya are a threat to wild animals are trying to justify the presence of herds in Flood Plains National Park. Their claims seem to backfire with the permission being given to herd cows in the national park. It is the responsibility of the authorities to find a quick solution to this issue faced by these farmers,” said Nilanthi.

 

 

Wildlife Assistant Director in charge of Polonnaruwa Wildlife zone, W. M. K. S. Chandrarathna said that if the lands are inside the Flood Plains Water Park no person can cultivate them. “There are no private lands in the reserve. When lands were confiscated under National Park Gazette in 1984, the deeds previously given were annulled. No matter how old the lands were and whoever had given the deeds, the gazette annulled all the deeds. Fields which were included in the reserve, because of the elephant fence, were given permits. Fields without permits have illegal cultivations and entrance to them is prohibited. When lands belonging to the Flood Plains Water Park were confiscated as an environmental project under the Mahaweli project, the landowners were compensated with money. However after the war, people belonging to all ethnic groups have come to cultivate lands under the purview of the national park by force and that is not allowed. This is a national park and whether the fence is built in the national park or in the reserve boundary or outside does not matter. The park is located in a flood plain and if the fence becomes inundated, the circuit could get damaged. Therefore when finding the best location, a field located in the reserve boundary might fall inside or outside the fence. People can enter through the fence. Those who with permits to cultivate are allowed. No person has private lands inside the reserve. We took legal actions against those who cultivated reserve lands after felling trees,” Chandrarathna  added.

“A Parliament Committee of Selection was appointed to find solutions and its decisions are yet to arrive after which the Department of Wildlife and Conservation would decide which places are allowed for cultivation. Everything depends on the recommendations of the report - Polonnaruwa District Secretary W. A. Dharmasiri

As the Dimbulagala Divisional Secretary did not answer our phone, we contacted the Polonnaruwa District Secretary W. A. Dharmasiri. He said that these issues were not limited to Dimbulagala, but were seen throughout Polonnaruwa district as well. “We made a request to the Central Government. A Parliament Committee of Selection was appointed to find solutions and its decisions are yet to arrive after which the Department of Wildlife and Conservation would decide which places are allowed for cultivation. Everything depends on the recommendations of the report. We have made several requests to the Department of Wildlife and Conservation. Farmers said that they were allowed to cultivate only once. The decision would be taken after we receive the report of the Parliament Committee of Selection,” he added.

 The electric fence which the farmers claim is useless

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  Comments - 2

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  • mohamed Sulaiman Friday, 21 May 2021 05:38 AM

    Well all voted for the Rajapakshes thinking life will be better for all,but unfortunately it is not for all citizens,it is only for the rich and the thieves,so live with it hope for a change.

    sacre blieu Friday, 21 May 2021 09:35 AM

    Since the end of the war, and with the peace been established , there has been a gathering interest for land,essential,genuine needs or otherwise.In a country where the land is of a very fixed extent and with the population now in a great magnitude spreading in each and every area, encroachment and clearance of forests have been going on at a severe pace, and will be to the ultimate uncontrollable land grabbing and even to the neighbors land. There will be severe conflict and uncontrollable commotion. The p;population has to be thinned down, and now with the promotion of agriculture using compost,it will take some time to get production to a sustainable level. More so,it will lead to a healthier nation. The farmer, if he belongs to a generation of an ancestry he will know the facts.


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