By: Staff Writer
Colombo (LNW): Land grabbing across Sri Lanka has exploded — villagers are evicted from their homes and land, as farms and forests are taken for tea, rubber, palm oil and banana plantations, and the development of tourist infrastructure such as all-inclusive hotels for mass tourism, all of which comes with huge environmental impacts.
These land grabs are a continuation of colonial practices, and they are necessitated by an export-oriented agricultural model. Global South countries are trapped in a vicious cycle.
High levels of foreign debt, mean they must produce vast amounts of ‘cash crops’ for export to international markets as this is the only way they can earn the foreign currency needed to service their loans.
Foreign and local companies are to be given state lands for mega agriculture projects with tax concessions in misconceived deals involving forest lands, especially forest reserves, official documents divulged.
The government is planning to hand over thousands of acres of forest lands to several local and foreign companies under a new cabinet decision misinterpreting its contents with the connivance of top officials. Several environmentalists and local community activists complained.
According to the circular, any allocation of forest lands for development activities requires the approval of a special review board which has not been followed since the circular is invalidated.
Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal submitted by the ministry of wildlife and forest resources conservation on January 23, 2023 to resolve problems pertaining to forests coming under the purview of forest conservation department and wild life conservation department.
According to the cabinet approval, problems of villagers residing and cultivating land allotments in reserve forests for a long period will be solved subject to stipulated conditions.
Under the first phase of this initiative land allotments in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mulaithivu Kilinochchi, Mannar, Trincomalee, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Monaragala Districts are to be released to present occupants.
These community settlements were initiated by the then government after the end of North East war under its resettlement programme for displaced villagers.
Further the security forces have forcibly taken over forest lands in those areas to implement the national physical plan.
The ministry of wildlife and forest resources conservation making use of this situation is now releasing forest reserve lands for mega agri development projects of foreign and local companies, several leading environmentalists said.
150 acres in Madu road Jaffna forest which was declared as a forest reserve on October10 2012 under the gazette notification No 1779/15 had been released for development activities by the ministry by issuing gazette notification No 2344 /16.
In addition 29000 acres of land in Mulaithivu forest reserve, 25,000 acres in Wattegama – Kebiliththa forest reserve in the Monaragala District and over 100 acres in Rajawake forest are to be released by the ministry to private investors.
Thailand based Sutech Engineering company has invested US$ 400 million for its subsidiary Sutech Sugar Industries Pvt Ltd to implement green field sugar development project taking over 600 acres forest land for sugar factory in the Vavuniya District belonging to forest conservation department with the approval of the cabinet on June 26 2023.
This company has given 7000 acres of forest land in the area for sugar cultivation under the same cabinet approval.
Plans are under way to hand over 62,500 forest land for the Bibila sugar cultivation project in Monaragala, Badulla and Ampara Districts to IMS Holdings Pvt Ltd in accordance with the cabinet approval of February14, 2017.