An attempt by MP Mahinda Rajapaksa to rally Muslim leaders against the gazette notification with regard to the Wilpattu forest reserves has failed. Meeting Muslim leaders at his Wijerama, Colombo home, Mahinda told them that he would appear for the rights of Muslims and that he would join hands with the people against the gazette notification.
However, they pointed out to him that it was during his regime that the naming of the reserves by including their villages, had begun. The 6,042 hectare Karakkuly/Marichchakatti reserve was gazetted on 10 October 2012, and the 2,108 hectare Vilattikulam reserve on 21 May 2012 and the 7,525 hectare Periyamurippu reserve on 21 May 2012.
Also, they quoted official statistics by the Wildlife Conservation Department that show that most of the 11 forest reserves north of Wilpattu and in the Mannar district had been gazetted after the war. Furthermore, Muslim leaders recalled how their community was repressed during the previous government and what groups loyal to Mahinda are doing right now. They said they could not trust the Rajapaksas again.
Meanwhile, what the gazette extraordinary signed by president Sirisena on March 24 during his Russia visit had done was only to bring together the Mavillu, Veppal, Karakkuli, Marichchakatti, Vilaththikulam and Periyamuppu reserves as a single forest reserve named Mavillu from March 21, environmentalists note. It was several years earlier that the 14,574.5 Mavillu and 10,494 Veppal reserves had been gazetted.
Environmentalists see nothing special in the gazette, which they say has only announced a forest reserve, and that nothing has changed legally. They had been calling for the inclusion of these reserves to the Wilpattu national park which was declared in 05 February 1938. It was followed 20 days later with the announcement of the Wilpattu north national park.
Manjula D. Kumara – Sathhanda