NEW FOREST CIRCULAR IS AGAINST THE EXISTING NATIONAL LAWS
November 12, 2020, Colombo, Centre for Environmental Justice is surprise to see the circular No MWFC/1/2020 Issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest conservation cancelling the Circular No 05/98 dated 1998/07/01 limiting the size if the forest lands managed by the Divisional Secretaries and subsequent circulars 05/2001 dated 2001/08/10 which authorizes the management of all other forest lands to the Conservator General of Forest and 02/2006 dated 2006/05/17 which allows the Conservator general of Forest to release lands for non-forest purposes. We state that this circular has been issued without understanding the available laws, the amendments, definitions and the mandate if the issuing officer.
As mentioned in the section 1 and 2 in the circular MWFC/1/2020 issued by Bandula Harischandara, Secetray, Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation the subject matter is residual Forest which does not exist in Sri Lanka under the Forest ordinance or other ordinances. We state that term used here misleading. However the amended Forest ordinance 65/2009 consider some forest areas as other state forests.
Section 2 of the circular also mention about the residual Forests” which doesn’t come under any law, regulation or any other constitutional provision etc. However there is no such forests/land exists in Sri Lanka as all lands/forests come under any of the law in the country.
However the new circular will allow releasing forest lands for NON-FOREST uses subject to selected ad-hoc guidelines. As we understand the “Other state forest” which are other than Nature reserves and conservation forests are now coming under the Forest ordinance amendment No 65/2009. Although the Secretary has the power to cancel the previous circulars, the new law does not provide provisions to deregulate the other state forests.
According to the circular, the secretary state that the forest lands will be used for economic ort other productive uses. We believe this means that converting forest into NON-FOREST uses. Therefore We state that the type of forests which Secretary is willing to dispose under its circular No MWFC/1/2020 require an EIA under the National Environmental Act No 56 of 1988 as amended. According to the list of prescribed project 772/22 June 18, 1993, under part I Extraction of timber covering land area exceeding 5 hectares, Conversion of forests covering an area exceeding 1 hectare into non-forest uses. Clearing of land areas exceeding 50 hectares and other prescribed project required to follow the EIA process.
Therefore the release of forest land or even non forest lands already protected under the Forest ordinance or located 1 mile of the protected forest area required to follow the EIA process. We believe the said circulate will results thousands of land been converted to non -forest use or will subject to forest clearance and they all requires to follow the EIA procedure at once.
This circular No MWFC/1/2020 will allow releasing forest lands for NON-FOREST uses subject to selected ad-hoc guidelines. In our understanding the Guidelines have been made without full understanding of the purpose of Forest ecosystems, but cover a list of sensitive habitats with understanding of the Ministry personnel and by the Forest Department who may or may not have idea about how the Forest ecosystems provide carbon and non-carbon benefits or ecosystem services to the nation. Even if the intention of the circular is to release some heavily degraded forest lands or encroached many years ago still requires a multi-stakeholder approach and exert knowledge of the researchers, environmentalists etc.
However, we state that Forest are a common good that should be protected for balancing the fragile ecosystems for the millions of known and unknown species/lifeforms, considering the earth balance, earth systems, ecosystems services for humans and other species, maintaining natural cycles including carbon cycle, nutrient cycle, food systems, Climate control and resilience, flood control, land slide control and many other known and unknown reasons. Managing this natural good should be carefully done and not for just political pressure/reasons or just to provide lands for so called development and very destructive type agriculture such as Chena cultivation. Government agencies such as Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation manage these public good as a trustee and have no right to utilize unwisely without clear scientific approach and public consensus.
The fundamental question is whether this kind of action affecting the right to dispose of public land can be dealt with by the executive branch of government through circulars? Normally these are issues that are dealt with by laws passed by Parliament and Gazette regulations issued by the Minister and placed before Parliament for approval.
It’s very sad to see this Cabinet of Ministers direct the government officers to deregulate forests which is public common goods which will result mass forest grabbing which will also result environmental destruction and disasters. We vehemently oppose this undemocratic, authoritarian move and demand to cancel the new circular and respect to the available Forest act (as amended) and to the National environmental Act( as emended).