The Court of Appeal yesterday directed the Land Commissioner General not to act in accordance with the Circular issued restricting the residual forests to the control of the Divisional Secretaries.
The order will remain till September 1. Notices were issued to five persons, including the Lands Commissioner General and the Forest Conservation Director General directing them to appear before Court on that day to make submission on the writ petition filed challenging the circular.
The petition was taken up before a bench of Supreme Court Justices Sobhitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ganepola. After considering submissions made on behalf of the petitioners, Court issued an order preventing the Lands Commissioner General from complying with the third paragraph of the Circular dated 04/11/2020.
According to the third paragraph of the Circular, The Commissioner General of Lands, on the instructions of the Secretary to the Ministry of Lands, will issue a circular to all Divisional Secretaries, Provincial Land Commissioners and the Assistant Land Commissioners to implement a more practical approach to the residual forest lands.
The petition filed by the Centre for Environmental Justice and its Executive Director Hemantha Withanage cited five persons, including the Director General of Forest Conservation as respondents in the petition.
In accordance with the provisions of the Act (Amendment) Act No. 65 of 2009, other high reserve residual forests were placed under the Department of Forest Conservation. These other residual forests constitute 25% of the total forest cover in the country.
These other residual forests belong to Swarnagala,Kala Oya, Wilhtera, Mudungoda, Digalla, Kebali Kanda, Moragolla, Polgolla and Yatala.
The petitioner pointed out that the damage to these other unreserved forests would cause serious environmental problems.
The previous Circular 2006/2 had earlier transferred the control of these residual forests to the Divisional Secretaries and there had been a number of irregularities, some of which had been transferred to Chena cultivation. Due to these reasons, unreserved forests were again placed under the Forest Conservation Ordinance.
Despite this situation, the petitioner states that the decision on these residual forests has been delegated to the District and Divisional Secretaries with effect from November 4 by the Circular “2020/1 / MWFC”.
This circular removes the protection afforded to these forests by the provisions of the Forest Conservation Ordinance. The petitioner complains that if this new circular is implemented, the forests will be severely damaged.
Accordingly, petitioners seek to issue notices to the respondents and a writ order to quash the relevant circular. The petitioners also request the court to issue a writ order to the Director General of Forest Conservation ordering action under the Forest Conservation Ordinance to protect these forests.
Attorneys Ravindranath Dabare and Nil Mal Wickramasinghe appeared for the petitioners. Deputy Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew appeared on behalf of the Attorney General.