by Ifham Nizam
Renowned ecologist cum ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama, stressed that if anybody tells him that there is a problem within the Wilpattu National Park, he is willing to take the challenge and fight for it and do something. However, if this is happening outside, it is a different story.
Expressing his candid views to The Sunday Leader about the widely discussed/ debated land grabbing at the one of the country’s leading national parks, he added: “ My first issue is what is the Wilpattu issue? Because this issue is outside the Wilpattu National Park, when we use a common word which covers a specific area and use that for an area outside the Wilpattu National Park I have a problem.
“The overall issue should be divided into sectors and then should be clarified,” he said. Expressing his point of view, he said fundamentally there are two parts of the issue, one part is that people have been displaced from the area and they have come back to resettle.
“Therefore, we have to recognise the certain areas in which the problem hasn’t been solved and work on those areas or else the problem will be there forever, that means under this sector if a person is displaced from a particular area, we should find an alternative for this issue somehow.”
The other part is a completely different issue, there again we have to have a collective agreement anywhere in the country, when the population grows, what do we do? For this, sadly there is no plan in our country, so I can say that if the population is going to be static it’s fine, but if it grows? What do we do?
The unfortunate issue is that, from the day that this problem prevailed, individuals have found opportunities which aren’t helping any plans except the fact that they find alternate settlement areas, The second issue that we know officially there had been sanctions and resettlement granted, he added.
The major issue isn’t any of these, it came to light a couple of weeks ago after the end of the argument, somebody very clearly showed in the places where people have settled legally or illegally, let’s take the legal side first, they have done more than what they have been permitted to do.
Why should that not be penalised?
That is the issue. Secondly, if there are illegal settlements other than those that have been permitted, that also should also not be permitted, he stressed.
“So our battle shouldn’t be with what is known but with the ‘unknown,’ which has been clouded by using the term Wilpattu. Everybody is talking about Wilpattu National Park, saying that someone is encroaching Wilpattu National Park but that person comes and says, ‘show me any evidence that I have done this, I have not done anything.”
He added: “So in the process of using the wrong words in the wrong places, we have allowed something to happen which we could have been solved, in some way or the other, if not for the politics contained, why I said if not for politics is that, this is to me, is a 99.9 per cent political scenario. In that situation officers or even the public are finding themselves in a very difficult situation.
How do we resolve this?
“This is a very critical thing, I can see there may not be a solution but, politics is needed to definitely build a solution, but I don’t see that. I see a problem. Of course we don’t have a really good plan for the expanding population of this country and in a country in which we have 26 per cent of land collected, and we don’t want an inch of it to be reduced.”
Accommodating increasing population
How do we accommodate the increasing population in this static framework because the land doesn’t multiply, this is to me, a very good stimulus, for the people , the planning sessions, at the political level, at the administrative level to recognise that this is not going to be the only place this is going to happen.
This is going to multiply itself and vigorously, as we go into the future because I can see these strategic planning processes that some of the institutions are bringing out are talking bringing 1000 acres for an industrial state, 7000 acres for a city development.
“I think this is high time we use this as a good example to ensure nothing like this will ever happen again and for that purpose we need to sit down to plan precisely how villages will expand. To me, this isn’t a new phenomenon in the sense of not the way it has happened.