Dawn of the Eco-Mafia. – Sinharaja Rain Forest: Sri Lanka
Posted on September 15th, 2012

Sumal

Any singular gang or wider network committing “Organized crimes” that cause damage to the environment; or engaged in any lucrative activity related with the environment, represent what is currently known as Eco-Mafia.

 The term “Eco- mafia” is not rhetorical exaggeration. Indonesia has one of the world’s largest areas of remaining Virgin Rain forests, but is being deforested by the timber mafia or by other mafia gangs working hand to hand with Palm oil corporations. The deforestation rate of the Indonesia-Borneo rain forests is something devastatingly increasing only ranking behind the Brazil . A Sophisticated Eco-mafia network is highly prevalent in Brazil where the murder, forceful grabbing of lands, deploying threats, intimidations and even the terrorist acts are being used by the Eco-Mafia gangs. The killings of number of environmental activists including late comrade Chico Mendes and the recent cases of forceful forest land grabbing by armed gangs funded by the cattle ranching companies are the dramatic examples of how dangerous Eco-Mafia can be. An Indonesian University research in year 2010 concluded that the Indonesian military acted as coordinator, financier and facilitator for illegal loggers in Borneo, where deforestation rates are among the fastest in the world. Meantime reports underlined that Mafia activity in the environmental sector generated a turnover of 20.5 billion euros (24.7 billion dollars) in 2009 alone in Italy

 The Eco-Mafia tentacles clutching the Sinharaja Forest and expanding all over the country is a Mafia organization in a very precise meaning of this word. The illegal constructions, underhand land acquisitions and wider networks made up with powerful businessmen for environment related lucrative activities further forecast the ever increasing power of the local eco-mafia. The Mafia at its core is about one thing; the money. Any typical Mafia has a hierarchy with higher-ranking person (politician, businessman or a village leader) whose make decisions that trickle down to the other members of the network. And its policies are always about oppression,exploitation arrogance, self-enrichment, power and hegemony above and against all others. This is a system, in where’ the looters can’t function without corrupt politicians, a complacent propagandizing mass-media, or complicit enabling academics. Without doubt Sri Lankan Eco- mafia has been perfected of combining all these three elements.

 Analytically speaking, there are an orbital motion of other elements around the core of a Mafia outfit. They could be the jobless village youth, religious dignitaries, local businessmen, government officials or in some cases even the school children. They are simply identified as the associates, whose are servitors of the core willingly or unwillingly and are systematically being manipulated by the core. To machinate all these elements any Mafia outfit must have knowledge in politics. In above paradigm it is clear to us that Eco-Mafia is also in concomitance with the political forces; so in given occasions metamorphosing into a politico-mafia outfit and vice versa. The recent attempt to construct a road across the Sinharaja between the Sooriyakanda and Ilumbekanda villages (year 2011) was an example for involvement of Politico-mafia at its best, where even the sources of the Govt. institutions like Road Development Authority (RDA) has been used for purpose.

 There have been number of “politically involved acts”, which given access to Eco tourist or plantation networks into the Sinharaja region at large. The first was the granting of state owned lands to private ownerships under so-called 99-year lease agreement. One report has revealed that out of a total land extent of 408,487 hectares taken over by the Land Reforms Commission (LRC) under the Land Reforms Act of 1972, the 211,651 hectares been handed over to 20 ‘private plantation companies on a 99-year lease agreement . And it is well known most of these leased states are bordering to the country’s most important Forests like Sinharaja, Knuckles and Peak Wilderness. Apart of these leased forest lands, it is supposed that also the hidden corrupt practices have facilitated the land acquaintance. So, It need to be that proper investigation carried out on these cases and identify the culprits and recover back the land portions they had illegally exploited.

 The second case, in years 2003- 2004 then Land Minister had illegally allocated land blocks from the Eastern Sinharaja forest section that came under the Land Reform commission, and given to his friends. These forest lands were located in the Kolonna District secretariat in Rathnapura district and Nildeniya in Deniyaya -Mathara district. . Behind these corrupt land deals there were local politicians, their sons and even a high ranking Police officer whom later had ironically been promoted to a DIG. Some of these forest lands were cleared and later would have been changed to the organic tea plantations. Even today the accessibility to these areas are being denied and we are practically unable to carry out precise investigations on relevant sites . It is also suspicious that forest fires, especially in and around the Eastern Sinharaja had been set by these criminalized nexuses to hide or to “confuse” their illegal land-grabbing, perhaps to deviate attention elsewhere. It was in early 2003; Rakwana LRC office at Embilipitiya had tried to alienate 502 Acres of forest lands to private entrepreneurs undercover.

 Third was the infamous SRP or the controversial Sinharaja Rain forest project (Rainforest Lodge Hotel Project) masterminded by the same individuals whom were behind the Kandalama Hotel construction. SRP was based in Ensalwattha-Viharahena area in Kotapola division bordering the Sinharaja Rain forest. This project had two targets. First was the setting up an Eco-Lodge network and the second, the most terrifying one was the construction of a Genetic Laboratory within the Sinharaja forest. It was in year 2006 there has been signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU ) among the Ceylon Chamber of commerce and the number of international organizations to carry this project ahead. And on 17 March 2009, the perpetrators were able to get permission for construction from the Central environmental Authority (CEA) with undercover involvement of the higher chair person in the CEA at that time. About 506 Ha of forest and tea estate bordering to the Sinharaja NHWA has been reserved for this project . And into above 506 Ha it had illegally been included the 436 Ha of the Ensalwattha forest that has to be taken under Sinharaja main protective network according to the Cabinet order No: PS/CS/26/2004 and President Directives made in year 2004. This molecular genetic research laboratory was materially supplied by one USA based company. However due to opposition of the Environmentalists, proposed Molecular and Gene research Laboratory was never built; but Eco-lodges were set inside the encroached lands now owned by a private Plantation company.

 Now someone would ask, How could all this work in Sri Lanka? It is a big combination, sophisticated. Just examine how SRP worked . They have developed the Partner networks, meaning a cluster of various NGOs, companies and even the academics in the name of “promoting the eco-tourism for sustainable community development” . Even the donations of various international organizations like of USAID (United States agency for international development) directed or locally re-directed for their objectives. But, perhaps most alarming fact is that the involvement of certain academics and environmentalists . it is observed that also one noted professor of Zoology behind the SRP. Apart of this, some environmental related individuals were behind the money scams, especially directing the international donations toward above networks or by neutralizing the opposition of genuine environmentalists. Then the cover-ups were handed over to certain mass media, where the lucrative deeds are being justified with Gobbles type counter-propaganda. Even the State owned mass media had unethically been used under the political pressure in some occasions.

 However, it is like that Sri Lankan Eco-Mafia is formulating its’ Modus Operandi quite same as the neighbouring Indian Eco-Mafia rather than copying the Eco-Mafias in western world. Because of social-cultural habitat assimilation between both countries, where the underlying feudalistic ethos and Racial or religious bias can be manipulated to cover ups or even to justify the environmentally destructive activities with ease . The road construction across the Wilpatthu National Park, granting of state owned forest lands to foreign Agro-tech companies in Somawathiya wild sanctuary, using of certain Buddhist monks as they did in Ilumbekanda or in Digamadulla can be taken as rational examples where also the high ranking Police officers could be get involved as in the Morning Side case in years of 2003-2004.

 Not only the Sinharaja forest but also the entire range of Knuckels massif (Dumbara kandu walalla), Muthurajawela wet land and Peak Wilderness sanctuary (Sri Pada Adaviya) had been subjecting to ruthless exploitation since decades. If we let the Eco-Mafia to spread like a cancer, it would devour not only the environment, but also the academics, intellectuals, investigative journalists and environmentalists as it did in many other countries. A comprehensive insight toward the prevailing Eco-Mafia phenomena in Brazil, Indonesia and in Italy, will undoubtedly reveal that the number of environmental activists and journalists whom investigated on illegal timber felling, forest fires and on illegal plantations, have been murdered by hired killers.

 It says that’ prevention is better than the cure. But the inability of Sri Lankan legal jurisdictions, negligence and ever increasing political and social corruption means the Eco-Mafia can flourish unabated. It had been several media reports, complains made on illegal land grabbing around the Sinharaja and knuckels range and the involvement of elected politicians and higher officials. Despite such emphasis placed on this dilemma, Sri Lankan citizens are actually little known about the Eco-Mafia and politicians involved in the first place. Our duty is to make the public attention on these environmental related crimes and expose the perpetrators behind. Let us wish that citizens would make a strong stand before it would be too late.

4 Responses to “Dawn of the Eco-Mafia. – Sinharaja Rain Forest: Sri Lanka”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Corrupt leadership is the root cause of all problems in Sri Lanka. Tea is an an obsession of Sri Lankans, the nemesis of our country.

  2. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    An article worth reading
    http://www.sundaytimes.lk/120909/editorial/jackals-and-the-mafia-of-crooks-11665.html

  3. Melbourne Patriot Says:

    After the war Sri Lankan government politicians have plundered and continue to plunder much of the country’s environment. Politicians have robbed and continue to rob large areas of state land throughout the country. There is no end to this. Nothing will be left for the future generations

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Another Natural Resource of Sri Lanka, the fisheries, which is the property of the People of Sri Lanka, is being plundered in the North by Tamil Nadu illegal fishermen.

    Stop all plunder of our Rain Forest. Rain Forests can never be replaced – once gone, its gone forever.

    As for Tea, many types of Teas can be made from other plants such as dried Hibiscus (Vada mal), Jasmine, Beli, lemon, various spices such as cinnamon, dried ginger root, etc. These teas can be more health giving and even more delicious, and does not need to be grown in any special areas – can be grown in any garden in any part of the country.

    Tea from our local tea bushes are popular because of the demand for it in Britain mainly, and now locally. The caffeine in it gives a ‘lift’ when tired. Lemon tea can give the ‘lift’, without the caffeine.

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