Court orders Bathuideen to reforest cleared Wilpattu areas | Sunday Observer
A ground-breaking ruling

Court orders Bathuideen to reforest cleared Wilpattu areas

22 November, 2020

Rishad Bathiudeen has to reforest cleared forest reserves in the Wilpattu National Park Forest whether he has the money or not, and the Forest Department has to make sure that the costing is done properly, Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) said. He also said that the affair is ‘not a joke’.

Ground-breaking ruling

In a groundbreaking ruling, the Court of Appeal this week said that the areas of Wilpattu National Park that was cleared for re-settlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should be reforested as it was done contrary to the law.

Hemantha Withanage

The ruling was on the clearing of the forest, the complex adjoining the Wilpattu National Park, i.e. the Northern Sanctuary, the Wilpattu National Park,Maraichukkaddi/Karadikkuli Reserve Forest standing westward of Wilpattu blocks II and IV and the the forest area in Madu, Periyamadu and Mannar area which is part of the Madu RoadS anctuary and the Madu Road Reserved Forest.

Under the Polluter Pays principle, Minister of Industry and Commerce at the time MP Bathuideen will have to bear the full cost. Experts say that the cost could reach up to Rs. 5,000 million.

“It is not a simple task. Reforestation has to be done throughthe scientific forest management and that could cost,” Withanage said.

Reforesting in the dry zone takes a lot of management. The plants should be watered and the replanted area has to be protected from elephants and other wild animals.

According to Withanage, planting trees in an acre of land in the wet zone can cosst up to Rs. 1 million, and in the dry zone the estimated cost is 1.5 million. Data gathered by the CEJ shows that the destruction at the Wilpattu National Park can be up to over 2,000 hectares.

“This is not a simple business. The Forest Department will have to make sure that the polluter pays it all, else the department will have to bear some of the cost. That should not happen because then the funds will be taken from the tax payers,” Withanage said.

New judgement

Investigations have revealed that Bathuideen had misused his powers to pressurise the District Secretariat and the Forest Department to release the land for the resettlement of the IDPs.

A two-judge bench of the Court of Appeal comprising Justice Janak de Silva and Justice Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne delivered the new judgment over a writ petition filed by the CEJ that named the Conservator General of the Forest Conservation Department, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Director General of Wild Life Department, the Commissioner General of Lands, the Commissioner General of the Archaeological Department, Mannar District Secretary, Rishad Bathiudeen the then Minister of Industry and Commerce, Minister of Environment and Mahaweli Development and the Attorney General as respondents. Counsel Ravindranath Dabare with S. Ponnamperuma appeared for the petitioner, while Senior State Counsel, Manohara Jayasinghe appeared for the Attorney General.

The CEJ in its petition stated, that areas have been declared as reserved forests in terms of Section 3 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance as amended (ForestConservation Ordinance) and that around 1,500 families have been illegally settled in this area contrary to law. The petition also stated that this declaration was significantly made on t September 21, 2012 and published in the Gazette Extraordinary dated October 10, 2012. Section 3 of the ForestConservation Ordinance specifies that the area covered will be a reserved forest with effect from October 20, 2012.

It was pointed out that Section 7 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance (as amended by Act No. 65 of 2009) prohibits several types of activity in a reserved forest including fresh clearing, clearing or breaking up any land for cultivation or any other purpose, erection of any building whether permanent or temporary or occupation of such building and constructing any road.

However, the forest area in Wilpattu was cleared to build houses and roads to resettle IDPs who were made to leave the Northern Province in October 1990 by the LTTE.

“On this evidence, the provisions of Section 7 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance has been breached in the settlement of the IDPs,” the CEJ stated.


The CEJ also stated that, “on 15.1.2013 a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of the 7thRespondent (Bathuideen) with the participation of the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Energy, the Director General of Forest Conservation and his officers and a decision was made to release several lands for the re-settlement of IDPs (P7). Deplorably the then Conservator General of Forest K.G. Ariyadasa compliantly took part in the meeting and signed the P7 containing the decision to release the reserved forest land.

“Such a release of reserved forest land for re-settlement of IDPs could have been done only if there had been an order made by the Minister in terms of Section 4(2) of the Forest Conservation Ordinance declaring that the land in dispute is no longer reserved forest. No such order has been made.”

The Court concluded that the re-settlement of IDPs violated the provisions of the Forest Conservation Ordinance. According to the Polluter Pays principlel, victims of pollution should be compensated and cost of restoring the environmental degradation to be borne by the violator, Bathuideen will have to take necessary steps to reforest Wilpattu. The area will have to be managed for a period of ten years. The full cost of it is expected to be handed over to him in the coming couple of months.

The MP is currently in on remand on charges of violating the Presidential Election Act. He is accused of misappropriating public funds during his tenure as the Minster of Industry and Commerce. The Fort Magistrate ordered him to be remanded till November 25.


Available data shows that the forest cover in 2019 decreased to 16.5 percent. This is a drastic reduction from 2017’s, 29.7 percent of forest cover. Withanage said the recent judgement was ‘a very good decision’ and emphasised that officers concerned have to critically think about the cost of reforestation in Wilpattu.

“We have achieved a lot from this ruling but there is lot more to do than planting trees. This is a massive project. We need people’s support to make it happen,” Withanage said.


The Forest Department is reportedly finalising a plan to reforest the forest reserve in Wilpattu, as directed by the Court of Appeal.

The Department is also working on the cost estimation that is to be borne by MP Rishad Bathuideen who cleared the said land to construct houses and roads for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

According to government officials, the reforestation will be handled by the Forest Department with the aid of the Central Environmental Authority and Ministry of Environment.