Habarana Jungle Fest: Tourism officials deny involvement | Sunday Observer

Habarana Jungle Fest: Tourism officials deny involvement

19 February, 2023

Tourism Ministry officials yesterday rejected reports that they had any involvement in permitting or encouraging the holding of a musical and cultural event near the Habarana forest.

At least five environmental pressure groups have criticised the Tourism Ministry and the Forestry and Wildlife Department, stating that they have approved holding a musical event titled Deep Jungle Music and Cultural Festival near the Karandagaswewa forest reserve in Habarana. The event is scheduled to run until February 20.

The environmentalists said that this festival threatens forest conservation, while its organisers described it as an event promoting sustainable tourism.

When contacted, officials from the Tourism Ministry’s Tourism Bureau Promotion categorically said they had not permitted holding any event that would disrupt the country’s forests or wildlife by any such entertainment entity. Tourism Promotion Bureau’s Public Relations Director Madhubhani Perera said their Bureau has no reason to encourage any activity that hurts forests and wildlife. “Besides, we don’t profit from an event like that, “she said.

Environmentalists from the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) have also spoken out against this event.

CEJ Director Hemantha Withanage said holding a noisy event near what is supposed to be a zero noise zone, a national park, is unacceptable since it will hurt wildlife. “It particularly affects elephants. These animals have been a tourist attraction since time immemorial,” he said.

“Around 200 elephants use the elephant corridor in this particular area of the Habarana forest. The concert lights and sounds would increase the animals’ stress levels,” he said.

Tourism Ministry officials said that tourism promotion includes forestry and wildlife hotspots. Nature promotes itself unhindered by urban human activities, they said. “Holding commercial musical events in the vicinity of national parks could lead to disorientation of animals,” an official said. “If we disregard the protection of animals in our forest reserves, it could negatively impact the tourism industry.”

CEJ sources said this event was only allowed based on a “no-objection” letter from the Minneriya Park Warden.

The Forest Department had withdrawn a letter of permission given to it a few days earlier. A spokesman for the Department said the venue for the event was outside the forest zone. If the event causes animals to become disoriented, wildlife officers will not hesitate to enforce forestry and wildlife laws. We will stop the event altogether, an officer said.

However, the Hingurakgoda Magistrate issued orders to the police that they see that the festival is held as per the 2031/2007 police circular and that a police team of 20 and 10 wildlife officers must be deployed for its supervision. Festival organisers would not be able to use their sound amplification equipment from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Environment conservation organisations CEJ and RARE Sri Lanka filed the case.