Uva Wellassa farmers on Saturday (05) handed over a petition to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka requesting assistance to protect the human rights of the people affected by the transfer of 65,000 acres of land in Uva Wellassa to several multinational corporations.
65,000 acres of land in the Dehigama area in the Rideemaliyadda Divisional Secretariat Division are to be handed over to Gazelle Ventures of Singapore for a sugar production project.
This land which belongs to the historical Uva plain has several major reserve forests such as the Nilgala Medicinal Forest, Maduruoya Reserve Forest and the Senanayake Samudraya Reserve Forest located.
Environmentalists point out that the catchment areas of Gala Oya, Madura Oya, Ulhitiya Oya and Hapola Oya are also located in the relevant 65,000 acres.
The present day dependents of these lands are indigenous communities of Dambana, Pollebedda and Ratugala.
Ven. Dodangolla Soratha Thero, the Chief Patron of the Uva Wellassa Human Rights Protection Front requested the Government to not to sacrifice the public, and to immediately withdraw the Uva Wellassa land grab.
The bulldozing of 572 acres of land had taken place recently in the area despite the suspension of the project initiated by the previous regime due to the protests of environment groups and the Buddhist clergy, residents said. .
Environmental conservation activists had informed that if sugarcane is allowed to be grown, and then all environmentally sensitive areas such as Gal Oya, Maduru Oya and the Malgala Herbal Garden would be seriously impacted.
The previous ‘Yahapaalana’ government minister had given approval to cabinet paper MDE/AD/03/CAB-PA/2017 to hand over 62,500 acres from Uva-Wellassa to the Gazelle Ventures of Singapore, through its parent company, the New York-based multinational company CDVCA, to cultivate sugarcane. T
he former President Maithripala Sirisena, as the minister of environment, has signed the relevant cabinet paper.
The cabinet paper says the Bibile sugar company development project will be launched in 2017, carried out in an expeditious manner for its commercial operations to be launched before December 2019 in order to eliminate poverty by creating sustainable economic prosperity for the people of Rambaken Oya special economic area under the Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority.
The local agent for the project is the notorious MS Holdings, which attempted previously too, to swindle land of the area for a sugarcane project. It had to abandon its plan, made in 2006 with Britain’s Booker Tate, due to public protests.
JVP Member Samantha Vidyaratna, recently called on the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapters of the Siam Sect to brief them on the decision taken by the Government to grant 65,000 acres from Uva-Wellassa and Bintenna to grow sugarcane to a multinational firm.
He informed the Chief Prelates that these lands were in Ampara, Moneragala and Badulla Districts and had charged that attempts had been made to hand over the lands to a British firm
Previously-uncultivated land is the best for sugarcane cultivations, which then render the land barren. Multinational companies squeeze the richness out of the land, just like squeezing the juice out of the sugarcane, and only the barren land will be left to us , he added.
In a statement, the convener of the Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS), Dr.Ravindra Kariyawasam alleged that the government trying to give 572 acres of farmers inherited lands and their agricultural lands located at Bintenna, Dehigama area to a Singaporean company for mega-scale sugarcane cultivation.
“IMS holdings and Singaporian Company are acting as the main investors of this project while Bibila Sugar Company works as a cultivating partner for this. Biblia Sugar Company earlier received permission from Central Environment Authority (CEA) in 2013 to use these lands for the project. The permission was valid for 3 years from 2013.
However, now the permission has expired and they don’t have the moral right to start this project based on 2013 permission without having the proper evaluation about the current value of the lands of farmers and without giving proper compensation”, CENS elaborates in the statement.
CENS further points out that the government is helping with this illegal land grabbing process.“This process is violating the National Environmental Act.
This land grabbing process begins in 2011 with a national physical plan that suggests cultivating one crop in large areas to gain more profits for companies rather than multi crops cultivation what`s good for the general public.”, the CENS statement further said.