Environmentalists are up in arms once again as the government withdrew two circulars that protected 700,000 hectares of forests, which are now in danger of being destroyed so that the land could be used for agriculture or development purposes. These forests make up five percent of the remaining 16.5 percent of forest cover in Sri Lanka.
The Ministry of Wildlife Resources and Forest Conservation issued a press release saying that both circular 5/2001 and circular 2/2006 have been cancelled. This means that what is called Other State Forests (OSFs) will be removed from the direct control of the Department of Forest Conversation and handed back to the District Secretariats and Divisional Secretariats.
This reverses a decision taken 19 years ago to protect OSFs, which was strengthened in 2009 through an update to the Forest Conservation Ordinance. Now these forests can be used for any purpose, regardless of the impact on the environment, with the issuance of permits by the District and Divisional Secretariats in consultation with the Department of Forest Conservation.