CA (Writ) 51/2018
The Wilpattu National Park (WNP) is the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1905 and was given status as a National Park on the 25th of February, 1938. Upon granting the above legal protection status to the area in 1938 and again in different stages till 1973 under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), all private tenements, rights, privileges and entitlements seized to be operational over the said land except anything recognized by law as a traditional practice/usage. Hence, the said land declared ‘Protected’ was not privy for any human presence/cultivation/any trade or business or any other activity that used to take place in the said land prior to such declaration.
According to available information, there was a small jungle shrine in the Pallekhandal/Pomparippu area within Block V of the WNP, which was built over a few centuries ago. Over the years it has been recognized as a Catholic place of worship, which included a small chapel placed in an area less than a quarter of an acre, and the fishing communities who reside around the Puttalam lagoon would occupy this chapel for an annual feast.
Recently however, it has been observed that this shrine has been expanded to a greater size than the original status of the former jungle shrine; additional structures have been added with the forest cover being cleared beyond boundaries of the shrine. Development of motorable access roads in and out to the premises inside along with a set of new permanent structures have been added. The permanent structures within the national park include a water tank used for drinking water, accommodation facilities and a church bell.
It is pertinent to note that this was not an ancestral practice. Back in the day, temporary structures were used and dismantled subsequent to the feast, a conservative method of observing this religious festivity. The current setup has caused several detrimental consequences and is in violation of several laws of the country, including the FFPO.
The above mentioned clearings and continuous human activities within the National Park have resulted in an irrecoverable damage to the biodiversity of the WNP. It is imperative that immediate measures are taken to rectify the damage that has already been incurred and prevent the occurrence of any further damage.
EFL together with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (WNPS), instituted legal action on the 25th of January, 2018 in the Court of Appeal, challenging the unlawful and unregulated religious festivities taking place at the Pallekhadal Church within the WNP.