The conservation of Sri Lanka’s forests has become a major challenge in recent years, due to increased development and the pressure of a rising population. Increased demand for land has arisen due to human settlements, road construction and shifting cultivations.
Sri Lanka’s forests and nature reserves are primarily managed by the Forest Department (FD), Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and Divisional Secretariats; of these, the Forest Department is mandated to manage forest reserves, proposed forest reserves and village forests, while Strict Nature Reserves, Nature Reserves, National Parks, Trails and Sanctuaries are managed similarly by the DWC. However, there are areas that have not been identified as any of the aforementioned, but are State Land inclusive of forest patches. State land, in general, is a devolved subject under the Constitution and there arises an overlapping of authority between the Divisional Secretariats and the Forest Department in relation to these forest patches.
In the recent past, there was a need for the development and protection of these state forest patches, because of increased environmental awareness in safeguarding all such forests. Moreover, Forest Department has the target of increasing the forest cover of the country to 35% from the existing 24%, as well as under the UN –REDD programme, the conservation of existing forest cover has been identified as a key priority. For this purpose, the 05/2001 Circular was issued by the Ministry of Environment, giving provision for these areas with forest patches, which were previously managed by the Divisional Secretariats, to be now managed, developed and protected by the Forest Department. This Circular did not affect the authority given to the said Divisional Secretariats to protect these residual forest patches by the Forest Ordinance, but the said Circular did prevent the Divisional Secretariats from transferring the ownership of these areas to non-state entities at their own discretion.
EFL conducted a series of legal empowerment programmes in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka highlighting the Forest Department circulars and the Forest Ordinance. The project, funded by The Asia Foundation, consisted of 08 programmes targeting five districts: Vavuniya, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaitivu. Each programme was conducted in collaboration with the Forest Department. The project objectives aimed to fill the critical and timely information gap for a wide range of active stakeholders, including Divisional Secretaries, Environmental Officers, Land Use Planning Officers, Social Services Officers, Police Officers and other relevant personnel.
Empowerment of Government Officials: Awareness Programmes on Forest Department Circulars and Forest Ordinance in the Northern Province with Relation to the Devolution of State Land