Pukkulam is a seasonal fishing village located close to the Northern and Western boundaries of the WNP (Wilpattu National Park), and in 1973, was declared as part of the National Park. Considering the existent communities occupying this area, several lands were excluded to accommodate three seasonal fishing villages, namely Pukkulam, Vellamundalam and Pallugahathurai. As these villages lie adjacent to the boundary of the park, the agreement is such that the villages can only be occupied during the fishing seasons (November to April) under strict guidelines and restrictions. All three villages were only accessible from the seaside.
During the civil war, fishing activities were minimal as many fishermen were not permitted to enter the area due to security reasons. When the war ended, the villages at Pallugahathurai and Vellamundalam remained the same, with temporary seasonal settlements.
The fishermen from Pukkulam however, returned with their families and settled in Pukkulam permanently. At present there are approximately 153 fishing families with 450 individuals engaging in fishing activities.
When notified of this issue, EFL made inquiries from relevant authorities and conducted several site visits to address the matter. Through discussions with community members, our team discovered that the villagers residing in Pukkulam are all kin of the settlers who left during the war. Villagers use the bus service, which travels through the illegal “Puttalam – Mannar road”, to reach the Pukkulam village.
Community members also shared concerns with regard to the loss of land, a result of sea erosion. This was visible during the site visits made by our team as well. Because of this, villagers have been forced to encroach into the WNP and currently several families have settled and built permanent houses within the park premises.
This investigation is still ongoing and the findings will determine whether legal action is to follow against relevant government officials. Equally important, the case will seek adequate relief for all affected community members.
Risks & Concerns
- A proper environmental assessment, which is vital in such sensitive locations, has not been done prior to relocating families in to the village.
- According to the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka, approval needs to be granted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to conduct any development activity within one mile of a National Park. In this instance, necessary approvals have not been obtained. This sets a bad precedent, encouraging other government entities/private investors to bypass following proper procedure, considering no action/penalties have been enforced so far.
- Increased human activity in the area/within the park, will increase the risk of human wildlife conflict.
- Habitat destruction and threat to wildlife in the area.
- Facilitates poaching and other illegal activities within the park.