lf photoThis was in response to my article on Maithri’s gazette on lands adjacent to Wilpattu National Park appeared in the Island on 10 April 2017. Five days later I sent my response to this. However my response was not published.This is the state of affairs in the mainstream media in Sri Lanka.

Here are the two articles for those who are interested. Latheef Farook

This is in response to the news item- ‘Maithri’s gazette on lands adjacent to Wilpattu National Park’, in the Opinion page of The Island of 10th April, 2017, by Latheef Farook.

The writer is misleading the general public with false information and tries to defend Minister Rishad over his alleged unauthorized colonies in the jungle areas, which are now challenged by the clauses in the new gazette notification. The gazette declaration is not a move against Muslims as the writer says, but a warning to those who misuse ministerial powers to create unauthorized colonies in the forest against government regulations. In the article, Mr. Farook criticizes other Muslim parliamentarians for not joining hands with Rishad Bathiudeen to oppose the presidential declaration, as if Rishad is the only savior of the Muslims. How could they come to save Rishad when Rishad himself is implicated in the illegal colonization scheme in the jungles?

The presidential gazette declaration in this regard is a bold and timely move to prevent the forests and jungles from being misused by thoughtless politicians for their political survival at the expense of national treasures, whether it is Wilpattu or any other forest. Also, it provides a legal basis to file a case against those who are involved in mass land encroachment in the jungles. It is not in any way against Muslims or other law abiding citizens.

During the debate between Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Thera and Minister Rishad Bathiudeen in the Salakuna Program on Hiru TV on the 28th of December 2015, the nation could see for the first time how far Rishad Bathiudeen had misused his ministerial powers, to illegally set up colonies for a chosen community of his own in the controversial jungle areas. The photographs shown by the Thera, and the video clips re-telecast by Hiru TV showing interviews of people in the area, are evident enough to prove that Rishad has committed criminal acts inside the thick jungles in the garb of resettlement, for which he can be sued.

However, interpretations of the meaning of Wilpattu and its boundaries by different quarters are misleading the public, as they differ from the officially declared demarcations of Wilpattu. Those misinterpreted meanings of Wilpattu and its boundary-lines should be avoided, for Rishad is apparently trying to manipulate these confused explanations of the location of Wilpattu to his advantage, to hide all his unauthorized encroachments of state lands in the jungles and elsewhere in the district. This is because the controversial resettlements have taken place in the jungle called Kallaru, which is not mentioned as part of Wilpattu in modern day Sri Lankan maps. Further, in order to justify his land encroachments and misuse of ministerial powers, Bathiudeen extensively uses the refugee-card to turn this into a communal issue.rishard wilpatt

After several investigations by authorities, a clear picture has now emerged that shows without any doubt that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen has cleared a large stretch of thick forest land between Marichikaddi and Kallaru river, without an approved Environment Impact Assessment to resettle people of his choice. Whether this long stretch of forest belongs to Wilpattu or not is immaterial now, as it is proved that this Kallaru forest comes under the Forest Conservation Ordinance of the Forest Department. And, therefore, any encroachment in this forest is a punishable offence. Accordingly, Minister Bathiudeen can be arrested without a warrant in relation with these unwarranted resettlements in the forest called Kallaru Jungle.

People had to be resettled in their ancestral villages of Marichukaddi, Palaikuli, Karadikuli and Mullikulam, from where they had fled during the war. They had never demanded creating new villages illegally in Kallaru jungles.

Rishad is desperately trying to hide all his atrocious acts perpetrated in this jungle area, by issuing statements that the jungle area in question does not belong to Wilpattu. Even if we take his statement for argument’s sake, why then, did he clear the said thick jungles that belong to the Forest Department? When the displaced people in the region only wanted to be resettled in their ancestral villages, why did he clear the jungles to create new colonies beyond the boundaries of those ancestral villages? Who gave him the authority to trespass the forest, destroy it and work on his whims and fancies to resettle a different set of people illegally? Where were the thousands of tree-logs transferred when the jungles were cleared? All this clearly shows that he misused his ministerial powers to carry out a vicious hidden agenda under the garb of resettlement. It is alleged that Rishad wanted to create colonies in this jungle, for his cronies and their families brought from various places to create a strong ‘Voters Bank’ for his political survival in this Musali AGA division, at the expense of national interests.

After the end of the war, the Minister went on full swing to resettle the Muslim villagers in their ancestral villages using his ministerial powers and state resources at his disposal. Nobody opposed those resettlements, since those villagers had all the rights to be resettled in their original villages and, therefore, the moves seemed very reasonable and acceptable. But in addition to resettling the people in their ancestral villages, he cleared large stretches of jungles beyond the boundaries of those villages in Kallaru that belongs to the Forest Department.

Meanwhile, Rishad Bathiudeen, as Minister of Resettlement at that time, did not show much interest in resettling the Tamils of Mullikulam, as their village was wholly occupied by the Sri Lanka Navy and it still remains under its forcible occupation, rendering those unfortunate lot displaced in many parts of Mannar and in the nearby jungles even today. However, a few families of Mullikulam were enticed by the Minister with an offer to be resettled miles away from their village and miles away from the controversially cleared jungle area, in an uncultivable land along the Silawathurai road in Musali, called Kayalkuli. These few Tamil families fell prey to the Minister’s ulterior motives. Minister Bathiudeen has called anybody to prove him wrong in the land encroachment in the forest, in his recent statements in newspapers. People in Vanni, take his statement seriously and challenge him in turn to prove that there had ever been any village or human habitation in the now- cleared Kallaru area, or villages which he has named as Al-Jasim City and Hunais Farook City, in the known history of Sri Lanka since Independence or even before it. Will he take this challenge?

wilpattu mosqeThe modus operandi of Rishad in all his illegal resettlement projects is to build some concrete or cemented houses in unauthorized state or private land, and hurriedly resettle people of his choice. Once such houses are built, he hopes that nobody would raise their voices against these illegal settlements on ‘humanitarian grounds’, and therefore he can make those illegal settlements legal in the long run. In the case of the illegal resettlements at Kallaru, he added another cunning strategy to his usual modus operandi. Accordingly, from Marichikaddi to Kallaru, on either sides of the nearly five kilometer main road, he has built hundreds of houses with very long spaces between them only for Muslims, and named them Al-Yasim City, after an Arab businessman, giving an Arabic look to the resettlement in the jungle. His one-time political ally, Mr. Hunais Farook, for his part, has named another newly created village as Hunais Farook City in this illegally cleared jungle area. Both these illegally named villages should be made null and void by the government. This crafty scheme practically prevents people of any other communities to build houses for them in the entire region. In addition, the first line of houses on both sides of the road has been built very close to the brims of the road against government regulations.

This criminal act not only poses threat to the wildlife existence in the said jungle area, but also alters the defined demography of the region in many places. Most of the houses in the illegally colonized villages are left unoccupied for want of people, at present.

Although Marichikaddi is resettled now, some of the villagers are well settled in Puttalam and receive all government benefits meant for displaced people. Thus, these people are made to enjoy ‘dual residency statuses’ by the Minister at government expenditure for his political survival. Some schools belonging to the Mannar Education Zones are also left to function in Puttalam, which is a different district; making a mockery of the Sri Lankan education system by the influence of Rishad. Whenever there is any election in Mannar, all these people are brought in buses to Marichikaddi by the Minister’s stooges, and with all promises asked to cast votes to the Minster and his candidates. It was alleged in the past that most of these people had cast their votes both in Puttalam and Mannar during such elections in favour of the Minister.

Not only did Rishad encroach the jungle areas for illegal resettlement schemes, but his land-grabbing campaigns went on unchecked inland in Mannar and Vanni, too. Some of such settlements are located between Silawathurai and Nanattan in Musali, and between Tharapuram and Thalvupadu in Mannar. Many new colonies have also mushroomed in state lands between Murunkan and Silawathurai. A lot of state land is encroached and illegally owned by his relatives and party supporters along Mannar- Talaimannar road. An illegal resettlement scheme is built opposite to the British period Doric Fort between Silawathurai and Arippu in Musali. There had never been a village in this site, and the area receives importance for archaeological research due to its location in close proximity to the old Doric Fort, which is a tourist attraction. In his last election campaign in Mannar, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that he himself was shocked to learn that Rishad Bathiudeen had amassed 400 acres of land in Mannar after becoming a minister.

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All these allegations should be rigorously investigated by the Presidential Inquiry Commission and the Bribery Commission, in the public interest. Therefore, Rishad Bathiudeen and those who collaborated with him should not be left unpunished for the criminal acts perpetrated in the jungles and state lands, setting a wrong precedent for other ministerial criminals to follow suit in future. So the government should demolish all houses in the unauthorized resettlement schemes in question, or all the schemes should be taken over by the Ministry of Resettlement to resettle IDPs of all communities in the region. 

A better alternative would be to resettle Sri Lankan refugees of Mannar and Vanni districts returning from refugee camps in India, thus saving considerable expenditure on resettlement programs undertaken by the government now.

Just because Rishad switched his allegiance from the previous government, at the very last moment, in order to enjoy a continued political survival, his illegal acts would not become legitimized in the new government. President Maithripala Sirisena cannot behave the same way that Mahinda Rajapaksa did in the past in this regard. The whole country knows how Mahinda Rajapaksa saved Rishad in the infamous ‘stoning of the court complex’ in Mannar and let him go scot free, earning the wrath of the Sri Lankan judiciary and the people alike. People have high hope in President Maithripala and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that they would not yield to any political pressure to save any wrong-doing ministers, and bring them to justice setting a new political culture in our country. This should be done in the backdrop of the new gazette notification issued by the President.

Nihal Peries-Vavuniya

My Response to Mr. Nihal Peries’ response to my article titled “Maithri’s Gazette on lands adjacent to Wilpattu National Park-Calculated move to Prevent Muslim Refugees from returning to their lands”.

By Latheef Farook

This is my response to Mr. Nihal Peries’ “kohede yanne-malle pol” response in the Island on Wednesday 12 April 2017, written in lightning speed, to my Monday 10 April 2017 article titled “Maithri’s Gazette on lands adjacent to Wilpattu National Park-Calculated move to Prevent Muslim Refugees from returning to their lands.

Muslims refugees’ right to return to their lands is one thing.  Accusing Minister Rishard Badurdeen of illegally clearing and grabbing state lands and setting up housing colonies  are entirely another subject. Thus these are two different issues.

Therefore Mr.Peries’ response  was  irrelevant to my article which highlighted the unjust nature of President Sirisena’s gazette notification which deprived unfortunate Muslim refugees of their   rights to their traditional lands from which they were evicted by the LTTE in 1990 in the most inhuman and barbarous manner. These poverty stricken and illiterate Muslim refugees were victims of Sinhala-Tamil racist politics.

In his response Mr. Peries did not contradict my article. Instead he had picked up one line about Minister Rishard Badurdeen’s move to unite Muslim parliamentarians to jointly meet President Sirisena to explain the facts and persuade him to withdraw the Gazette notification on lands adjoining Wilpattu National Park. However his response was all about Minister Badurdeen’s alleged illegal activities.  Basically Mr. Peries’ response lacks facts; facts presented probably supplied by another person who probably with an anti-Rishard ethnic and political sentiment; gives wrong facts in many places that probably would have been due to ignorance or ulterior motive.

Many of my friends from the area knowledgeable on Muslim refugee issue explained that points raised by Mr. Peries resembles the ideas expressed time and again by Tamil nationalists. They suspect that Mr. Peries has written the article weeks ahead to expose Minister Rishard Badurdeen’s alleged illegal activities to justify President Sirisena’s gazette notification and the acquisition of Muslim lands, block Muslim refugees from returning to their homes and confine them to refugee camps as part of the ongoing campaign against Muslims.

Muslims believe that President Sirisena was misled and forced to sign this gazette notification by some racist elements who  do not represent the mainstream Sinhalese community. This is the reason why Muslims MPs and others wanted to meet President Sirisena and explain real facts. However they haven’t met so far. Perhaps not given an appointment.

Meanwhile racist elements’ hostility towards Muslims in general and Minister Badurdeen in particular is not something new. Minister Badurdeen is the creation of short sighted Sinhala political leaders’ move to divide and weaken the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, SLMC, which, over the years, has become corrupt and shameful liability on the Muslim community today

As we know in the aftermath of the death of SLMC leader M.H.M.Ashraf, leadership crisis erupted between current SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem and Ashraf’s wife Mrs. Ferial. Speculations were that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga picked up Mrs. Ferial Ashraf to promote and made her a minister. Since then SLMC parliamentarians were all out to please the Sinhalese leaderships seeking positions. In the process they abandoned the community. The SLMC is today regarded as one of the   political parties of opportunists and sell outs.

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It was in this context that Mr. Rishard Badurdeen was picked up to wash Rauf Hakeem’s dirty linen and humiliate him. Minister Rishard, as proved later, was a willing pawn in the hands of his manipulators. In doing so Minister Rishard stooped to the lowest of low level as disclosed by details published for several weeks in the English language weekly Sunday Leader .Rishard was rewarded with position for this disgusting and shameful treachery.

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, Rishard was a blue eyed boy and supposed to have been a best friend of former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. So whatever he did, had the blessings of corrupt and lawless Rajapaksa regime. However when the Rajapaksa regime unleashed violent anti Muslim campaign   Rishard  was one of the few Muslim parliamentarians who spoke for Muslim rights highlighting the plight of clueless, voiceless ,beleagurd and sinking Muslims .This won the wrath of the Sinhala racist elements.

Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe knowing very well about allegations against Rishard Badurdeen absorbed him into the government and given same portfolios. Perhaps under secret deal for which governments have become notorious during the past few decades. Had he violated the law it is up to the government to deal with him and not the Muslim refugees.

One person from the area said “Rishard did make two mistakes.  One is that he used political power to grab land and managed to do it through proper process.  Secondly, he cleared a large area of land for resettlement within a short period of time which exposed his forest clearance in a negative manner. Of course, his resettlement plan was not consultative including the beneficiary. People are now suffering due to his unplanned and unwise decision and action.

They also explained that “returnees resettled in the areas where they lived and used before 1990 have not encroached the forest area. Kallaaru area was a scrub land; it looked dense because of non-use of chena and cattle farming for a long time (more than 30 year from the time of armed Tamil militants using this area).  Kallaru is not an extension to Wilpattu; Wilpattu located far away from this said forest area. In the meantime, in the name of forest, reserved forest and wild life reservation, river reservation thousands of areas of land used for paddy, chena, cattle farming have been forcibly taken from use and ownership of the people.  No body speaks about this”.

The Island article says that (Tamil) Mullikulam village was taken over by Navy; but it failed to state that one third of Muslim village called Marichukaddy and their valuable lands were also acquired for the establishment of Navy camp.  That response is one-sided .

Meanwhile in his book titled “The Indo-Lankans-Their 200 Year Saga” S .Muthiah who was with The Times of Ceylon and Sunday Times for 18 years from 1951 had this to say about settlements in Sillavathurai and Marichikatti;

“The British from their first days in the island exploited pearl fisheries getting off the mark in 1796 itself. From then until 1925 the British conducted 46 fisheries, particularly successful ones being in 1798 when about 143,000 sterling pounds was earned, in 1814 one million rupees was first touched and in 1905 nearly Rs 2.5 million was the gross proceeds. During that epic 1905 fishery, a record 82 million oysters were brought up, but thereafter few fisheries were held. The last one was in 1954.Though government  ran the fisheries and made massive arrangements organizing them, converting a small fishing village into a town at Silavatthurai till 1889 and then at Marichchukaddi, where during the peak of  February-April there could be almost 50,000 people living. The success of the fisheries depended entirely on the South Indian-boat owners and crews, the drivers mainly from the Fisheries Coast and the buyers who in the early years were Nattukottai Chettiars and Kilakkarai and Kayalpattinam Muslims and  in later years, almost entirely latter”.

At the same time, the history of local population particularly Muslims goes back to several centuries earlier.  Muslims lived along coast of Musali and in Kudiramali Island for ages which were supported by historical evidences.  One of oldest Muslim shrines called Kudiramali Dharga (saint place) is still an evidence to age old history of Muslims in this area.

With regard to Mr. Peries’ allegations against Minister Badurdeen it is left to the government to deal with it.Not only Badurdeen but allegations levelled against all others who alleged to have plundered and brought the country to what it is today need to be brought to book. This is what both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe pledged during elections. However instead of punishing the rogues and thieves, people now believe that the government seems to have become the guardian of crime and corrupt.

As a result today, despite all tall talks, the country is in turmoil with ever deepening political and economic crisis. People in general who expected a lot are fed up with government’s failure in many fronts.  Muslims who voted for this government too are fed up and remain disillusioned.   16 April 2017

However Island failed to publish my response even after a month.