Road through national reserve irks conservationists

By Vindya Amaranayake
A proposed road through the Strict Natural Reserve of the Yala Wildlife Park has led to controversy with conservationists protesting against the move by the Road Development Authority and the Highways Ministry.

The proposed Kirinda-Panama road running through five natural reserves including the Yala Strict Natural Reserve (SNR) would be damaging the natural habitats of most of the endangered species. The public is not permitted to enter the SNR except for valid research purposes.

Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardane said it was illegal to build new roads inside natural reserves. "Natural reserves are protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), 1937 section 2.1. The public is not allowed into the Natural Reserves unless they hold a permit from the Wildlife Conservation Department ," he said.

Conservationist Sumith Pilapitiya said there were only three strict natural reserves in Sri Lanka and they covered only a small percentage of land in the country. Their main purpose was to let the natural habitat remain in its natural state without human intervention. "If it is only for research with no public visitation permitted, how can the RDA or the Government be considering a road through Yala SNR?",he queried

However, RDA Chairman M B S Fernando when contacted by The Nation dismissed the allegations saying there was no plan to build a highway but only to repair the existing road going through the Yala SNR. "The road inside the reserve belongs to the Wildlife Department and it is in a very bad shape. We are not going to build a new road. and what we are proposing is to repair the existing road so that local and foreign tourists can make use of it" he said.

"We will get assistance from the Wildlife Department and maintenance will be handled by them. There will be no harm to any of the wildlife preserved within the reserve," he added.

Fernando said "the public will be allowed in with a permit and they need to be accompanied by a Wildlife Department guard at all times. It will still be under the strict conditions of the Wildlife Department and the status quo will be maintained" he said.

But according to RDA Highway Designs Division sources there had been a proposal to build a highway through Yala when President Mahinda Rajapake was the Prime Minister.

He was then handling the Road Development Ministry. "There was a proposal like that long ago. I donít think anything has materialized." he added.