The much-opposed recent move to acquire forestland in three districts in the Northern Province for distribution among Muslim returnees and their extended families is now in full swing, with a total of 2,388 acres of prime forestland already for this purpose.
While local people and environmentalists continue to protest the land acquisition move – critiqued as a land distribution initiative on the basis of ethnicity by some – the government has strongly defended the action as one that seeks to correct a historical injustice committed against the many-times evicted Muslims of the North.
As things stand, a total of 2,388 acres in the Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts are to be utilized for this purpose. Approximately, 1,080 acres in Mannar, 983 in Mullaitivu and 325 in Vavuniya Districts will be covered by this initiative.
Exactly a month ago, it was revealed Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen, set out to acquire more prime forestland, not only for the Muslim returnees but for their immediate families, an initiative that drew the ire of so many, including Tamils, who allege their historical lands as well as agricultural land would now be distributed among Muslims, who they claim, did not live in the North and were now seeking new homes. On the other hand, Bathiudeen demands whether the right to return is available only to one community, but not all three, including the evicted Sinhalese.
According to the local people, under the guise of a resettlement drive, it is a move to clear forest lands to settle not just the displaced but also not displaced.