The seeds of trouble

THE Sri Lankan economy is being threatened by the evils of privatisation, according to environmentalists. They maintain that this has resulted in large-scale deforestation in several tea and rubber estates in the country, especially in the Horton plains and Namunukula in the south.

The wanton destruction not only threatens the catchment areas of rivers, but also spells doom for the flora and fauna. Environmentalists warn that deforestation in these areas could accelerate the siltation of irrigation systems and reservoirs -- something that is already causing concern in the country.

The problem has its roots in the denationalisation of Sri Lanka's estates. In 1992, prompted by mounting losses, the government handed over the management of most estates to 22 private companies, under a radical privatisation programme. This has resulted in large-scale timber felling in the region, where the forest cover is already low. Private companies are chopping down trees to be sold as timber or to be used as a cost-effective fuel for tea drying. The guilty include several Indian companies, such as Tata Tea, and their Sri Lankan counterparts.

Besides, the Mihikatha Institute, a leading NGO, has flayed the handing over of nearly 304 ha acres of forest land, on the edge of the Knuckles mountain range, to a private company for commercial purposes. At stake is timber valued at $4 million, as well as rare flora and fauna.

The Sri Lankan government has finally woken up to the danger. It has appointed a committee to monitor forest lands and has also told the management of plantations to refrain from chopping down valuable trees. However, it will be a while before the impact of these measures is felt.

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