Photo by Amalini de Sayrah
They built shops, houses and began trying to resume their normal way of lives. In doing this, they say, they were also assisted by the military. “There are 6 tanks near this area. The Government cleared the land for the tanks. The military helped direct the water. How can they do this without knowing this is our land?”
In fact, they claim that most of the forest clearance that took place was done by the Forest Department. More pertinently, the residents insist, they never settled on land that was declared part of the Wilpattu forest reserve – particularly the stretch of land along the Puttalam river.
However, on March 24, 2017, President Maithripala Sirisena signed a gazette notification declaring some 435,000 hectares of land (according to residents) as falling under the Mavilu Forest reserve. This new reserve covers Marichchikatti as well. “We want that gazette revoked. We have not settled in Wilpattu. We only want our houses, our land on which we farm. That’s all we want,” a resident of Musali said.
This is by far not the only issue that these people face. Currently, the Navy occupies some of the land that the residents say is theirs. They have constructed a Naval farm, an estimated 8 kilometres away from where the residents are protesting. In total, around 1500 acres is occupied by the Navy, who have also constructed a camp, they say. “They take around 30 to 35 litres of water in bowsers. There is hardly any left for us, although it is our land and our water,” Khan says.