Feature Article

Impunity continues amidst stiff resistance against illegal encroachment of pasturelands in Batticaloa

[TamilNet, Thursday, 11 June 2020, 21:34 GMT]
One of the three main livelihoods of Tamils in Batticaloa district is dairy farming with 300,000 registered cattle. One of the central pastureland tracts, Mayilaththamadu-Periyamaathava'ani, falls within two of the fourteen administrative divisions of the district. Although this area doesn't officially belong to SL Mahaweli Authority, it is being claimed by it in addition to the SL Forest Department. After 2009, Sinhala intruders, with SL military backing, have used every opportunity to seize the area and convert it into agricultural lands. Tamil dairy farmers have been resisting the colonists without active support from their politicians and local authorities, who are reluctant to act against the intruders. However, the dairy farmers managed to thwart the previous attempt two years ago after a prolonged agitation. One month ago, the invasion was renewed.

The latest wave of occupation was going on for four weeks. Although the intrusion was reportedly halted this week, the agenda is still on-going as the leading Sinhala trouble makers enjoy impunity and get away scot-free each time, Tamil dairy farmers said.

Karadiyanaar'u Police letter
SL Poice in Karadiyanaa'ru claims there was no complaint of encroachment
The Sinhala encroachers from Polonnaruwa and Ampaa'rai districts get notified from the SL Forest Department officials in Batticaloa and the Eastern province. Both, the Batticaloa District and Eastern Provincial heads of Forest Department are Sinhalese.

Also, Sinhala Police Officer-in-Charge at Karadiyaanaa'ru Police station has instructed Acting OIC, who is a Tamil-speaking Muslim, to issue a letter rejecting the allegation of encroachment in the pasturelands.

Batticaloa District regional forest guards, who are Tamils, managed to detain some of the encroachers twice. Although there were reports (the latest incident on 02 June) of regional forest guards handing over Sinhala encroachers to Karadiyaa'ru police, the Acting Police OIC has suppressed that information in his letter, which means the detained persons were released without any action.

In the meantime, assaults against cattle have also resurfaced the Tamil farmers, and cattle herders complained.

The following is a video documentary of interactions with the Tamil farmers, cattle herders and rights activists involved in confronting the issue earlier this month.

Many Sinhala intruders arrived in the area almost a month ago. They are workers brought by a few former Sinhala paramilitary (also known as Home Guards) personnel who permanently reside near Mayilaththa-madu.

The intruding workers started to clear the bushes to prepare the grounds to cultivate black gram or rice during the North-East Monsoon (Maha Season), which lasts from September to March.

There are also a few Sinhala farmers who have come from Hambantota with 500 cattle. Despite the existing rule that the pastureland could be used only by animals belonging to the farmers of the district, Tamil farmers who are from other divisions of Batticaloa district have not been allowed to bring their cattle to this area. Muslim farmers from the nearby Ampaa'rai district, who used to herd their cattle to the area have also been denied access.

The Sinhala farmers from Hambantota are allowed to proceed with their cattle grazing on Batticaloa district interior. However, these Sinhala cattle-owners also share the concerns of Tamil dairy farmers. Only the militarised sections of the Sinhala encroachers and colonists are creating problems, the Tamil dairy farmers said.

Grazing lands Mailaththa-madu
The Tamil farmers say they have been using the grazing lands allocated for them for several years with the permits given to them through Sri Lanka’s state-owned dairy Milco (Pvt) Ltd

Around 300,000 cattle are registered with the veterinary office in the district of Batticaloa. Of these, approximately 80,000 are from the two administrative divisions of Koa'ra'laip-pattu South (Kiraan) and Ea'raavoorpattu (Chengkalai).

The entire expanse of pastureland known as Mayilaththa-madu and Periya-maathava'nai belongs to both the divisions.

The intruders were clearing lands in the part of pastureland that comes under Chengkaladi division. Almost 20,000 cattle that belong to around 600 farmers graze on this part alone. About 3,000 animals are yet to be registered with the veterinary office, the dairy farmers said.

The Sinhala colonists had seized more than 12,000 acres of pasturelands in this area back in 2016. They were killing hundreds of cattle owned by Tamils. The Tamil farmers and cattle herders were also attacked. The colonists, who had put up huts, also started to construct a Buddhist temple and convert the area into a colony, which they named Malamandi. However, due to relentless resistance by Tamil farmers, the colonisation scheme was dismantled.

The SL Mahaweli Authority also claims the pastureland within the two divisions as falling under its System B.

The System B of Mahaweli programme claims to cover only one divisional secretariat division, Ko'ra'laip-pattu North (Vaakarai). However, the programme is expanded to the two DS divisions, Chengkaladi and Kiraan that include the pastureland facing continuous aggression.

Mahaweli System B
System B of Mahaweli scheme targets to Sinhalicise and colonise the agricultural and grazelands of Eezham Tamils in Batticaloa. The area being subjected to occupation was safeguarded by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) till 2007 and is known as Paduvaan-karai



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