By Nirmala Kannangara
Director General Wildlife Department is once again accused of attempting to prevent his officers from taking action against illegal elephant owners.
Last week, we reported as to how the Director General H D Ratnayake came to the rescue of an elephant owner from Meerigama who kept hold of two elephants illegally. Since it has now come to the limelight that Ratnayake is aiding and abetting illegal elephant owners, wildlife officials have raised concern as to what they could do to get Ratnayake from preventing them discharging their duties.
Thanking Wildlife Resources Conservation Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soysa for his timely intervention to give orders to them to raid the place which reportedly happens to be an elephant transit location, wildlife officials said they came under tremendous pressure from the Director General to stop the investigation.
“Since there is a circular dated December 18, 2012 by the Director General ordering wildlife officials not to carry out any raids without his approval, we were reluctant to raid this place. But we had to carry the ministerial order and we are sure that the minister will not allow the DG take action against us. That is why we joined the Deputy Director (Western Region) W A N D U Indrajith in the raid. Even till the last moment, several attempts were taken to prevent us taking action against the illegal elephant owner,” said a member of the flying squad. According to him, it was not only the Wildlife DG that took every step to defend Roshan (the owner of the elephant), but also the Piliyandala police who allegedly acted as deaf and dumb people.
“When we went inside the premises, the environmentalists and the media too wanted to follow us. But the residents did not allow any of them to come in. It took nearly three hours for us to carry out our duties in the presence of the police. When the environmentalists peeped over the parapet wall to see what was happening inside, the residents stoned the onlookers. The police are there to maintain law and order but instead this team acted as a deaf and dumb group,” said the sources.
According to the sources, the injured elephant is a registered animal but it is questionable whether the details given in the license were of this particular elephant or any other animal.
“The residents showed us his registration details but his height and the age does not tally with our officers. Although this animal’s age is given as ten years, it cannot be more than five years. It is the same with the height. All these details contradict each other,” said the sources.
He further alleged as to how Roshan the owner of the place has reportedly claimed that he was going to get the Wildlife Minister removed from his post within a week for giving instruction to wildlife officers to carry out the raid.
“The DG has called Roshan and informed him that it was the minister that had given the ordered for the raid,” he added.
Meanwhile, Environmental Foundation Limited Director of Operations Vimukthi Weeratunge told The Sunday Leader that he was happy to see wildlife officials taking necessary action to save the baby elephant from the crutches of cruelty.
“On a tip off, we went to the place and we were told by the neighbourhood that there are five baby elephants at Erawwala. By the time we went there, they had taken away four elephants leaving behind the injured animal. There were two lorries meant to transport elephants and even mounds of earth which made a bridge for the elephants to get on to the lorries easily. This is clearly an elephant transit place,” said Weeratunge.
According to Weeratunge, the wildlife veterinary surgeons who accompanied the flying squad too were reluctant to take any action since it is alleged that they too were under severe pressure from the Director General.
“Speculation is rife that the wildlife officers were under tremendous pressure from the Department. These officers would have certainly called off the investigation had they not receive orders from the subject minister,” added Weeratunge.
Weeratunge further accused the Piliyandala police for ignoring the death threats allegedly made by Roshan to the environmentalists and media group.
“One electronic media personality was injured as a result of the stoning. From the way the residents behave aggressively in front of the police, we know for certain the police too was under pressure from above,” he added.
However, Deputy Director (Western Region) W A N D U Indrajith, when contacted, said that he was not approached by the Director General at any time as claimed by the media.
“I was on my way to Tissamahramaya for an official legal matter when I received a call from the Minister requesting me to raid a house in Gemunu Mawatha, Erewwala, Maharagama. At this time, the Director General was not in office and I had to take few officers from the flying squad for the raid. While I was doing the investigation, the DG called and wanted me to take a court order and arrest the elephant and to file a case against the owner of the place.
The DG never wanted me to stop the investigation,” said Indrajith. When contacted, Director General H D Ratnayake said that he did not give any instructions to stop the investigation but ordered to take action against the culprits. “I was at a meeting at the Presidents House and the minister has given the instruction to raid this place,” he said.
When asked as to why he issued a circular preventing flying squad officers from carrying out raids without his instructions, the DG said the he has not issued any such circular.
“The flying squad comes directly under my purview, but I have never issued a circular preventing them from carrying out raids without my instructions,” he added.
The Sunday Leader is in possession of the circular dated December 18, 2012 issued by the Director General ordering the flying squad officers not to carry out any raids without his permission.