By Nirmala Kannangara
With the release of the committee report of the investigation conducted by the Ministry of Wildlife Resources Conservation to find out the frauds that are taking place at the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) which has come in the limelight that several elephants have been registered in contravention of the law, environmentalists have raised concerns as to why the department is silent without canceling the permits of these illegal elephants.
Although it has come in the lime light that the DWC in contravention to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No: 2 of 1937 have registered smuggled elephant calves accepting fraudulent supportive documents to prove the ownership, Environmental Organisations queried why the Ministry and the DWC have so far failed to cancel these illegal registrations and take the animals in to wildlife department custody.
As a result the International Animal Welfare Trust, Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, Species Conservation Center and Wildlife Conservation Society –Galle have sent a letter of demand to the Minister of Wildlife Resources Conservation and the Director General of Wildlife Resources Conservation for the blatant failure to discharge their statutory duties cast on them and their failure to take legal action against those who were involved in the elephant smuggling racket.
“Now the committee report has clearly revealed that many baby elephants have been registered illegally although the owners have failed to submit accurate documents to the DWC.
What is the reason why the department has failed to cancel these illegal registrations and take the elephant calves to their custody? This shows clearly that the wildlife department too is giving their support to get smuggled elephant calves registered after accepting fraudulent documents,” said Pubudu Weeraratne Director of Species Conservation Center.
Amongst the elephants that have been registered in contravention of the law is an elephant calf that belongs to a Magistrate according to the investigation report.
Although he earlier refuted the allegation leveled against him for having an illegal elephant calf in his possession, Weeraratne said that there are documents to prove that he has produced forged documents to the DWC to get the baby elephant registered under his name.
“In order to obtain the registration, he has produced letters from the Homagama Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladhari of the area to confirm that this elephant belongs to him. Deputy Director of DWC (Legal Enforcement) D.M. Weerasinghe giving evidence to the investigation committee has stated that he has forged the Homagama Divisional Secretary’s and the area Grama Niladhari’s signatures in order to mislead the wildlife department to get the registration in his name,” said Weeraratne.
Meanwhile a former minister too is accused of giving instructions to the DWC to register this elephant although the then Acting Director General of DWC Udeni Wickremasinghe has cancelled the registration of the elephant in question for submitting fraudulent documents with the application form.
In a letter dated October 26, 2012 Udeni Wickremasinghe has informed the former owner of this elephant Chandraratne Yatawara that the supportive documents produced with the application to obtain the elephant registration are fraudulent and hence the registration bearing number 334 has been cancelled with immediate effect and has ordered Yatawara to handover the elephant to the wildlife department.
“If an application is refused or if a registration is cancelled the applicant can submit an appeal to the subject minister seeking an appraisal. When Udeni Wickremasinghe cancelled the registration no 334, he got the Minister to get the cancellation withdrawn on January 21, 2013.
On what grounds did the Minister instruct the DWC to withdraw the cancellation? When it was identified that he has submitted fraudulent documents to support the application, what made the Minister to get him back the registration?
However the investigation team confirmed that the documents produced with the application had been forged. It is now up to the DWC to act swiftly and cancel the registration of his elephant,” said an angry wildlife officer on condition of anonymity.
According to him, although there are many smuggled elephants with illegal registrations, the wildlife department is not allowed to take any action against them simply because they cannot take action against politicians who too are having smuggled elephants in their possession.
“That is the reason why the department has failed to take any action against any elephant smuggler. DWC officers can carry out raids but no action has been taken so far simply because politicians too are involved in elephant smuggling racket,” the sources added. Meanwhile Deputy Director of DWC, D.M. Weerasinghe in his statement to the investigation team has stated as to how he was able to unearth this fraud.
According to Weerasinghe, the applicant Magistrate has sought for a license to an elephant he has bought from another party. The elephant was a registered animal (license No: 334) and the documents submitted for a new license were all fake.
“Since I felt that this is not a genuine application I went in search of the former owner to the given address. To my surprise there was no such address.
I then had to go to the Homagama Divisional Secretariat to find out about the documents submitted with the applications. Even the letters submitted with the application carried forged signatures of the GN and the Divisional Secretary. Imagine a magistrate engaging in fraud,” says Weerasinghe in his report. Meanwhile Jagath Gunawardena Attorney-at-law specialising in environmental studies said that producing forged documents is a punishable offence under the penal code of Sri Lanka.
“Not only the permit can be cancelled but the issue can be forwarded to the CID for further investigations. This is a punishable offence under the penal code of Sri Lanka,” said Gunawardena.
However Gunawardena said that he finds no fault with the DWC in this instance as government officers have found it difficult to carry out their duties due to political influence. More....