Land grabbing in Nilgala Forest, Sri Lanka

The first Tree Ordination Ceremony took place in the Nilgala Forest, organized by local communities and environmental associations to highlight and fight forest destruction.


Land grabbing for cash crop plantations is becoming an increasingly serious issue in Sri Lanka. It has been reported that until 2012, a total of 36,611 hectares have been illegally acquired throughout Sri Lanka for different purposes (plantations, but also tourism, mines, streets etc.). Moreover, most of the time, land grabbing occurred in forest reservoirs or protected areas [10]. Within this context, the case of Nilgala forest is an emblematic example.

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Basic Data
NameLand grabbing in Nilgala Forest, Sri Lanka
CountrySri Lanka
ProvinceUva Province
SiteNilgala Forest Reserve
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsMore than 800 acres of forests have been destroyed for plantations [11].
Project Area (in hectares)more than 2,000
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Populationunknown
Start Date01/2014
Company Names or State Enterprises Gal Oya Plantations (Pvt) Ltd from Sri Lanka - sugar plantation owners
LOLC Group (LOLC) from Sri Lanka - plantations, infrastructure development
Relevant government actorsForest Department

Department of Wildlife Conservation

Central Environmental Authority (CEA)

Director of the Environment Trust Conservation (ETC)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCentre for Environmental Justice

Sri Lanka Environmental Congress

Engaged Buddhist Solidarity for Nature

Future in Our Hands

Ruk Rekaganno

Badullgammana Sumanasara Thera, Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Thalangalle Sudhamma Thera
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
tree ordination
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Land dispossession
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseFostering a culture of peace
Development of AlternativesDemand the end of all land encroachments initiated in the past few years.

Demand the immediate halt to the destruction of the forest and to its conversion into cash crop plantations.

Demand that Nilgala Forest be placed under the protection of the Forest Ordinance [6] or under the Fauna and Flora Protection ordinance [7] and the forest demarcated.

Urge the Forest Department to establish a proper forest protection mechanism for Nilgala and set up a Forest Office with adequate staff to protect and preserve the Forest [8].
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Following the statements by 'Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka', a local environmental justice organisation, no new land grabs have occurred in Nilgala forest after the tree ordination ceremony and there is now a special task force in place to monitor the forest [9].

However in the whole country land grabbing episodes are still going on (see other Sri Lanka cases on and [10])
Sources and Materials

[6] Forest Ordinance 1907 (No. 16 of 1907) as amended up to 2009
[click to view]

[7] Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance
[click to view]


[10] Sri Lanka Nature Group, People’s Alliance for Right to Land - PARL. Uprooting People from the Land. Land Grabbing Current Status and Trends in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, 2012


website of Center for Environmental Justice
[click to view]

[11] News paper article from 'The sunday leader' online (January 2014). Politicos Destroying Nilgala Forest By Nirmala Kannangara. (accessed 10/04/2015)
[click to view]

[1]Article on 'Friends of heart International' web site (4/02/2014): The story of Tree ordination in Sri Lanka by Hemanth Withange (accessed 10/04/2015)
[click to view]

[2] Online article on 'Buddist News' (24/02/2014): First Tree Ordination Ceremony in Sri Lanka - Solution for widespread and rapid deforestation. By Kishani Samaraweera (accessed 9/04/2015)
[click to view]

[4] Online article from 'W3Lanka' (1/06/2011). Bitter story of sugar of Booker Tate to be re-written in Sri Lanka. By Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe (accessed 10/04/2015)
[click to view]

[5] Online article from 'Hemantha Withanage blog' (3/04/2014). Second Tree ordination held at Welioya and Soragune. By Hemantha Withanage. (accessed 10/04/2015)
[click to view]

[3] Online article on 'People's alliance for right to land' web site. Resettlement of People in Nilgala-Boelle Forest. (accessed 10/04/2015)
[click to view]

[8] Online article from 'Friends of the Earth International' web site (4/02/2014). Sri Lanka: Demand stronger environmental protection for ancient Nilgala forest (accessed 9/04/2015)
[click to view]

[9] Online article from 'Friends of the Earth International' web site. Surprising Sri Lanka protest grabs government attention (accessed 9/04/2015)
[click to view]

[13] On line article from 'financial times' (29/07/2007). Government going ahead with controversial sugar plantation. By Bandula Sirimanna. (accessed 2/06/2015)
[click to view]

[14] On line article from 'the Island' (18/01/2014) Thousands of years-old Nilgala medicinal forest being destroyed by weedicides

Trees ‘ordained’ to prevent destruction (accessed 02/06/2015)
[click to view]

[12] Save Nilgala Forest petition. Directed to Conservator of Forest, Forest Department of Sri Lanka Mr. Anura Sathurusinghe and Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy Mr. B.M.U.D Basnayake. Issued by Centre for Environmental Justice and PARL Sri Lanaka
[click to view]

Media Links

Nilgala Tree Ordination Video
[click to view]

Other Documents

tree ordination ceremony in Nilgala Forest
[click to view]

Soragune tree ordination The second ordination of trees in Soragune forest
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorCentre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update21/07/2015