A Contempt of Court action was yesterday filed in the Court of Appeal against Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly providing false information through an affidavit regarding a writ petition filed for allegedly installing human settlement in the Villattikulam Forest Reserve in the Mannar district.
The petition was filed by a public interest litigation activist and prospective candidate of the 2020 Presidential Election Attorney-at-Law, Nagananda Kodituwakku.
Filing the application in the Court of Appeal, Kodituwakku sought an order to charge the Minister on the offence of Contempt of Court under Article 105(3) of the Constitution.
The petitioner stated that the respondent minister had been a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister of the previous regime under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015) as well. During the period the illegal encroachment of the Villattikulam Forest Reserve had initially taken place.
The petitioner stated that the respondent Minister had objected to the writ petition with a statement of objections against the issuance of notice which was supported by an affidavit dated April 6, 2018 furnished by him.
The petitioner stated that the crux of the issue in this case is about the abuse of power by the minister to encroach over 700 acres of the forest under the pretext, that they were reclaimed areas previously occupied by the Muslims until 1990. They were forced to flee by the LTTE during the civil war period, the petitioner stated.
The petitioner further stated that Google Satellite Images via Landsat, copernicus, DigiGlob, CNES and Airbus confirmed the petitioner’s stand that there had not been human settlement in the existence in the virgin of the Villattikulam reserved forests up to 2011. In this original writ petition, the petitioners had named former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, the Conservator General of Forests and several others as respondents.
The writ petition stated that the Villattikulam reserved forests has 2108 hectares of forest cover as per the regulations framed under section 3 of the Forest Ordinance and published in the Government Gazette No 1759/2 of 21 May 2012 and law prohibits abuse of any such reserved forest and the State is under duty to protect such forests from any form of exploitation.