Severe damage has been caused to the natural environment due to the expansion of a shrine to St. Anthony at Pallekandal situated within the protected Wilpattu National Park. From the Eluwankulam entrance into Wilpattu National Park, one has to travel 9 km through the forest to reach Pallekandal shrine. It has been a humble and temporary shrine of St. Anthony constructed where devotees would gather in July, put up temporary tents, worship and depart without much harm to the environment. Therefore, the shrine was not removed when Block 5 of Wilpattu was gazetted as a National Park.
However, after the end of the long civil war in 2009, the temporary shrine was expanded along with more permanent structures. Additional buildings and facilities resulted in an influx of massive crowds of up to 300,000 people and 1500 buses to the National Park for the feast starting on July 6 for several days. These massive crowds are neglecting park rules, resting and walking freely inside the park. The organizing committee has given permission to put over 100 stalls including meat stalls within the National Park charging Rs.4,000 per day. From each vehicle parked inside the national park, the organizing
committee has charged a parking fee, which they have announced will be used for further expansion of the church within the National Park. Alcohol is served among pilgrims and tons of garbage and human waste dumped along the roadside and inside the jungle when pilgrims leave. Banks of the once pristine Kala Oya has been used as bathrooms and currently in a very bad state. Forest land 6 to 8 acres have been cleared within the Wilpattu National Park along with widening the entire road using a motor grader which is an illegal act and punishable under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance Act No. 49 of 1993.
All this destruction of the Wilpattu National Park by Chilaw Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church comes without heeding the encyclical of Pope Francis who has fervently urged his flock to ‘take good care of creation’. At a time when environmental destruction is at an all time high and the very existence of man and life on earth is at stake, this kind of harmful activity is bringing a very bad impression upon the Catholic Church. We urge the responsible authorities to take immediate action against this destruction and undo the damage caused to Sri Lanka’s oldest and largest National Park, which was recently designated as a certified “RAMSAR Wetland Cluster” by the International RAMSAR convention due to its ecological importance.
Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka