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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Brutally felled for taking stand against felling of trees

The victim – Nihal Perera

 Chris Kamalendran
Another senseless crime allegedly involving a politician claims the life of a veteran planter, whose earlier complaints to police were ignored
Nihal Perera, a veteran planter with 45 years of experience in the field, took up his posting as the manager of Noori Estate in Deraniyagala, in the Kegalle district, late last year. However, he soon started facing resistance from a group backed by a local politician. The group was allegedly encroaching on estate land, felling trees and preventing other suppliers from selling goods to the estate.

Three months into the job, Mr. Perera (69) was beaten up inside the estate bungalow resulting in a leg fracture.  A local politician was reported to be behind the incident. The Deraniyagala Police had failed to entertain the complaint, the Sunday Times learns. It was in this backdrop that Mr. Perera was abducted and brutally killed on July 5.

On this fateful day the Noori Estate manager accompanied by one of the field officers was on a routine inspection tour of the 600-acre estate, when the attack occurred. Earlier Mr. Perera had got off his vehicle after instructing his driver and a security guard to meet him and the field officer further inside the estate.

As they walked through the estate they were accosted by a group who arrived in another vehicle. By this time Mr. Perera’s vehicle too had reached the spot, according to investigations carried out by the CID. The gang had then assaulted Mr. Perera, his driver and the security guard before they bundled Mr. Perera into the vehicle. He had been taken to a spot close to the factory, beaten with clubs before being slashed with swords.

Planters hold a protest over the brutal slaying of a colleague

Half an hour later, the driver and security guard who were themselves injured had alerted the police and Mr. Perera was rushed to the Karawanella hospital where he was pronounced dead on admission.  The other two were admitted and are still receiving treatment.
 “My father-in-law was always opposed to illegal activities taking place in the estate. He was determined not to give up his fight against corrupt activities,” Jeewaka Rathnakara told the Sunday Times.

“When he came home in the weekends he used to tell us about the situation at the estate and about a local politician who was making it difficult for him,” he said, adding that his father-in-law had said that the illegal felling of valuable trees was one of the main problems he faced.

“The local politician also demanded factory produced tea free of charge. Some of the earlier managers had been in the habit of giving him tea. But my father-in-law tried to stop this practice,” Mr. Rathnakara said. The victim’s son-in law also said that the politician had prevented other suppliers from supplying goods to the estate forcing the management to buy supplies from his henchmen.

The Sunday Times learns that Mr. Perera had informed the Police about the issues and threats he faced, but little action had been taken against the group.  In one of the recent incidents the politician had demanded that he be allowed to fell some of the old trees in the estate, but Mr. Perera had not given in, according to another planter known to Mr. Perera.

The killing of Mr. Perera drew angry reactions from the plantation community with protests being made to the defence authorities.
 The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PAC) condemning the killing said it was “particularly sad that the tragic incident took place while the victim was at work, doing his field rounds and routine supervision.”

Planters’ Association Secretary General Malin Goonetileke condemning the brutal killing said, “The Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) are tasked with managing and safeguarding government property and if custodians of such state assets– our managers–are being attacked, how can we expect them to perform their duties?”

“Regrettably, even though previous incidents of interference, intimidation and thuggery at Noori Estate by outside elements had been brought to the notice of the law enforcement authority, no meaningful action was taken by the Police to resolve the situation,” he said.
 The Tea Exporters Association (TEA) in a statement condemning the incidents said, “At a time when the tea industry comprising plantations and exports are making a valiant effort to increase productivity and export volumes, acts of this nature will only demoralise plantation managers to carry out their official functions on the estates.”

Three days after the incident nine suspects including the former Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman of Deraniyagala, Anil Dhammika Wijesinha was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and produced before Awissawella Additional District Judge and Magistrate D.M.A. Seneviratne. Seven more suspects were arrested the following day and produced in courts. All suspects were remanded until tomorrow pending an identification parade.

The ex-Pradeshiya Chairman had been earlier accused of slashing the throat of the area Divisional Secretary after he refused to allocate two acres of land.  The suspect was granted bail and the case was pending. On Thursday, Deraniyagala OIC, U.D Wasantha Kumara was transferred to the Padukka police station for failing to act on earlier complaints made by Mr Perera.

Meanwhile, the Special Task Force has been deployed to provide security to 170 workers of Noori Estate.


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