By Razi Mohmamadh –
Sri Lanka is an agricultural country. It promotes agriculture. The current President Mr. Sirisena is also from agricultural family and was once heading the Ministry of Agriculture.
In a decorated dinner table he will be having his pompous dinner every day, variety of dishes with variety of fresh vegetables from the farms. From rice to bread, from Aappa to Rotti…for sure those would the best dinning. So does the Prime Minister. So does the Minister of Agriculture.
In his reign, while he is enjoying his exquisite dinner, an outcome of hardworking pity, poor farmers, there is another corner of this country where a bunch of same poor farmers without whom our president will not be having opulent dinner are fighting for their lost paddy fields grabbed by the forest Authority in 2010.
Vattamadu is a chain of paddy lands situated in Akkaraipattu area in Ampara District. The owners of these paddy lands are mostly Muslims living in Akkaraipattu and its suburbs. These farmers have inherited these paddy fields from their forefathers. They have been cultivating these paddy lands since 1970.This is their source of Income.
Suddenly on 1st of October 2010 a Gazette notification was published declaring all of these paddy fields these farmers have been cultivating for generations as forest lands. The poor farmers lost around 1176 acres of their paddy field in day. They lost their lands. They lost their income. They lost their lives.
After the war thousands of acres of lands especially in Muslim populated areas were declared by the Forest department as forest lands following the amendment made to Forest ordinance. This raises doubts that Muslims’ lands were targeted by the Mahinda regime and declared forests during his tenure in Office.
Since then these pathetic farmers have been trying effortlessly to regain their grabbed land from the forest authority. They could not. After a meeting on 2013 November 19, with Susil Premjayanth then forest minister, five plots of land were released to them to cultivate. On 2014 October 26th when they went to their paddy fields they were captured by the Police for encroaching into the forest land and produced to the district court of Pottuvil. Since then the cat and mouse game continues.
Vattamadu farmers have documental evidences to prove that the confiscated lands were not forest but their paddy fields. They have L.D.Os. They have receipts for receiving fertilizers for those lands and receipts for paying taxes for those lands. More over they have birth certificates to prove that during 1970s families of Muslim farmers were living in Vattamadu area.
As usual politicians of Ampara district have been misguiding these miserable farmers. They have been mishandling this entire issue. After exhausting all the available means they are aware of to regain their lost lands, these voiceless poor farmers are protesting in Akkaraipattu for the 6th day demanding to restore their lost lands that were grabbed by the State in 2010 unfairly.
As the government encourages cultivation and farming it is very unfortunate to see that poor farmers’ paddy lands which have been their source of income for years being grabbed by the government without resorting to any proper settlement mechanisms.
You cannot go to those illiterate farmers and explain to them using complicated legal sentences and Latin words that the state has the right to confiscate whatever land they think fit and declare them as forest. They won’t understand that. What they understand very well is that their lands which they have inherited from their forefathers, in which they have been planting crops and cultivating for decades have been taken away from them and declared as forest by the state. For them it is very unfair. For any person who has a minimal level of intellect it is unfair.
Voices Movement, a civil organization is on the process of collecting all the available documental evidences to prove that these lands had been paddy lands for generations till they were declared as forest in 2010. VMOVE will submit all the collected documents to the presidential Task Force and demand to De-gazette the gazette notification that grabbed these poor farmers’ lands unethically and unfairly.