25 October, 2021

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Land Grabs: Exultant State V. Agonized Citizen

Land grabs i.e. the acquisitioning of land by the State/Military has been in the news more often than necessary throughout this year. This last week we saw it becoming headline news again as we learnt that Sriraghavan Kadirgamar the son of late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had filed for a Writ of Certiorari in the Court of Appeal to prevent his ancestral lands in the Maviddapuram area, in North Valikamam (which were previously in the HSZ) being taken over by the military for security purposes ostensibly to build a Defence Batallion Headquarters for the Jaffna District. This petition by the son of an illustrious person again brought home the apparent devil may care attitude, which the government has been employing in its land acquisition procedure. This petition also follows upon the earlier petitions filed in the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court by thousands of landowners in the Valikamam area protesting the acquisition of their lands for the purpose of building the aforesaid Defence Headquarters.  These cases are still being heard before the courts.

Lakshman Kadirgamar

The government in April 2013 issued a notice under section 2 of the Land Acquisition Act that the lands were to be taken for a ‘public purpose’. But, the purpose that has been stated is in order to benefit the military not the public as stated in the petitions that have been filed. Furthermore, the government in its notice claimed that the owners could not be identified but more than 2000 owners have now sought to petition the Courts to prevent their lands being taken. They claim in their petition that most of them have been in touch with state officials and had been listed as displaced and had received welfare support from the State. The total area of land to be taken in the Valikamam area is approximately 25.8 Sq. Km or 6400 acres and as is claimed in the petitions almost 2/3s the size of Colombo which is a very vast area.

It is indeed troubling that while someone from an illustrious family may have other means of income and several other residences (not diminishing the importance one places on ancestral land) those who have been displaced and living on the charity of others would not be able to withstand the effects of losing their lands and source of livelihood in that area. This is especially so when one considers the public purpose is for the purported establishment of a Defence Headquarters, when all over the island there has been an increase in the call for the military to return to their barracks especially now four years after war.

Protestors against the land grabs has also warned that persons from the South will be brought to settle in those acquired areas, resulting in a demographic change and that they will in the future become voters in the Northern Province and this would have an effect on Northern politics.[2] It is observed that the original landowners lived just outside the HSZ had their title to the lands checked and cleared by a Supreme Court appointed Committee but had not been allowed into their lands on the pretext of the lands still requiring demining. Yet, this is an unacceptable excuse since the landowners later saw soldiers cultivating their lands while they the legitimate owners were being kept away.[3] This is the context in which these land grabs are now being instituted.  In the North, 526 acres of land has been taken over in Keppapilavu, and many similar instances have been observed in other Districts in the Vanni.

The government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in its Report  (December 2011) took the opportunity to comment on how land issues affected the reconciliation process. It urged that land not vitally needed for security reasons should be released to the public (page 232 of the Report).  The LLRC also warned that any land policy of the government should not be an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province (page 234 of the Report). Furthermore the Commission was of the view of Government should establishment of a National Land Commission (NLC) in order to propose appropriate future national land policy guidelines. The Commission noted that even though this was a requirement of the 13th Amendment and a draft Bill in that regard had been drafted it had unfortunately not become part of the law (page 242 of the Report). The Commission also stated that it would be opportune if there were bi-partisan agreement between all parties as to the terms of return and resettlement and an agreement not to use it for their own political gain (page 242 of the Report).

The Government responded to these recommendations by unveiling a LLRC Action Plan in July  2012, which sought to address the gaps in the law. The Action Plan included proposals to establish a National Land Commission and to prepare a bi-partisan approach towards land issues. Further action on these proposals are unfortunately yet to be taken. Instead the State has instead upped the ante by taking over land not in the North but also in other parts of the island.

In Panama, in the East it is the Sinhalese community, which has been affected by land grabs. The Sri Lankan Navy and the Special task Force have been involved in taking over at least 1220 acres of forestland in Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella in Panama. Most of these lands belong to villagers who have had title to the land from early days and who were not consulted in the taking over process. The ostensible reason for taking over the land is to build a hotel and for other developmental activities.

Since the said area is considered of great archeological interest there has been a concern raised by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out development work in the said areas. But, the Navy and STF authorities who recieve their orders to work from the Ministry of Defence claim they do have no need to heed such concerns as it is the Ministry of Defence which approved the projects. No permission has been taken from any authority for the building of these developmental projects. The villagers in the land had been evicted in 2009/10 by the Pottuvil Police. They are now homeless and have no livelihood since their main income generating activities of chena cultivation and fishing is now closed to them due to the land grab.4 Similarly, in Oluvil, in the Eastern Province land has been taken for the building of an Army camp (in 2011, case pending before the Supreme Court) affecting about 500 persons in the area who had been in occupation of that land for more than 6 decades.

In Kalpitiya (which consists of 14 islands), in Western Sri Lanka, land is being seized for the purpose of encouraging tourism while the local residents who are mostly fishermen are lamenting their lack of livelihood. There have been accusations of the government involving in questionable tactics to remove the local residents. About 1000 poor fisher families have been affected. The tourism project it is stated will include about 6000 lodging units, a race-course with 20 stables, a golf course, and an underwater restaurant.5 Such development and the corresponding effect that it will have on the local people including loss of livelihood will be counter the purpose of development which is to provide for a better life for the people of the area. The people of this area are unfortunate in that they do not have any documents to prove ownership of their lands.

Land grabs continue to take place for purposes of military and tourism development. The few incidents mentioned above in themselves highlight the arrogance of the government and the Defence Ministry in not respecting the rights of citizens to access their homes and to engage in their proper livelihood.  While providing recommendations to prevent such land grabs would perhaps fall on deaf ears, one must still attempt to give voice to reason by doing so.  It is hoped that the recommendations below would proved useful in that context:

  1. All state authorities should respect the property rights of citizens and make sure that any acquisition does not adversely impact on the citizen’s right to livelihood and to proper housing.
  2. State authorities should follow proper procedure in the acquisition process, which includes listing a ‘proper purpose’ for the acquisition in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act.
  3. The government should comply with the recommendations made by the LLRC and appoint a National Land Commission, which allows for a bi-partisan approach to the issue of acquisition for developmental and security purposes.
  4. The government should amend the 13th Amendment and amend the Land Acquisition Act so that the people of the particular provinces could decide for themselves whether the land should be used for developmental purposes. If that is seen as being extreme, the least the government can do is fully implement the 13th Amendment so that the Provincial Councils are able to exercise their power over Provincial land.
  5. The Military should be confined to its traditional role and not engage in civilian activities e.g. running recreational resorts, cultivation, building of model villages in lands that have been taken over from the citizens. A decrease of military involvement and in the absence of war a decrease in the size of the military itself would effectively reduce the illegal land grabs that are proving a bane to the country’s citizens.

[1] The writer is an Attorney-at-Law based in Colombo, Sri Lanka

[2] M.A. Sumanthiran (MP), Replaying History: Land Grabs in the North and East, TNA Press Release, April 30, 2013, accessed at http://tnapolitics.org/en/replaying-history-land-grabs-in-the-north-and-east-by-m-a-sumanthiran-member-of-parliament/

[3] id.

4 http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/05/12/land-grab-at-panama/

5 http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/142791821-Land-Grabbing-Through-Tourism&access_key=key-3szuxcd2ta360nmtijl

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Cases filed against ‘land grab’are before courts.
    We will see the colour of the justice they will deliver.
    The judges should consider what their reaction would be if their lands are grabbed for ‘public’purposes – will they tamely allow it?

    The truth is that now the army is running the ‘government’ in the north and east,through/assisted by the two military governers.The president by his inaction,allows this.He cannot antagonise the army as he will need ‘protection’ when the time comes.

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      I think it is wrong to say that the army is running the government and the President is innocence. It is a family business shared by brothers. The army is lead by not military commanders but lead by Gotapaya and the decisions are made together. The justice system is now fully under their control, particularly after appointing Mohan Peries as Attorney General. As president Rajapakse said there are only two sides. One is those who obey their orders and those against their orders. There is no place for those in the opposition. Of course, they reward those on their sides (financial, resources) and others are punished by all means including law, justice and violent). So, there is no word called “justice” in their dictionary.

  • 0
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    The Rajapassa brothers and their cronies have been grabbing lands particularly from MINORITIES even in Colombo’s poshest diplomatic district – Cinnamon Gardens – where a police officer at that Cinnamon Gardens told me when I went to report a lost diver’s liscence that Mr. Subi had lost his home on Alexander Road (near where the infamous National Museum Robbery took place despite CCTV cameras) while on a trip overseas. The police officer advised me NOT to leave my home on the same street unguarded because I too may face the same fate – from Mervin Silva’s goons!
    The worst land grab by the Rajapassa brothers and their cronies through the military has happened in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Once the Rajapassa regime is toppled there will need to be through review of land grabs and a Land Commission set up to restore lands grabbed by the Rajapassa brothers, their MILITARY BUSINESSES and crony politicians like Mervin Silva.
    The land grab from poor families and Veddha communities in the Eastern Province – particularly along the east coast is far worse and more extensive than in Jaffna..
    The military, particularly Navy, and Rajapassa crony capitalists have taken over the whole of the east coast from Batticaloa to Jaffna via Passikudha and Trincomalle which were traditionally inhabited by Tamils and coastal Veddha communities. These impoverished monolingual folk have no Kadirigamar to file a case. Massive hotels of which Basil Rajapassa’s 400 room hotel at Passikudha is the larges and military camps have displaced people from their traditional lands.
    The Trincomallee Sea Anglers Club land was taken over by the Navy for its Golf Course but the cowardly Club members who want to cozy up to the regime did not challenge the land grab. The pattern of MILITARY BUSINESS is a threat to private citizen’s property rights and must be challenge.. just as the militarization of Education by Goon Gota must be challenged.

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    The Decorative Armed Forces we had, consisting of the cream of society then, was expanded by leaps and bounds engaging the riff raff in society to fight the JVP and the LTTE, both being a creation of our own follies. The LTTE was created by us not willing to accept the Tamils as part of our society with the same recognition for all as rightful citizens of this country and the JVP unable to accommodate the Youth with gainful employment for a vast Majority of educated Youth passing out from the Universities, by SLFP led govts following Socialist policies thereby shutting the door to Economic development of the country to provide employment, closing the doors of the Private Sector. Therefore those who were responsible for the creation of both the JVP and the LTTE made use of one stone (Forces) to suppress both the JVP and the LTTE thus achieving, denying the rights of Tamils as equal citizens in the country and also solving the unemployment problem by sacrificing soldiers and citizens, countless number of youth in the country in this conflict of War. This is no surprise adopting such heinous methods of solving country’s problems when uneducated, uncultured scum in society through a system of franchise where many are gullible and have elected such Hoodlum to govern, in preference to the Decent, Honest, Educated in society.

    I believe there is absolutely no reason or requirement to maintain such an Army at great cost to this entire Nation who are lumbered with a High Cost of Living, where the majority wage earning public are unable to make ends meet with their measly salaries. Maintaining these Forces Army, Navy and Air Force at current levels only serves the corrupt leaders to perpetuate their Misrule on society and to quell public protest if any as what the whole world saw at Weliweriya. Therefore all the Forces should be pruned to the level of the former decorative levels and stop this mass waste of expenditure on Defence burdening the general public. Unfortunately the present Leadership has no intelligence to put the country before their personal greed for power and position to solve the burning issues facing the country. They play cheap Politics cheered by some of the foolish masses who have direct benefits and being blind to the misery faced by all.

  • 0
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    Quite right Gamini! There is absolutely no reason to maintain such a massive military at great cost to this entire Nation today. It is an invitation to DISASTER – having such a massive military idling.. Maintaining these Forces Army, Navy and Air Force at current levels only serves the corrupt leaders to perpetuate their Misrule on society and to quell public protest if any as what the whole world saw at Weliweriya. Therefore all the Forces should be pruned to the level of the former decorative levels and stop this mass waste of expenditure on Defence burdening the general public.
    Unfortunately, the Sinhalaya Modayas have swallowed Gota Rajapassa’s racist argument that the massive army is needed to fight Tamils and minorities and overseas diaspora and the opposition under Ranil Wickramasighe lacks the legitimacy and is too cowardly to demand the downsizing of the military. So the chickens now come home to roost as in Weliweriya STATE TERRORISM.

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    Leopards never change their spots. Rajapakses are born and Bread Alibaba thieves. That’s the only profession they are good at. This is the family sickness they have……Robbing others belongings while hiding behind the Yellow robe Buddha and Desha premi Maha Kalu Sinhalaya…….The ever famous Robinhood Pariah dogs.

    Watch how they do their looting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8f4FE8fiAc

    From Tsunami to 10% commission to VP’s and war victims Gold, Jewlrey and cash upto Land Grab, this are few drops in the ocean that Rajapakses have mastered. It’s not only North but East and West also where they have looted peoples land.

    It’s time to get some International help to cure this decease without allowing it to spread further into other communities.

    Act faster when the chances are high to rescue the patient.

    Here’s how Hambanthota villege thug criminal Rajapakses rob and loot other’s Businesses, land and property under a fake appropriation bill.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH4xFGEslKU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aF6Y6i72nk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5jLqm21bGU

    Alibabas are always Pariah Dog Alibabas no matter what chair they hold.

  • 0
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    I hope our commentators are ignorant of the land laws of Sri Lanka.

    If a person live for 20 years on a rented land, he cannot be evicted. That is the law.

    Under these circumstances, out pandits against the land “grabs” must enlight the land laws of Sri Lanka!

    If the lands were acquired under the law, fighting for a compensation is the only solution. Shouting about “land grab” with out quoting the legality for a POLITICAL benefit, never give any salvation to the people who lost their lands!

    • 0
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      Rubbish talk. The lands in Vali North which is called the High Security zones were not rented. The people were chased out of their homes by Arial bombardment during the UNP regime. Many people died in those shelling. Who comes first? Is it the people or the Military?

    • 0
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      Man your standard of english language is as aweful as the the comments.
      Please dont make a fool of yourself.
      What you are referring to is Land Ownership by adverse possession which means Suatters rights. But what we have here in Sri Lanka is not Suatters but the army grabbing the land by force and they have no bloody right to Tamil Land you Sinhalese fool.

  • 0
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    The Land Grab has been on the head lines for a very long time since the end of the war ( I mean Genocide)but no one has so far had the guts to raise it until the election for the Northern Assembly had been announced and the Injection of the Supremo from the Supreme Court in to the argument.
    MR the thug had a master plan to grab as much Tamil land as possible to put enough Sinhalese to colonise. The fate of any one who dared to challenge was vividly demonstrated when the poor Tamil soul from Canada went to claim his Land but in the process cut to pieces and sent in body bag.
    We now have an opportunity to seek redress and who better to deliver it than our own Mr.Wigeswaran.
    If any one had any doubts as to why MR wanted to retain Police Powers and Land Powers they I am sure know why.
    What needs to be done now is the following.

    1) First elect Wigy as CM with a LANDSLIDE victory
    2) As soon as elected his task is using those powers under the dormant Sri Lankan Constitution as a matter of priority confine the Barbaric Army ( If any is in any doubt the Maccacres at Welliweriya bear testimony to the dangers of Army running the Country)to Barracks and intiate a Tamil Police force to take charge of Security.
    3) He must also exercise the powers available to him as CM and return the confiscated lands back to rightful owners.
    For this the CM will almost certainly need international help from the folowing Countries. USA, Britain and Mother India.

    There is a lot of argument about 50% of Tamils living outside the North and in Sinhalese areas and that is because the North has been
    deliberately starved of Investement and we were made to be totally reliant on hands out from them.

    Once we have a Northern Assembly with devolved powers investment will flow and we can have our own Industries and except for a few the vast majority of Tamils will return to the North.
    Any Sinhalese who wishes to come and live in Jaffna can buy a property( not grab it by force ) under Tamil Jurisdiction and may be even learn Tamil and live happly ever after.

    Like Martin Luther said ” I have been to the Mountain Top and I may not get there with you , but we as a people will reach our promise.

    This is just the begining and the best is yet to come and I am confident that we will reach our promised land.

  • 0
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    CT
    What has happened to the cases please?

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