By M.T. Hasen Ali –
For the last three weeks, various opinions are being expressed for and against the budget for the year 2014 within this house and outside and also in the media since it was presented in this house.
H.E. the President has given several promises that give hope to the people. No matter the promises given, if they are not kept effectively through a proper mechanism, the promises so given and not kept would only have negative effects on the people.
During the past 4 years since the end of the war, several promises given by Ministers in relation to the resolution of the land issues have been broken. I therefore, urge the government to take steps to set up an effective mechanism for keeping the promises with the participation of the representatives of the people of the area in order to prevent the recurrence of such mistakes.
The Minister of Lands, Hon. Janaka Bandara Tennakone visited the Potuvil area two years back and spoke words of comfort to the farmers who were faced with the land issues.
The Minister of Lands, Hon. Janaka Bandara Tennakone commands high respect among the farmers of our District. He is highly respected by the members of the minority communities. I pray that the all mighty God blesses him with long life. The farmers who have lost their lands hope that he would break all barriers to come and help them this time.
We have identified the following key actors that contribute to the existing land issues in our District:
- Department of Wild Life Preservation
- Forest Department
- Department of Archeology
- Those who implement the schemes of setting up new army camps.
- The racist- minded officers who ignored the suggestions of the people and acted arbitrarily in the delimitation of the new Pradeshaya Sabhas in 1986.
- The then government officers who failed to follow the proper procedures in taking over the lands from the private owners for the purposes of the Hingurana Sugar Factory and Tile Factory four decades ago.
- The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other armed groups who, under the guise of solving the land issues and disputes, got hold of the instruments the famers had in their possession and destroyed them.
- The armed groups that forced land owners at gun point to sell their lands at cheap rates to their henchmen.
- The biased government authorities who orchestrated the release of the gazette notification in 2010 which were released land arbitrarily without the knowledge of the people and the Divisional Secretaries of the area.
- And the officials who declared 125,000 acres of land, through a gazette notification, as belonging to the Forest Department immediately after the end of the war.
The permit lands that were given to the Muslims before 1963 when there was a (land) Kachcheri in Batticoloa and the other lands belonging to the Muslims which turned into jungle as they remained uncultivated for thirty years due to the war have been taken over through this gazette notification.
People living in areas such Pottuvil village and Ashraf Nagar are complaining that they are gradually being stripped of their lands. Decisions taken at various meetings to solve the problems have not been implemented so far.
Last month at a meeting held in Pottuvil a decision was taken in the presence of Members of Parliament, Provincial Councils and Pradesha Sabhas. That decision was to allow the farmers concerned to continue with cultivation as usual until such time the authenticity of the deeds are ascertained. But what happened then? When the farmers were getting ready to go to their paddy lands, they were served a document with 19 questions. They were instructed to fill the form and obtain permission. The farmers residing in Potuvil have complained to us that they were asked to prove their residence in Lahugala. They consider this as a deliberate act of subterfuge on the part of the authorities to delay until the current cultivation season is over.
Just as the victims of the Tsunami are repeatedly promised that the 500 houses built at Norachcholai would be given to them and were then dragged from pillar to post without any avail, so have the farmers of our district who lost their lands. Kalanthar Lebbe of Akkaraipatru, an elderly blind person has climbed the steps of Ampara Kachcheri many times seeking justice for his land grabbed by the Sugar Corporation. His grievances are not treated with a humanitarian approach.
Muslim lands which were taken over by the Sugar Corporation have now been distributed among the employees of the corporation as compensation, since the factory was closed down due to losses.
Although several consistent representations were made to the authorities on behalf of the land owners of the Muslim community who have been cheated for the last 30 years, the redress is always being sidetracked by the authorities concerned for reasons best known to them.
At the consultative committee meeting of the then Ministry of Economic Development and Science and Technology held on 27th January 2010 this issue of the Muslims was discussed and a decision was made to appoint committee to look into this and give relief. Subsequently, when I raised this matter at the consultative committee meeting of this Ministry on 8th June 2011, instruction was given to appoint the said committee immediately. The Secretary of the Ministry had instructed the Commissioner General of the Ministry of Lands accordingly.
A committee comprising of the Deputy Commissioner of Lands, the General Manager of the Hingurana Sugar Factory, a representative of the Survey Department and the relevant Divisional Secretaries was appointed. This committee is now defunct after its first meeting held on 12th July 2011, the reason beingthat the Government Agent, Ampara instructed the divisional Secretaries in writing not to attend the meeting of the said committee.
Thereafter, the Minister of Justice Hon. Rauff Hakeem, representatives of the farmers and I met the new Government Agent on 11.04.2012 and asked him to implement the instruction of the consultative committee of the Ministry and convene the said committee immediately. Despite the undertaking given then to convene the said committee within a week, nothing has happened so far.
Two months ago, when I took this matter up with the Government Agent, I was told that the files of sugarcane lands have been referred to the Divisional Secretaries of our area for his reporting. To date, there has been no progress in this regard.
Several meetings were held and decisions made in respect of issues concerning lands in the villages of Ashraf Nagar, Vilangadu, Muthiraiyadivaddai, Pallakkardu, Kartuvattai, Arlimudakardu and Alimsenai. 69 farmer families, who were living there peacefully with their livelihoods, were suddenly and forcibly evicted by the security forces and the authorities of the Forest Department. They complain that no action whatsoever has been taken to implement at least the court orders that they obtained in their favour.
They say that it was after the court verdict was given in their favour that the security forces intruded into their lands. Only 4 families now live in Ashraf Nagar in a perilous environment.
There are disputes over approximately 5200 acres of lands belonging to the Muslims in areas like Putuvil Vegamam, Kiran Komary, Armai Vettuvan and Kudkkalli. 185 acres in Vattumadu Pudukandam and 250 acres in Vattumadu Then-Kandam have been grabbed in a similar way. Here, 250 acres of land is denied to the people who were residing on them.
The farmers have complained to us that the state administration is reluctant to help them by implementing the court verdicts which are in their favor.
Due to the negligence of the officers of the Ports Authority as was evinced at the recent opening ceremony of the Oluvil port, an incident occurred tarnishing the image and the reputation of H.E. the President. The cheques given by the President at the opening ceremony as compensation to the owners of lands that were acquired have been returned by the bank.
The recipients of the cheques have been left in the lurch. The Ports Authority and the officers who decided to make use of the Oluvil Ports opening ceremony have misled the President’s office. This is a serious blunder.
The officers of the Ports Authority which comes under the direct purview of the President must be taken to task and steps be taken to pay compensation to the owners of the lands without any obstacles.
Hon. Speaker, I have been repeating the above matters time and again at every budget debate in the past three years. But, we do not get any positive responses. We are unable to respond to the questions raised by the people. I urge you not to make me raise these matters again for the fourth time as well.
Therefore, the controversial gazette notifications I referred to above must be annulled and proper discussions with the aggrieved owners of the lands must be held. Suwarna boomi deeds must be given to those who hold land licenses for a long time. Steps must be taken to grant new permits, after proper inquiries, to those who have lost their permits.
The Muslim community is one that has suffered no less than any other community in the three and a half decades of violence in the country. Even though we have been living in harmony with other communities in the North and East and beyond the North and East, the sufferings that lie in the depth of our minds are countless. Just like us, others too have their grievances buried deep in their minds. These dormant feelings must be analyzed and proper solutions found. Any lip service solutions would not bear fruit.
We can achieve the real benefit only if the programmes to build reconciliation among the communities were implemented in the war-torn areas with sincerity sans any discrimination, political or otherwise.
On that score, I would like to wind up my speech by stressing the point that our land issues and the livelihood issues connected therewith must be dealt with on a humanitarian basis.
I thank you.
*Speech made by M.T. Hasen Ali, MP, the Secretary General of Muslim Congress on 14.12.2013 at the committee stage budget debate on the votes of the Ministry of Land. Translation of the Tamil Original