31 October, 2020

Blog

Replaying History: Land Grabs In The North And East

By M A Sumanthiran

M.A. Sumanthiran

Last week saw a hugely dangerous move by the government. Section 2 notices under the Land Acquisition Act were pasted on trees in Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula indicating that an extent of approximately 6,400 acres of private lands belonging to several thousand Tamil people would be acquired for Military cantonments. Strangley, the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outside the so called illegal High Security Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not complete. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands from which the owners were kept away. Now suddenly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to others to occupy, who will become voters in the North. Similar notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, instructions have gone out to acquire all the land that the military deems necessary for its purposes.

Issues relating to land have always been at the centre of the national question. In the past, misuse of land powers by the state resulted in violence and the worsening of ethnic relations between communities. Despite having ‘won the war’ however, the Sri Lankan government seems to be reluctant to learn lessons from this history in order to win the peace. Alarmingly, the history of land grabs seems to be repeating itself. People of the North and East, who according to the government were rescued by the military in a ‘humanitarian operation’ find their lands and with it their livelihoods, way of life, and birthright snatched from them by the selfsame military.

The issue of land grabs by the military in the North and East is one that that has been continuously raised by the Tamil National Alliance from as far back as 2009, soon after the end of the war. I myself have raised the issue repeatedly, including in status reports I tabled in Parliament in July 2011 and October 2011. However, no efforts have been made to address the issue, and such land grabs have continued unabated to date.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka decreed in an order that displaced people should be resettled. Further, President Mahinda Rajapaksa undertook to resettle all those displaced by the war by the end of 2009, in his joint communique with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on 26th May 2009. Subsequent to this, several other cases have also been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the military occupation of land in both the North and the East. All of this however, has done nothing to arrest such land grabs.

Recent weeks have seen a steep rise in the number of land grabs in the North and East. Last week the Tamil National Alliance announced its intention of launching continuous protests against the military’s acquisition of lands in the North.  Protests were staged last week organised by the TNPF against these land grabs. In addition to protests, the Tamil National Alliance has also announced its intention of taking legal action to challenge such ‘acquisition’ of private land by the military. Such land grabs have taken place in various places in the North including Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya and Killinochchi. Military personnel in the North are now putting up notices on the lands that they intend to ‘acquire’. Most of this land belongs to private individuals, who hold valid deeds granting them legal ownership of the lands in question. Other incidents of land acquisition by the military, Buddhist monks and Sinhala civil officials also took place in the East in recent weeks. The acquisition of such a vast amount of private properties is said to be for ‘military purposes’. The need for the military to acquire such vast amounts of land is unknown.

One of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 was to release the private land being used for ‘security purposes’ at the time. Another recommendation was that the government disengage security Forces from all civil administration related activities as rapidly as possible. The Tamil National Alliance welcomed these, among several other recommendations, on the release of the Report. Instead of implementing the positive recommendations of the report such as this one however, the government is now permitting the military to take acquire even more private land belonging to people who, for several generations, have lived in these lands.

Such vast amounts of land being taken over for the military, for no known reasons, gives rise to serious concerns of colonization. The Tamil National Alliance has always made it very clear that peoples of all communities are most welcome in the North and East. The phenomenon of colonization, however, is the process by which deliberate attempts are made to alter the demography of a particular area. This has been raised as a serious concern by the Tamil National Alliance since the end of the war in 2009. Such concerns are confirmed by reports of various streets and villages in the North and East with Tamil names being renamed and given Sinhala names. Another serious concern the Tamil National Alliance has consistently raised from 2009 is the destruction of numerous Hindu places of worship and the proliferation of new Buddhist shrines. The government and the military are relentlessly engaged in transforming the cultural, linguistic and religious makeup of the North and East and forcibly imposing the dominant culture on those areas. Land grabs and subsequent colonization are clearly attempts to alter the ethnic demography of the North and the East. Such attempts are clearly meant to undermine the political influence of the Tamil people. This concern is made even more serious with the Northern Provincial Council Elections scheduled for September this year. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s claim following the end of the war that ‘there will be no minorities’ takes on new meaning in this context.

The Tamil National Alliance has repeatedly raised the serious implications of such policies and actions on reconciliation. The government declares that it has ended the war and has now ushered in an era of peace and reconciliation. However, as I have repeatedly stated in both this column and elsewhere, reconciliation will not come when people are shut out of the homes and land that belong to them. For true reconciliation the trust and amity that has been lost between communities must be rebuilt. Reconciliation will not come if the Tamil people in the North and East see those of other communities take over their land and their livelihoods while they languish with no roof over their heads. This can only push reconciliation further away.

These land grabs by the military, together with activities relating to colonization of the North and East are part of the attacks on the democratic rights of the Tamil People in the North and East. These attacks are clearly carried out with the active support, sanction and collusion of the Sri Lankan government. They are part of the many vain and counterproductive attempts to suppress and persecute Tamils for their political aspirations. The Tamil National Alliance has called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately cease these acts of violence directed against the Tamil People. In order to prevent a non-recurrence of the past, Sri Lanka must expeditiously commence a meaningful and genuine process of reconciliation. Land grabs and colonization will only hinder such a process.

*The author, M A Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance, a senior practicing lawyer and a prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    The military grabs the land and then it is passed on the Rajapassa family and its cronies.. the law makers and law protectors are the biggest violators of the law in Sri Lanka today.

    Just checkout Basil Rajapassa’s hotel in Passikudha – how did that uneducated LA petrol pump attendant who does not have a basic degree but fancies himself Minister of Economic Development come to own such a massive hotel in the east coast after evicting the Adivasi communities or coastal veddhas from the east coast and other minority communities..

    indigenous peoples rights groups should file a case on this..

    • 0
      0

      This problem is not Tamil only issue. It is a Sri Lanakn issue. Brute force is being used all over the country.

      Sri Lanka as a nation should respond to this kind of injustice, if true.

      Opposition has an obligation to educate and mobilise the south. In solidarity with people of the north.

      • 0
        0

        The level of land grab in the south pales in comparison with the north !!! Do not belittle the land grab by saying it is a Whole island issue”

  • 0
    0

    The Economist recently had an article suggesting that Sri Lanka was becoming overly militarized and that the military is increasingly taking a larger role in daily life. The article suggested this was troubling… What makes Sumanthiran a national statesman is his calls for reconciliation and healing. Thank you for publishing this piece written by this great man…

  • 0
    0

    Land grab is not something new. In the 1970’s Land reform/demonetization were the seeds of dissent and distrust sown towards the citizens. Minorities have felt cheated in many occasions. Theft in any form even through legislation will come back to haunt the country’s goodwill. If this continues Peace and Prosperity will be a distant dream. The sun will not rise until the Lankans rise up peacefully and demand accountability from their elected incompetent officials. ALL aggressors are accountable.

    It is the belief that change is not yet possible for passive and selfish reasons and so one leans back and resigns to… waiting. Waiting that somebody else comes along and does the changing for us.

  • 0
    0

    Sinhalese and its government will not change even if you give 40 years.

    • 0
      0

      If I am forced to read the sentence “Despite having won the war, the Sri Lankan government seems to be reluctant to learn lessons from this history in order to win the peace” once more, the writer will be prosecuted for plagiarism from the US and EU Guide Book on “How to destabilise developing countries”.

  • 0
    0

    The expression “land grab” evokes emotional imagery, and therefore Sumanthiran, the lawyer, uses it quite liberally in his piece. Great for a naive jury!

    Sumanthiran, please recognise that the last eelam war, was just a battle.

    However, colonisation of your so-called “traditional homelands” (the expression again used by TNA for emotional imagery) is the real war!!

    You have lost the ‘eelam battle’, and there are no indications that you will win the ‘colonisation war’. That will take far less than 30 years.

    TNA is impotent and cries in the wilderness, and one wonders if even the cash-rich “eelam diaspora” can mount a successful international defence against the moves by the Rajapaksa government.

    Good luck in your efforts Sumanthiran. You have to sing for your supper too.

  • 0
    0

    6400 acres belong to several thousand people says Mr Sumnathiran?

    Say it is 3000 ,that is over two acres per person with proper land titles.

    Valikamanians must be the biggest land owners in the world on per capita basis.

    Wonder what the land ownership is in Southern rural areas?.

    My guess is two perches per person is a luxury.

    • 0
      0

      Sumanasekera,

      I thought that the TNA has indicated it will file 5000 cases in the Supreme Court on behalf of the landowners. Which would mean 1.28 acres per person. This is not much in terms of agricultural land. Of course, some holdings may be larger than others, and several may be household lands only a few parappus ( 1 parappus = 10 perches) in extent. Most houses outside Jaffna city have 4-20 parappus of land on which their houses stand. These lands are their orchards.

      Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
    0

    If the Sinhala people give legitimacy to land grabbing by the military on behalf of the Govt as some commentators have expressed here. Be aware of what happened in South Sudan.Sudan was divided into North and South as two seperate States with the blessings of the UNA.The socalled international interference come only when a beleagured communities are not capable of resolving disputes within the country.For 30 long years the International community saw how Sri Lankan Govts failed to resolve the ethnic crisis. CBK was the only Head of State who made a genuine effort to devolve power and conduct inclusive governance.It’s failure was due to the stubornness of the LTTE on one hand and the dishonest politics played by Opposition politicians including the TNA.If fair treatment is not meted out to the Tamil people a repetion of South Sudan is bound to occure.Then the psuedo Sinhala Buddhists will have to answer.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Sumanthiran,

    I bow to you for your courageous to speak against SL regime and its true color. Hope the IC take note of it and do the correct remediation process to address the plight of Tamils.

  • 0
    0

    Mr. Sumanthiran,

    Can the TNA or you in your personal capacity publish a detailed, objective and absolutely factual document on the issues you refer? There have been several instances in the recent past, where the information given by the TNA were not factual. Such mistakes would be counterproductive. The exact locations, the nature of the problem and the extent , should be laid out clearly. The TNA should employ some researchers to investigate, verify and collate the information. There are many mischief makers around and every bit of i formation has to be independently verified. This is an imperative.

    Further, I have also heard that the armed forces are trying to acquire land in Sinhala majority areas. . One such area had been designated by the President for tourism and despite this is being occupied by the army even before being officially acquired. The land concerned belongs to another branch of the state, in this instance. Does one hand know what the other is doing within the Sri Lankan government? Has the President lost his grip on the steering wheel, as he has demonstrated on the electricity cost increase issue? Or is it a all a well designed game to hoodwink the public?

    I wonder whether the armed forces are being developed on the Pakistani model, where they have a niche in the economy and generate income for their use? Is what is unfolding a national phenomenon or something restricted to the north and east?

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0
      0

      DR. R.N.

      This is similar to the Zimbabwean model where protection and loyalty provided to the regime by Senior Officers from the Army, Air Force and Police in that country, have been rewarded from forcible land acquisitions and illegal share of its rich mineral resources(gold, diamonds, platinum, uranium etc).

      All this in the name of “indigenisation” and Black Empowerment.

    • 0
      0

      It is your kind that sits on the fence on the Evils of the Regime and
      make pronouncements to suit your prejudiced opinion, whilst it is
      very evident that the Regime has a hidden agenda since May 2009 – once
      the victory was complete, to gone on about it with MRs cabal.

      Past events in other Countries and the geo political situation here,
      gives all indications of the aim of the Regime, which any intellectual can gauge.

    • 1
      0

      All I can say to people like RN is ….
      “money talks and bullshit walks !!!”

      Anything to make your paymasters happy I guess……

  • 0
    1

    Sumanthiran and the Vellala elite will use the canard of land grabs to keep the land in the hands of the non-resident Vellala community. The Government should treat all Tamils who are not Citizens of Sri Lanka as aliens and give them a reasonable period of time to sell the land to the landless. If they do not comply, half the land should be acquired in lieu of the 100% tax applicable for foreigners and distributed among the landless.

    These Vellala Tamils enjoyed the good life in the west, while Prabhakaran and other non-Vellala people were mistakenly fighting the Government, without eliminating the vicious caste system. These high caste Tamils should not be allowed to rule the roost in the Northern Province with the help of the discriminatory Thesavalamai Law introduced by them, to maintain the caste system in the Northern Province.

  • 1
    0

    I think the government should really proceed carefully. How can they build trust, healing and reconciliation when they are proceeding with policies that sow mistrust and are contrary to healing. Sumanthiran gets support from a lot of diverse persons because he understands that healing requires proceeding with prudence and that trust has to be built. I hope the current regime in Sri Lanka gives up its hold on power and that someone like Sumanthiran can take the reins and lead the nation to a brighter future in a healed and unified Sri Lanka. Your country should be very proud to have such a national and international statesman such as M. A. Sumanthiran. He is Tamil and in the TNA, but he transcends ethnicity and equally transcends politics. You are looking at the future of Sri Lanka in this great man.

  • 1
    0

    Rajasingham Narendran like a school boy is asking if 5,000 cases are filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of the displaced people that will mean 1.28 acres per person. I am more than surprised the learned doctor is exhibiting stark ignorance about a burning question. The extent of the land concerned is 6,381 acres. The number of families ejected from Valikaamam North (24 V.H. Divisions) and from Valikaamam East (3 V.H. Divisions) totals around 12,000 families composed of 29,000 persons. Some of the villages affected are Mavaddapuram, Palaaly, Veemankamam, Keerimalai, Mailaddy, Kadduvan, Kurumpachiddi, Ealalai, Urani, Thaiyiddi etc. These villages are blessed with fertile soil where people used to cultivate a variety of crops. The 5,000 relates to the first batch of people who have filed cases in the courts. The rest will follow suit. These villagers were driven out of their homes in 1990 and languishing in temporary camps/welfare centres/temporary residences. If the army wants land for expansion, it should look elsewhere. Jaffna peninsula is a densely populated and intensively cultivated area. In 1981 Jaffna was the largest city outside the Greater Colombo area. Now it ranks 14th (population 600,000 down from 734,000 in 1981) due to migration and deaths during thirty years of war. The area is 1,030Sq.kms including water. The density is something like 600 per sq.kms. The average land holding area is around 0.5 to 0.75 acres (3,000 m2).
    I hope Dr. Rajasingham Narendran will show some seriousness, if not compassion, about these unfortunate people. Not only they fell from the tree, they are now trampled by the occupation army!

    • 0
      0

      Nakeeran,

      It is the TNA that has said it would file 5000 cases!

      Dr.RN

      • 0
        0

        Do you mean 5000 families have only one person in each home?

        • 0
          0

          Household lands and agricultural lands are occuped/used by family units and either one family member or joint family members hold titles. The title or deed is usually one. Is it different in Tamil Nadu?

          Dr.RN

  • 0
    1

    6400 Acres in Valikaman that Mr Sumanthiran is claiming as their private property, not only has the Airport but also 26 Kilomeers of shore encroaching the KKS Harbor as well according to one of our Tamil cousin’s post in a another column.

    30% of the population in Colombo are our Tamil cousins.

    And it is nearly 50% of the the Northern Tamils.

    Including the Hon TNA members and their Leader.

    They own more land in Colombo than anyone else.

    Will there be a claim for the coastline from Colombo 2 to Colombo 6 as well ?.

    • 1
      0

      Sumanasekara ,

      What is claimed is that private property is being acquired. II is time the TNA or preferably the Jaffna University published a comprehensive documents with maps etc., on the land issue.

      Dr. RN

  • 1
    0

    Mr. Sumanthiran,

    Can you investigate and report on how the electorates are being demarcated for the Northern PC elections, in the Nedunkerni- Manal Aru/ Weli Oya area? There is no pint in trying shut the stable doors after the horses have bolted!

    Dr.RN

  • 1
    0

    To the information of K.A.Sumenasekera the 6381 acres of land belonging to Thamils are ancestral property to which they hold deeds. No crown land is included in this figure. And the figures were compiled by government officials.
    The canard about Thamils outnumbering Sinhalese in Colombo spread by Champika Ranawake and other die-hard Sinhalese supremacists is false. I don’t know what Sumanasekera means by Colombo. Whether he meant Colombo District or just Colombo city. Anyway here are the population figures ethnic/district/ and city-wise:

    Colombo District

    Sinhala % Thamils % Muslims % Others % Total

    1771319 76.69 258654 11.20 242728 10.51 37108 1.61 2309809

    Colombo City

    Sinhala % Thamils % Muslims % Others % Total
     
    204520 36.85 176198 31.75 160713 28.96 13600 2.45 555031

    And so what is this talk that the population of Thamils is greater than Sinhalese? On the contrary in the east due to state sponsored Sinhala colonization the population of Sinhalese have sky rocketed from a mere 1,501 (4.4%) in 1921 to 86,341 (33.6%) in 1981. Two Sinhalese majority electoral districts, Seruwila and Amparai, have been created in the east since 1960! And during the same period the Thamil population decreased by 54.6% in 1921 to 33.6% in 1981. In Amparai district the Sinhalese population is 228,938 (37.49%) compared to 111,949 Thamils (18.34%)!

  • 0
    0

    //Anything to make your paymasters happy I guess……//
    That is what the Quislings do. :)

  • 0
    1

    Land Reform Acts of Sri Lanka give power to governments/ elected bodies to aquire “private” lands to be used for the “public interest”. Under the same law Jaffna Municipal Council too has the same power like Rajapakse!

  • 1
    0

    Dear Sumanasekara

    Can one Sinhala person come forward and file a case against one Tamil person who has stolen the Sinhala person’s land with the help of the government?

    Please do not rub salt in the wound by equating the voluntary migration of Tamil people across the island with the enforced and unjust land grab by the state, for the benefit of the Sinhalese at the expense of the Tamil peoples livelihoods.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.