Feature Article

Why no Gazette notification on release of lands, asks retired Land Commissioner

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 06 May 2015, 23:18 GMT]
It's not merely enough to allow the people to resettle in the lands that were seized from them by the previous regime, which applied the proviso to 38(A) of the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) under the guise of ‘public use’ in permanently converting the lands for the use of Colombo's military. The new regime should issue fresh Gazette notifications of the lands, which it claims to release back to the people. Only then the people will have legal ownership to their lands, says retired Land Commissioner of the Eastern Province, Karthirgamathamby Kurunathan, in an in-depth video interview to TamilNet this week. Why are the Tamil politicians not demanding the new regime to issue such Gazette notifications to revoke the land grabs that were carried out with the obvious agenda of Sinhala chauvinism by the previous regime, he asked.

Mr Kurunathan was urging the Tamil politicians to base their work on factual data. The neglect of such coherent ground-work by politicians has aggravated the multiple grievances faced by the Tamil people caused by systematic state aided marginalization.

In order to address the needs of the people, the politicians should acquire knowledge and the necessary know-how to deal with the land affairs, which come under the various laws within the domains of provincial councils and the Colombo-centric Sri Lankan State system as well as in the concurrent list of both the systems.

Around 80,000 land disputes were resolved during the times of peace negotiations in 2005-2006 through a Special Task Force programme with the assistance form the World Bank, Mr Kurunathan, who was also the last Deputy Land Commissioner of the merged North-Eastern Province (NEP), said.

The previous regime was following a systematic and planned strategy of land grab against the Tamil-speaking people of the North-East according to a Sinhala chauvinistic programme, the former land official with 35-year background from the Department of Land Administration, told TamilNet.

If the new regime wants to prove it's commitment of releasing the lands to the public, the first thing it should do is to issue a Gazette notification revoking the earlier seizures carried out by the Rajapaksa regime applying the sections of the LAA, he said.

An average of 80% of the lands in the island are categorised as ‘State Lands’. The SL president of Sri Lanka exercises the executive powers over the ‘State Lands’ devolving the powers under him to the Department of Land Administration, the Commissioner General of Lands, and to the provincial Land Commissioners under the 13th Amendment.

Some ministers, operating under the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, were appropriating the lands in a high-handed manner. Kurunathan cited the example in Mannaar, where a minister has occupied lands along the 33 km stretch from Mu'l'likku'lam to Alli-Raa'ni Fort creating settlements for his voters. Huge swaths of jungle have been destroyed and occupied for this purpose along with the lands belonging to Tamil people, he said. “One of the Muslim beneficiary told me that he was having five houses in the housing scheme in Mannaar,” Kurunathan said adding that the SL minister had fully neglected the war-affected Tamil people in the housing schemes.

Similarly, a deputy minister from Batticaloa has seized 200 acres in Vaakarai area, he added.

In 2013, the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a Section 2 notice under the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) seizing 6,381 acres of lands in the former ‘High Security Zone’ in the Valikaamam North in Jaffna for the purpose of the expansion of the military cantonment. The move by the Rajapaksa government was carried out violating all the norms and normal procedures of laws of the Sri Lankan State itself, he said.

The new regime should legally transfer these lands back to the people through fresh Gazette notification under proviso 39 (1) to LAA , revoking the previous seizures of the Rajapaksa regime.

The land grab carried out for the purpose of militarisation is a fundamental violation of human rights, Mr Kurunathan said.

The SL military seems to have seized 144 square kilometers and at least 81 km stretch of coastal land in the Northern Province alone. The issue is clearly exposed in Jaffna district, where only 20% of the lands come under the category of ‘State Lands’.

In other districts, different methods were adopted to seize lands in order to facilitate militarisation and Sinhala colonisation, he said.

The systematic seizure of traditional lands belonging to the Tamil speaking people of the North-East have been widespread under the guise of archaeological, forest and wild-life conservations and subsequently carried out through the acts of demarcating these lands under the purview of the state apparatuses such as the Archaeological Department, Forest Department and the Wild-life Conservation Department. Such a process was facilitated through the violent acts of evicting Tamils with the backing of SL armed forces and Buddhist monks and the seizure of lands for the so-called development projects of Colombo. The occupation of lands belonging to the people of Champoor in Moothoor East of Trincomalee is the well-known example for this ‘development’ occupation, he said.

The occupation of pasturelands for Sinhala colonisation is a major problem in Batticaloa and Ampaa'rai districts, Kurunathan, who hails from the district of Batticaloa said.

More than 12,000 acres of pasturelands have been seized in Maathava'nai in Kiraan DS division alone. SL military, home guards paramilitary are deployed to carry out the project, which is being led by the Sinhala politicians from Polonnaruwa and Ampaa'rai districts, he said. The livestock owned by Tamil farmers are being slain by the Sinhala colonisers in the border villages of Batticaloa district, he added. Buddhist monks are also playing a key role in the project.

The previous regime of Rajapaksa has ‘illegally’ seized 159 acres in Koara'laip-pattu South (Kiraan) in the residential areas in addition to the already mentioned colonisation taking place in the pasturelands there in more than 12,000 acres of lands, 6,285 acres of lands in Koara'laip-pattu North (Vaakarai) division of Batticaloa district, 487 acres in Ma'nmunai South-West (Paddip-pazhai), 260 acres in Ea'raavoor-pattu, 54 acres in Ma'nmunaip-pattu North (Batticaloa city), 42 acres in Ma'nmunai West, 41 acres in Koara'laip-pattu (Vaazhaich-cheanai), 19 acres in Ma'nmunaip-pattu (Aaraiyampathi), 15 acres in Koara'laip-pattu West, 13 acres in Poaratheevup-pattu and 4 acres in Ma'nmunai South (Ka'luvaagchik-kudi), the former Land Commissioner of Eastern Province said.

In Ampaa'rai district, the SL Forest Department has appropriated 15,104 acres of lands in Poththuvil alone he said. The SL military has seized 3 acres in Naavithan-ve'li, 4 acres in Kalmunai North, 4 acres in Kaarai-theevu, 5 acres in Aalaiyadi-vempu, 37 acres in Thirukkoayil, 60 acres in Chaayntha-maruthu, and 1,060 acres in Adda'laich-cheanai, he said.

The SL Forest Department has occupied lands that were legally owned by Tamil-speaking people in Ampaa'rai district, he said.

Further statistics must be collected to assert the real nature of the problem, Kurunathan said.

At least three land related Acts are coming under the purview of the Provincial Council under the 13th Amendment, he said, explaining the various mechanisms of the Sri Lankan administration affecting the affairs of land ownership.



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