People from eight districts shared their experiences of land grabbing and displacement from the development projects.
seven members from seven districts were presented their issues
Colombo, Negombo,(Gampaha district), Puthlam, Polonnaru,Monaragala, Ampara and Trincomalee district sample issues were presented to the audience and submitted the detailed report to the five membered committee.
COLOMBO: Kelani Vally Rail road
Imminent removal of 76 houses from the railway reserve area of the Kelani Valley railroad between Maradana and Awissawella.
Explanation by Complainants:-
• The complainants are current residents of the area called Seewali Pura in the railway reserve between Maradana and Awissawella in the Kelani Valley railway.
• They have been residing there for approximately 27 years having constructed permanent houses.
• It is indicated that identification numbers have been given for the aforementioned houses by the Colombo Municipal Council.
• Furthermore, electricity connections too have been given to the aforementioned houses by Ceylon Electricity Board.
• Additionally, assessment tax numbers have been given to the residents of these houses and they have been recorded as registered voters.
• Respondent institution has ordered the houses of the complainants to be shifted back by 7 feet from the rail road as land is required for the development activities of the railroad and has informed that otherwise, they shall be demolished.
• Here, the complainant points out that they are receivers of low income and that they have settled down on the railway reserve in this manner as they do not have the means to legally purchase land.
• The relief expected by the complainant is to not be removed from the railway reserve until housing from another location is given.
• Further, they make a request to grant them houses from the “Sahaspura” housing complex if there are any unoccupied houses left.
Explanations by the Respondent:-
• It is indicated that the aforesaid railway is set to be developed from Colombo Fort up to Maharagama.
• The respondents state that according to the above, houses have to be demolished and removed to obtain necessary space.
• Furthermore, the respondents indicate that there is no possibility to grant land to the complainants from another location.
• That is because new constructions in the railway reserve are not allowed.
TRINCOMALEE: Sampur Coal Powerplant
The History of origin
If we look at the historical background of Sampur, it becomes a neighbouring village, on the Trincomalee district, which accommodated 17 families of the outset in 1855 and is now a densely populated one. This village consists approximately 44 irigting tanks and tens of thousands of hectares in landscape and located in a marshy land. Presently, such a place with natural beauty has been hegemonised by the Indian government. During the Portugese and Dutch invasion, this jetty (Lankapatnam) which is a characteristic feature of this area had a panaromic view of Lord Koneshwarar and housed a temple of goddess Paththini within the thick forest cover and hillocks and known as famous for a sanctuary of Wild life. As such, the people of this area earned their livelihood by hunting, agriculture, fishing (both freshwater and brine), fish and meat processing, chena cultivation, paddy cultivation and pottery. Indeed they had hunter gathering economy and barter system.
Hence, they had a happy life with integrity. Later, we have to undergo a lot of hardships continuously and now we have been confine to camps due to frequent from what we enjoyed our lives with the gift if the nature. I do not understand this nightmare and how could I explain to you. Still we are uncertain about our future. Why the state or the people concerned are not bothered about our plight ? Why the people are not ready to stretch their helping hands either locally or globally. Consequently we have been forced to flee the area under the guise of conflict and faced numerous natural percils and famine. Presently, we are abandoned and nobody is prepared to voice out for the injustice done to us. Why are those concerned are hesitant to help us ?
We are indeed deprived to talk freely and express our views and ideas independently. This is due to intimidation from various sources and we have been oppressed and suppressed.
Why don’t you understand our pathetic situation from top to bottom level hierarchies ? Despite of our repeated appeals and promises made by the politicians regarding the wellbeing of the displaced people, why such slow actions taken regarding the resettlement. Hence, we have been cheated and now we are so desperate.
We don’t need gold or other materialistic things. If our lands are demanded by those concerned, how on earth that the acquisition of our lands to be rationalized. Where is the rule of the law implemented ?
If the state is ready to allow us to resettle then, of course we would take speedy action to live in makeshifts out of palmyrah leaves and lead a happy life. This is we deserve for and our ultimate hope as well.
I submit the following details based on the eleven Grama Sevaka divisions in order to figure out the population of this area from its inception up to now.
MONARAGALA: Human Elephant Conflict
Women Jeopardized by Development
From the Southern area, my parents had been settled in Wellawaya Divisional Secretariat Division of the Monaragala District at the time of establishing Phase 1 of the Weherayaya settlement. From 1965 onwards, I too have been engaged in cultivation and living on those lands.
Rice, cowpea, green gram, peanuts and vegetables were grown as economic crops not only by our family but also by others using natural rain fall in these areas during that time (1956).
However, those crops were not affected by any external force. Us and the people in the surrounding areas lived without any fear or suspicion carrying on our cultivations without any trouble.
By 1983, the Palawatta Sugar Corporation was established on the necessity of the elite politicians. Sugarcane was grown destroying about 84,000 hectares of the wilderness of Monaragala District where wild animals (elephants, deer, leopards, wild boars) were living. This jungle contained sufficient water and food for the animals. There were about 100 small tanks as well. All that was destroyed as a result of the aforesaid development program and people lost the land they cultivated. Those respectable and decent people were made pathetic by separating them from the land and cultivation and turning them into paid laborers of the Palawatta Suger Corporation.
Furthermore, as a result of clearing up the wilderness, (especially) the elephants that lived there began to come out to the villages in search of food and water.
With elephants coming to villages, loss of a large number of lives of people and damages to property is taking place at a rapid pace at present. Nevertheless, no matter how often government was informed of these matters, there still has not been a sustainable course of action.
Even though this is how the things are, the government has not abandoned the development programme. At present, about 3200 acres of the remaining forest land of Monaragala District has been given to the American company “Dole” to cultivate fruits. Therefore, the government authorities have lead the way to transform the human-elephant co-operation into a human- elephant conflict.
In the month that this note was written, cultivations were damaged on several occasions and by 10.11.2011, houses too had been damaged by elephants. I state with disappointment that houses, property and lives of hundreds of women like me have been lost. It is clear that the programs which are being carried out under the guise of development have caused the destruction of lives and livelihoods of innocent people. Development programs are being created to the extent that, not even an inch of land would be left in Monaragala District in the time to come.
Disorganized development programs of the government have not stopped though we have been protesting against them through the community network.
Therefore, in conclusion I would like to say that the conflict between the elephants and humans was created as a result of development programs.
POLONNARUWA: Landing Sea Planes and Deploying Motor Boats on to “Parakrama Samudra” Reservoir and the Opinion on the Tourism Project associated with
I am a 39 year old married woman. I have two daughters and two sons. Our family is residing at the address #42, Wewa Road, Nawanagaraya, Polonnaruwa.
Together, my husband and I sustain our children by carrying out fishing activities in the Parakrama Samudra as our livelihood. I am a woman who has been earning a living in this manner for about 25 years in this area.
We have built our houses by undergoing much difficulty. We have obtained electricity facility and water facility from the urban water supply and we live outside the reserve next to the tank, while also paying assessment tax.
About 150 families who make a living through the occupation of fishing in the Parakrama Samudra are living in our village. Similarly, there are about 07 villages around the Parakrama Samudra which have existed for over 25 years where people engaged in the occupation of fishing are living. Over 1000 fishermen are engaged in their livelihood in this area.
Moreover, a large extent of agricultural land in Polonnaruwa is nourished from this reservoir and over 30,000 farming families are sustained through this.
It has been made known to us that implementing a programme to land sea planes and deploy motor boats on the Parakrama Samudra and to develop the tourism industry related to that, has been proposed.
Upon searching for information in this regard, we were made aware through various counsel that this would bring about a major catastrophe to the fishing folk and the agricultural community.
If sea planes and motor boats are deployed, we fishermen will not be able to lay fishing nets and carry out our occupation and we will have to live without a livelihood.
Additionally, from what I understand, the farmers will not receive water in one season. That is because many tanks in Polonnaruwa get dried up during the dry season and the water level of even the Parakrama Samudra would go down to the level where it is possible to walk about in the water. Still, the farmers were able to receive water. But if seaplanes are to land on the tank, the water level can not go below 10 feet. Then, there would be no water for agricultural activities for months. All the farmers will have to go hungry.
The so called development will only oppress us further. Our villages are located in the vicinity of the tank and are very scenic. Those will be used to build tourist hotels. Already, the tank as well as the virtues of the people is being destroyed by the existing hotels.
We have no place to go leaving what we earned through years of suffering.
We have been striving to prevent the dawn of such a situation. We have not given up our efforts. Together with civil society organizations, we have been alerting the entire community to oppose this.
People got together, organised and carried out a protest on the road as well. We are willing to do what ever it takes to safeguard our livelihood even in the future. We do not have a problem with the development of the country through the development of tourism industry. But people are now aware that development of only a selected segment by throwing hapless people out onto the streets is not development of the country.
AMPARA: TOURISM AND LAND GRABBING
The first settlement of Panama Shasthrawela took place in the decade of 1960 and however, with the increased terrorist activities in the decade of 1990, the Special Task Force which obtained a land allotment of 5 acres from Shasthrawela village stating that it is required to establish a Special Task Force camp near Shasthrawela village, later mentioned that it is necessary to transform the aforesaid camp into a training camp which requires over 50 acres and the Divisional Secretary stated that the village will have to be removed from that location and stating that the land necessary for the people of the aforesaid village will be given from the west side of the Panama-Pothuvil road, the village was removed from that location and those villagers have settled down near their relatives in Panama village. Even though surveying activities were carried out the people have not received land until now. The documents and permits to prove land ownership are attached herewith.
02. Second land robbery – Ragamwela village
03. Third land robbery – Robbing land in Ulpassa and Egodayaya
First it was said that a “Ranaviru” village will be established on those lands and after some time had lapsed, it was stated that a Navy stationing camp is to be built but later on we realized that a hotel complex is to be built there. This is the land where villagers of Panama carried out their livelihoods by engaging in cultivation. Some have permits and documents pertaining to that land. They face hardships as a result of the loss of the aforesaid land.
04. Fourth robbery – Building a bridge across Panama lagoon connecting the hotel and Panama and landing seaplanes on the lagoon. About 450 families earn their living through this lagoon. We had to take part in protests to put a stop to this process. At the moment this process is at a halt.
Images and documents for claiming entitlement of this land are submitted in CD form along with this letter. Videos are also submitted. The letters exchanged are also attached. Additionally, the recommendations by the Human Rights Commission (for complains made by us) are also included.
Regarding Ragamwila Village
The above mentioned village was established through chena cultivation by our parents who were settled in Panama carrying out chena cultivation from 1969 to 1975. Nevertheless after the year 1975, it was decided to settle down in that farming land which was Ragamwila village as drinking water was available there.
Afterwards, that farming land was known as a village. Later, villagers of that village maintained seasonal crops as well as other crops such as coconut, cashew, guava, lime & orange and in addition to farming, the sea and the lagoon were available for fishing; therefore the villagers of the aforesaid village were able to carry out the two occupations and maintain a good income level to live happily.
As cultivation activities were carried out in that village, a tobacco company intervened and action was taken to grant loans for cashew cultivation through Akkaraipattu branch of Bank of Ceylon. To make the transactions convenient, a branch was established in Pothuvil area by Bank of Ceylon.
Furthermore, Coconut Development Board took action to distribute coconut saplings to the villagers of the aforesaid village.
Later on as the cultivation was carried out, cultivations of a segment of the village were destroyed by cattle in the decade of 1980s. At that point, to claim compensation entitlement to land had to be proved and for this purpose the permits and other documents belonging to us were submitted to Lahugala courts complex and the L.T.T.E. terrorist attacks which took place in 1980s destroyed that building and the documents housed in that building.
Afterwards, with heightening of terrorist activities in the decade of 1990s, those villagers who lived in the aforesaid village migrated back to Panama.
Later on in the year 2001 when the government in power at that time signed an agreement of peace with the L.T.T.E., the parents who lived at that time and the children who are living at present resettled in that area. At that point, the aforesaid village and the said land was observed by the Minister of Ampara District at that time Hon. P. Dayarathne, the Government Agent of Ampara District, the Divisional Secretary of Lahugala Divisional Secretariat Division and the chairman of Pradeshiya Sabha at that time. Then a police security post was also established claiming that it is for the security of the village. The villagers lived there carrying out cultivation activities and on 26.12.2006, they faced the tsunami and survived it losing all of their properties and again in the year 2005, a few villagers resettled there with the families constructing temporary shelters. However by the end of the year 2005, a considerable number of people were settled there.
In the year 2007, forest conservation officers claimed that the land where the village is located belonged to the Forest Conservation Department and tried to mark the boundaries with stones at which point the Chief Incumbent Thero, the Divisional Secretary at that time and the villagers discussed with those officers and the land was not taken by the Forest Conservation Department as it prevails as a village. Then, the villagers were given the opportunity to live without any difficulty. At this point, the former chairman tried to take over a plot of land forcefully and there was a dispute between him and the owner of the land. Following that incident, the police and the Special Task Force began to harass the villagers and on several occasions, villagers were taken into custody by the police and later released after obtaining statements. On a latter date, the villagers were taken into custody and taken to the Pothuvil police station and it was decided to release them on bail after discussions with those who were detained, the Provincial Council Minister of Land and the villagers when they were presented before courts of law. While this lawsuit was pending, the villagers of Ragamvila lived there amicably.
On 17-07-2010, an armed group with their faces covered in dark cloth had come in the middle of the night and attacked a group of villagers and had destroyed some temporary houses by setting them on fire. Following that, the Police and the Special Task Force together have not allowed any one to enter into the aforesaid village and have secured the land as a security zone, not allowing anyone to access them.
In 2001, I was developing the land belonging to my father and residing in that village. I was carrying out cultivation activities and also fishing and I was earning a good income but at present having lost the land in that area, I have lost both occupations which I was carrying out and I am now residing with a relative of mine in Panama and carrying out labour work due to which I am not able to earn a higher income as I did in the past which has disrupted education of my children and their lives too are in danger and already, my family is indebted to this area. Additionally, my relatives too have to face a number of problems as I have lost my livelihood. Although there are many more incidents to report, I will wind up at this point having summerised the situation.