Let us Proudly Commemorate International Year of Small Scale Fisheries & Aquiculture - 2022

Massive scale Land & Sea Grabbing at Islands at Kalpitiya.

Traditional Fishing lands are being grabbed in the name of “Asian Wonder”

The fishing communities at the 14 islands of Kalpitiya including Mohoththuvarama, Uchchimune, Keerimundel, Baththalangunduwa, are under tension with fear of any future displacements from their traditional lands and loose of their customary rights. They have all the reasonable, justifiable reasons to claim these as the tourism development is the government’s main target to achieve the wonders of Asia. There are 3 islands already leased out for 99 years agreement while another 5 already have called tenders for lease out.

There were series of field work carried out by NAFSO, Praja Abhilasha network,[PA] People’s to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development[PPD] and Puttlam District Fisheries Solidarity [PDFS] on the land issues at the islands of Kalpitiya peninsular last two months and found the grievances of fisher people as well as the other public are justifiable and have valid reasons to claim.

Followings are some of the dangers, difficulties, threats those people expressed at Mohoththuvarama island, north of Kalpitiya.

As M.Aibu, a community leader at the island explained,

“I can highlight 3 major issues we face due to tourism project here. We can not operate our Beach Seines, as we practiced earlier. Tourist developers, have encroached our lands and have fenced barbed wires. We can’t enter to our own beach seine [Madal Padu] and they say we are illegal and they are the owners. We have no right to enter to our own place.

“The other issue is blocked the access to the beach seines, cemetery, church, access to the anchorage point we traditionally used. The tourism developers who got the permits and arrived here recently claims they are the owners of the land, they have the CCD, MOD, Tourist board and also from the AGA at Kalpitiya. So, who we are? Are we from any other country? Or citizens of Sri Lanka?”

Third point as Mr. Aibu explained is leasing out of lands in certain islands.

“Periya Arichchal, Sinna Arichchal and Illuppanthivu islands are seriously affected. All the fishermen were driven out from the lands as those lands also leased out to some companies. Some say, those islands have given to Indian fishermen. But, we do not have any proof for that. Fishermen from Anevasala community faced the threat of this.”

“We have 16 beach seines operating here. We have land permits received from AGA, Kalpitiya for build up our temporary shelters at the coast. We pay Rs.4200 annually for the permit and we have been practiced for years now. We have approached fisheries department to get the operational permits at the sea several occasions and failed. Based on this, tourist developers say, we have only 6 permitted beach seines and all others are illegal. Now they claim the lands we have permits as their lands they received for tourism development.”

“As we are not ready to leave the places, one tourist resort developer, Hassan Gate has approached Kennedy and requested his Beach Seine for 9 million rupees.”

“The other danger we are facing is from Navy. Navy wants to get 40 purchase from my beach seine. But, I am reluctant to give it as that will be the end of my livelihood. Now, I am facing threat to my life too. I do not know, by next year I will survive or not. Anybody who speak out against these are in a danger. So, people are reluctant to come out for any action too. This is serious as we are isolated.”

According to him, some of the catamaran fishers are also in danger their livelihoods. Catamaran fishers use the lagoon for their fishing during monsoon season as they can not operate their fishing gears at the sea. However, one tourist resort owner, Neel De Silva of Dutch Bay Resort [pvt] Ltd. has bought the lagoon side too and chased the catamaran operators from their anchorage point at the lagoon.

Kennedy Jayamanna, the chair person of NAVY organized Beach Seine Society at Kalpitiya area was one of the most articulate as he is leading the struggle against the tourism harassments to fisher communities said.

“The catamaran operators are the poorest among the fisher community and will loose our livelihood due to these restrictions. We operate our catamarans at the lagoon during the monsoon season. But, we can not go to the lagoon this year due to restrictions. There are more than 30 families are forced to remove their temporary shelters at the lagoon side claiming the tourist resort owners need the land as they want to develop them as tourist resorts.

Who will see all these and help those people? We do not know who could help us as all are running behind the money and power. We are poor and powerless. What can we do is to give up our livelihoods, become jobless. Who cares our customary rights?

P.Sylvester, a catamaran operator at Kakadiya community shared with us their difficulties they face due to tourism development project in the area.

Ajith Susantha is a beach seine owner and living in the island. He owns, beach seine number 93 which Hasan Gate, the tourism developer says it is within his land. “I can not go to my beach seine as the tourist developer says it is within his territory. We have been here for generations. My father and fore fathers were engaged here for beach seine fishing. These new comers says this land belong to them. SO, we can not drag our beach seine as we practiced earlier. Hassan Gate had fenced the barbed wires within the high tide region of the sea. This totally disturbed our occupation. How can he do so? There should be 300 M area as the coastal zone as regulated by CCD. Why this difference to Hassan Gate company? ”

However, there is a serious issue behind this. The Kalpitiya AGA had given the permit to the beach seine no 93 owner Ajith Susantha as well as to the tourism developer Hassan Gate to the same plot of land.

“We got the land permit from AGA and Hassan Gate says, it is belonging to him. How can we solve this? They have covered the land with barbed wires. We need to enter to our own land with their permission. Where is the justice? Says Mahathun, brother of Ajith Susantha.

By: Herman Kumara