Demolition for development

As their houses are torn down, residents of Wanathamulla are told to repurchase new houses at Rs. 3m or relocate to Avissawella and Homagama
By Damith Wickremasekara

More than 1,500 houses in the Wanathamulla area in Borella are being demolished to make way for a ‘modern housing complex’, but occupants will have to pay at least Rs 3 million to get a house back, or move out of the City into locations in Avissawella and Homagama.

As the New Year dawned, residents were in a quandary over their next move, with an offer of temporary wooden huts in Thotalanga, from which they will be moved on as well.

“I have been a resident in a flat for the past 40 years. All our family members are working around this area, and their children are studying in schools close by. It will be difficult for us to adjust. I hope the authorities think about our problems ,” K.S. Silva, 67, a wayside shopkeeper told the Sunday Times.

Already, 154 houses, including two-storied flats have been bulldozed within one hour after a pre-warning. Police riot squads, STF personnel and the Army stood guard as the houses were pulled down.
More houses have been earmarked for demolition, with notice issued on them to evacuate by next Saturday. An orange sticker has been placed on the houses earmarked for demolition.

The main plea of the people is that, after the area is redeveloped, they be given a cheaper option to own a house. Residents claim that it was a subtle move to first offer temporary shelter and later get them out from within the city limits into distant areas such as Homagama and Avissawella.

They said that, although an offer had been made to pay a monthly rent of Rs 8,000, they understand that it would be only for a year’s duration. Chamila Priyadharshani, 38, told the Sunday Times that the Urban Development Authority (UDA) had verbally informed them that they should vacate their homes, but nothing has been given in writing.

“Two of my children are studying at Nalanda, which is a walking distance. But, if we move away, it will be difficult for us.”

“These are not illegal dwellings. We have certified deeds and have been living in them for decades. Therefore we need to be relocated around this area,” she said. An official from the Defence Ministry, under which the UDA now functions, told the Sunday Times that the Wanathamulla area was being developed as part of the plan to develop Colombo City.

“These are UDA lands, and the deeds they possess are municipality deeds which are not valid,” the officer said. “We will be turning this into an urban housing area, and the people can purchase the houses thereafter,” he said.

However, the residents are saying that the fact that they have been living here for decades should be taken into consideration and the Government ensure their social life is not disrupted.

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