Vulnerability on land issues in the former war-torn Northern region was the focus of a recent discussion in Colombo where it was revealed that land deals were concluded during the conflict by just signing a ‘piece of paper.’
Gayathri Lokuge, a research professional at Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) presenting a research study conducted by CEPA showed instances where residents have completed land transactions by signing a piece of paper termed ‘kaithundu transactions’.
These were done during the war when it was not possible to go through ‘formal’ land transaction procedures. The validity of these transactions in terms of legal terms is questionable and there are instances where the parties involved now deny that the transaction took place, leaving the ‘informal landowners’ vulnerable, the survey showed.
The presentation was made at an open forum hosted by CEPA at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic in colombo recently where the discussion focused on how vulnerable groups can be included in discussions on land related issues.
Ms Lokuge emphasised the importance of understanding and incorporating the multiple layers of vulnerability brought about by post-war conditions in the reconstruction and development of the North.
A media statement issued by CEPA on the discussion said the research sought to understand institutional, state/society/vulnerable community relationships in relation to land. It drew on secondary sources including a review of relevant literature, applicable policy and laws and field research conducted in selected Divisional Secretariat divisions of the three districts, Mannar, Mulaithivu and Kilinochchi.
“Vulnerability arises when conditions – be they economic, social, political, and/or environmental - adversely affect people’s ability to prepare for, withstand and/or respond to a threat or when relationships and structures determine why certain groups of people are more vulnerable to crisis than others. An understanding of vulnerability also requires understanding the coping strategies of people when faced with crises that may have positive or negative implications on their wellbeing,” it said, quoting the research study.
The researcher said entire communities visited during the study could be considered vulnerable in one sense or another, since almost everyone in a Divisional Secretariat division had been affected by the war. People also become vulnerable, she said, because of their social and economic condition, for example because of the death or disability of the main income earner in the family, or because they are widows and as such are marginalised in their cultural milieu.
“Issues of access to land brought on by displacement and resettlement add yet another layer to this vulnerability, while the limited capacity of state officials to respond to these issues created further problems,” the study showed.
The land related vulnerabilities have become a highly contentious topic because land is a vital but limited capital asset and a determinant of social status firmly entrenched in cultural roots and linked to one’s identity within the community.
The discussion was chaired by Savitri Goonesekere, Board Member of the Centre for Poverty Analysis, Emeritus Professor of Law and a Director of the Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR).
Prof. Goonesekere emphasised the need for accurate reporting as there is a lack of information and access to information. The significance of a Right to Information Act in such circumstances is important in documenting the views of the people and creating a system of accountability, she said.