The Special Report

16th July 2000

This land belongs to me

Stop it now, says CBK

We will take action Minister

Even the hospital land is not spared

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This land belongs to me

A land dispute has led to a couple being assaulted allegedly by private security men of a minister after the couple claimed to own a piece of land at Cooray Avenue, Koswatta, Nawala on which the politico is trying to put up a house.

The victim, a security guard attached to the Kolonnawa branch of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, was assaulted last Sunday by a group of men following an argument.

His wife, who went to the scene with their three-year-old son had also been manhandled.

She said there were about ten, at least two of them carrying hand guns. She claimed the men had fired into the air when she shouted for help and threatened neighbours not to come forward to help them.

She had managed to drag her husband away to safety, she said.

The woman said their small house, built of timber, on the disputed land was destroyed by the gang and lorry loads of soil was dumped to fill the plot to build a house for a powerful politician.

Asked why her husband was assaulted, she said it followed the visit of an opposition parliamentarian of the area to see the disputed land. The men had accused her husband of working for the opposition politician.

She added the police had initially refused to accept a complaint by her husband.

But the OIC of the Welikada police station Chief Inspector D.W.W. Rajapakse said the man had come to the police station but did not lodge a formal complaint, for reasons perhaps known only to him.

He said they were unable to investigate unless a formal complaint was made. He claimed that certain persons were trying to take political advantage of a personal dispute.

Meanwhile a resident of the area said they preferred the land being filled and new houses being put up in the area as unsavoury elements were causing problems for the residents by selling arrack and drugs on the unoccupied lands.

Stop it now, says CBK

Find alternative land, says the President

By Leon Berenger

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has ordered an immediate halt to the alleged grabbing of state-owned land in the Nuwara Eliya district and called on area politicians to search for an alternative for the hundreds of landless peasants in the region.

The President met recently Land Minister D. M. Jayaratne, Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake, Mahaweli Minister Maithripala Sirisena and CWC chief and Minister Arumugam Thondaman to find a way out of the crisis which drew adverse publicity for the Government since the bulk of the alleged land grabbers are supporters or activists of the ruling PA.

Others associated at the meeting at Temple Trees were politicians from the Nuwara Eliya district, Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku, DIG Central Range Sirisena Herath and SSP Nuwara Eliya N. Samarakone and several senior police officers.

It was unanimously agreed at the meeting that the encroachers who had forcibly taken control of nearly 100 acres of land at the state-owned Ambewela and Seetha Eliya farms must leave immediately or face legal action.

Following the alleged land grab, the Ambewela farm lodged a police complaint and a magistrate ordered some 169 suspects in this case to produce affidavits to prove their ownership to land. Last week some 130 of them submitted affidavits to courts and the rest were told to comply with the court order before Thursday.

At the meeting with the President, the area politicians were told to search for alternative land and distribute them among the landless people so they could build a shelter of their own.

DIG Herath told The Sunday Times that if the alleged grabbers ignored this order and continue to occupy the state land illegally, they would be arrested and be dealt according to the country's laws.

S. Suriyaperuma, a firebrand Nuwara Eliya politician who led the alleged invasion on the farms said until alternative land was given to the people, they would not give up their claim to the land they now allegedly occupied.

"It is true the President requested us to move out, and this we will certainly do once alternative land is given for the poor people who were promised in the run-up to the elections that they would be given land to build shelter," said Mr. Suriyaperuma who heads the PA opposition in the UNP-led Municipal Council of Nuwara Eliya.

He said that at the end of it all 150 acres would be acquired from the Ambewela Farm, 100 acres from Seetha Eliya and 40 acres from Meepilipanne. He also said another 150 acres from the tea plantations, would be acquired despite protests from plantations sector politicians.

About 3,000 families or more will be settled on these newly acquired lands with a family receiving 10 to 15 perches each, he said.

But even as discussions were being held at Temple Trees hundreds of estate families largely from the ethnic Tamil minority stormed a strawberry farm at Kotagala and grabbed some 200 acres of land apparently cheered on by their plantation bosses.

We will take action Minister

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Lands and Agriculture Minister and PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne has pledged tough action against those who indulge in grabbing State land.

Minister Jayaratne told The Sunday Times said there have been repeated instances of land grabbing by various parties, for a variety of reasons. But state land was meant to be used for public welfare and those who flout the rules and regulations would be dealt with legally, he said.

The minister said that while Ambewela was only the most recent incident of land grabbing which has been a long established practice since UNP times, he would promise that existing laws would be amended and further tightened if necessary to prevent encroachment of state lands.

He also said that according to reports, the parties involved in the alleged land grabbing in Nuwara Eliya district were PA supporters.

"The law is applicable to everyone. We will use it against anyone to prevent unauthorized occupation and construction" he said.

Even the hospital land is not spared

By Faraza Farook

In the aftermath of incidents of land grabbing in the Nuwara Eliya district and elsewhere, come shocking reports that certain politicians are manoeuvring the acquisition of hospital land to allegedly distribute among their supporters and thus enhance their prospects at the upcoming elections.

Last week, the Government Medical Officers Association appealed to the President to stop moves by Deputy Minister Bennet Cooray to acquire Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital land and distribute it among people.

But despite its plea some 300 people were given four perches each of land acquired from the hospital.

Making things worse, instructions have been issued to release two acres of land from the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) premises to build a complex, sources said.

According to a letter from the Health Ministry Secretary to the Director General of Health, the ministry has received instructions from the President to release two acres of land from the IDH premises. This is said to serve three purposes to build a shopping complex to create employment, to set up a veterinarian's office and for a bus stand.

"The Government is failing to look at the damage it is causing to the health sector by allowing politicians to implement their narrow political agenda to win elections," GMOA Secretary Anuruddha Padeniya said.

He said that unlike in other hospitals where the wards were placed in close proximity, special hospitals such as the IDH and mental hospitals had to be spread out over a large area.

"While there is a growing need to expand such hospitals, the government seems to take little interest even in attending to the welfare of these special patients," Dr. Padeniya said.

Deputy Minister Cooray said there was nothing illegal in what was happening and claimed approval had been obtained from President Kumaratunga for the development projects to be carried out in the land thus acquired.

"We had a discussion with the President, the Director General of Health and Secretary of Health Ministry on April 1,1998 where the President ordered that 12 acres of land be released. There was no objection on the part of the ministry," Mr. Cooray claimed.

"There was no objection then, why now ?" the Deputy Minister asked.

He said the land was distributed among 300 people from the Kolonnawa electorate with each one receiving four perches.

The GMOA said that occupation of the hospital premises would disturb the serenity of the surroundings and could also pose a threat to the patients.

"Especially with regard to the female patients, there is likelihood that they might be molested. Disturbances can cause trouble as some patients may go out of control," Dr. Padeniya said.

Mr. Cooray, however, dismisses this and said there would not be any threat to patients from the people.

This is not the first instance that hospital land has been taken over. Earlier, 12 acres of land had been released for a housing scheme at the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital premises, hospital sources said.

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