The great land grab in Kandy

Kandy - A new road stretch from Gatambe to Kandy was constructed during 1990 as a prelude to the Gam Udawa at Digana the same year. To construct this road a large extent of land was acquired but only a part of this acquired land was actually used for the new road construction that now runs from Gatambe to Kandy which is an alternate and much shorter road (William Gopallawa Mawatha) than the old Peradeniya - Kandy Road.

The land was acquired subsequent to several Gazette notifications and these notifications merely indicate public purpose, but not specific as to what the exact public purpose was. By three separate Gazette notifications a large number of blocks of land was acquired.

By Gazette notification 692/14 of 18/10/1990, 10 blocks of land paddy land in extent 1.4756 hectares belonging to several owners was acquired. Notices in 1990 to the owners by the Divisional Secretariat, Kandy, indicted that the land was acquired for the purpose of constructing the Gatambe - Kandy Road. But in 1993 the notices by the Kandy Divisional Secretariat indicated that the acquisition was for ancillary public purposes on the Gatambe - Kandy Road.

The paddy land in extent 1.4756 hectares so acquired in Bowala since 1990 upto somewhere in 2000 - for almost a 10-year period was lying unused for any public purpose. During this time due to the new road frontage, land values along the William Gopallawa Mawatha sharply appreciated and the going price per perch is now around Rs. 400,000, compared to about Rs. 3,000 - Rs. 4,000 a perch when it was paddy land. Not an inch of land of these 10 blocks has been used for the purpose of road expansion, though it was acquired for this purpose.

Owners of this particular block of land which was acquired are waiting for the past 10 years for compensation, according to an investigation by The Sunday Times FT, which also showed that compensation however for some other blocks of land on the same road is believed to have been paid. Compensation for land acquired for the Kandy Courts complex on the same road has also been paid.

In October 2000, the Urban Development Authority in whom this land is vested by the government granted permission to a private company to develop a major portion of this paddy field for a commercial venture. Residents, discovering that their former lands were handed over for a non-public purpose contrary to earlier decisions, are now insisting that they be given back these lands.

D.A. Ekanayake, a resident, said that the extent of his land acquired would be around 40 perches and had been written to her daughter who is married and has two children. He said that his daughter did not have any other property and lived elsewhere. The land was yielding around 80 bushels of paddy per season.

Mrs. T. Wadugodapitiya's land that was acquired was 20 perches given by her father and which would be very valuable now with the new road running alongside this property land. Mrs. Ramani Godamunne lost the 50 perch block given by her father to be apportioned among five children. They were getting around 20 bushels of paddy. Another resident C.B. Eriyawa is 82 years old and he lost two blocks of paddy land that brought revenues of Rs. 30,000 per harvesting season.

When the government (AGA/DS, Kandy) transferred the acquired land to the UDA under the 1964 Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act No. 28 (Chapter 460), the Second Schedule in Conditions and Limitations indicates the following: (i) The land adjoining the Gatambe - Kandy Road should only be used for development to provide public utility conveniences, (ii) Compensation and interest for this acquisition should be paid by the UDA whenever the Divisional Secretary calls for it, and (iii) If the UDA does not require the whole land or a portion of it so acquired, it should be returned to the government.

The UDA gave about three acres of the acquired paddy land to a BOI-registered company, Aloka Hospitals and Health Resorts Kandy (Pvt) Ltd.

In 1987 UNESCO identified Kandy as a World Heritage city, which would be one of the 100 cities world over, recognized by the UNESCO as heritage cities. Consequent to this recognition the Kandy Heritage Committee came into existence and it meets once a month. All development alterations and new building applications are carefully reviewed and processed by this committee to enhance the heritage concept, and guidelines for development are provided accordingly. A member of the Committee told The Sunday Times FT that the Gatambe - Kandy road stretch is carefully monitored by the committee and the construction of schools, hospitals and large government buildings would be carefully gone through before giving any approval. He said he was not sure whether the committee received an application from the hospital company. Investigations showed that there has been a lot of political pressure from ministers in this government and the previous government to proceed with the private hospital project, despite reservations from some government officials and agencies. There appears to be serious flaws by the Board of Investment in the approval of the Aloka project. Aloka has a foreign collaborator, Westlinks Instruments (Pvt) Ltd of Singapore, which is now believed to be defunct. Its authorized capital is only Singapore Dollars 100,000 and the issued and paid up capital is only S$ 8,000, while Westlinks have pledged to finance Sri Lankan Rs, 78 million for the Aloka hospital project.

The work on the Aloka project at William Gopallawa Mawatha Kandy has apparently come to a standstill, causing a lot of damage to the locality. The paddy land has been filled up to around four feet in height. Due to the filling, cultivation in the adjoining paddy fields is not possible and serious damage has been caused to a nearby school as the entire school compound is filled with water due to heavy rain.

But M L P Jayatillake, Managing Director, Aloka Hospitals & Health Resort Kandy (Pvt) Ltd said the company has completed infrastructure work worth Rs 22 million on the site. However due to a court case connected to the land acquisition, work on the project has stopped.

Company legal adviser Seetha Wijewardene said the project is a Rs 604 million investment and the company has got clearance from UDA and BOI, but there were some problems from the Kandy Municipal Council.

The Kandy Municipal Commissioner was however directed by the Industrial Forum of the Industries Ministry to provide the approval on representations made by the company. She said that it was a high-tech hospital that would serve the entire Kandy area. Land acquisitions by government now appear not confined to only public purposes, but for some ulterior purposes such as political revenge and business and political purposes such as giving land over to private individuals for favours done.

There is another case in Anamaduwa where the government has acquired 100 acres without any acquisition procedure and such land has been distributed among the people. The owner of 50 acres of this land has been shuttling from Anamaduwa to Colombo and vice versa and has also complained to every agency, even going up to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, to no avail. The struggle has gone on for 20 years with a heap of correspondence and no relief.

The case in issue at Bowala village, Kandy is one of the examples of how aggressively the government exploits and abuse its power in unfairly treating its citizens far in excess of its mandate.

The entire issue of the land acquisition for the Gatambe - Kandy Road and the subsequent process of dealing with the issue points to utter confusion and no coordination among a large number of state agencies like the Divisional Secretariat Kandy, Urban Development Authority, Board of Investment, Agrarian Services Department, Kandy Municipal Council, Central Environmental Authority, the BOI and the Kandy World Heritage Committee.

Some of the residents who lost their land are now planning to go to courts to seek justice.


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