Southern highway land costs soar
Charges of political favouritism
By Lenin Amarawickrama
Construction work has resumed on the long-delayed southern expressway whose costs have soared with compensation for land acquisition increasing by as much as six times the original allocation amid growing complaints by residents of unfair valuations.

The Rs 33-billion donor funded project was launched in April 2003 is now over six months behind scheduled after work was disrupted following the political crises late last year.

Construction is being carried out by the Japanese firm, Kumagai Gumi, and its Sri Lankan sub-contractors, Maga and ICC. A recent visit to the construction site by a team from The Sunday Times FT revealed that some of the underpasses have already been built and work is underway on culverts, metal underpasses, and other specialised sections. Nearly 2000 workers are working on the road along with 40 Japanese experts.

Government officials said budgetary allocations for land acquisition had skyrocketed since the Road Development Authority first drew up plans for the project in 1990.

The government had allocated Rs 750 million for compensation in land acquisition and settlement according to the market values estimated by the Valuation Department at that time.

As the project got delayed and land market values rose sharply, the RDA was compelled to increase the compensation programme several times. The initial compensation allocation of Rs 750 million in 1990 became Rs 2.2 billion in 2000 and has now risen to Rs 4.5 billion adding to the financial burden of the government.

The RDA has identified 5,700 plots of land along the construction path. Problems have arisen because of substantial differences in the values of adjacent plots of land. Residents complain that politics influenced the allocation of compensation for land acquired under the projects with those with influence being able to get higher compensation than others.

One resident, Nandadasa Hatharasingha of Komaladeniya, said that the value of his land had been underestimated when compared to that of the adjacent plot. A priest in the area, Ven. Kalubovitiyana Wimalarathana Thera of the Sri Salabhodhirajarama temple in Baddegama, also complained of inadequate compensation.

The highway will cut across his half built temple and he is demanding at least Rs 1 million to be relocated. The government has offered him only Rs 250,000 as compensation.

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