Flat dwellers vow to fight acquisition of children’s playground

NHDA chief says the land takeover has been carefully studied

Residents of the Anderson and Chitra Lane Flats in Narahenpita are fretting over moves by the authorities to acquire a portion of the children’s playground, to make way for a housing complex for lawyers and staff of the Attorney General’s (AG) Department.

Anderson flats Welfare Society President K. Batuwantudawe

A group of elderly residents from both flats have vowed to fight the matter down to the wire, and have already written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Housing, Engineering and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa to have a re-think on the matter, because it was an issue concerning the welfare of children of middle-class families in the city suburbs.

Leading the charge is the Board of the Anderson Flats Welfare Society Ltd (AFWSL) headed by its President, K. Batuwantudawe who fears that the move was the first step in acquiring the entire park, once the residents move into the new complex.

The authorities have already acquired the adjoining land that housed the Common Amenities Board, and since the space is insufficient, they seek to annex another 20 perches from the children’s playground that is situated alongside, Mr. Batawantudawe told the Sunday Times.

He added that the biggest fear among the 6,000 plus residents at the Anderson and Chitra Lane Flats is that sooner or later, the new residents from the AG’s Dept will be seeking more space for parking facilities, and that is where the future threat lies regarding the park.

“Most of the lawyers have their own vehicles and they will need parking space, not only for their personal use, but also for their clients who will be seeking their legal services on a daily basis.”

“This is most unfair, as it was the AFWSL that maintained the park for the past 45 years from its own funds, and now, suddenly, the authorities say they want to encroach, purely to accommodate a group of lawyers who, probably, already have homes of their own.”
“This is an arrogant land grab, and the authorities don’t care if it would affect children or anyone, just as long as the matter will suit their selfish designs,” Mr Batuwantudawe added.

His worries were echoed by fellow neighbours, B.U.P. Jayasuriya and C. Yoganathan both dwellers at the flats for nearly half-a-century, who are convinced that their grandchildren will be forced to stop using the park in the very near future.
“The residents pump in between Rs 100,000 to 150,000 each year to maintain the park and pay salaries for the security guards and the gardeners,” Mr Jayasuriya who is also the Senior Vice President of the AFWSL, said.
“Over all these years, the authorities who built the park some 45 years ago, did not contribute a cent towards its maintenance, leaving it to the residents.

Now they intend to crowd the place with more dwellings, while depriving the children of a place to play and meet with their parents,” he added.
“Many years ago, authorities of a different government acquired the original grounds allocated for the flat residents, and handed it over to the State transport board.”

Flat residents fear there will be no playground left for the youth. Pix by Nilan Maligaspe

“This place is presently called Shalika Grounds, and it is out of bounds for the flat dwellers who have been forced to use the tiny children’s park for their daily walks and other outdoor activities,” Mr. Yoganathan pointed out.“The whole idea behind the issue is that this park is prime land with a huge market value, and somebody somewhere is going to make a lot of money, and noone will have the interest of the residents in general and the children in particular at heart,” he added.The residents have also found out that Minister Weerawansa’s hands appear to be tied on the matter, as the orders for acquiring sections of the park had come from higher authorities.

A senior official of the NHDA vehemently denied any moves to acquire the entire park, saying the space for the children will be spared, despite the proposed new construction. “The residents need not fear, because the matter has been carefully studied from all sections, and the land takeover will be restricted to 20 perches and nothing more,” NHDA General Manager Brigadier Mahinda Mudalige said.

He added that the residents of the new block will be instructed to remain within their boundary and in no way interfere with the activities of the adjoining children’s playground.“This matter has been addressed at the very highest level and there will be no room for any sort of violations,” Brigadier Mudalige added.

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