The Road Development Authority’s (RDA) “resettlement action plan” (RAP) to minimise effects of massive displacement from building the proposed third stage of the Central Expressway (CEP III) is riddled with holes and spells disaster for the affected parties, experts said. Thousands of people will be impacted by the project for which land acquisition is underway. [...]


Central Expressway third stage: Experts question resettlement action plan


The Road Development Authority’s (RDA) “resettlement action plan” (RAP) to minimise effects of massive displacement from building the proposed third stage of the Central Expressway (CEP III) is riddled with holes and spells disaster for the affected parties, experts said.

Thousands of people will be impacted by the project for which land acquisition is underway. According to available data, 6,432 people from 1,742 families will be affected. There are 624 people living in the road corridor; 2,098 agricultural landowners; and 25 entrepreneurs. The majority of them will be permanently affected, the RDA admits, and will need to be relocated. Other parties may need to shift temporarily during construction.

The RAP was published online last month and claims to identify all potential aspects of the resettlement process related to CEP III, while suggesting measures to overcome adverse effects such as displacement, loss of property and jobs. It also says it was prepared in compliance with the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP) adopted by the Government.

But resettlement specialists–including several who were on the team that developed the NIRP–slammed the RDA’s action plan. One even said that, “From a people’s point of view, we are heading for disaster”. A resettlement action plan is defined as a document in which a project sponsor or other responsible entity specifies the procedures that it will follow and the actions that it will take to mitigate adverse effects, compensate losses, and provide development benefits to persons and communities affected by an investment project.

The RDA’s RAP for CEP III, on the contrary, is “a document which is a combination of a statement of intent, elements of a plan and mostly descriptive with no firm activities identified,” said Ruwani Jayewardene, a resettlement specialist who worked for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and assisted with drafting the NIRP. “It is mostly a set of recommendations. There is no confirmed data on key aspects. The inventory of losses and a count of affected people are not final, the encroachers are not known, land ownership disputes are not sorted out.”

“There are a large number of vulnerable households with no clear statement of support,” she said. “No resettlement sites are identified, there are no potential locations or names of owners of those lands and whether these are to be acquired or purchased.” Sam Pillai led the group that drew up the NIRP. He expressed astonishment at the RAP stating that land acquisition for CEP III–107,975 perches or 674.8 acres–will be completed in six months. “I don’t know where to begin,” he said. “I have seen a number of these RAPs. All of them are cookie-cutter format. There are no specifics on impacts. It is mostly general.”

“Where are the specifics on consultations,” he asked. “How can you follow up on implementation without basic data?” The RAP, which is available online, also states that there will be a major impact towards coconut cultivation with around 25,351 trees expected to be affected. The second category of crop will be paddy in 28,962 perches or 162 acres. About 463 government properties will be hit, it says, in addition to 35 facilities like community centres, common wells and cemeteries. “The Government and the RDA have to look into this matter for restoring these facilities,” it recommends.

The RAP places the total cost of land acquisition and resettlement for CEP III to be Rs. 12.64 billion or US $ 81.5 million. “Does the RDA have the Rs 12.64 billion required to meet RAP costs?” asked Ms Jayewardene. She also questioned how the RAP arrived at these figures without having available the assessment of the Government Valuer.

“If the RDA has not paid people yet, this is a travesty and a violation of basic human rights,” she continued. “It is about time that the using of Section 38(a) of the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) with impunity is called out.” Most land acquisition in Sri Lanka is now undertaken by issuing section 38 (a) of the LAA, which allows for “emergency” — a word that is still not defined in the law — takeovers. Land is vested with the State within 48 hours with compensation to be paid at a later date, unless land owners go to court. Such emergency acquisition absolves the acquiring agency from hearing objections to the project.

The RAP states that, while land acquisition is now progressing well, there are several lots of land, for which clear ownership cannot be identified. It is assumed these are privately owned. The highest impact of acquisition will be on private lots–92 percent of total properties to be taken over. Seventy percent of this is agricultural land while 21 percent is residential. The rest are trade and business properties.

The majority of landowners do not have issues related to land. However, there are 38 cases in court as well as some family and individual disputes.
The RAP also tackles “replacement cost” which involves replacing an asset at a cost prevailing at the time of its acquisition. It was revealed that a majority of affected parties had no clear idea about replacement cost. “Thus, they have given relatively low estimates for their structures,” the RAP states. “Among the residential houses, the majority of them (160) believe that they need Rs. 5-10 million to replace their housing structures. Many others have given lower amounts as the replacement cost for their houses.”

“How can RDA progress with acquisition without knowing the full range of impacts, without unit rates of compensation for each asset lost provided by the Government Valuer?” asked Ms Jayewardene, an outspoken critic of the use of “urgent” provisions for routine land acquisition. “And how can compliance with NIRP be confirmed when people have not been paid and the official costs have not been compiled?” she asked. “Does the Government have the money and when does it plan to pay people? Contractors are being handed over the responsibility for temporary relocation, with no explanation as to why it is the contractors’ responsibility.”

The RAP has said land acquisition was to be completed by March 2018. There is no reason, then, for the RDA not to have “every detail on every affected person, completed consultations, valuations, and so on”. There should be, by now, accurate information on costs, on sites, on information disclosure and independent monitoring. However, the RAP only lists different organisations and their functions.

“As we all know, there is a huge gulf between existing institutions and their capacity to deliver, particularly when a large-scale project such as the CEP is being implemented,” Ms Jayewardene said. “There is no analysis in the RAP on absorptive capacity and track record of delivery.”

Another expert who works in the area of social safeguards warned that, often, livelihood restoration plans drop off after the resettlement is done. Most people fear losing their sources of income, he states. This is mainly from agriculture. “If they lose their lands and relocate in another place not in close proximity, then they will face this uncertainty level in their future life,” he states. “The second highest concern is breaking their social networks.”

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