Letters to the Editor

9th June 1996


Northerners Want Compensation

We, the people of Jaffna have lost almost all our belongings. Our houses, vehicles, furniture etc. We need these things urgently. We want compensation. We want money to do urgently needed repairs, and to buy our necessities to lead a normal life.

If the government fails to do this we are going to lose confidence in it. So please before putting up big projects, look into the needs of the people and compensate us.

Shanthi Balasingham

Kokuvil, Jaffna

Paddylands act 1959: long outdated

Thanks to the sense of moderation of the Sinhalese monarchs of yore who were so oriented religiously and culturally that nothing so harsh as serfdom existed in Sri Lanka during their time, as one notes in a contemporary survey. Feudalism in Sri Lanka was tempered by the concept of 'wewa' and 'dagoba' going hand in glove in perpetual harmony that the monarchs could never have failed to appreciate and respect the farmer's lot, especially, in an agricultural economy like that of Sri Lanka as much, as they did, the clergy.

In defiance of what one witnessed in Sri Lanka of that day, one sees serfdom thriving not only in Europe, but in parts of Asia as well. In Russia serfdom existed as late as the nineteenth century, and the plight of tenant farmers in France was none the less worse, until the Revolution gave vent to their legitimate aspirations. In Tibet, and in China, the tenant farmers were subjected to untold miseries under the landlord's yoke. Sometimes their plight was even worse than that of slaves, for in Russia, they were supposed to be attached to the soil; and as such, sold along with the land as 'part and parcle' of the landlord's property. So, the chasm between the landlord and the tenant was so wide that no reformer would scarcely think of bringing some cordiality between the two. But today, under modern circumstances, with the advent of democracy, the capitalistic landlord and the socialistic tenant, both function for each other's benefit, and for the country as well, though at one time, the disparity between the two was enormous. In Russia, of course, the ownership of land is vested in the state.

But, nobody out there, beyond the seas, could boast of an act as 'radical' as the Paddy lands Act of our small Sri Lanka, which saw the light of day about three and a half decades ago. 'Radical' of course, it should have been from the exponent's point of view, and not mine.

How far the Paddy lands Act is radical, if at all it is radical, is worth examining. One of them may be to change the attitude of the landlord towards his tenant and to free him from the exploitary grip of the former, thus assuring him his legitimate rights, since one could not deny instances where a landlord would have acted in bad faith towards his tenant, denying him his reasonable share, particularly where vast tracts of land were held by the upper echelons of the community. They were of course landlords literally, now unseen after the Act.

Secondly, since the tenant held the land at the will and pleasure of the landlord, he was liable to be expelled as such, irrespective of negligence or improper maintenance of the land on his part. The Act, rightly, would have envisaged the security of tenure of the farmer (tenant), so that he would pay greater attention to the maintenance and improvement of the land, whereby the standard of yield could also be raised. This would have resulted in the general upliftment of crop production and land maintenance island wide.

Now, as landlords as such, have vanished into oblivion, we are only left with landowners most of whom own less than five acres, in regions not fertile, sporadically scattered throughout the island, who also come under the Act. After the lapse of so many years since the passage of the Act through Parliament, it is high time one takes stock of the consequences it has brought to rural Sri Lanka, particularly in the case of our small land owners. In most cases the little land that the poor farmer owned, is now in the hands of a stranger, or even one of his relatives who has usurped it, of course, legally, in addition to getting the former embroiled in a bitter and expensive legal battle . Another, who is urgently in need of a loan, and nobody to look to, finds himself unable to pledge the deed of his land, his one and only coveted possession, to the bank, simply because a tenant is squatting on it. Further, he is relegated to the status of a second-class citizen, in his own, native, democratically ruled land, where his individual liberty of right to personal property is infringed upon, by an internationally unrecognized, and ethically unacceptable law.

What has it brought in its wake? Displeasures, enmities, family-feuds and even murders!, among the village folk. It has rent asunder that charming unity that prevailed in our villages. It has effaced, in toto, that serene tranquillity that once pervaded our villages.

Z. Munafdeen


Puttalam Cement Co. and the SEC

I refer to the Securities and Exchange Commission's response to my letter headlined "Puttalam Cement - About turn by the SEC". The response raises the following questions.

1) The SEC states that at the time of approval being given to the Unit Trusts to invest in the debenture issue of Puttalam Cement Company in December 1993, they were not aware of the violation of Section 55 of the Companies Act.

The Offer for Sale document that was issued by the Puttalam Cement Company stated the reason for the debenture issue. One presumes that the SEC studied this document before permitting the Unit Trusts to invest in this debenture issue. If they had studied this document then they cannot claim ignorance of the fact that the issue of debentures contravened Section 55. The debenture issue was no different to the debenture issues of Kelani Tyres and Veyangoda Textiles.

2) It is surprising to know that the SEC could not have prohibited the investment even if it had known of the violation. What is the purpose of having a regulatory authority if it cannot stop an investment in a voidable transaction? The Unit Trusts might as well make their investments without approval from a regulatory body. The SEC has in the past exercised their powers to stop certain investments.

3) The debenture issue of Puttalam Cement was no different to Kelani Tyres and Veyangoda Textiles. However the latter two Companies were permitted to list whereas Puttalam Cement's application to list was not approved. Why?

C. Ramachandra

Colombo 7.

Cut down procedures which tend to delay Court cases

The general public and particularly the poorer classes have to be grateful to the Chief Justice for highlighting (at the convocation of the Bar Association on 23.3.96) the exorbitant cost of litigation.

He had quoted Dr. H. W. Thambiah (a former Supreme Court Judge) that in spite of the best efforts of judges - there was no equality in law between the rich and the poor. The CJ had also quoted late Chief Justice H. H. Basnayake - as saying about 30 years ago that the cost of litigation was 'mind boggling'.

The Judiciary should be the citadel of democracy which stands for political and social equality - but due to the manipulation of unscrupulous lawyers - it has become a mockery and disreputable. Conditions are fast deteriorating. The lawyer is interested in making the maximum out of the poor litigant and if possible, will manipulate the proceedings to extend to the furthest period. His client in the meantime will be insolvent, after having mortgaged his assets. Indeed, he aptly fits Lord Broughams' definition of the lawyer as a "learned gentleman who rescues your estate and keeps it for himself."

The Court proceeding itself and the manner in which the lawyers cross-examine witnesses and the Mudaliyar belittles the witnesses are deterrents even for a public spirited person to come forward and give evidence even in a motor accident. The humiliation and the number of visits he has to make would effectively dissuade any person who has gone through the experience once.

I wish to appeal to Minister G. L. Peiris to consider the following suggestions which I have gleaned from litigants.

1. Make it mandatory for certain category of cases to go before Mediation Boards. Give greater powers to Mediation Boards. Establish Mediation Boards in every town and village.

2. Cut down procedures which tend to delay and postpone cases in Courts.

3. Increase the intake of students to the Law College. The increase in the number of lawyers will lead to a competition amongst themselves which will ultimately benefit the public.

4. Lay down a code of conduct for the Mudaliyar and the Court staff and lawyers to treat the public attending Courts with courtesy.

The progressive lawyer, who is proud of his profession and is genuinely concerned for his client, will I am sure uphold the above suggestions and encourage their implementation.

A public-spirited citizen


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