Dubious Deniyaya Acquisition
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The controversy surrounding the land belonging to the Rajapaksa family in Bevaraliya, Deniyaya has deepened, with the doubtful acquisition of the land by members of the First Family in 2007 following an illegal amendment introduced to a statutory declaration made under the Land Reforms Act of 1972.
The Bevaraliya land owned by the Rajapaksas first came to light with the revelation of a palace being built using state resources for the Rajapaksa family.
The Nathagala Estate in Bevaraliya, Deniyaya is owned by Vichithra Sheeladarie Rajapaksa of 26A, Pangiriwatte Mawatha, Mirihana, Nugegoda, Chandrani Preethi Chandradasa of 1/4, Nanda Mawatha, Nugegoda and Himal Lalindra Hettiarachchi of 175/2, Old Kottawa Road, Mirihana, Nugegoda.
The extent of the land owned by these Rajapaksa family members, according to the transfer deed executed by Notary Public Anura Jayasinghe of Tangalle on August 27, 2007 is 39 acres, 3 roods and 29 perches, and includes Lots Nos. 707A, 707B, 707C, 177P, 177Q and 177R.
However, doubts on the legality of the Rajapaksas’ ownership of the Bevaraliya land, especially in relation to the extent of the land, has now surfaced for several reasons.
A close look at the amendment introduced to a statutory declaration made in accordance to the Land Reforms Act of 1972, and records of the respective land at the Land Registry, have revealed many loopholes that have either been ignored or unwittingly overlooked by the Rajapaksa family when acquiring the land.
Legal sources told The Sunday Leader that there was no legal provision to amend a statutory declaration. The Gazette Extraordinary issued on July 6, 2007 in Part III under the Land Reform Commission Notices has amended two statutory declarations, made under the Land Reform Act of 1972.
The first amendment in the Gazette is introduced to the statutory declaration No. 970 published under Section 19 of the Land Reform Act No 1 of 1972.
The original declaration made on May 8, 1975 by one Dayananda Ratnayake of No. 83, Rosmead Place, Colombo 7 states that an undivided extent of 22 acres, 3 roods and 34 perches from an allotment of land is marked as Lot No. 707 of the land called Nathagala, Beligallana A Division.
The amended schedule to replace the original declaration issued on July 6, 2007 states that an undivided extent of 19 acres 3 roods and 34.5 perches are from an allotment of Lots Nos. 707A, 707B, 707C, 177P, 177Q and 177R of the land called the Nathagala portion of Vilee group watta.
The same Gazette notification has informed of an amendment to the statutory declaration No. 1895 published under Land Reform Act No.1 of 1972 made on March 17, 1976.
The amendment to the declaration states that an undivided extent of 19 acres 3 roods and 34.5 perches are from an allotment of Lot Nos. 707A, 707B, 707C, 177P, 177Q and 177R of the land called the Nathagala portion of Vilee Group Watta.
Interestingly, the two amendments introduced to the statutory declarations in the July 6, 2007 Gazette are one and the same, apart from the fact that there is no legal provision to amend a statutory declaration.
The Gazette was issued a little more than a month prior to the Rajapaksas acquiring the Nathagala Estate in Bevaraliya, consisting of lands from Lot Nos. 707 and 177 in August 2007.
One Dayananda Ratnayake owns the land marked as Lot No. 707.
Records at the Land Registry state the owners of the land to be Dayananda Ratnayake from Rajagiriya, Don Dharmapala Ratnayake residing in the UK and Manjula Alahakoon (nee Weerasekera) in Colombo.
Records at the Land Registry in Kotapola show that the Ratnayakes have owned the land Lot No. 707 since the late 1960s.
Of the Lot No. 707, three sub lots – 707A, 707B and 707C – were transferred to the Rajapaksas in August 2007.
The Kotapola Land Registry does not have any records of Lot No. 177 being owned by the Ratnayakes.
However, the transfer deed states that the Ratnayakes owned the total land extent purchased by the Rajapaksas.
When inquiries were made about the situation, senior lawyers told The Sunday Leader that the amendments to the statutory declarations made in 1975 and 1976 may have been brought in to include Lots 177, which were not included in the original declaration.
Although there are clear records about the land ownership of Lot No. 707, the identity of the owner of Lot No. 177 remains elusive.
The fact that the Rajapaksa family members have acquired lots 707A, 707B and 707C indicates that they have received only part of the total 707 Lot owned by the Ratnayakes. The entire land extent of Lot No. 707 is 45 acres 2 roods and 32 perches according to the Land Registry.
Therefore the 39 acre 3 rood and 29 perch land acquired by the Rajapaksas includes three sub lots of 707 owned by Ratnayake and three sub lots of 177, of which the original ownership remain elusive.
There are no records of the land marked Lot No. 177 being connected to Lot No. 707 until 2007.
Lot No. 177 first figures in the Gazette notification of July 6, 2007 where amendments were introduced to statutory declarations include the said lot among the land owned by the Ratnayakes.
As pointed out by the legal experts, through the amendment, the land marked as Lot No. 177 has been included in the Ratnayakes’ land in order to brush aside any suspicion on the manner in which the land has been acquired by the Rajapaksas.
The records at the Land Registry, the amendments introduced through Gazette and the elusive ownership of the land marked Lot No. 177 have raised doubts over the legality in the land acquisition by the Rajapaksas.