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Sisira Uyana Creates Unexpected Climes

By Waruni Karunarathne

Four residents in 34 Watta stand alone

Attorney-at-Law Sunil Watagala, B. Kusumawathi and W. Sugath

Houses in 34 Watta in Wanathamulla were demolished recently except the four houses of the residents who filed a writ application against the demolition in the court of Appeal. According to the government, these people have been offered flats in the adjoining new high rise ‘Sisira Uyana’ Complex. Many residents initially resisted taking the government’s offer but were later submissive to the orders given by the government authorities.

Only four residents, Samaradeera Saman Kanthi, K.A Gunarathne, W.K Thusitha Samith and B. Nissanka of 34 Watta sought the legal redress for the demolition of their houses.

B. Nissanka, one of the four residents who filed the case in the Court of Appeal against the authorities, told The Sunday Leader that there were 36 houses with proper land deeds and altogether there were between 100 and 150 families in 34 Watta. He added, except the four families who have filed the writ application in the Court of Appeal, the others have shifted to the ‘Sisira Uyana’. According to him, many have moved as they were scared and certain others were influenced. “Some activists who initially represented and talked on behalf of the residents were given three to four houses in the new flats,” he added. According to Nissanka, proper compensation is not being offered to the residents for the loss of their lands. According to him, the value of his property is between Rs. 35 and Rs. 40 lakhs whereas the rough estimate given by the government for such property was less than Rs. five lahks.

Dayan talking on behalf of his two sisters added that the house where his two sisters live in 34 Watta belongs to his family – and his mother bequeathed the house to his two sisters. “I am a government servant and I have been supporting my two sisters. But if they are to pay a monthly rent and other payments on top of that I would not be able to support them. I have my own family,” he added. According to him, those houses were given during the time of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike but after living there for over 60 years, his family received a deed to the land. After that they had taken bank loans and renewed and developed the house. According to him, their property is now worth about Rs. 60 to Rs.70 lakhs whereas according to the government officials it was only worth about Rs. 5 lakhs.

Suni Watagala , the attorney-at-law who appeared on behalf of the four residents who refused to leave their houses, added that if the government is to demolish their houses, they need to be given proper compensation.

He added that for a house in the new high rise flats, people have to pay Rs. 50,000/- initially – and about Rs. 9,000/- to get electricity – then they have to pay Rs. 2,650/- monthly for 30 years or Rs. 3,960/- monthly for 20 years plus monthly electricity bills and water bills – which is unbearable for most of the people. He added that however others who have already moved into these new flats will not be able to claim for their losses as they have willingly or unwillingly moved to the flats offered by the government, but the four people who filed the case should be given proper compensation as they have sought legal protection against the injustices.

Some residents claimed that they moved into the new flats as they came under the military threats. Defending such claims Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya told The Sunday Leader that according to his knowledge there has not been such threats from the military. He added that there are some military officials working under the Urban Development Authority (UDA). “There are some military professionals being deployed under the UDA for certain projects. They are not working under the army command- they are only assisting the project,” he added.

According to him, the military provides labour as well as experts and professionals such as architects, engineers etc to help such projects. Therefore, he pointed out that people have the notion that it comes under the military. He assured that the military has no direct involvement with the project. “There are some ex-military officers; army, navy and air force officers serving under UDA, under different projects. People mistakenly recognise them with the military establishment whereas they actually work under the UDA. They are following the rules and regulations of the UDA but not following any military procedure,” Brigadier Wanigasooriya noted.

When inquired about the 34 Watta incident, Senior Consultant to the Urban Development Authority Weerasena Adikari told that the Court of Appeal had given a directive to the four residents early last week to negotiate with the UDA. Accordingly the four families had met the relevant officials at the UDA on last Wednesday and certain proposals had been made. As far as he was aware some flats have been given to the residents. Those areas where these residents lived were earmarked for an urban regeneration plan as the area was in a dilapidated condition and the settlement in the 34 Watta was also included under the regeneration project. “Those settlements were not in a habitable state. That is why that particular area is being earmarked for the redevelopment purposes,” Weerasinghe added. According to him, the four residents requested at the meeting from the UDA to consider giving some concessions but he did not know the exact details discussed at the meeting. Therefore, he asked The Sunday Leader to contact Brigadier Samarasinghe – the Project Director of the UDA’s Urban Regeneration Programme.

However when The Sunday Leader contacted Brigadier Samarasinghe, he refused to comment on the matter and asked The Sunday Leader to contact their spokesperson.

According to Sunil Watagala, at the hearing on Friday, the judge called the next hearing of the case for Tuesday and requested the two parties to come to an agreement by next Monday. He added that Thursday, during the meeting with the UDA, the UDA Chairman had agreed on some conditions with the four residents.

“Initially during Thursday meeting with the UDA, the chairman agreed on giving two houses in the new flats to each family who have filed the case in the Court of Appeal and reduce the amount they estimated for their houses from the total amount they have to pay for the new houses in the flats,” he added. According to Watagala, the resident also agreed with that deal but at the hearing on Friday, the UDA disagreed to those terms and conditions – hence the judge asked the two parties to meet on Monday and come to some agreement before the next hearing on Tuesday.

 

The story of the people in the new flats

Several new residents in the “Sisira Uyana” said that there are about 731 houses in the new flats adjoining 34 Watta. A current resident, born and bred in the 66 Watta, added that people from various areas in Colombo who lived in areas, Kota Road, Gunasinghe Pura, Apple Watta, 34 Watta, 43 Watta, Polhengoda etc that came under certain projects, have been given houses in the new flats.

Many residents did not think that the offer of the flats was a fair compensation. Another resident Mulaweera added that one house is about 360 square meters with hardly enough room for the family members. According to him, those who have received two or three adjoining houses drilled the walls and connected the houses making them a larger unit. “But people like us who have got only one house find it depressing to live inside the house,” he added. His house has a sitting area, small pantry, two rooms and a bathroom within about 360 square meters which he said was hardly enough for a family.

A female resident added that her family find it difficult to pay Rs. 50,000/=  and Rs.2,650/= monthly rent on top of that they have to pay for electricity and water. She added that she is doing labour jobs and her husband is working in a shop – they have two studying sons. She said that they have not been able to pay the rent for last five months. She noted that they were not the only family in the new flats who is struggling to pay their monthly rent while meeting their day-to-day needs.

W. Sugath , another resident who have already moved into a house in the new flat, “We understand that to support the development process of the country some measures need to be taken by the government – and people need to do some sacrifices. We are happy to help the process and to beautify the city”. However, he added that the issue is they have not even received any written document or a deed to prove their ownership of the new flats. He requested the authorities to take necessary steps to give a written proof for them to claim the ownership of their new flats. He also thought that it was not fair to make people pay for the flats as it was the people who should be compensated.

“I owned 650 square feet of land and the government compensated my loss by giving me and my family two houses in ‘Sisira Uyana’ which however seems somewhat fair,” he added. According to him, he had a deed for the land which was probably worth Rs. 35 lakhs to Rs. 40 lakhs that was taken by the government under an urban development project. He added that according to the government’s evaluation, for his property with a house, he was to be given Rs. 3 lahks and therefore he decided to move into the flats rather than going for such a lower offer.

Meantime he noted the lack of planning in the building complex. “Couple of months back my aunt died and since I was given two houses in the flats, we kept the corpse in one house and gave refreshments to the relatives and those who visited the other house. Generally speaking, there is no funeral parlour for this building complex,” he pointed out. He added that these types of communal flats with a huge population, there should be at least two funeral parlours, community halls and space for the public gatherings. The Sunday Leader team noticed a basketball court in the middle of the building complex which residents think a good concept yet added that there are so many other community needs that need attention.

Mallika Herath has moved into the ‘Sisira Uyana’ about six months back from the Polhengoda Government Housing Scheme. She said that a large number of people from various social backgrounds from different areas of the city are in the flats. She noted that when there is an amalgamation of people from different social backgrounds, their way of life can be different – and it could create lot of social problems unless it’s being identified and treated accordingly.  “I have two kids. My son goes to leading school and my daughter will be in nursery next year. This is completely a different environment compared to where we lived. I worry for my kids,” she said with concern.

B. Kusumawathi, another resident of the new flats, added that she came to live here six months ago. She said that the only issue she has right now is that she finds it difficult to raise her children in that environment. She has a daughter aged 15 and a 17-yer-old son. “There is a huge variety of people in these flats. They are coming from different backgrounds. In a large flats complex like this, parents cannot keep track of what their children do and who their associates are. They can easily be led astray,” she added. Another mother added that she is also concerned about raising her teenage daughter in the flats.

Several people pointed out if the government is to bring many communities and people from different backgrounds together in communal flats, there need to be some programmes to assess and address the psychosocial needs of the people before those issues give way for various serious problems.

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