The Sunday Leader

Land Issue Still An Issue

By Waruni Karunarathne

Since the end of the war, there was pressure on the Sri Lankan government to return the land belonging to civilians occupied by the Sri Lankan army towards meaningful reconciliation.

The previous government also came under heavy criticism for land grabbing in the North and East in the pretext of national security. With the recent release of 570 acres of land in the North, the new government has released a little over 1,000 acres of privately-owned land held by the army fulfilling a promise made in the 100-day programme.

However, despite the release of certain lands in the North, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) claimed that only 20% out of the released land can actually be used to resettle people and that there are still a large number of people at various centres waiting for their lands to be released.

“It is true that the government has by now released about 1,000 acres of land but the issue is that only 20% of released land can be used for resettlement. The rest of the released land is either barren or farm land,” TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said. According to him, there is still about 5,300 acres of land belonging to people in Valikamam North occupied by the army.

He demanded that those remaining land also should be released for people to be resettled and until such time they cannot actually be satisfied with the amount of land released. “According to the government, releasing certain acres of land is their first step during the 100-day programme.

We agreed upon that but they have to ensure that this initiative continues. Whatever land belonging to people need to be leased,” he insisted. He stated that there are still people who are not resettled and a huge amount of people still in various centres. He pointed out what Tamils in the North want is for the government to continue this process and complete releasing land to people without delay.

Minister of Resettlement D. M. Swaminadan added that the government has released over 1,000 acres of land by now in the North – but people have to go through certain formalities to be properly resettled in their lands. “Recently we released 570 acres of land in the North and people were allowed to visit their lands on the 10th of this month.

They have to get themselves registered at the Grama Niladhari Office in order to follow certain formalities to facilitate the settlement of the rightful owners. There can also be false claims of land.

Therefore these formalities need to be followed. Once this process is complete, they can take possession in their land hopefully by the end of this month,” he assured.

He admitted that there are still people to be resettled. According to him, the President and the Prime Minister have appointed a three-member committee consisting the Defence Secretary, Secretary to the Resettlement Ministry and the Secretary to the Land Ministry to look into certain resettlement matters.

“This committee is expected to produce a report to us in two weeks with details on other available land for release. That process is already put in place,” Minister Swaminadan added.

According to him, the government has also plans to release close to 1,000 acres of land in Sampur in the Trincomalee district. “We are also expecting to release about 1,000 acres of land in Sampur which is a Board of Investment (BOI) land. We have had several meetings regarding this matter.

We will have to talk to the Land Commission and go through certain formalities. Once that is done, those lands will also be released in a month or so,” he assured.

He added that at present, they were facing so many other issues as the government has to build houses and provide sanitation. According to him all those issues and concerns of the people are being addressed step by step.

He also insisted that the land released in Valikamam is one of the best fertile lands in the Jaffna peninsula useful for farming and agricultural activities which can be used for livelihood development of the people. He added that at present, the Ministry of Resettlement is providing temporary housing, dry rations, money and other required assistance for people until they are properly resettled in the released land and uplift their livelihood.

“In addition, we have got help from the Indian government.

They have already built 24,000 houses in which people are being resettled. Another 26,000 are also due to be built by the Indian government and these projects are coming under our ministry.

We are supervising these housing projects to ensure that the houses are given to the rightful owners,” he said.

According to him, previously, there had been certain irregularities, where some families had got additional houses and therefore this process needs to be supervised properly. “I must also say that the armed forces have been very cooperative,” he added.

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