The Sunday Leader

CMC In A Spin Over Barnes Place Squatter

  • How police changed their minds over unauthorised squatter allegedly due to ‘a call from someone at the top’

by Nirmala Kannangara

Sri Lanka Police have come under fire for not taking action against a squatter occupying a land in Barnes Place, Colombo 7 which belongs to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). All attempts taken by the CMC to get police protection to evict the squatter who is a businessman from Mt. Lavinia has failed to date, it is learnt.

Recently the CMC had made an official request to the police to have protection for the squatter to be removed from the said land to which the police had agreed and provided the necessary protection to bulldoze the roofing sheet fence around the garden. But within a few minutes, the police had wanted the CMC to come with a court order to evict the squatter surprising all those who were present at the Barnes Place land.

Colombo Municipal Council seized an extent of 154.43 perches at No. 43, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 in 1973 for non-payment of municipal taxes, under section 263 of the Municipal Council Ordinance for non-payment of municipal rates.

As no application was made by any party that was occupying the said property at the time of the seizure, seeking the return of the land by settling the overdue municipal rates within twelve months from the date of seizure, the property was vested with the CMC.

Although the land in question was vested with the CMC, the municipal council’s failure to evict the squatter living at this Barnes Place land has now led to a situation where police are not in support of the eviction believed to be on the direction of certain politicians.

According to a former Member of the CMCwho wished to remain anonymous, when a group of CMC officials went to this land at Barnes Place a few weeks ago, the police had asked the officials to come back with a court order to evict the person who now occupies the land.

“The CMC made a request to the police seeking their protection to evict this squatter and the police came to this land with the CMC officials on this particular day. Once the CMC workers started bulldozing the roofing sheet fence, the police took a ‘U’ turn and told the CMC officials to come with a court order. What made these police personnel who came to give protection in the CMC officials’ attempt to take over the land, change their stance and instruct the CMC to come with a court order? The CMC seized this land under Section 263 of the Municipal Council Ordinance. There is no need to get a court order if this land had been seized under Section 263 of the ordinance. This shows that the police do not know the laws of the country and also they may have got a call from the ‘top’ to stop harassing the businessman occupying the land,” the former CMC member said.

Former CMC Commissioner Badrani Jayawardena in 2013 had lodged a complaint in the Cinnamon Gardens Police to get this land cleared, but all her attempts had been hampered by the then DIG Anura Senanayake,allegedly on the instructions of the then Defence Secretary GotabhayaRajapaksa.

“When the CMC investigation officers came to know that there was a plan to ‘sell’ this land to a Muslim businessman in Mt. Lavinia, Commissioner Jayawardena, took immediate action to establish the CMC’s ownership of the said land in order to develop the property and lodged a complaint with the Cinnamon Gardens Police on October 29, 2013,” the former CMC member who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader.

Badrani Jayawardena confirmed this to the newspaper and explained how she wanted to evict the squatter with the help of the Cinnamon Garden Police but was disallowed by the former Mayor by removing her from the post of Municipal Commissioner soon after the UNP came into power in January last year.

“All the relevant documents to prove this land is a CMC property was in my office room and after expelling me from the post, I was never allowed to clear my room and was told that all the relevant original documents had been removed from my office immediately,” Jayawardena said.

According to the sources, although the former commissioner wanted the Cinnamon Gardens Police to instruct the squatter to stop the building he was having constructed, the then DIG in charge of Colombo, Anura Senanayake had instructed the police to hand over the case to Colombo Crimes Division (CCD).

“Hence the case was handed over to the CCD but thereafter nothing was done to help out the commissioner to get this construction stopped and to take over the land,” sources added.

Meanwhile it is learnt that the Presidential Commission Investigating Fraud, Corruption, Abuse of Power State Resources and Privileges(PRECIFAC) too had initiated an investigation and had asked Badrani Jayawardena to appear before the commission to give evidence.

“When I was asked to appear before PRECIFAC, I wanted the commission to send a letter to my superior, the Western Province Chief Minister, asking him to allow me to appear before the commission. When I appeared before the commission, they got all what they wanted from me. Later, the chief secretary sent me a letter asking me to hand over all the documents pertaining to this land as the commission had asked the mayor and the present commission to appear to give evidence.

How can the chief secretary ask me to hand over the documents when they did not allow me even to enter my office when I was expelled forcibly from the office of municipal commissioner in January 2015 after this government came into power? The files and all the relevant documents should be in my room but those may have now been ‘misplaced’ for personal reasons,” Jayawardena said.

However some parties who initially owned this land are said to have taken a court order against the CMC to get their ownership back.

“Although these Muslim groups claim they have got a court ruling they are yet to claim for the ownership over the past few years,” sources claimed.

Be that as it may, as the CMC failed to evict the squatters,it is alleged that former Minister Mervyn Silva in early 2013 sent a team of thugs to the said premises disguising themselves as CMC officials, to force the people living there to move away from the land.

“Although they claimed that they were from the CMC, we knew that they were not state officials but some hooligans. These seven or eight middle-aged men who came in three Montero Jeeps wanted us to leave the land we were occupying over the years promising the 10-15 families who were living by the Barnes Place entrance Rs.5 million each and the 20 other families Rs.4 million each,” Anuradha, an employee attached to the Western Province Chief Minister’s Office said.

According to Anuradha, the rumour spread that the ‘CMC Officials’ who came to the land were then Minister Mervyn Silva’s thugs and in fear of Silva, all the squatters made a unanimous decision to take the compensation and leave the land they had been living in for many years.

“As we did not want a confrontation with Mervyn Silva’s representatives we decided to take the money and move away. Since we were used to the Colombo life we went all over to buy lands to put up houses within the city limits but we failed as the land value was so high in the city limits. Knowing that the money Mervyn Silva’s goons promised us was not enough we demanded they increase the compensation,” Anuradha added.

Anuradha further said this demand had irked the then Minister who later came to the land and threatened to chase away the squatters without paying a single cent as compensation.

“Since we knew Mervyn Silva’s capacity as a powerful minister in that government we decided to take the compensation and leave the land.

When we informed our stance to some people who later came to talk to us, we were asked to come to a place in Kohuwela to take the money. Once we went, each family was paid Rs. 4 million and for the families that were promised Rs.5 million, only Rs. 4 million was paid with a promise that the balance would be paid within a few weeks which never happened,” Anuradha said.

According to the former member of the CMC, the process to evict the businessman from the Barnes Place land came to a complete standstill with the removal of the former municipal commissioner.

“After it was confirmed that a construction was taking place on the CMC property, the former Commissioner Jayawardena lodged a complaint in the Cinnamon Gardens Police and the police deployed some police officers to prevent anyone entering the premises.

However this police guard was immediately removed as the case was handed over to the CCD on the instructions of Anura Senanayake which has allowed the businessman to enter the premises once again and carry out the illegal construction without any obstruction,” sources alleged.

An extract from the Cinnamon Gardens Police information book (CIB II, page 89) shows how former Colombo Municipal Commissioner Badrani Jayawardena lodged a complaint on October 29, 2013 against the trespass which had been recorded in the presence of the HQI, by WPC Yasodara. The complaint further states, “At present I work as the Municipal Commissioner Colombo and empowered with official power under the Municipal Act No: 16 of 1947, authority 252 and according to Section 170 (2) and acted accordingly. In addition, I am empowered under Section 254 (a), the responsibility of charging the assessment tax legally due to the Municipality among others. The land at 43, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 had been acquired by the CMC due to non-payment of assessment tax under the provisions of the Municipal Act.

This land is registered at the Land Registry Colombo as A 549/ 6 as a property of the CMC. When I was told that a construction is being carried out by an outsider, the relevant officers and I inspected the property separately. At this time I noticed a galvanise boundary wall to the height of around 30 feet had been put up around the land and a construction was taking place within the premises.

I request the police to conduct an inquiry into this matter.”

According to the sources, the municipal treasurer had immediately taken steps to prevent the CMC from issuing assessment numbers and ownership certificates to this land.

“We as former CMC members are happy about how the present treasurer had given instructions to the planning division not to give any planning approvals for any constructions in this land and also assessment division not to give any assessment numbers and ownership certificate to the said property.

The details into this land have now been locked from all computers on the instructions of the treasurer. If anybody wants to give approvals to the land in question, the secretary, relevant departments cannot open the details into the said land unless the password is taken from the treasurer,” sources claimed.

 

Commissioner, Colombo Municipal Council, V. K. A. Anura said that the land in question is a property of the CMC and no one can now claim any ownership to it.

“I know there are many parties that have come forward to claim the ownership but once we seized and the owners did not claim the ownership within one year paying the penalties, it becomes the CMC property. If you come to the CMC, I can show you all the documents in regard to our claim,” the Municipal Commissioner said.

 

3 Comments for “CMC In A Spin Over Barnes Place Squatter”

  1. Ram Perera

    Police would have asked for a court order is the squatter asked Police to show a court order. Even a court order to hand over possession must be executed within one year of the order. If not it can be issued only after due notice to the squatter. Obtaining possession in 1973 40 years have passed since then and Law of Prescription too works in Sri Lanka

  2. kudson

    crooked muslims in the CMC have tarnished the CMC
    time to clean shop
    CMC is the leading corrupt organisation in Sri-Lanka

  3. AshyD

    If I remember right, anyone occupying any land anywhere in the country, whether he is legally doing so or not, cannot be evicted by the police, under any circumstances.

    The police can only assist the fiscal authorities armed with a court order who could then evict those occupying the land and clear the premises and handover possession to the person or persons mentioned in the court order.

    Such persons should take immediate physical possession and hold onto such possession physically but if they fail to do, and the evicted party takes unlawful steps to retake possession and succeeds in their attempt and come back into possession, the party given possession by the court has to go back to the court and get another court order and come back with the fiscal and the police again and retake possession again.

    This cat and mouse situation can go on forever till such time the real owner takes possession and holds it physically.

    This as I know it, is the state of our land laws in this country, and I am no lawyer.

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