By Bandula Sirimanna
The land acquisition and forceful eviction of residents in the guise of development in the Colombo district by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) under the earlier SLFP administration has been halted on the directions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, official sources disclosed.
Large extents of private land in and around Colombo had been forcibly acquired by the UDA for the so-called township development and beautification programme, road widening and various other purposes using the powers vested in the authority.
A senior official of the UDA said the PM has directed the UDA Chairman to initiate a more humane mechanism in consultation with the MP of the area and with the involvement of the civil society to tackle this problem.
He noted that the authority is considering the release of land with commercial value to their rightful owners or to pay compensation to them. The PM has emphasised that as this Government is more concerned about people’s needs a more transparent system should be introduced when dealing with government and private lands, official sources said.
The UDA has the power to acquire and hold any movable or immovable properties or dispose of any movable property or immovable properties under UDA Act of Parliament bearing No. 41 of 1978.
Valuable land of many individual owners in Bloemendhal, Narahenpita, Wellawatte, Borella and Dematagoda were acquired by the UDA. Some of these lands had been developed by its owners for various investment projects including high rise buildings, apartment complexes and condominiums with local or foreign collaboration.
All those lands were taken over by the UDA without even paying compensation, several affected land owners told Business Times. A block of land in Bloemendhal area in Kotahena owned by VK Enterprises was acquired by the previous regime forcibly demolishing their warehouse network, they said adding that the UDA officers and the Army had threatened them and forced them to vacate their premises.
The Army regularly keep coming to the area and has been threatening the residents, they revealed.Another land owner of the same area had died of a heart attack after the acquisition of his property, residents said, adding that they were frightened to take legal action or protest due to power wielded by then Defence Ministry Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
A five acre block of land in Bloemendhal which was developed to build a high rise apartment complex in collaboration with a Singapore investor was also taken over by the UDA under the guise of township development programme. Commercial property in other areas was also taken over in a similar manner, residents complained.
That was how the urbanisation has hit the townships in Sri Lanka on a large scale particularly in the city of Colombo, they complained.