The Centre for Policy Brief (CPA) in its most recent policy brief titled ‘Politics, Policies and Practices with Land Acquisitions and Related Issues in the North and East of Sri Lanka’ issued today draws attention to several disturbing trends of land acquisition and related issues in the North and East. The brief makes the case that since the end of the war, instead of using land policies to further reconciliation, the Government of Sri Lanka has abused provisions within the Land Acquisition Act among other pieces of legislation to take over thousands of acres of land in a manner that predominantly affects minority communities and facilitates entrenched militarisation in the North and East.
The brief documents how the Government through land acquisitions has shown clear disregard for the law, often acting outside the parameters of the Land Acquisition Act and avoiding the inherent responsibilities of the Act itself, which requires that land only be taken where it is for a “public purpose”. The brief examines three specific cases, Jaffna, Sampur and Weli Oya, to highlighted problems related to acquisitions and alienation of land and how the present practices raises concerns of ‘land grabs’ in the area. Another disturbing trend with respect to land highlighted in this brief is the dominant role of the central government and military actors in the administration of land.
The brief comes at a time when there is increased attention on Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was recently held in Colombo where several issues related to human rights and reconciliation were raised including ongoing problems related to land. There is likely to be attention on these issues in the coming months and leading to the United Nations Human Rights Council session in March 2014. This brief focuses on land acquisitions and related issues because they serve as an important reflection of government policy and attitudes towards meaningful reconciliation. As the Government continues to blatantly disregard legal standards and pursue initiatives that can constitute ‘land grabs’, they further alienate minority communities and contribute to perceptions that the Government only caters to the majority community. The questions raised in the policy brief have far-reaching implications for devolution and governance in the area, begging the question of whether trends of further centralisation and militarisation regarding land issues are signs of things to come and accordingly key impediments to reconciliation and unity. It is time to take stock of ground realities and initiate reform.