Centre for Policy Alternatives on 13 June, 2015

Changes in Government’s approach to resettlement of communities in Colombo

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13th June 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) welcomes the statement by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe suspending reclamation of land in the Colombo and the forceful eviction of residents under the guise of development. CPA has for some time raised the issue of forced evictions in Colombo under the Rajapaksa regime, where military force and intimidation was used to acquire land, and where communities were forced to relocate to high-rise complexes on the outskirts of the city.

CPA also welcomes the statement made yesterday by the Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Development, Harsha de Silva where he further elaborated on the change in approach to the resettlement of low income communities in Colombo. The Deputy Minister stated that in the future, communities would be relocated only if acquisition of the land they are living on is absolutely necessary. He further stated that the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy will be followed in the acquisition and resettlement process and that the current policy of issuing a deed to relocated communities in 20 – 30 years will also be changed.

He also informed that the housing agreement drafted by the previous regime that relocated communities were being asked to sign, has been rescinded. The housing agreement is only available in Sinhala and contained several clauses that were contrary to current law and practice. CPA has for several weeks raised serious concerns regarding this document with officials of the Urban Development Authority as well as relevant Ministers.

On behalf of the Government, the Deputy Minister acknowledged and thanked CPA for its support of the communities, the research it generated on these issues and engagement on them in general.

CPA was involved in documenting relocated communities across the Colombo district, as well as in supporting residents to file a writ application in the Court of Appeal against the illegal acquisition of their private property by the UDA in 2014. The specific changes in the Government’s approach to urban resettlement are those that CPA championed even during the previous regime.

We appreciate the positive steps taken so far by Ranjit Fernando the new Chairman of the Urban Development Authority to address the serious problems and concerns of those relocated to high-rise apartments. We urge the UDA to explore all possible options with regard to the housing of low-income communities, including and especially in-situ redevelopment and upgrading, to eliminate and minimise involuntary resettlement in the future.

The National Involuntary Resettlement Policy must be enshrined in law and the Government must ensure that any development activities involving low -income communities are aimed at the substantial betterment of these communities in all respects. It is crucial that any process that involves involuntary resettlement be a consultative and participatory, bottom–up process that conforms to national and international standards.

Some of CPAs work on this issue

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