By Shaahidah Riza
The natural forestry in the Central Province which was taken over by the former government must be returned to its original form, said the leader of the Jantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Chief Opposition Whip, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, adding that he is of the stand that the lands of the displaced must be given back.
Dissanayake made these comments last Wednesday (28) at a book launch, in relation to the recent controversy which took place in resettling the internally displaced people due to the three decade war back to their villages in the North of the country.
Dissnanayke was the Chief Guest at the book launch, where Professor from the University of Peradeniya, Shahul H. Hasbulla launched his book titled, ‘Denying the Right to Return’ to mark 25 years of the war displaced victims still languishing in IDP camps in Puttalam. The book launch was held under the theme, “25 year commemoration of forcible eviction of the northern Muslim resettlement in Musali south and Wilpattu south,” at the Ministry of Postal Services and Muslim Affairs Auditorium. The event drew a large crowd.
Addressing the audience the author of the book, Prof. Hasbullah said the government’s failed resettlement plan must be seen as a Human Rights issue and not be viewed through an ethnic lens. He added that he had worked on the right to return of all the people of Musali south, which is a multi -ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-linguistic region. In reference to the Wilpattu controversy he said, “I was asked to respond to these. Those who know well about the geography and history know to whom these lands belonged to. Anyone with a basic knowledge of geography will know where the boundaries of Wilpattu end.”
Dissanayake added that the past leaders of the country destroyed the environment rather than utilize it in a manner that would have long term benefits and not create environmental crises plaguing Sri Lanka for the last few years.
“As children we have hardly heard of landslides. Now it is rampant. That is because a good portion of wilderness in the Central Province was acquired by the previous government without adhering to proper procedure. There must be a thorough and well structured national land use policy in Sri Lanka. There are several young people who are getting married and Sri Lanka’s population is increasing. There will not be enough land to accommodate them all, if the government does not give back what they have taken,” he said.
With relation to the land acquired by the government over the last five years he said, “When the lands in the northern region were declared to be part of forestry by the government, certain war-torn lands in Polonnaruwa was also taken. So when the government was cordoning off the lands with fences in Polonnaruwa to keep in line with the Gazette which declared that these were forest, the people were in the houses and they protested. However, when the same was done in Mannar, the original owners were languishing in camps they were not there to protest.”
Dissanayake also added that the displaced have a personal attachment to the lands where they once lived before the war. He remarked further, “Land is not just property; the owners have a relationship with the land. Some lands were acquired by the government to broaden the Navy Camps. Following the end of the war, the boundaries of the lands were not identifiable. Proper procedure was not conducted to remedy this. Instead of settling the original and deserving owners, they settle other people. Not only did they do a wrong thing, they also created dissent and disappointment between the people. So why do we need High Security Zones now? I am of the stand that the lands of these must be given back. If these lands are not demarcated by the government for the principal purpose of resettling the people, then those with power will acquire it. The politicians in the respective areas must not take it upon themselves to do this, as there is a tendency for it to be biased.”
Architect and sustainability consultant, Riza Yehiya, and Peradeniya University lecturer Sumathy Sivamohan presented an analytical and detailed review of the book to the audience.