- Spolight On Navy….
by Hafsa Sabry
The armed forces occupied many properties in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country during and after the civil war. The former government with its powerful politicians, allegedly encouraged the process of illegally ‘grabbing’ land in the North and East during its tenure.
The issue of encroaching into public lands has still not been addressed by the relevant authorities, even after the change of government last year. One of the election pledges by the government of good governance was to release properties forcibly occupied by the forces.
Some people affected by the war live in refugee camps. The Ministry of Defence and the Sri Lankan Navy are now accused of attempting to construct a ‘navy camp’ in the public land comprising 617 acres of land in Mullaitivu. They claim that a navy camp is indeed required as a means of ‘national security.’
People were not allowed to enter the place as the Navy and the forces have built fences and boundaries along the borders the land they have occupied.
Some of the villagers who resided in these areas before the civil war have lost their documents of ‘ownership’ to the place whilst others have them in their possession.
However, the land in question seems to be occupied by the Navy who claim that it does not belong to the people.
When the ‘land owners’ claimed that such a large amount of land was not required to build a navy camp in the north, a group of people is attempting to encroach into their lands while obstructing them. Officials said that the government would take over the land if it decides to but, a decision is yet to be arrived regarding the issue. They also said that the government would compensate the people with land or money if the land will be taken over by the Navy to which the land owners expressed concern claiming that they are not ready to give away their properties.
“If the government will compensate the people with land they will have to deforest some of the natural reservoirs and forests to replace them which is a threat to the environment of the island,” said the Director for the Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) Ravindra Kariyawasam.
He also stressed the point that the government should also consider the people who still live in refugee camps even after the war without any land on their own.
“The Navy Camp that is expected to be constructed comprises approximately 617 acres of land which will be extended from the Vattuval Bridge in Mullaitivu to Pudukkudirippu town from one side and from Nandikadal lagoon to the beach from the other side,” said the officials of Northern Provincial Council (NPC).
Waiting for ownership
The Sunday Leader contacted the Chairman of the NPC to find out as to whom the land in Mullaitivu belongs. Responding to questions Kandhaiya Sivagnanam said the government is expecting documents of ownership from the people who left their native places with empty hands during the civil war.
“This seems to be unfair and it is indeed ‘private property’ which belongs to people as far as I know hence, the land should be given to the public and not the Sri Lankan Navy,” he added.
People were unaware of what had happened to the land. Recently they came to know that the Navy is planning to construct a ‘base’ or a camp in the land to which the people claim the ownership whilst the Navy and the Ministry of Defence say the land in Mullaitivu belongs to the government and not to the people.
The Navy forcibly occupied the land during and after the war and claims the ownership of the land. However, the government should consider the people who lived there for generations before arriving at a final decision whether to hand it over to the public or to the Navy, he further noted.
“It was a fact that none was able to question the Navy or the Army about the lands which were occupied forcibly by them during the former regime, but as the new government promised to release the land that belongs to people in the Northern Province, we hope the government will find a sustainable solution for the issue,” he said.
At a discussion held recently with the NPC, the people who claim ownership of the land in Mullaitivu said that the government should hand over the land to the people as they now need properties and residences to live in.
“We were not aware of what the government would do with the land occupied by the Sri Lanka Navy in Mullaitivu. We know that they will construct a Navy Camp here and we request that the government gives the lands to their legitimate owners,” said Sivagnanam.
No decision yet
The Navy Media Spokesperson Captain Akram Alavi speaking to The Sunday Leader said that a decision on the issue is yet to be taken by the Ministry of Defence. “The Ministry will compensate the people if the Navy continues to occupy the land but final decisions are yet to be made at the discussions which will conclude shortly. We have been occupying the land in Mullaitivu since 2008 and no one opposed this or claimed for ownership. The protests started recently claiming that those who own the land have no proper documents to prove their ownership,” he added.
He went on to say that only three or four families have documents to prove that the land belongs to them. Therefore, the decision of whether the land will be given to the people or the Navy will be discussed at the discussions with the Ministry of Defence.
He also stated that the construction or the extension of a Navy Camp will be decided by the Ministry and not by the Sri Lankan Navy. Hence, the Navy is not competent to answer any questions on this issue.
Therefore, The Sunday Leader contacted the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who told The Sunday Leader that the land belongs to the government and the Navy camp has been there for a long time.
He also said the people who claim that the land belongs to them do not have any documents to prove their ownership and they are merely ‘occupiers’ and not the owners of the land in question.
“Before we come to a final decision on this issue we need to consider the fact that the country needs a Navy camp for national security and the people who claim have no appropriate documents. All what they say is incorrect,” he added.
He also said a decision on this issue will be taken in the next two to-three weeks.