By M.A. Sumanthiran –
The Bill that has been presented in the preamble says that first, it is in furtherance of the development policies being promoted by the Government and in the backdrop of a globally integrated environment that it is deemed expedient and necessary to ensure the prudent use of land which is a limited resource. Now this ideal is most welcome and the Bill as a whole, or at least in the direction that it moves, is a welcome one. But there are several inadequacies in this; several shortcomings in this. During the course of my speech I will endeavour to identify some of those. The second preamble talks about the National Policy: “and whereas it is the National Policy to regulate the use of lands”. I want to pause there for a moment. To declare National Policy under the Constitution, particularly that of land, is not left to the Government. If one looks at Appendix 2 to the Constitution, there should be a National Land Commission. But there is no National Land Commission. This Appendix was brought in 1987, but to date, there is no National Land Commission. The Government is presenting bills boldly stating that it is the National Policy – and states something as the National Policy – which is contrary to the provisions in the Constitution which declares how the National Policy on land use must be formulated. Firstly there must be a National Land Commission, which is not there. Secondly, it says once the National Land Commission is established, it would be the responsibility of that Land Commission to formulate the National Policy. So it is not up to the Cabinet of Ministers who sanctioned this Bill and presented it through one of their Members to this House. It must be the National Land Commission that must formulate the National Policy on land. So there is a very serious breach here of the provisions of the Constitution.
Then it says this Commission will include representatives of all Provincial Councils in the island. That is what the Constitution lays down and in item 3.4 it says in the exercise of the powers devolved on them the powers shall be exercised by the Provincial Councils having due regard to the National Policy formulated by the National Land Commission. So the Constitution is quite clear as to who formulates National Policy on Land and as to who exercises those powers that are devolved on the Provincial Councils in accordance with the National Policy that has been formulated. The Government is observing this wholly in the breach.
The Hon. Member when he spoke before me referred to the 20,000 deeds and permits that were distributed recently in Kilinochchi with much fanfare. The procedure adopted for identifying the recipients on that occasion was wholly opposed to the procedure laid down in the Constitution. That is another one of those instances that we can identify as an intentional violation of the Constitution which in fact is an impeachable offence. I identified some provisions as to who can exercise these powers. It is the Provincial Council that can exercise these powers. I read the provisions in the Constitution. It must be in accordance with the National Land Policy but that National Land Policy must be formulated by the National Land Commission and there is no National Land Commission. That has not been appointed. But it’s not only that. One goes through the procedure that has been laid down with regard to State Land. In Appendix 2…item 1.3 says alienation or disposition of State Land within a province to any citizen or to any organization shall be by the President on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council in accordance with the laws governing the matter. No doubt it is the President who can alienate State Land. The final act of alienation rests entirely with the President, under his hand and with the seal of the Republic. But he does that only on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council in accordance with the laws governing the matter and that is the Constitution. That is the provision in the Constitution I just read in Appendix 2, item 1.3. Now this is being breached, and the Hon. Member had the temerity to ask me why we were not present. We were not present on an occasion when the laws of the land were being breached willy nilly; when the Constitution itself was being breached. When the Provincial Council had nothing to do with picking the recipients or even advising His Excellency as to how this should happen…(interruption)
…I’m broadly, as I said, in agreement with the sentiments in the Bill here although there are serious shortcomings which I will identify. But we do have a situation. We have a much bigger problem with regard to land alienation to the citizens of this country. There is a problem with regard to alienation to foreigners. That must be curbed. That must be restricted, and we welcome your efforts in that direction. We wish more can be done in this. But while you exercise caution with regard to land that can be owned by persons who are not citizens of this country, why don’t you follow the laws with regard to alienation of land to your own citizens?…
Hon. Minister if you listen to my speech you will understand why I am opposing. I’m not opposed to land being given to Tamil people, or Sinhala people or Muslim people. I want land to be given to all the Peoples of this country. I want land to be given to all the citizens of this country. But I want that to be done in accordance with the law, not at the whim and fancy of somebody. There is a law in this country. If there is a law in this country – and I’m quoting from the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Country – and you can’t say one word in defence of the accusation that I’m making. There was no advice from the Provincial Council. What can you say about that? (interruption)…
Min. Sarath Amunugama: My good friend has raised a question to which he himself knows the answer. If there’s any piece of legislation which is ultra vires the Constitution…
No, I’m not talking about this Bill….
…I’ve raised the question of 20,000 land permits and deeds that were given without the advice of the Provincial Council. Can you give me an answer to that?…so answer that…why don’t you answer that?…I’ll give way to you, answer that question. You have no answer. You have no answer…..
….so you are conceding now… that those 20,000 deeds and permits have been given unlawfully. There was no exercise of the provisions of the Constitution…
…Min. Sarath Amunugama: I’m not responsible for what you’re saying about 20,000 deeds and permits. Under a different procedure in Parliament we can discuss.
I’m happy with that answer, that you’re not responsible for that. I’m happy with that answer, thank you…
Land owners prevented from using their land
…We are concerned with large tracts of land that already belong to the citizenry of this country who have private deeds and who can’t go back to their land….
…There is identified 67,000 acres – 67,000 acres – of land that is not being allowed to be utilized by persons who are owners of that land. Now that is something that we are more concerned about and I’ll cite areas in which this continues to happen. In the Trincomalee District most recently I myself went and saw – in two areas, in Kanguvali and in Thennanmaravady where people who have cultivated those lands, and who were displaced, who have come back and started cultivation are being prevented from cultivating their lands. Now the Government officials are blocking, are taking sides with others, and not allowing even permit holders – even permit holders – to cultivate those lands. In the Amparai District, Pottuvil West, Palaiyadivettai, Karunankoovai area, again 251 farmers are affected. They were given permits. From 1976 onwards they have been cultivating. Most of them are Muslims. They have continued to cultivate, with a short interruption, but from 1996 to 2011 they have cultivated those lands. Now they are being prevented. They are being prevented by Government officials. There is a letter from the Government Agent and from the Divisional Secretary of Laugala who have said that they cannot cultivate those lands and they have been forcibly stopped from cultivating those lands….why is this happening? Why is it happening in Thennanmaravady? Why is it happening in Kanguveli? Why is it happening in Paalaiyadivettai where Tamil and Muslim farmers – I’m ashamed to identify their races – but that is what is happening…
Hon. Minister Sarath Amunugama: It is quite possible that there are administrative problems that have arisen. But it is your duty to bring it to the Consultative Committee and officials will be there who will give an answer.
We have. We have brought it.
Min. Sarath Amunugama: You’re assuming – I want to say this – you’re assuming a mala fide on the part of Government. There’s no such thing.
Hon. Minister, if it was one isolated incident in one part I will not assume any such Government policy. But if it is from the Northern part of the Eastern Province to the Southern most part of the Eastern province and if it is happening only to the Tamil and Muslim farmers then I certainly have the right to suspect that there is some kind of policy that is being implemented. That is why I identified areas from the North to the South of the Eastern Province.
Min. Sarath Amunugama: Please answer this question. Have you raised this matter as a National List MP with the Administrative Authority?
Yes. We have raised it.
Min. Sarath Amunugama: So what is the reply?
We have not got any reply. We have raised it, we have not got any reply. But I’m raising it in Parliament because it’s a very serious issue….I have a whole file full of letters that have been written. This issue has been raised. There has been no response to that. And so I’m asking the question: is there something that is going on in stealth, because this is happening not in one place but in several places, particularly in the Eastern Province.
Now I’ll come to the Northern Province. I said in the Northern province there is 67,000 acres of land where most of it is not State land. Most of it is private land that is held on private deeds and those people are unable to go. Hon. Member of Hambantota from the UNP raised the issue of a golf course somewhere in Moneragala. Now the same type of golf course is there in the Northern Province also – in Valikamam North. 350 acres taken for a golf course for security forces when 7 or 8 villages as a whole have not been able to resettle in that area and they are still living in what is called welfare centers – basically displaced camps. Now why is this happening?
(Referring to Land Alienation Bill) You say you are doing this to protect the rights of the citizen to own land and that you do not want the rights of the citizen to own land taken away by foreign companies and foreigners coming and buying up all this land. That’s a welcome notion. But what about those who already own lands? Already have permits? Merely because they do not belong to one particular community are they to suffer this ignominy of living in welfare centres for 24, 25 years while the land that they cultivated – land that came from several ancestors of theirs is used for golf courses and tennis courts and swimming pools of the military who claim that it to be taken for security purposes? What is the security purpose in swimming pools and tennis courts there? You don’t see a dichotomy here? You don’t see a problem here? With all of this you’re presenting a Bill on the basis that the rights of the citizen to own land must be protected.
…the issue that I want to raise is with regard to the large latitude that has been given to lands that have been identified under the Strategic Development Act. This is where there is opportunity for a large amount of corruption. If you lay down a particular policy and state the law the law must be very clear….
…What is identified as a Strategic Development Project is presented before Parliament and approval is sought. So that comes up for debate. But which of that the two ministers will exempt from the provisions of Section 2 is left to them…on the ground we have seen grave abuse of these discretionary powers that are being given. This does not say that automatically when an industry or an enterprise is identified under the Strategic Development Act that it’ll be exempt from Section 2. It does not say that. It gives to the two ministers concerned the discretion to identify which of those will be exempt from Section 2 and which will not be…
…You’re opening this to grave abuse. And I’m saying this most responsibly. I’m not about to pronounce on this, but the whole country knows the level of corruption in this country today. The whole country knows where that level of corruption is. Whether it’s at the bottom level where some peon is taking Rs. 50/- – no, that is not what is happening in this country. It’s the opposite that is happening. The corruption is at the highest level. When that is the case, giving discretions to higher officials and personalities like this will exacerbate the situation not combat (it)…(interruption)
….that is the other thing. You make the Court independent and we will go and challenge it and have an independent decision. You pack it with your people and expect us to go to Court. That you can’t do. And then sanctimoniously preach to us to go to Court.
Hon. Min. Sarath Amunugama: That is the attitude of the Supreme Court of this Country?
Of course. What do you mean? That is what the people of this country and elsewhere know that Court to be.
*M.A. Sumanthiran on the land alienation bill – extracts of speech in parliament on 20th october 2014