By Camelia Nathaniel and Waruni Karunarathne
The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) passed two resolutions last week – one demanding that the Security Forces (SF) vacate all privately owned lands and houses in the province by the end of the year, and the other, demanding that the government hands over to the provinces, powers over land, as per the 13 Amendment (13A) of the Constitution.
The resolutions were passed with all the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members voting in favour. However, the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) had abstained from voting on the resolution seeking vacation of lands by the SF but voted for the one demanding land powers for the provinces.
In the day-long debate, TNA members presented their estimates of the lands and houses held by the SF in their areas. Finally, the Chairman of the Council, C.V.K. Sivagnanam, announced that a total of 67,000 acres of cultivable land are under the control of the SF which needs to be vacated by the end of the year.
At its last convention, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) had threatened to launch a peaceful agitation if the Mahinda Rajapaksa government does not meet the demands of the Tamils. The ITAK is the single largest constituent of the TNA, and occupies the largest number of seats in the NPC.
Talking to visiting journalists last week, the Northern Province’s Agriculture Minister, P. Ayngaranesan, blamed “land grabbing” by the Security Forces for the sluggish revival of agriculture in the war-battered province.
“The war ended five years ago, but we have not achieved even 50 per cent of our potential due to various impediments put on our path by Colombo,” he said.
Accusing the Security Forces of grabbing cultivable land, Aygaranesan said that, in the Jaffna District alone, over 6,300 acres of cultivable, privately-owned land had been taken over by the Security Forces . In Kilinochchi, of the 441 acres in the seed farm, only 31 acres had been handed over to the NPC. The In-service Agricultural Training Institute at Iranamadu is still with the army. Several model farms set up by the LTTE in Velankulam in Mannar and in Theravil and Keppaapilavu in the Mullaitivu District, are with the army. Sixty five acres of irrigated land in Mullaitivu are still under army occupation.
Apart for taking over land to establish camps and cantonments, the Security Forces are also cultivating lands and marketing the produce at cheaper rates, thus driving local farmers out of the market, the Minister charged. India had gifted 400 Mahindra tractors to Northern farmers, but these were taken away by Central authorities for use elsewhere, or were simply left to rust, he further charged.
To top it all, the subject “Agrarian Services” had been taken away from the provinces, and attached to the Economic Development Ministry under Basil Rajapaksa, he pointed out. In the kachcheris in the districts, there is a central agriculture director who has more powers than the officials of the Provincial Agriculture Department, Ayngaranesan complained.
However, S. Thavarajah, Leader of the Opposition, told the Council that the TNA is approaching the issue of SF occupying land “emotionally” and not with “facts and figures.” Giving the actual situation, Thavarajah said that in the Jaffna District, the total extent of land is 983.60 sq km or 242,506 acres. In 2009, at the end of the war, the SF had been occupying 126.03 sq km or 31,091 acres. Out of this, 64 sq km or 15,688 acres was located in the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ) in Valikamam North. Totally, the SF and the police were holding 12.8 per cent of the land in the Jaffna District. In addition to lands, the SF and police were occupying 1,120 houses.
In the five years, the Security Forces and police had released 70.95 sq km or 17,503 acres. Of these, 37 sq km or 9,138 acres were in the HSZ.
Presently, the security forces and police are holding 55.08 sq km or 13,588 acres. This accounts for only 5.6 per cent of the total land area in the Jaffna District. Of the 1,120 houses, 647 had been released, Thavarjah said. As per the figures given by TNA councillors, in the Mullaitivu District, the SF is occupying 34,180 acres or 5.5 per cent of the total land area of 620,919 acres. In the Mannar District, the SF is occupying 4.53 per cent of the total land area of 491,180 acres. The Council was told that in the Northern Province as a whole, 67,000 acres are in the occupation by the security forces and the police. Assuming that this is accurate, out of a total land area of 2,108,128 acres, only 3.18 per cent is in the possession of the forces and the police. Thavarajah argued that this is “negligible” and cannot be an impediment to agricultural development.
In the Wanni, however, 90 per cent of the land is Crown or State land and people have to hold government permits to cultivate these lands. The legal ownership is with the State. Here the government can acquire land for public purposes without much difficulty. The security forces, meanwhile, said they are in the process of identifying genuine cases of private land claims in the Northern Province, and had assured that the lands will be handed over to the people with genuine claims.
In response to the resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council recently, Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera toldThe Sunday Leader that, the security forces are not occupying any of the private lands.
“We are occupying the lands that the LTTE had occupied. There are incidents where the LTTE had purchased some of these lands from the people. And there are incidents where the LTTE had taken over the lands forcibly,” he added. According to him, the security forces are in a process of identifying the genuine claims of the people and would hand over the lands if their claims are true.
He added that it is the convention of any army in the world to confiscate lands or any property belonging to terror groups once the security forces overrun the areas occupied by the terror groups.
Wigi boycotts Jaffna meetNorthern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, on Friday, announced that he will boycott the District Development Meeting in Jaffna tomorrow which is to be attended by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wigneswaran had been invited by the President to attend the meeting when the latter visits the North. In a letter to the President, a copy of which was made available to the media on Friday, Wigneswaran said the Northern Provincial Council was not consulted or informed of the agenda of the meeting.
He says it would be inappropriate for him to attend the meeting as well as other “politically motivated” meetings in the Northern Province, particularly when in reality, the NPC and the Tamil speaking people continue to be marginalized.