Douglas accused of illegally occupying property

The people of Jaffna fondly remember going to Sridhar Cinema from the 1970s to the early 1990s. It is located close to the railway crossing on Stanley Road. The majestic building was built by Chelliah Sabaratnam Ratnasabapathy and his wife Mrs. Maheswari Ratnasabapathy around 1974. It became a landmark in Jaffna.

Ratnasabapathy died intestate in 1974 and by presumption the new owners were his widow and children, Ratnasabapathy Mahendraraviraj of Australia, Mrs. Mahendraravirani Dayalakumar, Mrs. Parasakthy Jeganathan, Ratnasabapathy Devarajah and Ratnasabapathy Sridhar, the latter four of the UK.

From on or about 1990 the Sridhar Cinema had to be closed down due to the hostilities in the North. At this time, the Plaintiffs were, as a family, forced to leave their home in Jaffna and migrate overseas.

Douglas Devananda, then a Minister, took over the theatre and ran it as his office and residence. Armed men guarded the place. Ugly political graffiti now adorns the building.

There were news reports that the Australian son came back to claim the building immediately after the war but had been scared off because of physical threats.

Now that law and order has been restored and a better political climate prevails, a lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Jaffna on April 25, 2018 by Ratnasabapathy’s widow and children, praying for: 1) a declaration that they are the joint lawful owners of the theatre; 2) an order that Doulas Devananda be ejected from the theatre and vacant and peaceful possession be granted to the six Plaintiffs; 3) a judgment in a sum of Rs. 75,000 per month commencing from December 1996 as damages against the Devananda together with legal interest thereon until date of decree and thereafter on the aggregate sum until payment in full; and 4) for costs and such other and further reliefs as shall seem meet to the court.

In 1997, says the suit, “with civil administration being restored in the North, the Plaintiffs wanted to reopen the said Sridhar Cinema. However, they became aware at that time that in or around December 1996 the Defendant, together, with the members of his political party, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), had, without their knowledge, leave, or consent, unlawfully and forcibly taken possession of the said premises and had been in illegal and unlawful occupation of the said premises since such time. The Defendant has, together with his political party, been in illegal occupation of the said premises for the past 20 years with no payment of any compensation whatsoever to the Plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs appeared by their registered Attorney-at-Law Kesavan Sayanthan, who is a representative in the Northern Provincial Council.

A resident of the North remarked, “We are at long last seeing the benefits of peace. Our people are no longer fearful of claiming their rights. Rights need to be exercised for them to become real.”

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