Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesNewsGovt to withdraw controversial land circular and present new circular

Govt to withdraw controversial land circular and present new circular

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”The challenged circular provides that competing claims to state lands in the North and East would be decided by two Committees of Inquires and special mediation boards. The committees include military personnel in their membership, such as the Area Civil Coordinating Officer and a representative of the relevant Security Commander. Nominees of the police or of the three armed forces are appointed to an Observation Committee, which is established to assist the Committees of Inquiry.”

The writ application filed by TNA National List M.P., M.A Sumanthiran challenging the Land Circular (2011/04) was taken up today (19th January 2012) in the Court of Appeal.

Ms. Murdu Fernando, DSG appearing for the Respondents gave an undertaking to withdraw the Land Circular and informed Court that a new circular will be issued and presented to Court.

Mr. K. Kanag-Isvaran (P.C), and Attorneys-at-Law Viran Corea, Bhavani Fonseka and Gehan Gunatilleke appeared for the Petitioner and were instructed by Moahan Balendra.

Context of the Land Circular and reasons for Challenge

The circular exclusively dealt with land in the Northern and Eastern provinces. It temporarily suspended all distribution of land in the North and East unless lands are distributed for national security and special development projects, and provides for the settlement of disputes relating to state land. The circular also required all persons in the North and East, including private landowners, to submit ‘ownership application forms’ disclosing all details of their land.

Under the circular, all landowners of the North and East, including private land owners such as the petitioner were required to furnish details to the relevant Divisional Secretary or Assistant Government Agent, through the Grama Niladari, within two months. The Land Settlement Department thereafter issued a public notice requiring all landowners in the Northern and Eastern provinces to submit their details on or before 20th November 2011.

The Petition stated that the provisions of the Registration of Title Act No. 21 of 1998 have not been complied with. For instance, no cadastral surveys have been conducted in the Northern Province prior to issuing the public notice calling for details on private lands. The consequences of not furnishing such details are unknown. Hence private landowners of the North and East stand to lose title to their lands if they fail to furnish details within two months.

The challenged circular provides that competing claims to state lands in the North and East would be decided by two Committees of Inquires and special mediation boards. The committees include military personnel in their membership, such as the Area Civil Coordinating Officer and a representative of the relevant Security Commander. Nominees of the police or of the three armed forces are appointed to an Observation Committee, which is established to assist the Committees of Inquiry.

The petitioner argued that the actions of the respondents are unreasonable, capricious, irrational, unfair, arbitrary and ultra vires, and cause serious irremediable loss, harm, damage and prejudice to the petitioner and to the people of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

The new circular thus seriously compromised and eroded the rule of law and adherence to constitutional provisions including Articles 4(c) and 105, which vests the judicial power of the people in the courts, and provides that all courts, tribunals and institutions involved in the settlement of disputes ought to be established by Parliament.

The Land Circular is merely an administrative circular issued by the Land Commissioner General, who has no apparent authority in law to issue such a circular. (Text of a Press Release )
19 January 2012,
TC

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