By Waruni Karunarathne-
The country has walked five years down the lane after the end of the war. Muslims in the Eastern Province still complain that resettlement and land issues prevail in the area even though the government claims to have completed the process of resettlement in most of the areas. The grave concern of the East where state is alleged to acquire lands belonging to the Muslim people in the area is not a new phenomenon. According to the people in the East, it has been happening for quite sometime even though they expected to resettle in their lands and start their life after the war thus denying their legitimate rights to their lands and disregarding livelihood needs of the people.
Muslims are not resettled
Chairman of the National Front for Good Governance Eng. Abdul Rahman told The Sunday Leader that after the war, there is a visible macro level development happening in the East but at the micro level, the issues faced by people are not being resolved. “For example, the government report says that everything is completed in Batticaloa with regard to the resettlement of Muslims but as a person from Batticaloa I know, there is very little done to support the people to get back to their normal life,” he said. According to him, there are more than 30 villages in Batticaloa district alone which were abandoned during the time of the war but people have been actually resettled in only three or four villages. He added that the resettlement has not taken place except in a few villages after the war and as a result people have not been able to return to their normal life and fulfil their livelihood needs.
Rahman added that the land issue is one of the major problems in entire Eastern Province however it is not intense in Batticaloa district as much as in Trincomalee and Ampara districts. “In Pulmudai there are various instances where the government is trying to take over the land,” he added. He alleged that in the Thorpur area in Trincomalee some people who had been given permits and had been living in those areas for three to five years after the war are now being asked to give back those lands to the state. He also alleged that some farmers in Pothuwil have complained that they had been cultivating more than 500 acres of land in that area since 1976 and now they are being denied access to the land by the government. “Those farmers said that even during the war they had cultivated those lands with great difficulty but now they are being denied to cultivate the land by the government,” he added. He pointed out that when there is a land issue it should be handled by the government through a civil administration mechanism whereas he alleged that at present in the East, the military is involved in the process of acquiring land from the public.
“There have been some cases of positive outcome. In another area in Pothuwil, 17 houses of farmers occupied by the military, after our involvement, the issue was sorted out and finally the government also agreed to pay the rent,” Rahman added. Yet he added that most of the cases are unresolved and therefore there is a dire need of a special mechanism to solve these land issues. The usual bureaucratic way of looking into things would not help under these circumstances. According to Rahman, most of the lands where Muslims were engaged in paddy cultivation from Pothuwil to Pulmudai have been denied access by the government. He claimed that the government is trying to create unwanted issues by asking for various documents and blocking access to their lands.
According to him, Muslim fishermen of an area in Pulmudai have complained that they were denied access to certain areas of the lagoon for fishing whereas other boats were allowed to enter. “Thus people have a feeling that they are being discriminated on the ethnic basis,” he added. He stated that the government has done very little for the people to benefit from the peace at the end of the war. People have not seen improvement in their individual life style. He reiterated that resettlement and land issues have blocked the people from returning to normalcy and start over.
President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council N.M Ameen also highlighted that military occupying the land and many such land issues have become a major problem right now in the East.
According to General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Hasan Ali there are so many government institution involved in grabbing the lands of the Muslims in the East. He alleged that there are instances of Department of Irrigation, Forest Department, Archaeology Department and Security Forces are involved in acquiring the lands belonging to the Muslims without even paying proper compensation.
“For instance, the Security Forces displaced the Ashrof Nagar village and built a camp there. In Valathapitty in Sammanthurai the Irrigation Department has raised the water level of the reservoir which used to store only up to seven feet and as a result about 200 acres of land belonging to the Muslims in the area went under water,” he pointed out.
He also alleged that the Forest Department is claiming land in Pothuwil area. “For last 30 years, people couldn’t go there to cultivate the land because of the war and it became a jungle. So without consulting the people and the divisional secretary of the area the Forest Department has published a gazette claiming those lands as forest reservations,” Ali added. He also claimed that in 1960, the sugar corporation acquired lot of land from Muslims in Higurana without paying compensation.
“The sugar corporation tuned out to be a white elephant and they closed down the factory. They gave those lands to the workers as their compensation without handing back the lands to their original owners. The owners went to court and obtained a court order in favour of them but the court orders were not carried out and the lands have not yet been handed back to the original owners,” he added. Similarly he said that the tile corporation in Werakkaman area was closed down and he was told that some officials have given those lands to private parties for cultivation and they are collecting money from them. Thus he added that many lands that originally belonged to Muslims in the Eastern Province are in question.
Courtesy The Sunday Leader