Image from the cover page of the report.
The previous government’s Urban Regeneration Programme (URP), which is being continued by the present Government, aims to beautify the city and create a slum-free capital has, resulted in large scale eviction and relocation of working class poor away from the city center, says a report by Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).
The report says that the rushed evictions under the previous regime paid scant regard to the rights of affected persons and to the practical impact of evictions on their lives including lack of access to services, loss of shared community, increase in physical and material vulnerability, disruption of education and loss or reduction in livelihood options.
There is no official data available on evictions from 2010 – end 2014. But according to the Urban Development Authority (UDA) website states that approximately 5000 persons have been relocated to date.
The report further says:
“The lack of transparency and accountability is an overriding concern. The difficulties of obtaining information and in the language of the person affected and misinformation in attempts to prejudice the rights and interest of the affected family, continue to be the main areas of dispute with the Urban Development Authority. On the substantive questions involved there is a clear lack of state policy that accounts for and seeks to serve the interests of those affected. The lack of such policies compound problems arising out of a state- centric understanding of eminent domain, an expanding ‘public purpose’ in state acquisitions of land and the entrenched vulnerabilities of affected persons. ”
Report provides set of recommendations to address the issues outlined in the 38 page report.
In the immediate term:
1. Initiate a thorough review of the Urban Regeneration Project to ensure that communities are substantially better off in all respects and attain higher living standards rather than just acquire newly built apartments in high-rises. The procedures to achieve these objectives must be aligned with national and international standards and policies to safeguard the rights of those affected.
2. Make public all the documents and information related to the Urban Regeneration Project in Colombo, especially all aspects pertaining to:
– Acquisition of lands and resettlement including results of surveys, sites identified for redevelopment, demarcations of private and state land, as well as scheduling of proposed acquisition and relocation
– Agreements with private developers from Sri Lanka and abroad to build resettlement housing or to develop lands taken from communities.
3. Take immediate measures to redress grievances of specific affected communities, in
– Ensure that Mews Street residents who were forcibly evicted in 2010 are given compensation for their previous home and the grievances caused in the 6 years following their eviction.
– Provide written guarantees for grant of in-situ housing to all Kompannyaveediya (Slave Island) residents whose lands have been taken for the TATA Project; and to those who chose compensation instead of in-situ housing, ensure immediate payment of the same at fair and accurate market rates.
– Together with the Education Ministry, resolve the school admission issue faced by many residents living in the high-rise, where they are unable to get adequate marks for the school of their choice due to their new location.
For the longer term
1.The Policy Principles of the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy must be reviewed, brought up to date with national and international standards and be enshrined in law and made applicable to all future instances of land acquisitions involving relocation.
2. Explore all possible options with regard to housing of low-income communities, including and especially in-situ redevelopment and upgrading, to eliminate and minimise involuntary resettlement.
3. Enshrine in law the best principles of the National Housing Policy and adopt a consultative, participatory and bottom–up process for providing housing for the urban poor. The NHP calls for “families who are able to build their own houses to be directly assisted by way of regularizing the land, providing basis (sic) amenities and releasing housing assistance on concessionary interest rates with necessary technical guidance.” It also specifically calls for “[s]trengthening community based organizations to promote community participation in housing development and guiding poor communities on decision making processes.
Read the full report as a PDF:Evictions in depth report cover – The-Making-of-a-World-Class-City_Final”