Rightfully returned | Daily News

Rightfully returned

Title deeds handed over to recipients by President Maithripala Sirisena in March 2015.
Title deeds handed over to recipients by President Maithripala Sirisena in March 2015.

Since the end of the war in May 2009, civilian lands belonging to the people of the North that were taken away from them has been released to them gradually, although for many the process is taking too long. Currently, nine years after the end of the war, keeping in line with the government’s policy of releasing civilians’ land, hitherto used by Jaffna Security Forces, the Sri Lanka Army released a record 683 acres of land in the Thelippalei Divisional Secretariat area to 964 legal owners during a ceremony, held in April under the auspices of the Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake and the District Secretary for Jaffna, NagalingamVedanayaham.

This release of 683 acres which was held under the Palaly Army camp area, the biggest chunk of land released to the Jaffna public on a single day, adds a historic chapter to the government’s ongoing projects of reconciliation and ethnic harmony. All the documents pertaining to the release of lands was symbolically handed over to the District Secretary.

Initially, lands that were outside of the Palali Army Cantonment area. The 51 Division in 2009 had occupied in total 2,692.60 acres of land and since 2009 they have so far released 2,512.16 acres to their rightful owners currently occupying 180.53 acres as at May 20, 2018. The 52 Division in 2009 had occupied in total 10,839.83 acres of land and since 2009 they have so far released 10,665.37 to their rightful owners, currently occupying 174.46 acres as at May 20, 2018. The 55 Division in 2009 had occupied in total 1,821.17 acres of land and since 2009 they have so far released 1,303.00 acres to their rightful owners, currently occupying 518.17 acres as at May 20, 2018. The total extent of land occupied in 2009 by the Jaffna Headquarters was 15,353.69 acres and so far 14,480.53 acres have been released to their rightful owners. The Jaffna Security Force Headquarters currently hold around 873.16 acres for military purposes.

Government-owned lands


Land deeds being handed over to government officials.

In the Palali Army Cantonment area the military had occupied 10632.98 acres in total in 2009 at the end of the war and so far to date, 8550.32 acres have been released to the people. The military currently utilises around 2082.66 acres and according to the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake and the Jaffna Security Force Headquarters Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi, more lands would be released to the people while the military establishments would be located on government-owned lands unless it is strategically important to national security.

Accordingly, the total extent of land occupied in 2009 was around 25,986.67 acres in both within the Palali Army Cantonment and lands occupied by the other divisions. However, from 2009 to date 23,030.85 acres have been released to the people which are around 88.48% of the total land area held by the military at the end of the war in 2009. Currently, the military holds around 2955.82 acres or percentage wise around 11.52% of the lands belonging to the people.

The lands which were held under the Security Forces Jaffna in 2009, was released gradually spread over 20 stages. Most of these lands were held under the high-security zone.

In stage one, 370.65 acres were released to the people on October 28, 2010. In Stage two 1952.13 acres was released on November 27, 2010. In stage three, 1971.9 acres was released on May 9, 2011. Under stage four, 345.94 acres was released to the public on October 6, 2011. Under stage five, 617.76 acres was released to the people on November 29, 2011 in the Thondamannaru area. Under stage six, around 1,000 acres was released to the public on two occasions on March 23, 2015 and April 10, 2015. Then under stage seven, 18.04 acres was released on November 12, 2015. Under stage eight, 712.98 acres was released to the public on January 15, 2016 while under stage nine, on March 10, 2016, 0.67 acres was released. Under stage ten, 6.73 acres was released on March 2, 2016. Under stage eleven, 214.18 acres was released on June 25, 2016. Under stage 12, 499.49 acres was released on October 31, 2016 and another two acres was released under stage 13 on January 14, 2017. Under stage 14, on April 7, 2017, the military released another 33 acres and under stage 15 another 54 acres of land was released on July 03, 2017. Under stage 16 the military released 29 acres on November 30, 2017 and another 683 acres was released under stage 17 on April 13, 2018 and two more acres on February 2018. On May 28, 2018, the military released another 0.25 acres and again on June 4, 2018, 36.6 acres was released. In total, 8550.32 acres have been released so far since 2009. The areas that the lands were released to the public are Kadduwan, Thenmailai, Kurumbasiddy, Kurumbasiddy East, Vasavilan West, Myliddy North, Myliddythurai South, Thaiyiddi North, Palaly South, Palaly East, Palaly North, Palaly North West and Palaly West areas. Currently, the lands still being occupied by the military stands at 3079.4 acres including the 996.74 acres being held by the Sri Lanka Air Force.

The total area occupied by the military in mainland Jaffna including Kayts is 289,612.92 acres, 32,823.60 acres in the nine islands in the Northern region, excluding Kayts and in the Jaffna Peninsula 322,436.52 acres. The total amount of land occupied by the Army in the Palaly Cantonment area is 2082.66 acres. The total land area occupied by the Army in other areas excluding the Palaly Cantonment area is 873.16 acres. The Sri Lanka Navy currently occupies 636 acres while the Sri Lanka Air Force occupies 996.74 acres. The total area utilised by the security forces is 4627.11 acres.

The lands currently being held include the Palaly airfield of the Sri Lanka Air Force of 996.74 sq km. Against the total availability of land in the Northern Peninsula, the security forces occupy around 1.43% of it.

The release of lands was facilitated by the Security Force Headquarters Jaffna (SFHQ-J) under the guidance of Security Force Headquarters - Jaffna Commander Major General Darshana Hettiarachchi and a significant portion of land was released to the people in April this year as a New Year bonanza on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The gesture organised jointly by Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, District Secretariat for Jaffna and the SFHQ-J, was attended by a large gathering of people, including the beneficiaries.

The military had come to an understanding to meet the needs of the people who had lost their lands in the North. Meanwhile, the military has also asked the Rehabilitation Ministry for Rs. 880 million to relocate its military installations in the north and east.

Further, the government also had taken measures to identify lands that belong to people who are overseas and it is said that most of them cannot be located. The authorities are trying to locate these owners and take over their lands legally on rent or lease to be utilised for development.

New beginning

Some of the landowners in the North who fled the country during the war have now returned only to find their lands being occupied by other parties who lay claim to these lands. Speaking to the Daily News a Jaffna resident who preferred to be referred to as Ravi said that his family had a land of around five acres in Jaffna, but when he had returned in 2010, he found that this land was being occupied by another party who had claimed this land as theirs.

Having contacted these occupants he had even offered to pay them a substantial sum as compensation. However, not being able to resolve the matter amicably, he had to seek justice through courts and the case has been dragging on since 2011 for which he has had to pay a substantial amount of money. He now wonders if the whole exercise is worth it, as he definitely has no intention of settling down in Jaffna again.

The TNA has been agitating for a long time about the releasing of lands to the civilians which are being held by the military and the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is of the view that the lands should be released to the people without further delay and they too deserve to return to their lands and commence their lives, which is still in limbo nine years since the war had ended.

The Jaffna Security Force Headquarters Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi said while the rest of the country has resumed their lives and have left the pain of war far behind, being nine years since it ended, some are still suffering in IDP camps, which is definitely not fair. “Some of these innocent people have been living in IDP camps for over 28 years and they too have a right to return to their lands and rebuild their lives and live a normal life. It is not fair to allow them to suffer any further while the majority of the country has long forgotten the effects of the war.” 


 

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