Tamil dairy farmers in Batticaloa protest against alleged land grabbing by the Sinhalese on September 15, 2023.
Elected representatives of the Tamils have slammed the Sri Lankan government for duplicity, accusing it of speaking about making two million people as land owners while attempts to grab Tamil lands in the North and East continue, and plantation owners opposing land ownership for upcountry Tamils.
Delivering the statement of policy at the inauguration of the 5th session of the 9th Parliament of Sri Lanka, the President announced plans to distribute land under the ‘Urumaya’ programme hailing it as ‘historic and a revolutionary’.
“The British colonial government, through the Waste Lands Act in 1897, deprived people of their land rights, a grievance unaddressed by subsequent post-independence administrations. We have initiated the process of granting them land rights, which is set to benefit over two million people. Enlisting two million new landowners into our society marks a historic and a revolutionary stride—an honour to the enduring struggles of farmers striving for self-sufficiency in rice production,” said President Wickremesinghe.
Joining the debate on the policy statement, Vanni district MP Charles Nirmalanathan told the Parliament that the Forest Department is attempting to grab agricultural lands in Mannar district while the President is speaking about land ownership.
“In the Thiruketheeswarar village, the Forest Department claims ownership of private lands and is attempting to install identification stones. While the President spoke proudly in Parliament about handing over land rights to the public, the Forest Department is attempting to grab the private agricultural lands of the people in Mannar. This was halted temporarily after the strong opposition from the people''.
He further pointed out that the President and the officials are taking divergent stands on the release of lands and the President not paying proper attention in this regard is questionable.
At the same time, a Cabinet member in the Wickremesinghe government accused the estate companies of opposing the granting of land rights to people in the plantation sector.
“Estate companies say they are opposing land ownership to the plantation people. They say if land rights are granted then there won’t be people to work in the plantations. How can we develop the country with such parties?,” asked Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development Jeevan Thondaman.
In his speech at the Parliament, Minister Thondaman revealed that the plantation companies expressed their opposition to land ownership during a discussion at the Prime Minister's Secretariat on land rights
The Minister added that he pointed out in the meeting that even the 10% of uncultivable land out of the forty thousand hectares in the plantations would be sufficient to grant land rights to estate workers.