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Mahaweli farmers ‘crippled’ by alleged land scams

4 July 2023 04:22 am – 1      – 104

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Nawamedigama Mahaweli Office
pix by samantha perera

 

  • The majority of the eligible individuals are yet to receive lands allocated to them in the Mahaweli C zone
  • Farmers state that the Mahaweli officials are unwilling to grant them land
  • It’s alleged that land deals carried out within the Mahaweli C Zone are associated with bribery in the form of monetary and sexual favours

 

It has been reported that there have been numerous irregularities in the allocation of land to farmers in the Mahaweli C zone in Dehiattakandiya. In 2017 a land kachcheri was held to provide lands to the second generation of the farming class residing on the lands of the original farmers in the Mahaweli C zone. This auction focused on the Mahaweli C zone. Many individuals who were eligible to acquire land had participated in the auction and out of them 136 were deemed eligible based on their scores. However, it has been revealed that the majority of the eligible individuals are yet to receive lands allocated to them in the Mahaweli C zone.

 

It had been decided to allocate 20 perches of land through this land kachcheri. However, this newspaper has received information that the eligible individuals didn’t receive the land, but others did. The residents of Giradurukotte, Siripura, Ratmalkandiya, Medagampitiya, Paragaswewa, Kudawawa, Pihitiwewa, Nuwaragala, Kadanwatta, Yakambe, Veerana, Kashyapura, Upper Yakkure, Rankethgama, DamaneVawa, Ulpatwewa, Kandegama, Damminna, Kudagala, Dehiattakandiya, Navagahaela, Navamadagama, Kandakaduwa, and Kalukele were deemed eligible to receive second-generation land. However the farmers stated that the Mahaweli officials were unwilling to grant them the land. The Mahaweli project was established to support the development of farmers. However, at present the Mahaweli farmers are not receiving the lands. Farmers also claimed that several Mahaweli officials have distributed the land among themselves. Furthermore, the farmers accused Mahaweli officials of constructing buildings on these lands and charging exorbitant rent. Additionally, there is information indicating that certain individuals have sold the land to purchase vehicles. In the Siripura Mahaweli Division, a Land Officer allegedly received support from a powerful minister in the North Central Province to secure a promotion and prevent a transfer. Reports suggest that in return government land blocks have been allocated to the secretaries of the relevant minister.

 

“This land officer deceived not only me, but also a significant number of deserving farmers who were entitled to second-class land in the Mahaweli C Zone. The majority of individuals who were eligible to receive land through the Land Kachcheri currently do not possess any land. Those who have applied for licenses are still awaiting their issuance”
– W.A Samantha Gunarathne (Farmer) 

 

Farmers or second-generation individuals are facing delays in obtaining land, licences, or deeds. Some farmers in the Mahaweli C zone have waited for 25-30 years without receiving the necessary licences for the land or paddy land they have received. However, the farmers have evidence to show that Mahaweli officials are allocating plots of land among themselves.

The second-generation individuals who participated in the land Kachcheri, but did not receive land to build their houses, approached then President Maithripala Sirisena in 2019 due to the absence of solutions. On December 5, 2019, the President’s Secretariat dispatched a letter, numbered PS/CoS/08/14/02, to the Residential Enterprise Manager of the Mahaweli C Zone. The letter requested attention to the farmers’ concerns and appropriate action to address the situation. This newspaper encountered a young farmer named W.A Samantha Gunarathne who stood up against the prevailing inequity because the majority of deserving individuals did not receive land.

Gunaratne, residing at No. 236/A Paranagama, Medagama, submitted a request to the Resident Manager of Mahaweli C Zone, as per the letter from the former president asking for the land allocated to him through the land kachcheri. Consequently, on September 20, 2019, 17 perches of land were allocated to him under land licence number 246609. This particular piece of land was owned by the Mahaweli Authority and was identified as plot number 4768, located adjacent to the Navamadagama Divisional Office.

However due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gunarathne was unable to commence any development activities on the land. During this period, another individual named Ashokamala Rajapaksa, residing at No. 19, Paranagama, Nawamadagama, received not only a land licence, but also a deed for the same land that was allocated to Gunarathne. This transfer took place on May 20, 2020.

 

The threshing floor owned by the farmers’ association 

Farmers deceived 

“Following the Covid-19 pandemic, when I went to develop the land, the Mahaweli Land Officer of this province- at that time- informed me that my licence had been given to someone else. He promised to provide me with an alternative plot of land; stating that the previous licence had been issued for the culvert in that location. He once again promised to give me another plot of land. This land officer deceived not only me, but also a significant number of deserving farmers who were entitled to second-class land in the Mahaweli C Zone. The majority of individuals who were eligible to receive land through the Land Kachcheri currently do not possess any land. Those who have applied for licenses are still awaiting their issuance. When I requested for another plot of land a different location was shown to me, but I am yet to receive it. Subsequently, I was informed that the land would be granted through the physical committee. I brought this matter to the attention of the current President and the Minister of Mahaweli. However, they have not taken any action to provide land. Currently, an investigation is being conducted by the Giradurukotte Divisional Office regarding this issue. I hope at least that would bring relief to those who have been denied land allocation,” Gunarathne added.

He also said that Mahaweli Ministers Maithripala Sirisena and Nimal Siripala de Silva appointed individuals as Mahaweli officials and they are still in service within the area. “These officials have not been transferred or assigned duties outside of the Mahaweli B and C zones. If any of these individuals are involved in land scams or other fraudulent activities, what would happen is a reshuffling of personnel between the B and C zones. Land transaction files are either taken by them or hidden. The newly appointed officials are unable to resolve the ongoing land issues, as they claim that the former officers would soon return to address the problems. However, when the former officer returns land scams continue,” said Gunerathne. These practices are well known secrets within the Dehiattakandiya and Nawamadagama areas. According to Gunerathne, even young children are aware of the corrupt practices carried out by these officials.

 

“There is a risk of Mahaweli lands, originally designated to farmers, now falling into the hands of businessmen,”
–  S.M Thilakaratne Secretary of D3 Paranagama Farmers’ Organization 

 

 

 

 

Furthermore, he revealed that it is alleged that land deals carried out within the Mahaweli C Zone are associated with bribery in the form of monetary and sexual favours. “In a recent incident, a Mahaweli officer who had obtained land through such illicit means was publicly assaulted by his own relatives. A land kachcheri was held to distribute land to government officials. However, it remains unknown whether they have actually received the allocated lands. Plots of land situated in front of the Nawamadagama Divisional Office and the Nawamadagama Industrial area water pumping station were intended for government officials,” he added. Gunarathne further said that a thorough investigation is needed to determine the actual recipients of these lands and that will prove his claim.

Regarding the lands that have reportedly been fraudulently sold and are currently occupied by other individuals, the original information and ownership information and how these lands were acquired by the current occupants, this newspaper made a request to Mahaweli C Zone Resident Enterprise Manager Noel Jayasiri under the Right to Know Act. Additionally, we also inquired about the circumstances under which the lands intended for government employees through the Land Kachcheri ended up in the possession of others. This request was handed over to Officer M.G.K Ramyalatha at the Dehiattakandiya Mahaweli C Zone Office on June 7, 2023.

D3 Paranagama Farmers’ Organization Secretary S.M Thilakaratne said that the lands assigned to Mahaweli farmers for establishing farmers’ organization offices and Kamathas (threshing floors) have been unlawfully seized by other individuals with the involvement of certain Mahaweli officials who have allowed these actions to take place. “There is a risk of Mahaweli lands, originally designated to farmers, now falling into the hands of businessmen,” he added.

 

“I am really sorry about these incidents. Farmers have been treated unfairly. It has been two months since I assumed this position and I am working on finding a solution to this problem,”
-M. P. Dharmasiri Divisional Manager of Navamedagama Mahaweli Divisional Office 

 

 

This newspaper then approached Navamadagama Mahaweli Divisional Office Divisional Manager M. P. Dharmasiri to talk about the allegations made by the Nawamadagama farmers against the Mahaweli officials. In response, Dharmasiri said that there are accusations against officials for creating fraudulent deeds and selling government lands belonging to the Mahaweli zone. “I am really sorry about these incidents. Farmers have been treated unfairly. It has been two months since I assumed this position and I am working on finding a solution to this problem and putting an end to the alleged land scams,” he added.

Dharmasiri attempted to find information about the land in the area by contacting the current land officer of the Nawamadagama Division. However, the officer directed him to inquire from Jayasiri.
This writer made efforts to meet Jayasiri on June 7, 2023, but he was not present at the office. Multiple attempts were made to contact him via his mobile phone and office land phone, but there was no response. When Ramyalatha was contacted for information she said that only Jayasiri could provide the requested details. This writer then requested for the information under the Right to Know Act, but this newspaper hadn’t received it at the time of going to press.

Several attempts were made to contact Mahaweli Authority Director General Keerthi Kotagama. Initially, an individual named Nimesh Jayawickrama from the Mahaweli Authority office informed that there was no direct contact number for the Director General or a mobile phone number via which he could be reached. Instead, a suggestion was made to this writer to send an email to the office regarding inquiries. However, in a subsequent inquiry, Kotagama informed through another officer that there were no restrictions on publishing any information about Mahaweli. That officer asked to contact spokesperson Kaushalya Wijeweera for land-related information.
This writer then contacted Kaushalya Wijeweera, Deputy Director (Administration) of Mahaveli Authority. She stated that while there have been reports of land issues in Mahaweli B Zone, no land problems have been reported thus far regarding Mahaweli C zone. “No complaints have been received from any individuals or officers. When specific complaints are received, the land department takes necessary action and appoints committees to address them. Provide the letter sent by the former president in 2019, and we will examine that land problem. Typically, we receive a copy of such letters from the President’s office. I am not aware of the land issues in 2017. Maybe these problems have already been solved. If not provide comprehensive details regarding the 2017 land issue. Disciplinary action will be taken against any wrongdoers, as they have taken disciplinary action in the past against those who were involved in misconduct. I will investigate the problems regarding Zone C and provide the requested information in the future,” she added.

 

“No complaints have been received from any individuals or officers. When specific complaints are received, the land department takes necessary action and appoints committees to address them. Provide the letter sent by the former president in 2019, and we will examine that land problem,”
– Kaushalya Wijeweera Deputy Director (Administration) Mahaveli Authority

 

Even though Wijeweera said that there had been no land issues reported in the Mahaweli zone, there is a letter numbered DL/2/Comm/7-ix dated 31-03-2023, and addressed to A. P.Asanka, Assistant Director (Lands) of Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority, that outlines the actions to be taken regarding Samantha Gunarathne’s letter to the current President. Additionally, President’s Public Relations Director General, Thusitha Halloluwa, in his letter no PS/PR/25/470412 dated 09-03-2023 addressed to Irrigation Minister, Roshan Ranasinghe provided information about a Mahaweli land issue. Furthermore, in letter no DL/02/Comm/07/ixdated 29-05-2023, Assistant Director (Lands), A. P. Asanka informed Gunarathne that the land request and problems that were presented to the Director and Director (Lands) of the Mahaweli Authority have been referred to the Residential Enterprise Manager of Mahaweli B Zone for necessary action.

Yet Gunarathne’s land problem, along with those of other farmers in the Mahaweli C zone, remains unresolved. There is fear among these farmers, preventing them from speaking up against the injustices they are facing. They fear that by seeking permits or addressing their land issues with the Mahaweli Authority, they may risk losing the lands they are currently occupying which don’t have proper permits.

Farmers’ Association Office

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